work

Growing New Wings

I write this sitting in an airport. Its been a busy time. For the mind, the body and the calendar. My flight is ‘delayed due to operational reasons’ I am told with an honour laden tone and a straight face.

So, I sit here in the airport trying to pluck words off the keyboard. This post has been in the making for a while. In my mind that is! I try to zone out of the ear popping frenzy of an international airport to attempt encapsulating the emotion of the past few weeks, months perhaps, into a coherent set of words.

I am still trying as I type this.

You see, its been a couple of weeks since I demitted office at Asian Paints and have been on the road ever since. After close to nine years with a distributed work remit over the years that included Talent Management, Organisation Development,  Learning, Performance Support, Social Collaboration, Diversity & Inclusion. The years sped away and I am left with a ton of learning, a clutch of memories and a heap of great colleagues and friends!

My decision has been on the works for a while now. It took a large quantum of effort and consumed much of my thought over the past several months.  I thought I had thought through everything.  Informing the organisation well ahead of time, working out a transition and closing my account, so to speak.  Looking back, I am struck by how much I underestimated the emotional ‘sense of loss’ of saying goodbye to an organisation that was is a dear part of me. That emotion devoured well laid out plans! 

I struggle here, sitting in the airport lounge, rummaging around for words.  The farewell blogpost I wrote on the Asian Paints’ internal social collaboration platform, on my last working day, is a classic study in contrast.  Words just flew off the keyboard then.

Wait a minute. I have an idea.   

Heres the farewell blogpost. In full. 

Yes, it is that time for me to sit down, say thank you and write a note of goodbye. I begin with Kahlil Gibran to get myself to switch gears and writing.

How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city.

      Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?

      Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.

      It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands. Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst. “

And so, I am moving on. I haven’t had the opportunity of meeting and talking to as many good friends & colleagues, as I would have liked to. To let people know that I am moving on hasn’t been easy on the emotions!  Asian Paints has been a dear part of life over the last several years. A place which prodded me to change some strong beliefs that I came with, gave me fresh ones to harbour and opportunities to constantly grow. The freedom and space to ‘own’ work has always been stellar and that will always stay fresh with me.

There is something unique about Asian Paints that makes it more than a mere ‘company’. Perhaps it is the company! The company of people. A company of people that has fostered conversations, competence, relationships and a way of community. A collective heft, if you will, in the overcoming of stiff challenges and stern goals over the past 75 years! A sense of community that is unique and one that has made a difference to so many lives. A company that I will forever cherish. A big thank you for that!

As I move on, I draw on all our conversations, the debates & the arguments as much as I draw on all the warmth & love. I am moving on to nurture an entrepreneurial dream. I aim to be beset with the lightness of a beginner and try to spin my arm on a new track, even while proudly sporting the tag of having worked in Asian Paints. In your midst. Your good wishes have always meant much and will do so even more now, as I venture into uncharted territory.

Keeping in touch in the modern day world is ever so easy and I look forward to staying connected with you. ( The online space is something that I have been dabbling with and would also be a line of business for me now!).   My mail id remains Kavis.mail@gmail.com and a few sundry thoughts get aggregated at www.kaviarasu.com .

I reserve no less than the very best of wishes to you and to all members of your family and to this fantastic organisation.

I close with Gibran again. (He is just magical. Isnt he?)

Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
      It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
      You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
      But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
      The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
      If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
      And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.

Heres to great times ahead!  “

That was my blogpost. Written in one emotion filled flow, on my last working day.

If you are reading till here, well, you would know that I am moving to unchartered territory. At least unchartered for me, as I eject from corporate employment and seek to find my feet in the big wide world. In short, growing new wings. 

One step at at a time

So, what now? A clutch of ideas, beliefs and notions power me.  Stuff, that crept in me on over the last several years. Brought to me by virtue of work,  discussions, reading, public conferences, private conversations over strong coffee. Yes, good strong coffee that I have woken up to and smelt.  

Here are some of my beliefs and hypotheses.  There are several. One way to shake up my inertia to promise myself that I will keep it to a pruned list of five points. Top Five, if you will. So here goes. A bit long maybe. But am going to let myself flow.

1. Work and the Future of Work :

All of us see small chunks and hear disconnected voices in our daily way of living and work that points to shifts in work. Not sure? Heres a quick dipstick. How many times have you heard at least two or three of the following?

a. “Our company is not what it used to be. We used to talk to each other a lot more. Where have the conversations gone?”

b. ” The idea of forcing a tag on my performance based on a statistical tool called the ‘Bell Curve’ is beyond ridiculous”

c. “I have to dumb down my digital social life to retain this job. I don’t know how for how long”

d. ” ‘These young people’  do not have any commitment to their jobs. How can you be committed if you are checking your facebook updates every 30 minutes?”

e. “Our engagement survey numbers are a bit of a joke.  What can you expect when they think they can engage me by buying new furniture?”

f. “My boss thinks I ought to respect him and listen to all that he says because he is my boss. Well, sorry.”

g. “Oh you know what, I got nominated to that same silly training programme. Thank God its aleast a better venue”

This is a sample of random conversations across several organisations that come back to my mind. Heard from business leaders, HR folks and other colleagues who I have had opportunities to interact with on various platforms and fora. There are several more that will unfold gradually as themes of my work. Over time. 

A ton of reflection, reading and exchanges of ideas with diverse people across the spectrum has left me convinced that tectonic shifts are taking place in the ground beneath us. These are but early rumbles.

The times we live in are like never before. Enterprises have people born five or even six decades apart working together. Beset with work values and approaches that not only appear different but have created new fault lines that appear as trenches.  Digital tools for their part have accentuated this divide, having changed how different generations approach work, relationships and daily lives.

Work is beginning to look, smell, feel different and is appropriating new meaning. The appeal of the employment ‘contract’ is getting jaded at a fast clip. The seeking for ‘real work’ and ‘agency’ is making its presence felt.

Organisational responses across the board has been to do more of what we are familiar with from Fredrick Taylor’s times.  Fresh minting of behaviour defining dictionaries asking for ( and rewarding ) conformance is common, supported by benchmarking studies that point to ‘everybody is doing this’.

All is not lost, though. New conversations on Whole System Thinking, Emergence, Collaboration is indeed emerging from the shadows, amplified by digital tools and their reach. The right balance between esoteric in-the-air suggestions to changes on the ground needs to be found. Not easy. To move from firewalls & functions to networks and platforms need deep conversations and deeper work. 

2. Learning & leadership in the new world: If society’s ideas on work have shifted, goes without saying that those about learning, leadership & performance need some soul searching with a good dose of imagination.

Certainty centred ‘education’ of the past has given way to the need for learning to handle rapid change. Throwing fancy content, well designed ‘training programs’ and shiny new technology at every problem that organisations face have only riddled us with more trouble than before. Stories of efforts to solve challenges leaving organisations with a heap of new challenges are of everyday lore. 

In a world where the ‘authentic’ continues to gain currency, far more is possible by facilitating people to bring and apply their full selves to work. To look at work as the learning and learning as the work, puts far more in the hand of every single stakeholder. It gives ‘agency’ and a scope to function with choice.

As they lead the charge in the new age, leaders with the best intent, buoyed by thinking and successes from an earlier era can run aground the best-built ships. Thinking whole system, community, designing rich jobs, and choice enabled development platforms  will be needed in tons. Keeping things simple and natural will bring development & change that matters. Keeping things simple is tough. (I realise, even as I type this) 

3. Community. Networks. Collaboration: We come together to converse, to learn and create shared meaning in ways that were unimaginable a few years ago. Going beyond notional boundaries of organisations, nations, domains and what not, these conversations can be spawned sans title or position in a hierarchy.  Organisations can get themselves new wings, reimagining themselves as a community. Needless to say, communities can get far more firepower and create far greater impact when they leverage the full power of the eco-system in holistic ways. 

It is by no means easy work. It is a different kind of work.  We need more imagination at play than certifications. More story telling than policies. More conversations than reviews.  More belief in the full person than making rules to extract work from 9.00 am to 6.00 PM. More inclusive work than diktats. 

This change needs the intelligence and interest of networks and hundreds of conversations. With careful nurturing, curation and holding the space for these to flourish, much change can arise.

Networks, collaboration and spawning more of them becomes an important wagon in the change train. The network has always been more powerful than the node (irrespective of what the nodes thought). Even more so now with technology shrinking the world.

4. Spirit of Enterprise: The spirit of enterprise and choice will be the key to help change sustain. Challenges that we are faced with look different when viewed through the eyes of employees with agency.  As hierarchies struggle to come to terms with the scale of change that scalds , the entrepreneurial mindset will both be the balm for change and the recipe for ringing in the change.

Sustaining energies of a restive population for lasting change requires energies from within. The entrepreneurial mindset can power change like nothing else can. For the headwinds won’t be any simple!

5. Other matters: Heres the fifth point. Five points, as I had promised. More for another time perhaps. Now for some ‘other matters’! Important other matters.

I hope to able to drop my daughter and pick her up more often than before and indulge in intimate discovery lead learning. For her. For me.

To write more, read more, travel to places on the map ( and places that aren’t ) and share them with the world is high on the agenda.

New Media is an area of great interest and more dabbling with many of its present and emerging forms will be fulfilling.

To shed some weight and staying light is another priority. In the body as well.

And of course, sitting down with people across the world and chatting up about the weather over our heads and over the organisations we frequent. That will hold sustained interest. The coffee will stay strong.

These are my beliefs and hypotheses. Notions, if you will. ‘Ambitious hopes’ as a colleague called it the other day. I need to question my assumptions and needle my beliefs. It requires, deep work.

My plan is to work in the spaces at the intersection of People, Culture and Technology. My palette has varied hues : Org Change & development, Leadership Facilitation, Executive coaching and the like. Am confident that my experience and understanding of people development, change processes and organisational structures combined with the passion for digital /social tools and social business will find green space.

While the contours of what I will be doing sits pretty in my mind, its translation to specifics requires a good degree of spit and polish.  Conversations, work and diverse experiences will be the secret sauce work this through over time.  I look forward to partner with people / teams / networks around the world who are hungry for making a difference in the spaces they operate in.

The support from the various communities that I have drawn from has always been awesome. I am ever so grateful for that. I will continue to draw on these, even as I attempt to forge new equations and chemistries.  As I start out to question my assumptions and needle my beliefs, a bit of a falter, some hop skip and jump are to be expected. Picking myself up all over again will be possible with the help of the communities and conversations.  Those will be dear as I weave a new warp and weft into my skin.

So in more ways than one, I begin all over again. Wish me luck & watch this space.

That’s it for now people. The honour laden tone that had announced that my flight was delayed due ‘to operational reasons’ just announced that it will soon be boarding.    

Woking out Loud on ‘Working Out Loud’!

Sunder posted these questions, on Twitter and elicited a barrage of wonderful responses, as only he can. 🙂

The questions he posed were these :

  1. “What does #WorkingOutLoud mean to u in a tweet?”
  2. “How r u building the #WorkingOutLoud culture in ur Org?”

Having dabbled with both the idea and the practice of Working Out Aloud” for a bit and getting mixed results, my thoughts ran beyond containment in a tweet. So here is a blogpost!

(The first time I spoke of “Working Out Loud” and explained the meaning and the benefits of doing so, a very conscientious colleague asked curiously, if it should be rather be “Working out Aloud” and not “Working out loud”! That was the first objection! )

Well, lets get the basics of what it is out of the way, quickly. John Stepper points here  as the origin of the term and I am going with him. He lucidly says, “Working Out Loud = Observable Work + Narrating Your Work”. 

John captures the five elements that make WOL, here.  There are others including Dave Weiner who have written on this, and WOL I have noticed in the last few conferences, getting more than a ‘normal’ share of mention and attention!

At its core, it is documenting your work and sharing it with your network, to make it better, as the network shares its views and ideas on what you shared. This could lead to new insights to you. Or / and to the network! In a sense, your work doesn’t get experienced after you have completed it, but rather, as you work on it. Of course, when the work is completed, it is much better than what it would have been, without the sharing. Digital sharing tools and platforms have made it very easy and accessible to do this on the go!

Thats that.One step at at a time

After working on it for sometime now (present continuous tense), it is only easy to see that  WOL and concepts like WOL are, ‘alien to’ (to put it strongly) and represent a very different rhythm the way organisations are currently structured, performance is monitored and rewards distributed. The biggest hope (and all my successes) have come from the fact that it is people who do the work and people have always been talking about their work! 

Yet, the road to widespread adoption of WOL, in the way its outlined has its challenges in an organisation. It is a function of several things, which I’ll discuss here.  The percolation of ‘social’ in the ‘digital’ way is key. Leaders and leadership teams working on this actively is a big deal.

We need to contend with the fact, that very few organisations and leaders are alive to a reality that they are soon to contend: A very open transparent reality, where the what and the how of leadership is very different from now. Sudhanshu Palsule captures it nicely here .When leadership buy-in and/or walking the talk is absent, very little gets done to scale. 

The Why element :
WOL is not an end. It is a means to something larger. Harold Jarche nails it well (as he usually does) here explaining how WOL could be a good starting point to perhaps creating an organisational transformation. For engineering a change in a ‘way of working’, across a cross section of people and sustaining it requires coordinated effort and a strong ‘why’!

So, going back to Sunder’s question, how does one build a culture of WOL in an organisation? There is no one magic wand answer that applies to all and solves our collective challenges.

Context & Culture : One size fits one. Organisational contexts vary. For example a highly successful organisation’s need to change its established ways of working are abysmally low! If you throw in cultural facets like a highly competitive environment, siloes and an employee demographic that straddles different age peaks, your challenge gets compounded.

Rhythm of work : Within an enterprise, the flow and rhythm of work within it, varies and so does adoption of new ways, over established ways of working. Mandates don’t work and are plain silly in this landscape. Different functions take to it differently. The rhythms of working of say teams in Finance and Marketing are, well, different to put it mildly! Plus different people in these different functions take to it differently. (That is where opportunity lies nestled)

The How: Often times, WOL can get regarded as ‘one more activity’ to be done AFTER work is done and hence, adding to the work that is relentless in its piling up! The moment it is regarded so, the inertia it sets off, is tremendous! To be able to embed WOL onto the job, and help employees to adopt this as a way of working and not an activity to be done after work, is key.

There is a skilling element (however small it may seem), and a space for working on this and a plan to sustain it all.  All of these three ( skills + space + sustenance) are needed in different combinations in different pockets, to create a certain threshold level of adoption to WOL across the spectrum. “WOL” is a change that is being brought to a way of working. Not a one time initiative.

Enterprise wide adoption doesn’t happen by default. Sustained change management work, is required here. This happens by design!

So, its all bad?

Wonder if I have made it sound that its all bad. Sorry if I made it sound so. Having personally experienced the many benefits of WOL, to become a convert happens by default ( after experiencing it) and it is indeed very common to become a cheer leader once you have embraced it!

Having said that, from an enterprise context, It needs to be orchestrated for adoption keeping in mind the current realities of how large enterprises work. Seeding the idea of WOL and nurturing it for widespread adoption is a very different ask. Sunder provides examples of how the L&D team is working on it.

Am going to explore a few ideas and dilemmas in another blogpost and will of course be delighted with your inputs. 🙂

The ugliness in learning

For several months now, I have been working on picking up some photography skills. But more on that later.
A few years ago, I started clicking around with a prosumer camera in the perpetual quest for a new stories, ever since I started blogging. I recall it being tough to use it.

But I did all the typical things. Read up-Click-Review-submit-get feedback etc! The learning progressed and the quality of the pictures improved. And as the blogging gained traction, there were quite a few appreciative comments about the photography skills as well.

After a few years of playing with it and becoming aware of the camera’s and my own limitations further fuelled by a desire to better quality pictures, a few months back, I invested in a professional DSLR camera. Yes, investment is the word.
Ever since then, its been a battle of sorts. For all the money the camera sucked in, it comes with a multitude of bells, whistles and hooters. It took me a good two days to figure out the basics and many months to get comfortable with it.

Infact I still am on the journey.

Every day, was is a new learning. But it was is clumsy. A struggle. Sometimes, the best of family moments reduced to a plain white sheet or a thick cloak of black in the quest of capturing the moment to perfection.

But guess what, am getting better. I still have to think about every single angle, button and setting. Still messing up. But the gap between mess-ups have only increased. Which is good news.

The four stages of competence  holds my transition rather well. Where I reasonably assumed that the virtue of clicking around for a few years with a prosumer camera automatically gave me the skill to click good pictures with the DSLR as well. How wrong I was.

Very quickly I became conscious about my what a fool I was making of myself. Especially when the family frowns at a lousy mess up of a snap, usually of a critical family moment and wondering aloud, ‘whatever happened to you?’. Pregnant in that question is the automatic upgrade in expectation because of my upgrade to a far more sophisticated camera!

From then on I have been at it. Reading. Reviewing. Clicking. Sharing. More clicking. And seeking feedback. Some feedback is not sophisticated or polite. Yet others are. All of it is valid. But now, by the constant seeking and playing the new tricks that I pick up, I am consciously getting more competent with it than before. At a slower pace than several others, but hey, am enjoying the journey clicking snaps like this! It may not be piping hot but hey, its spewing action!

Furnace

Hopefully there will be a time, when all of this would come easy. When I would be unconsciously competent. When flicking a the buttons based on the time of the day and the mood to capture, would be second nature.

But until I get there, there is going to be a process of learning. But the point to this post is this : That the road from now on is going to be clumsy! With a collection of gross errors and gingerly mishaps and lousy pictures as proof.

A learning process runs a high potential of snapping or not starting because of the ‘ugliness’ if I were to call it that, of the trying out of the new learning. A workshop could have been energizing and the learners left with a keen desire to try.

But the real learning comes in the trying to implement the learning! In the trying, there is a good chance of failure and making a fool of oneself. Learning professionals must increasingly devote time to this phase where learner performance and trial is supported. There could be a multitude of things that could be done.  And needs to be urgently.

Will Thalheirmer‘s work has been illustrative.

Lets face it, learning is inherently challenging at this phase. A phase where well intentioned goals melt. It is this phase that needs L&D folks to shine their torch on. Especially so, if the context for learning isn’t anchored well and transfer of learning isn’t a mandate. Alas in the melee of organizing programs, collecting feedback and presenting budgets, this is missed.

While performance support tools are many, the role of the immediate manager and colleagues play a role that is often neglected as part of the learning design. In my experience, even an expression of interest on the learning by the immediate manager, has remarkable results for starters.

That brings to bear the question, my pet peeve of sorts: how are immediate managers of learners being involved?
See, as far as my photography where this post began, my wife, family and an extended array of friends, play the role of the ‘interested colleague / friend/boss’! Keen on seeing what new pictures have been clicked and often offering their views!

That in itself has helped me stay the course.

Someday, I wont be consciously reaching out for buttons and manuals. Towards that quest, I am clicking away. Of course  all support is deeply appreciated!