Meritocracy should not be subjective

Sometimes I become confused with the modern day terminology of a simple thing – sincere and efficient employee. We use impressive and mighty words such as meritocracy, talent pool, multi skilled, up skilled, leadership oriented etc to describe or rather differentiate a bright employee from others, the run of the mill types. While it’s alright to differentiate more bright employees from not-so-bright, use more trendy vocabulary to describe them and provide them an accelerated career growth, what astonishes me no end is the element of subjectivity in recognising meritocratic employees. Is a good employee generally good for any organisation or is only subjectively good – only under a particular boss, in a specific role or a department and during a particular tenure? 

I am not questioning any organisation, system or an individual here, but just wondering at the manner of assessing an employee’s capability! In a long career span, my experience as a boss and subordinate has been that a good hand is generally good , barring minor occasional blips, because after all, we are all humans and not machines. But over a medium to long term average, a good employee will largely prove to be good. 

What has provoked me to write this post are certain instances, where employees once considered 24 carat gold with great careers going for them, suddenly fell out of favour and became disposable. While they might not have hit such low levels to be asked by the organisation to leave and go, circumstances became such that they no longer could continue and had to bring their once fledgling careers to a rather premature end. While it’s true that an organisation is much bigger than any individual and organisations survive and thrive, notwithstanding the exit of individuals, it’s unfortunate when a hardworking, sincere, knowledgeable, dependable and someone with a great career ahead has to call it a day for something that was eminently avoidable in first place was at best flimsy! Let’s create more robust platforms for assessing individuals so that there services can be availed of by organisations for long time to their mutual benefit.

61 and counting

Last year, I celebrated my 60th birthday with a little bit of anxiety or should I say uncertainty as turning 60 also meant superannuation from my job. On one hand, after decades of 9 to 5 routine, I looked forward to this well deserved retirement, I also worried about passing time on the other.

As I turn 61 today on 28th of May, that uncertainty and anxiety have given way to an inexplicable peace, a soothing calmness. There are no deadlines or targets to be met, promotions or incentives to be aspired for, board presentations to be prepared, unpleasant office scenarios to be tolerated, team members to be kept motivated and above all Monday blues to be coped with . With every evening a weekend eve and everyday like a Sunday, I really have to refer to a calendar to ascertain which day of the week a particular day is!

But because I love English language, I cannot really forsake all its teachings! There’s a popular English saying, “ Idle mind is devil’s workshop” to which I’d add on my own, “ idle body is devil’s abode”. So being idle doesn’t mean that I am playing out to devil’s workshop or abode. I sleep on time, wake up early, read newspapers , solve crosswords, exercise a bit, walk 10000 steps, read, travel and watch good programmes on OTT, web and TV. In fact, I sometime feel that hours in a day are inadequate to do justice to all the above.

But having done enough for my profession and myself as a person, I want to do something meaningful selflessly before time that’s moving too fast, elapses finally ! On this birthday of mine, while thankfully acknowledging good wishes from all my friends, I seek their special wishes so that I receive some spiritual enlightenment and guidance to pursue this endeavour of mine.

My gratitude once again to all my well wishers who took time out to send me their birthday wishes.

Belated Happy International HR Day

I just came across a post in LinkedIn making a mention of International HR Day that provoked me to check google! I found out May 20th to be the designated day as International HR Day.

These special or designated days have remained an area of special interest and in the past I have written blogs on almost all special days – Fathers, Mothers, Children, Valentine’s Rose et al and I have always wondered about the thought, logic or history behind them! Post my superannuation, employees’ interest has been an area receiving my special focus and in that sense, International HR Day assumes special significance.

The rationale for which Personnel Departments (PD) of yore gave way to HR departments (HRD) was the need for overall development and satisfaction of the employee beyond the commonplace aspects of promotion, posting, transfer and increments. It’s for the experts and the heads of HR of various organisations to ponder over whether these objectives are being/ have been met after transition from PD to HRD. Some of the triggers that can help such mulling over are as under:

(1) How the conflict between employees and employers are resolved – in favour of employees or employers? 

(2) What special initiative do HRDs take beyond the aforesaid four commonplace items that were the primary focus of PDs? 

(3) Is there complete transparency around policies relating to  PMS, promotion, bonus and ESOPs? 

(4) Do the employees feel empowered, important and satisfied? 

(5) Are the organisations getting the best available talent? 

Certainly HR is amongst the most important aspects of any organisation as it handles the main fuel of growth – the manpower resources or employees and the position of HR Heads is no easy spot, being full of challenges requiring maintenance of fine balance between the interests of employees and employers that may not always be aligned! 

Happy international HR day – especially to incumbents working in HRDs!

Long live IPL

I was not a big fan of IPL. Though very opulently mounted and very high on entertainment quotient, I thought it to be the very antithesis of what the real cricket was all about – strategy, it’s relaxed execution, patience, demonstration of techniques, pitches that supported pacers on the first morning and spinners on the last two days et al. Then slowly I started seeing some merits in this gala festival. Lots of cricketers who were talented but unable to make it to the national team got a platform to showcase their talent. Presence of international cricketers of repute helped these players hone their skill by learning finer nuances of the game. And we were spoilt for choice of players- especially for the shorter version of the game.

And this year’s event, which is yet to come to its zenith, the finals being on Sunday the 28th of this month, has almost made me it’s diehard fan. On one hand, we have two boys from very humble backgrounds- Yashasvi and Rinku, making it right to the top, on the other we have seen the blossoming talent of already established lads like Shubhman, Ruturaj, and Devdutt Padikkal . And I really envy the selectors who are going to have hard time picking up the eleven for any of the three formats. Claimant for pacer’s position in team are Shami, Siraj, Umran, Arshdeep, Deepak Chahar, Thakur, Natarajan, not to speak of redoubtable Bhuvi and re-emergent Ishant. For spin department, apart from lead spinner Ashwin, we have Chahal, Chahar, Bishnoi, Brar and not to mention all rounders like Krunal Pandya. For wicket keeping, while Dhoni and Wridhiman Saha refuse to get old, Jitendra Sharma, Anuj Rawat and Sanju Samson only complicate selector’s job. And if I start making mention of batters here, the blog will become too lengthy!

The only concern is that overindulgence in this funfair should not dilute real cricketing skills of our players in any manner as I read somewhere that purists were expressing concern at the possible lack of adequate preparation for the World Series scheduled for the first week of June against redoubtable Australia. Hopefully, our worthy boys will get over the razzmatazz of IPL immediately to focus on the ensuing important tournament.

For about two months IPL provided unbridled joy in the evenings and this year matches were very closely fought. There’s a bit of emotional quotient also in the play around IPL’s hero Dhoni hanging his boots after this years event! Let’s hope he continues to provide delight to his fans for one more year, which seems eminently possible looking to his current form and fitness.

Bye bye Rs2000 note

While like most of the people of this country, I too have mixed feelings about the merits and demerits of demonetisation, here comes another news that Rs2000 note that has been out of print for almost 5 years needs to be either exchanged or deposited in the bank account before 30th September. It will no longer be a legal tender thereafter.

I am sure that those calling shots (government and RBI) have studied the scenario post demonetisation in depth, without biases or pre mind sets before arriving at this important decision! Were the objectives of previous demonstration that caused great agony to the mankind, but was supported by common citizen for its noble cause, fully realised and achieved? Could we account for all the black money and weed it out of the system? Is the black money or unaccounted for cash holding no longer an issue for the nation?

While it’s true that need for cash has come down drastically ( a kind of revolution seems to have happened post UPI and you just need to scan QR code on your mobile to effect any payment- forget even cards or registration of payees for making NEFT/RTGS payment) and we are hearing about CBDC ( central bank digital currency), common households always save some cash for emergency ( mostly housewives) and such recurrent demonetisation puts people to unnecessary hassle. On a lighter note, how many times will homemakers be exposed for their secret savings that they painstakingly accumulate over a period of time!

Let’s hope this time the discontinuation of Rs2000 note will not cause any woes to common man, be not politically controversial and achieve all the objectives without any pain to anyone. Government should also abstain for such moves looking to India’s vastness and associated complexity.

There’s no one like mother

Jane Goodall, who has spent decades in Africa as the world’s top authority on working with chimpanzees, attributes this remarkable achievement of hers to the freedom and encouragement given by her mother since her early childhood. Her mother resisted the advice of her friends and relatives to bar Jane from pursing her passion that seemed so untraditional and do something more “respectable” and career oriented.

Tony Bennett, once described by Frank Sinatra as the best singer in the business, describes how his quest for success began from his childhood by sitting by his mother’s side while she worked as a seamstress, during the depression. He remembers the constant hum of the machine and how her finger would frequently get caught beneath the sewing needle causing severe pain to her. He decided that he’d become successful so that his mother would never have to stitch clothes again.

The above real life stories assume special significance on the eve of Mothers Day falling tomorrow on the 14th of May. Aren’t all mothers similar to what Jane Goodall and Tony Bennett have described about their mothers? It’s a different story that all of us, the children, may not turn out to be super successful like them, but mothers are all similar- caring, tolerant, concerned, empathetic, sacrificing and selfless! All of them may not be necessarily stitching clothes to make the two ends meet or giving exceptional leeway to their children to indulge in any activity! But the underlying spirit is same – giving the best of life to their children, expecting nothing in return !

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers and their children for whatever they are today – they owe it to their mothers more than anyone else!

Airline should be flying in the sky not landed on the ground!

After long years of monopoly by Air India for overseas destinations and Indian Airlines for domestic sector ( along with Vayudoot in certain sectors), there came a period, when domestic flyers were really pampered and spoilt for choices. I more prominently recall two specific instances – first flying between Delhi and Mumbai in a Modiluft flight that served top quality scotch during the 2 odd hours that we were onboard and a 2.5 hours long flight from Mumbai to Kolkata in a Damania flight that kept us busy all the while with multi course dinner. Air Deccan brought in the novel concept of “ making flying possible for everyone” and it pioneered low cost flying. Later on Jet and Kingfisher took the flying experience to a different level. It’s another story that many of the above names stand consigned to annals of history. The general perception was that aviation companies had since managed to break the logjam and that in future we might not see a repeat of multiple failures witnessed in the past. Indigo led the way by its unique strategy of buy and leaseback and is currently managing a large fleet with more than 50% market share. Others, more pronouncedly SpiceJet and Go First seemed to be doing alright till Go First, owned by Wadia Group, referred itself voluntarily to NCLT. It has since suspended all its flight and stopped booking tickets for future flights.

In one of the previous blogs that dealt with failure of banks, I had suggested that Government should move in swiftly like it did in the case of Yes Bank to minimise the suffering to the common man. The fact remains that whether it’s a bank or airline that fails, sufferer is only the common man. While his hard earned money gets stuck up in the first instance, his hard planned travel plans go haywire in the second. Government cannot be expected to bail out every failed venture, but the regulating and monitoring agencies should preempt such a drastic eventuality, as such rot cannot be setting in overnight!

Just to digress a bit, there should be a thorough investigation and remedial action concerning faults in both – A320 Neo and Boring 737 Max aircrafts that have led a large number of aircrafts to be grounded causing losses to airlines and acute inconvenience to flyers. Whether fault lies in Pratt & Whitney engines or some other spare parts, the fact is that these supposedly new generation and fuel efficient aircrafts seemed to have fallen short of very high standards set up by Airbus and Boeing. If this issue is not fixed immediately and comprehensively, a few other not so financially strong airlines could be in troubled waters.

For the time being, let’s hope that house of Wadias support their dream venture and hand it over to another operator/ owner in a running condition and not as insolvent venture, if they are gonging this non viable to run. Let all the concerned stakeholders, including Aviation ministry, join hands to ensure early resumption of Go First’s operations as its grounding has already caused serious disruption in the market with fares on certain sectors covered by it being skyrocketed!

Good strategy

In general, most of the private sector banks have been reporting Q4 numbers on the expected lines. Axis Bank reported loss solely on account of an extraordinary item arising out of the purchase consideration paid to Citibank for acquiring their retail business that could have been amortised over a longer period but was fully charged to P&L account as a prudent measure.

However, the Bank that has posted extremely strong numbers is none other than IDFC First Bank. And its CEO responded to some hard questions with utmost confidence that ruled out any one time/ short term windfall but sustainable business being built on solid foundations.

My readers would recall that I had very enthusiastically lauded IDFC’s proactive initiative of waiving all kinds of charges for their retail customers. Many pundits were circumspect about the merits of this act, but the Bank seems to have reaped rich dividends from its farsightedness. In fact, to my mind, loss of income due to the aforesaid measure has been more than adequately made up by the Bank by improving its NIM to unexpectedly high levels of more than 6%. As I could make out from what the CEO was explaining, I think the Bank is no longer paying very fancy interest on SA deposits.

On a slightly different note, there was a major disruption when RBI freed interest on Saving deposits in the year 2011. Some of the smaller banks offered rates as high as 7% and beyond, though larger banks held on to the then existing rates. It was opined by the experts that customers were not influenced by interest rates in respect of check accounts ( as saving accounts are also known as) and therefore, over the years savings interest rates have more or less evened out. However, customers, especially the liability customers who place their deposits with banks, are definitely sensitive to whole lot of charges being applied by banks on various services used by them. It’s also true that though customer sign off is obtained on the schedule of charges, many of these are not adequately understood by the customer! IDFC’s strategy could be a way forward for companies that are trying to wean away a portion of the market share in a highly competitive and overcrowded market.

Good for organisation is good for all

Any organisation or corporate entity has several stakeholders attached to it. Here for the sake of simplicity, we shall stick to a banking entity, part of the industry that I have remained associated with for decades.

The first stakeholder is the promoter; while for PSBs, Government is the main shareholder and promoter in that sense, this stakeholder is more relevant for the likes of Indusind and Kotak, where an individual and a family clearly enjoy this position. ICICI, HDFC and Axis have always been institutionally promoted and currently widely held mainly by FIIs.

The second stakeholder are shareholders; for listed entities, retail investors are more vociferous and employees through ESOP routes also assume the status of being a shareholder. Institutional shareholders are more strategic and have a bit longer term perspective.

The next important stakeholder are the employees led by the CEO. While the top management provides vision and leadership, the middle and lower management actually manage day to day affairs. The top leadership is a major beneficiary of high salaries, perquisites, bonuses and ESOPs that’s justified given their larger responsibility in achieving corporate goal and vision.

The last stakeholder in this chain are the customers who provide the fodder to the bank by trusting it with their deposits and borrowing funds to start/expand their business.

In the sense of value or importance, the last stakeholder viz. Customer, assumes the most important position as the company survives to see another day till it has customers and their transactions to handle! Therefore, it’s important for any promoter, shareholder or management to do what’s ultimately right for the customer. And I am not talking anything new. When I joined banking industry four decades ago, the importance of customer and his satisfaction was never understated! And what started as customer service, gradually evolved into customer satisfaction and further into custom centricity. Now, some organisations are taking this into a different level calling it customer obsession.

And mind you, my above view is nothing new arising out of my current status, which is merely that of a customer of a bank. Customers trust banks with their life’s earning and it’s paramount upon all the stakeholders to keep customers’ interest uppermost. Everything else – promoter’s investment returns, shareholders’ value appreciation, employees’ remuneration should come after customers not necessarily in this pecking order.

The provocation for this post is the Q4 results announced by my erstwhile organisation that has reported losses due to upfront booking of total cost of acquiring Citi’s retail business as a good conservative policy. Obviously, this has earned the wrath of some retail investors who feel that this has been done to deprive them of higher dividends and also adversely affected their chances of exiting at a higher market price. My take if that if it’s a conservative measure aimed at the eventual good of the organisation ( and hence its customer) , let’s take it as an ultimately a good step rather than what could be a temporary aberration for other stakeholders. If something makes an organisation stronger, it’s for ultimate good of all concerned.

Jobs, business or startup ?

I think pressure at workplace is not quite a recent phenomenon but has all along been there. Recently came across an article in a popular periodical that regularly publishes articles from its previous editions that could be decades old. This article republished after two decades has a beautiful line that reads, “ Nagging boss, crabby clients, looming deadlines…. if unemployment didn’t pay so badly, you’d choose it as a career.” To this, if I may add the following two lines of my own – (1) If only starting a new business wouldn’t be so risky and expensive, I’d be rather my own boss and (2) It’s so disheartening that startups have a failure rate of 90% and I may not be lucky or brilliant enough to not to be burning my fingers there! And the above three scenarios loosely sum up the challenge before today’s youth. Jobs are highlighted by pressures from bosses, clients, targets and deadlines. A new business in one of the traditional industries can entail huge investments and competition from the established players. A start up converting a brilliant idea into a commercial proposition is prone to exceptionally high failure rates.

I am of the opinion  that all the above scenarios need to change. Jobs have to offer a more pleasant and lasting experience, existing players in the established industry have to be more open to new competition that helps them improve their own  efficiency and quality  and we probably need more of, now defunct, Silicon Valley Bank that understand the risks associated with startups promoting new technologies. 

Sent from my iPhone