Rules of Engagement and Realm of Influence


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It’s the people, human resources that are the most important asset of any organization. It is these associates, employees, contractors and those engaged in various capacities that turn the wheels of the organization every single day in the direction of its aspirational mission. These associates come together in various roles, manning several myriad functions that together create the structure of the organization.

The roles and responsibilities of such associates, often times are overlapping and most definitely closely inter-twined to form the fabric of the organization. That is where rules of engagement and the sphere of influence come into play. Rules of engagement vary for every role within an organization and are based on their core responsibilities toward the organization. The job description lays a framework of expectations from a role & its associated responsibilities as well as expectations from the incumbent. However, rules of engagement are unique and evolve based on several factors. The role and its connectivity to other roles as well as the overarching organization are crucial. But what makes it unique, is the personalities occupying those roles. Every person is unique and is a sum total of their experiences at a given point in time. Their understanding of the role, responsibilities and inter-personal dynamics are unique as well. Their interpretation of this has an impact on their framework of rules of engagement. They engage and act based on all that they are influenced by.

In order to succeed at a role, it’s a given that one has to have clarity of vision of their role’s expectations and responsibilities, but more importantly, they need to develop a keen insight into the unique organizational dynamics at play and learn to shape their transactions accordingly, to the benefit of what they are set out to achieve as a part of their role with an eye on the big picture mission of the organization. This helps them maneuver well in reaching their professional as well as personal goals. Rules of engagement and the realm of a role’s influence, although have a rough framework; they are extended, expanded and emphatically executed by the unique personalities occupying these roles. The incumbent’s unique understanding and engagement with these rules, which, predominantly is influenced by their personalities, shape the fluidity and flexibility of a role’s influence. It is for this reason that several factors are looked at when recruiting people to occupy roles. It’s never just about the role that is vacant. It’s also about organizational fit. Beyond that, it’s the organic evolution of Darwinism within the organization, evolution by natural selection.

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Fostering Team Camaraderie – It’s NOT always about the mission!


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Fostering team camaraderie is no easy task. For many, the team leader-member relationship is that of someone who leads and directs and others who follow. Nothing can be farther from truth than that. You can argue that a good leader leads from the front, is empathetic and so on and so forth. But, that’s not what I am here to discuss today.

I am here to discuss how to invigorate, spread and share the same essence of doer ship and direction across the team, to do one’s best to ensure that each team member is touched by it and dwells in that spirit, so that ultimately, the whole team moves in one direction toward one mission. That’s the stuff great teams’ and great organizations are made of. It takes them over and above individual needs and wants, the organizational benefits and aspirations and toward pure execution to attain a unified mission as one team. It’s an experience par any for the proud members of that team which they cherish forever.

Like I said, getting everyone on the team to think like one is not an easy task. Not easy, but definitely possible! While all individuals have different hot buttons that motivate them and it’s the job of the leader to ensure that they are being actively responded to, its these individuals that come together as a team, to act on one unified objective. The leader and the team members have shared responsibility in helping each other align closer with that mission. And that comes about in several forms of interactions from group to individual settings. Not everyone needs to see the big picture but everyone does need to see the picture from where they stand and understand very clearly their part in fulfilling it. At the same time, team dynamics play a crucial part in how effectively a team performs. This is where the unique differentiator between teams lies. Team dynamics is not strengthened, just by focused concentration on the work at hand. It gets stronger and more effective when the team interacts socially and participates in activities besides work. I am not talking about hitting the bar and sharing silly jokes. For some, that might work to an extent. I am talking about doing things besides work that strengthens their bond and fosters mutual respect and awe for each other. This could mean, sharing hobbies and other skills, connecting to discuss and act on social and volunteer projects, opening each other to new avenues and opportunities, thus fostering learning and cultivating new horizons for the team.

This goes a long way in forming true friendships and bonds between teammates. It takes the relationship to the next level where they draw inspiration from each other. It helps members recognize new strengths and skills in each other, allowing them new found respect for their peers. All of this comes through eventually, when the team acts as one and takes on a challenge head on, in not just successful accomplishments, but accomplishments of a greater quality and higher caliber. This elevates their professional interactions to a new level, helps them find better and more capable personalities within themselves, and most important of all, true happiness in what they do and who they work with everyday.

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Zirtual – A Startup Story Gone Wrong


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Unless you learn to get comfortable with failure, you cannot aspire and look forward to success.

By now, most of you have heard of Zirtual, an on-demand personal assistant company founded in 2011 that went out of business last week and laid off more than 400 employees. The employees received an email on Friday, 08/14 notifying them that the company was shutting down due to financial issues. And the clients received their notifications too.

According to Zirtual’s now, ex-CEO, Maren Kate Donovan, the business was on an $11 million run rate, and was burning $400,000 a month.

There were various causes that frothed up for what happened.

Maren Kate Donovan blamed it on “burn” which is more money being spent than what came in. She also regretted not having a full-blown board in place. Another reason given was the conversion of 1099 contractors into full-time employees without considering the implications of the 20-30% employment expense increase. The lack of a full-time CFO although the size of the organization demanded one, was another factor that came up as well.

The irony is that Zirtual raised about $3.2 million in just this past June and July. Although it might look surprising that a company that just weeks ago, raised funding went under, there is more to the truth than that. Zirtual’s SEC Form D filings show that they tried to raise $5.75 million in June and July – but got only $3.2 million in total. And mind you, this is debt with its own contractual obligations.

Startups.co, depending on how you see it, came to Zirtual’s rescue or gobbled it up post the disaster and acquired it. Startups.co CEO Wil Schroter, negotiated a cash-and-stock deal and added Zirtual to his company’s portfolio of online services for entrepreneurs. In fact, Zirtual, apparently resumed services this past Monday and Startups.co re-hired 60 former employees on a contract basis and looks forward to re-hire more. Startups.co has also initiated efforts on bringing back some of Zirtual’s clients, while the competition is also pursuing them.

Meanwhile, Zirtual has its own set of issues post going out of business. A few former employees filed a class-action lawsuit against Zirtual Inc. in U.S. District Court in the state of Delaware, questioning the company’s violation of labor laws by not giving effective notice of termination. The transfer of that liability to the new owner is still in question. On the other end, there are clients who are hurt by the breach of trust and are hesitant to go back or for that matter, doubt the industry as well.

Lots of lessons here for entrepreneurs. Here are a few:

  • Make sure you raise money way before you need it and raise enough so you and your team are not eclipsed with that worry while you pursue your vision.
  • Debt Financing is great with predictable cash flows; else it can very soon become a nightmare!
  • Do not penny pinch when it comes to finding the right talent and bringing it in when you need it. Find your savings somewhere else.
  • Check, double check and triple check everything. You can never go wrong with overanalyzing operational finances.
  • Proactive and quick decision-making is important, but be wise about your decisions.
  • Your customers and employees come first, everything else comes after them for without them, there is no business.

Learn from them and go find your success!

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#IfIWere22 – Wouldn’t Change a Thing


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One thing I have noticed is that as you grow up, I mean as you age, life seems to pass by faster. I am not sure if that is, because of the number of pursuits you setup for your self and are so engaged in them that life just seems to fly by. It definitely was much slower when I was younger, perhaps because things were new to me to learn, experiment and enjoy my leisure. I also do not know how it will be when I get to my 60s. But, that’s for another day to talk about.

My 20s were a great time in life. When I was 22, I was in grad school working on getting my dual masters. Life was great as I was working and playing hard. I was like a sponge just soaking in whatever I came across, studying at a coveted university while living in a new city. It was time for exploration, in life, at school and trying to strike it out on your own.

It was in my 2nd year at grad school, when working on getting my MBA that I chose to go down the less trodden path. While my friends pursued studies diligently, I decided to explore new avenues at the same time while studying. I took up a direct sales job at an MNC that had just established in India and was expanding across the country introducing direct sales of consumer durables. The commission was handsome and I would be able to earn enough to be self-sufficient. But, I didn’t join for the money. I joined for the promise of a brighter future. It was a pyramid concept where you built a team, trained them and consistently generated enough sales for a certain period before you struck it out on your own. Then, you proliferated your network and made residual income on other locations you opened up. I must tell you, it was enticing enough to make me work full time when I had started, assuming it would be a good part time gig. I was always a good student and hence, my studies didn’t suffer.

I remember the very first day I went out by myself to make some sales. I picked up a heavy bag and went door to door for about 4 hours until noon. I must have knocked about 100 doors, not a single sale! I had experienced people who closed the door on your face, frustrated people who shooed you away and not so pleasant smirks from un-obliging customers. That was it! I was broken and returned to the office dragging my bag behind.

My trainer, whom I had shadowed the last three days came over and listened patiently to me, venting. I was angry, unhappy and just didn’t want to do this anymore. I thought I deserved better. My trainer explained the law of averages to me and said that in order to get 30 yes’s, you need to learn to go through 300 knocks and 270 no’s. He taught me how to take in each “No”, and make your pitch a little better with it, your demeanor a bit more pleasant and your resolve, stronger. After that he gave me two choices. He said that I could either walk away from all this and he would consider me history or I could go out there and work it one more time and put into action what he said. At the most, I would be a tired guy by the end of the day but the law of averages had to work.

I mulled over this for several moments, had a glass of water and stepped out to try, one last time. I went back to the area I was working. I was curious to try the law of averages and worked through that neighborhood for the next 4 hours. I kept knocking doors, became thick-skinned to all the negatives and just kept going. By the end of that day, I had sold 10 pieces! That changed my entire outlook toward struggle and achievement!

I went on to build my team, open my own location, start my own direct marketing company and open up about 12 locations in a year!

I wouldn’t change a thing about when I was 22! And my advice to you, seek your own adventure and blaze your own path to triumph. One piece of advice, never ever give up. It may come to you late, but it will!

#IfIWere22

Is Your Work-Life Flexibility Debatable?


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A few days ago, Yahoo! took the decision to summon all of its associates in-house, to work from one of their offices. It scrapped the remote work option citing that the most creative of ideas birthed from water-cooler conversations or rather, face to face interactions at work. Now, that’s their vision of extracting productivity and unique to their situation as a company. And here, we have the world debating the pros and cons of remote workforces!

Those of you who read recent articles about this step that Yahoo! took might have found it very clear that it is pertinent to their particular situation. When you have associates that are not accountable, don’t even VPN in regularly, what do you do? No wonder that with such a dispassionate workforce, the management had to get to the stick rule when the carrot of free lunches and free gadgets didn’t work. If you know that your kids are slacking and not doing their homework as they should, what do you do? You ensure there is a set time to complete the homework and sit with the kids until they learn to acknowledge the practice.

One company’s situation doesn’t categorize working from home as a boon or a bane. Remote work, when not abused is an absolute boon as it helps uphold associates’ work-life flexibility. This flexibility in turn, ensures reduced stress levels for the associates who work in their own environs and in fact, also helps improve productivity for engaged employees. Is remote working suitable for all employees? Not really since one needs to be a self-starter and have an immense sense of accountability and responsibility to be successful in a remote situation. Again, a change in scene also helps when the employees want to get into an office once in a while for that personal interaction they might crave for in an office setting.

In today’s environment where work extends beyond its stipulated time and associates seek the flexibility to work through their regimen and have to shuffle between life and work, it is a great tool that helps keep that balance, yet ensures that the time spent on work is of a quality nature and associates are fulfilled while delivering their best work.

Case in point, one company’s situation and a corresponding decision to bring back the workforce in-house doesn’t mar the practice altogether as there are other examples out there who have leveraged the remote workforce model to save millions in infrastructure & logistics costs and continue to do so year over year while benefiting from a self-reliant, self-motivated & highly productive workforce. Some simple and immediate benefits include not having to depend on local talent and able to tap into the best of talent across the country and internationally as well, no relocation expenses, lower training costs by deploying on-line training, etc. Managing a remote workforce comes with its own challenges but the benefits outweigh the challenges. Of course, again; not all jobs are suited for this model. But, where possible, leveraging the practice is beneficial and trends show that this is on the growth path among U.S. organizations.

In fact, I know of a management consulting firm that was started using a remote model and till date continues without an office where the workforce is entirely distributed. The organization has a mailing address for a head office, some space to store secure and sensitive documents, conferences and client meetings are either virtual or at rented out conference rooms at one of the several business centers. The company concentrates on its core capabilities while all the functions of running the company such as payroll & legal are outsourced. Not saying that this is viable for every organization out there, but there are companies doing this and being highly successful with the model. Look up Brand Velocity to learn more.

Yahoo! Turning a new leaf w/ Marissa Mayer…


While Marissa Mayer’s recent coronation as Yahoo’s CEO is still fresh in everyone’s mind, let’s take a look back at how Yahoo!, the “premier digital media company” has evolved over time and where it is/ should be headed. After all, the next best thing that you can do when not in Marissa’s shoes is to send her some unsolicited advice!

Yahoo.com was just another personal website that Jerry Yang and David Filo put together in 1994 when dotcom as a business model was still nascent. With a bit of ambition and dare, these young entrepreneurs turned this website into a brand name and made it unique by adding several feature filled updates. Soon, it grew to be the anchor of any internet traveler and was successful at becoming home for many such travelers, 700 million and counting.

During the dotcom boom and bust, competition grew and there were several other websites competing in the unique feature space with Yahoo. The business model had to evolve. Diversification set in and Yahoo tried to be everything to everybody. What initially started as the one stop aspirant for the internet traveler started looking at serving every niche they could get into, be it e-mail, search, news, finance, service provision, TV/ movie listings & reviews, games, personal and so on and so forth. As a result, growth and acquisition of complementary and non-complementary businesses set in. Yahoo looked at creating feature rich additions to the already burgeoning Yahoo list of properties hoping to ensure user stickiness and more ad revenue while in actuality it seemed to lose direction of its core business and as a result started slipping in the numbers game. Recently, 5 people have traded places as the CEO of Yahoo, with Marissa Mayer in the driver’s seat now.

Today, Yahoo is a big pile of properties, some viable and with promise in a highly competitive internet world that is changing so rapidly that by the time you take a breather and refocus, the focus that was there has shifted way beyond.

Marissa Mayer has her task cut out for her and based on the first couple of baby steps she has taken; free food and Apple iphones for all employees, she is beginning with rejuvenating employee morale while weaving the fabric of camraderie and pride in Yahoo among them. This will eventually have long term benefits while setting direction toward the future for developing Yahoo into an organization that is prepared for 2015, 2020 and beyond.

First things first; in order to rebuild a world class company, it’s imperative that every contributor viz., employee and associate has a sense of ownership and pride of belonging to the best of the breed. With her first steps, Marissa is headed that way.

The most fundamental principles of getting a company back on track are at work here. The need to refocus on core competencies, identifying and embracing them and having teams work with their heads down to produce results in the next several months is vital. A strategic refocus as to where the future of the internet is headed with cloud computing and mobile technology at play in the virtual world is set to happen.

At the same time, the vast majority of Yahoo properties have to be sifted through with due input from the employee & customer base; to identify what should stay and what should go. This needs to be in alignment with the strategic focus of the future, which again has to be in step with the core competencies at the heart of the company. It is to Marissa’s advantage that Yahoo is sitting on a huge cash pile to dispense as needed; one less thing to worry about as planned execution begins.

Next in line, is the constant need to innovate; to gain strides over the competition. Disruptive innovation in a cash rich environment seems attractive but evolutionary focus can help too. Not to say that moving away from current core competencies is a bad idea if they are archaic, but it will eventually happen as the focus on future term strategy gets clearer. This is especially true of a company that is surfing a highly dynamic environment and is on the downward trend of the bell curve. New core competencies will evolve and embracing such will only allow the organization to flourish. History has shown what happens with divergence unrelated to core interests. Reinvention is common among organizations poised for growth but it needs to occur after strategically defining the reinvention path as the new path that the organization will adopt as its core. I believe it’s a fundamental law of business in order to succeed.

Yahoo’s business model has been primarily dependent on advertising revenue. As Marissa Mayer takes it from being just an internet information provider into the intricacies of being the internet juggernaut of the future (with predictable sprinklings of cutting edge mobile & social media offerings coming in the future), we can expect Yahoo to gain back some of its online advertising ground that it had previously lost as well as can look forward to new modes of revenue generation.

If previous reputation is anything to go by, Marissa had a reputation of getting things done and inculcating her own sense of style at Google. She is seen as a highly independent & efficient person who pays special attention to detail and is very involved with aesthetics as well. Dealing with Yahoo’s day to day management is one thing and pushing the Board of Directors to get on her bandwagon will be another that currently, she seems to be in control of.

With her background in Computer Sciences and her hands on experiences building over 100 products at Google, I am sure there is much she can do in terms of providing that technical edge to steer the Yahoo ship in the right direction.

Lastly, to reiterate the obvious, the most important thing is to keep the employees and customers close to the heart. What are they saying? Where are they headed? What do they want to see different? Where are the new markets? What does the new market want? This feedback will play a pivotal role in shaping the Yahoo! of the future.

Here’s wishing Marissa Mayer the very best as she steers her employees to say Yahoo! at work, her customers to say Yahoo! for all that they deserve and get; and her Shareholders to say Yahoo! all the way to the bank!

Would you rather lead from the front or follow through?

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Leaders and Followers are both vital to the fabric of any organization. As much as you need leaders to set the path and motivate others to follow through, you also need productive followers who are willing to listen, learn and execute on the plan set before them. No organization can do without one or the other.

The world is mostly made up of followers and a subset of leaders. Of course, leadership is a learned trait and most of us play both roles within certain limits.

Leadership is about:

  • Developing a vision, sharing it and building support around it.
  • Strategizing and planning execution to realize the vision.
  • Leading execution of the strategy while overseeing the completion of planned goals.

These tenets are universal to any organization and are mostly measured through fiscal success, I mean EBIDTA, profits, market share, stock value etc.

But, true leadership has other dimensions as well; corporate social responsibility and emotionally intelligent people management being two of these.

An organization that aspires for success ensures that every associate in the organization knows and lives the true reason of its existence. In order for this to happen, every leader in the organization, from the CEO to line management needs to imbibe and practice the principles of valuing the people assets of the organization. Customers and those that serve them are equally important to the organization. Motivating associates to perform to their potential by managing their individual hot buttons and then, channeling this work to meet the needs of the clients is the salient execution principle of any successful organization. This ultimately leads to the realization of organizational goals, the yardstick it measures its success by.

At all levels of management, a prime factor of success is optimal people management. The amount of effort put into strategizing and planning an organization’s path also has to be put into managing and growing the people assets who are instrumental in realizing the plan. With leaders that share in the vision and willing followers, any organization is destined to meet its set goals!

Finally, an organization has to think and act beyond itself.  Making an impact in the community it thrives in and standing up to be a pillar of the community’s progress enhance the perpetuity of the organization and take it beyond the plans it was conceived with. That, in sum is the true culmination of its existence and success.

Now, ask yourself some key questions to understand where you are and how you need to fine-tune your work style to get where you want to be;

  • What do you do for work? Do you believe in the vision set forth by your organization?
  • Are you a leader or follower?
  • As a leader,
    • How much do you value your team? Do you take time to listen to them or are you just giving instructions most of the time expecting follow through?
    • Do you treat your team with the same respect that you expect of them?
    • Is your team totally sold on your idea of execution so that it will be a success?
    • Do you know your team members’ hot buttons so you can work on keeping them motivated and provide direction and help in the realization of their goals?
    • Do you exhibit enough appreciation for what your team does?
  • As a follower,
    • Do you truly believe in the vision and plan set forth by your leadership? If not, do you question and make suggestions?
    • Do you listen and follow through per expectations? Do you go beyond?
    • Do you feel a valued member of your team? If not, do you express concern and work with your leader to ensure mutual transparency and work to build a plan to help get there?
    • Do you offer suggestions and new ways of doing things?
    • Can you be the best lieutenant your leader can ever find?

Find your answers, make your course corrections and let me assure you, the journey towards your goals will be as fulfilling as attaining them!

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