SHRM

Four awesome habits of connectors

Connecting the dots brings new meaning and great value. Value that far supersedes what the dots by themselves bring. When applied to people, there are lessons to learn about these ‘connectors’. These are people who have the knack for building relationships and connections that go beyond natural boundaries. They are so much in demand.  Be it the employee who has relationships (or just plain knows a lot of people) across organisations or the friend who will connect you with someone to solve a problem.

Mark Granovetter‘s most referenced paper in Social Sciences, “The Strength of Weak Ties” holds vital clues.  Several years ago when I first landed the paper, I became present to the need for weak ties. The realisation that ‘weak ties’ were not really ‘weak’ but a great value-add for progress and change, was powerful.  Therein started an active cultivation of an existing interest in others, the humanness in them and their contexts. It has lead to few deep friendships and innumerable conversations, discoveries and a way of life that is powerful.

Yet at times when I come across people for whom this comes naturally, I am awestruck by their way of life. This is not a ‘put on’. This is a way of living and working. Last week, after spending time with a few such, here are a few things that I jotted down reflecting on what these folks do.

Heres some additional context. I am making my preparations to attend SHRM 18 that will have over 20000 participants. It sure promises to be a great place to find such connectors. Writing out my own learnings from the ‘naturals’, I reckon, will both help me find more connectors and reenergise the connector within me!

So, who are these connectors? How do you identify them?

1. Connectors offer to help as a default.

The first thing that you notice is the willingness to help. In fact, ‘how can I help’ is a question that comes up many a time. They offer their perspectives. Bring people together. They put in a word. Point in a direction. In the modern day world, these are precious.

This offer is genuine and often goes into areas that are obvious.  Truthful and well within means.

 

2. Connectors are interested more than merely interesting.

Not that they aren’t any interesting. With all their stories and connections, they are extremely interesting!  Just that they don’t have any compelling need to talk about themselves and their achievements. The keenness to offer their ear and soak up your story trumps any sharing of their own story, unless you ask for it. They ask questions, more to get more details. The best ones, don’t offer any advice until specifically asked for. That to me is a marker for an awesome ‘connector’.

 

3. Connectors are a carrier of stories.

Connectors are natural carriers of stories. Natural because they are privy to so many of them. And when they share the story forward, it is the ease at which they mask the details of the person whilst sharing the essence of the event or the intended lesson. It is such mastery that elicits further sharing that is a great foundation for a trust laden conversation.

Connectors are sought out for the stories they carry.  These stories can alter thought and help make new connections and possibilities in the mind.

4. Connectors don’t look at immediate RoI.

Connectors are not the quintessential ‘networkers’ you see at parties. People whose intent seems to be in having your business card and ensuring that you have theirs.  After few pleasantries and the business card exchange, off they go to the next conversation. Connectors are interested in conversation. They are invested in people who are willing to invest the time and energy in a conversation for the joy of conversation. I have had amazing conversations with no agenda in mind. Just sitting down and getting to know and talking. Sometimes, it has had tangible immediate benefits. Many times none at all. But that’s beside the point. The point of sitting down and talking is the sitting down and talking. The benefits that come impact in ways that are beyond the obvious.

And those are my top four. We are a product of our experiences and each of our experiences shapes our thought. The list is a product of my experiences and I look forward to hearing from you to hear your experiences as well.

If you are coming to SHRM 2018, please do give me a shout. Would be lovely to exchange notes and make a new connection. If not, the big wide networked world offers us limitless possibilities. We are limited only by the intensity of our intent!

Margins To The Middle #SHRMTech18

It was around 6.30 AM at Hyderabad’s HITECH City. Tall buildings with glass facades dot the scant skyline. Just across the road, even as young people streamed in and out with nonchalance, she sat. She sold to the young people short eats, cigarettes, hot tea and the like. Each of her categories on sale was stacked in a sack. Each sack sitting on the road, just as she was. Sitting pretty in one of the stacks was a credit card Point of Sale, swipe machine. Another held a QR code for cashless transactions. That I was spotting this after hearing a day full of praise for technology at SHRMTech’18 ( SHRM India’s annual Tech conference) was not lost on me. The knocks on traditional boundaries accentuated by education and access were loud. This was technology moving from the margins to the middle!

More about that later.

For now, SHRM Tech 18. The conference has grown from where it started four years ago. This time too, it ticked all the right boxes. It had HR leaders and tech folks hold court, talk neat and walk tall. It had a dazzling array of exhibitors. From a Tata Car to plain old (or was it new) tea, to tech solutions to every conceivable HR Challenge. It had its share of arc lights, awards, survey results, music, debate and the like. Perhaps to accentuate the accent on tech, it even had a robot, inviting a speaker on stage. All in all, it was pretty neat.

If you missed it this time, please do look up #SHRMTech18 on twitter and you will get most of what happened on the stage. You are pretty much sorted if you seek to pick up that kind of action.
I go to such conferences for another reason. And that is to catch the moments in-between the stage shows and indulge in conversation. To listen in and hear more. To absorb the questions that are being asked and the live experiences that are shared. Away from the arc lights naked truth often makes a shy appearance. Often in the form of a sigh or a silence. Sometimes in a steady argument and expert deflection of an uncomfortable question. At other times, providing facts, data, stories, and interpretation of how things are working.

All of these are fascinating for several reasons. They reveal what’s on the horizon. What’s dying. What’s real and what is being dealt with. What opportunities are surfacing in the future and the dilemmas that are alive. They also bring alive, what’s being missed. Whilst a lot of what I have taken home stays with my notes and requires conversation and processing there were moments that held my attention. Here are my top three from a longer list.

Vineet Nayar kicked off the conference talking about the need to put the human being at the centre of the employee experience. That made a heap of sense. Even as technology is ‘Moving from the margins to the Middle’, replacing the human experience with technology needs to guarded against. Technology for technology’s sake is going to lead us up a garden path with no garden in tow. In a world replete with tech solutions, discovering our ‘human’ element is getting to be a taller ask. Not because of limitations with technology! To me, that message had the potency of setting a kitten amongst several pigeons.

Jayesh Ranjan, Secretary, Information Technology (IT); Government of Telangana, made a strong and persuasive pitch for Telangana. He courted the right audience with necessary facts and presented them in easy consumable chunks. Stories of state governments getting competitive and seeking investments are the new norm. That norm was taken a few notches higher by the articulate IAS officer.

On a different panel on Women in Tech. Dr.Ritu Anand from TCS spoke from personal experience about what it takes to lead (& that had nothing to do with gender) and that was lovely. Lost amongst the discussion was the fact that much of what was discussed alluded to programmes aimed at (& done ‘to’ ) women employees. It is both a familiar and a line of thought that falls woefully inadequate. The debate needs to continue.

Of course, there was Sunita Bhuyan and her music in full flow. Her piece titled ‘Conversations’ was more than mere music to the ear. On the sidelines, the catch up with a number of friends and colleagues was well worth the effort to get there. Some of them are doing some stellar stuff and am so looking forward to seeing it all come alive.

The new middle:

Back to the lady who sold me two full plastic cups of tea for Rs.15. Sitting on the pavement with the Credit Card machine carelessly tossed on a stack of goodies. She to me exemplifies someone who has kept her ear close to the ground. The changing tone of currency in her customer’s wallet has necessitated her adopting new ways of seeking a share. An innate understanding of ground realities of business helps choose, design and work with technology.

Technology is an enabler. Technology is not the reason for us to get to work. Whilst discussing technology we have to bear in mind that work needs reshaping. Slapping layers of cutting edge technology on fossilised ways of thinking is not going to get anyone anywhere. Unless you are talking about taking a few steps back!

Of these, we need to have more conversations on. The changing societal contexts. The need for finding meaning in work. Changing work in itself. What needs rewiring and rewriting are not the wires that connect our computers or the codes that run in them, as much as our own minds. It was Sherry Turkle who said something about our tools.

Even as we continue to ride on our high horses of tech progress with pounding hoofs and half breaths, we must pause to examine what it’s doing to the fabric of our workplaces. Change is multi-dimensional. HR leaders must pause, converse, examine, reflect on all the nodes each tech change is touching off.
One more thing. Change is tough. Change in the tech space is not linear but occurs in seismic shifts.

That necessitates change being held together with care. It is those that experiment with these changes that will get somewhere. Experiments, by definition, don’t have assured successes. We need to keep working with our head as close to the ground as possible. And that is not easy. But it is possible. And change happens in the moment with bold leaps and application of mind. We have never been limited by technology as much as we have been by our imagination.

Moving from the margin to the middle is often facilitated by leaps of faith and experiments. Experiments that seek both courage and investments. The lady who sold me two cups of tea and three different ways of concluding the deal taught me a thing or two about courage. The courage to move beyond algorithmic responses and robotic monotony in decision making is much needed. We could all learn a thing or two from her.

Disclosure: SHRM facilitated my participation in the conference as a member of the ‘blog squad’

SHRM India Annual Conference 2016 ( Part 2) #SHRMI16

This post is a summary of DAY Two of SHRM India’s Annual Conference 2016 ( #SHRM16 ). Day One is here.

If Day One set the bar high, Day two surpassed it with ease . Day Two was an expansive play of ideas, debates and some olympian stretches of the imagination. Overall set the agenda for a longer conversation thereafter.

If Amitabh Kant held the audience together with statistics from the Indian growth story, the big debate and product pitches provided fuel to the story. That the future is indeed filled with possibilities. And with the launch of Abhijit Bhadhuri‘s Digital Tsunami, there is a narrative to read about it all too.

Catch a glimpse of Day II of #SHRMI16 below

 

SHRM India- Annual Conference & Expo (Part 1) #SHRMI16

It was two days of intense conversation, content and of course a whole lot of fun. SHRM India‘s Annual Conference and Exposition ( #SHRM16 ) was filled with it all.

While going to the conference I had written about what I sought to get from a conference. I did get far more than that.

To storify the tweets from the conference has meant going over thousands of tweets and curate what I experienced struck my eye and triggered a memory or arrested a thought. So, what you would find here are just a sliver of the overall experience. Do look up the hashtag, and explore even further. Am sure there is much more than what I put across here in two parts.

Day One was an arresting diversity. From Pramod Bhasin to Vicky Roy to the awards ceremony and a scintillating performance.

You will find Day Two as a separate post here

Day Two was an expansive play of ideas, debates and some olympian stretches of the imagination. Overall set the agenda for a longer conversation thereafter.

Making the most of conferences. #SHRMI16

The printed out boarding passes to Delhi flutter from the corner of the table. What is the point, they seem to ask. They seem to tease me to think. You see, I will be at SHRM India‘s Annual Conference ( #SHRMI16) on 29th and 30th September in Delhi.  While I will be tweeting, talking and crossing other T’s, the boarding passes seem to ask a deeper question :  “Another conference?”

Having attended innumerable conferences, I look at the Boarding Passes with a smile.

Of course, there will be good old friends and stories to catch up.  Of course, there will be interesting topics, the hashtag will trend and the content will be awesome.  If you aren’t going to be there in person, the mosaic above is the list of folks that will be curating stuff for you.  The hashtag is #SHRMI16, if you are into following the conversation online.

Even as I write this, I am reminded of a good read that classified conference participants in four different buckets. ( I wish I had known the authors to give them credit ).

Here they are.

1. The Vacationers : These are the folks that utilise the conference for a well-deserved break. They are lost in their thoughts and are least interested in whats happening in the conference. Except of course, the good food, the grand ambience. ‘A paid vacation’, as someone once told me.

2. The Prisoners : You know these people. They are the least interested in the conference. They are there because they haven’t had a choice. They are, to put in another way, ‘sentenced to attend the conference by the organisation’.  Sure they are there, taking notes and talking. But given a choice, they would much rather be someplace else.

3. The Experts : You cannot miss these folks. They pontificate on every topic. They have been there, done that & that too. ‘Even if you don’t have a problem, well, this is my solution for it’. They will drop names, spew jargon and sneak in an attempt to steal credit for the Sun showing up in the East. You get the drift, don’t you?

4.  The Explorers : These are the folks who are keen to figure things out. ‘ I know a few aspects about whats getting discussed here. There is a whole heap that I don’t know. From the whole lot that is getting said here, let me make sense of what will work for me and what I will let go of consciously‘. Thats the kind of disposition an ‘explorer’ brings to an event.

I have been a sundry vacationer, a dull prisoner, a bombastic expert and a curious explorer in different conferences. These perhaps are frequencies  that we tune into, depending on the content of the conference and what our context and disposition is at that point in time.

The truth remains that the opportunity to be a true explorer is ever present to each one of us, at every conference.  The choices are ours to make.

The SHRM India conference seems to pack a punch with an array of eclectic topics and speakers.  With an exploratory mindset, we ( you and me) can take our takeaways to a new height altogether.That brings me to another question. So what is exploration all about? How does one do that in a conference? Exploration is as personal as it can get. Here are a few things that I try and keep in mind. Stuff that I have learnt from many humble leaders and learners.

 

Explorers and pathways

Exploration is as personal as it can get. Here are a few things that I try and keep in mind. Stuff that I have learnt from many humble leaders and learners from conferences around the world. 

a. Listen. Listen. Listen : Listen to what comes from the stage and the responses it triggers. What is twitter abuzz with? What are the reactions to the content during the coffee break. For me, the responses that the content from the stage triggers, offers a far more compelling picture than the content by itself. ( Twitter, Facebook and other social streams will help you listen in). They give you a far more holistic picture that has rich context. So, dive into both conversations. They are precious. 

b. Explore the extremes : To suspend judgement, disbelief and staying alert to seek something of value, is important. Extreme views bring awareness of what lies at the far end. To seek these extremes and entertaining them without necessarily accepting them, lends power to exploration.

c. Ask your questions:  Share your thoughts : Finding a way to share your thoughts and asking your questions gives you clarity. Sometimes we may not be comfortable asking the question in public.  Find your nooks. Your friends groups. Your online community. Or even those WhatsApp groups. Whatever works for you. ( I would recommend twitter with the hashtag : #SHRMI2016, of course! ).

By doing that you are not only helping a larger understanding of the topic permeate, you are helping the community get stronger. That is a responsibility we carry.

What about success measure? How would you precisely know if attending a conference was worth your while? What goes on between our ears, for all the advancements in science doesn’t lend itself well for precision. Or so I think. So, precision is out.

I remember Lakshmi Pratury giving a formula in an INK Conference that has stayed with me ever since. She said something to the effect of “If you walk out of the conference with ‘one moment, one memory, one friend‘ the conference is a success”. Going by all the people that are going to be there and the interest that the conference is already generating, I am sure I will be many times more successful over the next couple of days. 

One more thing. For a true blue explorer, a conference does not end when it ends. In fact, it is when the event ends, that the explorer’s journey begins.