Find relevance in your work

May 28, 2017

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, in his book — Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike — shares some invaluable insights on success.

Knight’s first job was to sell encyclopaedias. He did not have much success. His second job was to sell securities. He did not do well here either. Just when he was beginning to lose faith in his ability as a sale person, he set up Nike and started selling shoes. According to Phil Knight, he succeeded this time because he was selling a product he believed in, and liked.

Knight had been an athlete on his college team. He loved running. He knew how important a good pair of shoes was to a runner. This made him a credible shoe salesman, and the rest is history.

Knight’s personal life story reinforces the point that secret of success lies in doing what you like doing. Knight was not failing as a salesman, he was just not selling the products that he was interested in, or had the passion for. The moment he got to sell shoes, he excelled.

Everyone is not as fortunate as Knight to find a job or a career of his liking, though it is worth trying. Not everyone is daring enough to make a career transition either.  As a result, there are people who have the aptitude for selling shoes remain stuck in selling shampoos. They struggle to deliver the results and don’t reach their peak. And, this affects their self-esteem.

No one likes all aspects of his/her work. We have only two choices: Either dare to change or find relevance in the work we do. Finding relevance means we should see the connection of our work with a higher level goal. Pursuing a worthwhile goal most often gets the best out of us.

In one of my earlier posts – Managing Self-Esteem at Work – I had made a few suggestions. Contentment comes in finding relevance in things we do; and in pursuing goals that give a sense of satisfaction. Since Knight had been an athlete himself, he did not just sell shoes, he believed in making shoes that would help sportsperson achieve their dream. This led him to constantly work on improving the design and features of his products.


Who scores the goal?  

June 28, 2015

Like many others, I like reading Stephen R. Covey. He presented some brilliant videos along with his book – the 8th Habit: from Effectiveness to Greatness.

I would urge all to watch this video.

Comparing the office environment to a soccer match, Stephen in this interesting video, highlights what he calls “execution gaps” between formulations of goals and their implementation. Teams are often not clear about their goals, and team members don’t work towards the same goal. He quotes a study in which only 15 % people could identify the top priorities of their organizations, and only 19% were passionate about their goals. ‘Imagine the creative energy that would unleash when people are clear of the goal, and their own role in achieving it,’ concludes Stephen.

I showed this video at the start of our organizational retreat once. We went another step and played a game of soccer, making four teams. Colleagues loved the video and all – from the director to the driver – enjoyed playing the game.

After the game and lunch, we returned to the room and discussed the “goal” of the organization. People were much more receptive. They felt motivated to notice the contribution they were making to the overall goal of the organization with their individual work. They also appreciated the inter-connectedness of their work. The ownership of the goal enhanced manifolds when colleagues realized the contribution they were making to the lives of people. It is important to see our work beyond numerical targets and percentages.

Managers have a crucial role in engaging their teams with the goal. They should consistently discuss the goal with the team members and consult them in evolving the goals. This builds commitment, fosters team spirit  and brings the best out of the team. The only difference in  a soccer game and the work environment is that in the latter no single player scores the goal. It is the team that does it together.

How to handle someone who does not want to take any additional work?

May 30, 2015

There are some difficult colleagues at every workplace, just as there are some great colleagues. I stressed upon the importance of relationships and the need to keep the communication on with difficult colleagues.

I have been asked to share some thoughts on a very common problem: how to handle someone who does not want to take any additional work?

The first point that comes to my mind is that each organization has its own systems, procedures and work culture. Managers should find solutions within this context. Besides, every individual is different. Therefore, there can’t be a one-size-fit all solution. Having said this, the following points might help:

  1. Get to know the person well

In most cases, it will help to know the person well in order to understand his or her behavior at work. There are times when people are stressed, not in the best of their health or not happy in their relationships. They may also have frustrations for not being able to achieve their career goals. All this affects their behaviour at work. It will help to understand the reasons for behaviour. In most cases, this would offer ideas for handling the person better.

  1. Assign tasks keeping in mind the interest and strengths of people

All of us have our likes and dislikes. True, not all tasks assigned to us are of interest to us. But they have to be done. By and large the interests of people should be kept in mind while assigning additional tasks. Ignoring this might be disastrous. If you assign two tasks that a person likes to do, then you may also assign the one that he does not like and the person may not complain. But if you merely assign tasks that don’t interest him, he is more likely to resist. Also, If new tasks are assigned, it is also important to ensure that the person receives adequate training and support to be able to handle them.

  1. How you assign the task is more important that the task itself.

The manner in which tasks are assigned is the most important thing. People need to feel important and significant. Therefore, don’t just assign, talk to the person and explain why would you like the colleague to take care of it.

These approaches will basically result in enhancing ownership of colleagues and building commitment. Better results are achieved through building commitment rather than seeking compliance.

The power of ‘relationships’ at work

April 29, 2015

Ever faced a situation when a team member returns to work after a long leave and gets angry at you?  I faced it once in the beginning of my career.

One of my staff went on leave for three weeks. The day he returned, he was furious. Reason: I had not assigned his work to anyone in his absence and the work had piled up. He dashed into my office with a stack of files, dumped them on my table and said, “What is the purpose of going on leave when I have to do all this work myself.” For some reason instead of getting annoyed, I smiled and said, “I thought you had taken leave to attend a family wedding. First tell me how did the wedding go?” He calmed down and described the family wedding experience. We then returned to discuss his problem.  I explained that I had assigned only the urgent work to another colleague but the tasks which could wait were not assigned. He was not totally convinced but felt better to have been heard. No doubt, he was a difficult colleague who always found something or the other to grudge about.

How to deal with difficult colleagues remains a challenge for managers as well as coworkers. We often come across people who shirk work; don’t accept responsibility; take credit for someone else’s work, pass on the blame to others and so on.

Managers deal with situations in their own ways with varied degree of successes and failures. If I capture my experiences in one sentence, it would be: relationships work better than authority. You may get much more out of people by virtue of your relationship than by imposing your authority.

The worst thing would be to ignore such people. At times managers develop such a dislike for trouble makers that they start avoiding them, don’t assign them more work and keep the communication to a minimum. This approach is a disaster. It goes against the basic premise that managers should manage people, develop them and get the best out of them.

So, keep engaging with them. Regular communication breaks barriers and strengthens relationships. Keep the conversation on, even if it is not a pleasant one. Allow your views and practices to be questioned.  Remember, a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor!

Remember What You Stand For

February 27, 2013


Captain Vikram Batra was an officer of the Indian army. During the Kargil war, he sacrificed his life while trying to save one of his officers. His officer had got injured by the bullets being fired from the top of a cliff-rock. Someone had to go to get him to safety putting his own life into risk. Captain Batra didn’t allow anyone else to go. He went ahead himself and was killed as he shielded his officer into the bunker. For his bravery and sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra – India’s highest military award.

Captain Batra’s life is an inspiration for us. He was a leader in true sense. He could have ordered someone else to go and get the injured official but he took the risk for himself. 

While remembering heroes like Captain Batra, we should think about one aspect: what drives some people to do such exemplary acts? To my mind, they are focussed on their goal always. The goal drives them to put in their best. To them, the goal is bigger than everything and this commitment makes them overcome hurdle, face adversities and do anything possible even if it means risking their lives. Secondly, they pursue their goals based on principles. They always remember what they stand for. For captain Batra, the safety of nation came first, followed by safety of his team. His own safety came last.

Those who keep complaining about problems at their workplace should think about the life of uniform personnel. They perform their duty at the risk of their life. Can there be any problem bigger than the life- risking situations? Our workplace issues will seem trivial in comparison to a fire man risking his life to control fire, a police man trying to diffuse a bomb, an army man protecting the border and fighting a war. For us being in the line of fire may be just a phrase, think of those for whom it is a reality.

Managing email communication: Challenges of an overflowing inbox

December 31, 2012

If there is one thing I would like to get better at (actually this is not the only one!), it is the management of my email communication. I realize that I fail to pick up some important emails in the midst of heavy email traffic. To some mails, I defer my response to a later date, hoping I will do a better job this way. But then, it never gets done as new mails keep pouring in. It is a 24×7 and 7/7 affair. It is fast. It is instant. It is not just a two-way communication. It is a multi-way process. We write to one, copy others and receive messages like-wise, including several unsolicited mails, forwarded by others.  This makes our inbox so crowded that we find it difficult to deal with. The real problem is that we miss out on responding to important mail(s). What can be an efficient way of managing email communication?

Though solutions will vary from person to person, some of the following tips might come in handy:

  1. Skim through mails and decide what to do with the mails you receive. Pick up the ones that require an action or response from you.
  2. Respond immediately, if you can. Having reviewed several of my email responses, I realized that I could have sent an immediate response. Deferring the response did not help in any way. In the end I did not send a better response. I faced embarrassment of having got a reminder and it also caused stress. If it is just not possible to respond immediately, then include it in your things-to-do list. This way, you will remember to follow up and send your response within the time limit.
  3. There are several emails that are just for information purposes. A quick read will help you decide what to do with them. You may decide to archive them or forward to someone else, who is better placed to act upon them. Archiving them into different folders or senders will help you locate them quickly when it is required.
  4. Don’t feel shy to press the delete button. It lightens up your inbox. It is easier to locate a mail you are looking for from amongst hundreds of mails rather than thousands.
  5. Organize your contact list into different sub groups; workplace, professional networks, friends, social circles/interests etc.

I write these tips based on my own reflections and they seem to help. The key is to respond immediately if you can. DO IT NOW! attitude works perfectly well here as well.

I don’t feel like going to work…

November 30, 2011

 There are phases when one feels low at work. Motivation to do things takes a nosedive. You don’t look forward going to work. Others may not know but you yourself know that you are not performing at your optimal level. How does one keep his motivation at work against all odds?

How to keep one’s excitement amidst mundane and monotonous activities is one of the challenges. Complacency sets in after doing a job for some time. An attitude of assuming new tasks and responsibility helps here. It allows for new learning and also opens doors for career growth. So, go ahead and explore if you can do something different and new. Newer assignments should not be seen as burden. They are actually opportunities that one should make use of.

De-motivation also stems from unhappiness. Try to find out what makes you unhappy. Ask yourself, what is bothering you? Can you do something about it? True, we can’t address all causes but we can do something for some of them at least. If you don’t like some of the tasks assigned to you, remember you are not the only one who feels like this. No one enjoys all aspects of his job. The approach should be to draw energy from the tasks that you like to do and deliver your best even on the ones that you don’t apparently enjoy so much.

Another critical issue is the work-life balance. At times we get so absorbed in work that there is hardly any time for family and friends. In some situations, some personal or family issue takes a heavy toll on us and we find it difficult to concentrate on work. Workers who have a happy family life are generally more motivated and hence better performers. A good news is that happiness can also be created by doing small things with colleagues, with family and with friends. It is very important to maintain a healthy work-life balance. One needs to ensure that adequate time is spent with family despite work pressures.

Hope we all look forward to going to work when we wake up in the morning. We should also not forget the fact that we are blessed to have a job as not everyone has one. Many wake up every morning wondering where can they find work or even a day’s earning.