Tag Archives: outlay

Is Excellence a De-motivator? On How to Walk the Motivation Tight Rope

11 Dec

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As anyone who has been reading my posts knows, I pretty much, for the first time in my life, followed a new year’s resolution – that of joining an aerobics class (and, for the cynics amongst you, I have been a regular attendant all year long! so there!). It’s a fantastic class – very high energy/ great variety/ amazing set of folks – who have now become friends/ much fun and laughter/ and some great weight-loss and fitness stories. I ofcourse, was always a bit of a laggard here – agewise probably the oldest, fitness wise the worst, weightwise the most! But i persevered because I figured WHATEVER i do here, since its exponentially higher than what I did before (i.e. nothing), HAS to do my body good.

Also, interestingly, while I’m a big fan of goal setting, and of baby steps to achieve that goal (click on this link to see an earlier post), as well as result orientation (click on this link to see another post), in this case, I didn’t have a weight loss goal (my theory being, when I’m sooo far from my goal, let me just break it up into the task of going everyday, and not the end result – as Hazrat Nizamuddin said, faced by the imminent return of King Ghias-ud-din Tughlaq apparently to kill him,”Dilli abhi door hai” – i.e., Delhi is far away yet!)

But of late, I see the gap between the class’ abilities and performance, and my own capabilities – widening rapidly, to the extent that I am wondering if I should really go on here in the new year!

This really started me thinking about motivation – how much is too much; leading by example; and, the process of natural selection obviating perhaps HR instruments like bell curves.

See, for most of us, the pursuit of excellence is not an option (click here to see an earlier post on this) – and neither is leading by example/ getting our hands dirty/ showing others how to do stuff (click here to see another earlier post on “doing vs. managing”). As a corollary, we also learn to “play to our strengths” (omg, here’s ANOTHER earlier post on that!), so we gravitate towards professions/ hobbies/ people/ organisations that help us maximise potential and performance.

So, how does the whole “learning/ training/ upskilling” thing play out here. At what stage does it become evident that you are out of your league? And how does one cope with it?

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In nature, the process of “Natural Selection” automatically decimates those who can’t cope, and perpetrates the “survival of the fittest”. This means, you either “shape up or ship out” in corporate lingo, something I’m sure we’ve all heard quite often. To draw a corporate parallel, the bell curve kind-a sorts everyone on a relative scale, and most companies have a policy of weeding out those folks that fall beyond the lower sigma range repeatedly.

It then links with this thought many of us have very often in our jobs – “Is it better to be a star in an ‘average performing” organisation, or to be one amongst many bright folks in a really top notch one. I recently read Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s biography. She mentions this episode (which she has talked about very frequently) about her Piano Teacher’s daughter Laura (see slide 3/15), who basically made it to the senior volleyball team, because she opted to “play with and therefore learn from the best”.

So, the question is – should we endorse mediocrity? Looks like, no! So, try try again seems to be the mantra. But, to look at it from the other side, is there a role that the leader/ motivator/ mentor plays? Again, unequivocally, a yes!

zipline

I remember a picnic we had gone to from our old office. Part of the offsite activities were ziplining and rappelling. Now, for most folks, (including me) it was a first timer. We had a few adventurous types who went early (and, may I say, thoroughly enjoyed themselves!). Then it was my turn – now I have NO head for loss-of-gravity type stuff – I don’t even like getting on fast going elevators! I went and pretty much kicked and screamed my way through. As i disembarked, one of the folks asked me – (thinking I would say nice motivating things and so inspire the others who were sitting on the fence) – how was it. I shuddered and said “never again!”. Pfffttt – that was the sound of the gumption fading away form the others! I forgot for a bit my usual role of motivator :(. It took a lot of coaxing and motivation from my business partner Shoma then to tell the others to “get on/ its fun/ i did it so can you/ when was the last time you tried anything for the first time” type of stuff. Finally, most folks did it!

A trashy romance book I read long ago (sometimes you find pearls of wisdom embedded there) said – “Always hitch your bandwagon to a boss who is already a star – NOT one who is intent on climbing the ladder himself/ herself”. While this was not the case in my ziplining episode, the fact remains that a true leader, to motivate others, has to be VERY secure in his/ her own position.

So, coming back to how much does one raise the bar if one is the leader – do you set it at the Highest Performers, the Lowest Common Factor (Blackwell’s limiting factor), or the median? I think the answer is – show the end game/ highest possible – since that is always inspiring; but also show the path to achieving it by breaking up the goal. So, the whole repetition/ continuous improvement/ training paradigm does precisely this. And, the whole reward set-up (I play Tetris on my iphone; and LIVE for the rewards that I can get/ the challenges I can complete – and the resultant sense of achievement I own upto!)

What however the employee/ trainee needs to do maybe is get a sense of – am I being naturally selected OUT of the bell curve sigma range – and so, should I look for other avenues. NOT BEFORE I have tried to make it work, ofcourse, but only after!

Points to ponder? To help you along, as a final piece of reading, there’s an oldish article on this from Stanford which I found interesting.

As for me, I think I will continue in my aerobics class for sometime – unless I get naturally selected out of it!!! What say?

Outlay vs. Outcome: Why I need to diet AND exercise (or, why is “purchase intent” better than “likes” or “retweets”)

20 Nov

child studying

Classical scene in our house post any exam for the 8th grader child: One parent checking child’s answer against question paper. Child ofcourse answering to less-than-parent’s-satisfaction. Parent in glumpish/ lecturish/ sad/ disappointed mode. Child whining – but ma, I STUDIIIEEEDDDD – for TWO hoooouuuurrrrssss….

Actually mirrors my own scenario to a certain extent with the whole aerobics/ swimming business. I began attempting to get some exercise the beginning of this year (for the first time ever, I may add). Some 46 weeks later – very very very very marginal reduction in inches and kilos.

weight loss fail cartoon

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Reminds me of our early partner calls running our start-up, when we would each ask the other partner – so, what’s the sales pipeline looking like. And, one of us would always say – see, I called company XYZ, tried to catch person ABC, attempted to get a meeting with so and so….

What’s common between each of these? Effort – Much. much. much. much…. Result – Zilch. zero. zip…

The point is, most of us very often kind of give sop to our consciences saying – I put in so much effort – I studied x hourse/ did y hours of community service/ made so many calls/ research so many papers. NOT IMPORTANT – what IS important is – did you achieve what you were trying to? Did it have the required outcome/ the impact???

Honestly, if it didn’t, your effort went waste! There is a saying – don’t just work hard, work smart. It’s to do with this outlay vs. outcome thing. ROI is a key metric most smart organisations measure – how much “bang for your buck” are you getting? Are you able to get higher turns out of your resources – inventory/ capital/ people time…and, the only way to do it is to be efficient/ smart/ outcome focused.

A good tool to measure this is a time sheet – I remember in the early days of our startup, we four founders decided to fill up time sheets – one week into the game, and i had trouble accounting for my 18 hours that i burnt the midday and midnight oil at. It was astonishing for how many of the hours, I would have probably put in “email” and/ or “internet”…(ofcourse, we were a virtual organisation, hence email was important; and we were a secondary research oriented org, hence the internet was inevitable) – but still, eye opening!

It’s a classical HR conundrun also – do you hire/ keep the “well intentioned/ great attitude” employee, or the “expert” one – who probably comes with all kinds of baggage of maintenance. A smart company actually hires a mix – and the managing of this mix determines the success or not of the org.

Interestingly, this is counter intuitive advice from what the Bhagwad Gita (a well known Indian tome) gives you – Karmanyevadhikarastey, ma faleshu kadachana – means keep focussing on your work, don’t worry about the result. (looks like this has had a great impact of me one way or the other – I just realised I used it in a completely different context in an earlier blog). I think, it would have been better if Krishna said – “work ofcourse, but work towards a goal – results will come, so don’t worry about them” :).

I saw a depressing example of the flip side of this advice actually a few days ago. As most Indian corporates know, recently the Companies Act got revised, and it now includes a provision that companies have to show spend of 2% of their net profit on CSR activities. A friend (and former co-founder) now actively in the CSR space wanted to pitch advisory services to firms about how to make use of these “mandatory” funds to make an impact. The finding in most cases is, that companies don’t really care about impact – they care about the “doing” – so, its all – “We Spent XXX Volunteer hours on CSR activities” – OoooKaayyy, what did you achieve? “uh-duh…who knows, who cares, how do we find out, why should we measure”! Kinda defeats the spirit of the act, don’t you think?

Another corollary – the whole Social/ Digital Media ROI piece – most folks are chasing likes/ retweets/ shares – and calling it engagement. Sure, these are good goals to chase as a FIRST step – but thats all they should be – a means to an end. Unless it translates to actual brand health KPIs – like, consideration/ purchase intent/ recommend-ability, loyalty…its all so much “feel-good” stuff.

I read this interesting article recently on HBR – pretty much says the same thing; slamming “being slammed/ busy/ neck deep in work” on grounds of outcome vs. outlay, worth a click.

What’s the solution though – how do you make sure you keep end objective in sight and don’t get bogged down by the effort. Most of you management sorts probably HAVE the toolkits, for me, a simple daily checklist worked well (I loved the ticks against each completed task) – but this daily checklist needs to get collaborated against yr monthly / quarterly/ annual goals. (It’s end of the year, folks – I’m sure many of you are now filling out “traffic signal” sheets against goal achievement? ).

For weight loss, I’m onto a protein only, no carbs diet for some time starting, uh, tomorrow? 🙂 (I see with my own eyes the much better effect of a combi diet-cum-exercise regime on my aerobics classmates everyday!).

Weight Loss tips Cartoon
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Regarding kids, and how one makes them goal oriented, and not effort oriented – well, I have NO answers! (Its amazing how the simplest parenting problem is so much more insoluble than the most complex corporate one isn’t it?) Anyone with any idea, DO PLEASE pitch in!!!!