Dear Manager – Are you a mentor or a dementor?


Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.  – Harry Potter Books

After reading this definition (read it two/three times please), if it matches exactly like some of the managers you came across in your life, I am not responsible! Well, I was fortunate not to come across many Dementors but I have seen them in action from close quarters. IT industry produces ton lots of managers every year but sadly most of the first time managers are not given any proper training about management. Most of them will adapt their style similar to the managers they have come across, now you will be able to understand how new Dementors are created!

Well, many surveys have already confirmed that “people leave their managers, not the company” and we are doing very little to improve this situation by letting more managers ruin the lives of projects and team members. If you look around social media circles the most ridiculed IT employee will be the manager! When you set your path towards leadership there are multiple styles of leadership you could choose and you should know the fact that single style of leadership will not be suitable for all the situations.

From what I have seen and experienced techies could become good managers provided they have some skills for learning and adapting. Someone who learns from his own mistakes as well from others’ should become a good manager. Let’s take some case studies to understand management better. VV is a good friend of mine and his path towards management was quite a story. Initially VV was just a technical guy but had a good respect amongst peers and juniors for his technical know how and his helping tendency. But when he started his management career he had to go through number of transformations to survive literally!

Even though he is good with peers and juniors he was not very open minded towards his superiors. He had a habit of writing long mails (I don’t know how he was able to write those long mails) to clients, his managers even to his teammates. First thing I did was to discourage him from writing long e-mails and instead go talk to the people in person or at least over the phone then write a mail to confirm. E-Mail is a menace and the industry is realizing how bad emails are affecting productivity of employees. Another thing he wanted to improve was how to deliver a message. He was sending all sorts of wrong signals (even I am expert in that..) to people just because of his tone, posture and language. Slowly he improved on that area  too.

Some of the qualities of  VV  I think we all should follow is, compassion towards team members , standing up for them, put his foot down when it mattered and high work ethics.  Before everything he is a good mentor. He mentored many people, people from all ages, both sexes etc.., If I wanted to groom some young trainees on Java I put them on to him and he would take them through a very good learning path and made them pretty good Java programmers.

Now let’s talk about a dementor I know, I don’t want to mention his name but he had all the qualities for a top position amongst dementors. He won’t like his team members participating in forums conducted by his peers, he won’t release them even if they are eligible for transfer, he ll make sure they leave the company rather than they join some other team. He is an expert in managing the upper management. Passing the information about his peers to senior management and damaging names his hobby.  He also mentors but for the wrong reasons. He grooms people like him to be leaders.

Well guess you know who is getting appreciated, rewarded and promoted for the activities. It’s the dementor not VV .. ha ha.. No surprises right.. Well the company is run by dementors, what do you expect?







Too much of success will lead to failure…

I read this hard hitting blog about how Toyota messed up their cars and they had to recall almost every other vehicle they had produced.  some interesting facts the authors put here and we ll look into this from an Indian IT perspective.

Author says that a critical weakness by many successful leaders: failure to learn from success. He also mentions the three reasons about doing so well means bad for business..

1. Fundamental attribution errors. We assume that our talent or strategy is responsible for our successes, giving short shrift to environmental factors and luck. “Any number of factors may lead to success, independent of the quality of a product or management’s decisions,” Gino and Pisano note. “Yet it is all too common for executives to attribute the success of their organizations to their own insights and managerial skills and ignore or downplay random events or external factors outside their control.”

We could see number of examples for this issue. Many of our IT companies were successful during the boom era and most of them thought it was their own success factors which lead to the success. But we know that at that time almost every IT company was doing well as clients were not as tech savvy as today and other countries were catching up with India on outsourcing. Now except a few companies all others are facing single digit growth and slowly declining bottom line.

2. Overconfidence bias. Success begets hubris, and we all know where that can lead. “Overconfidence inspired by past successes can infect whole organizations, causing them to dismiss new innovations, dips in customer satisfaction, and increases in quality problems, and to make overly risky moves,” the Harvard profs observe. “Consider all the companies that grew rapidly through acquisitions only to stumble badly after biting off one too many; and the countless banks that made ever-riskier loans in the past decade, sure of their ability to sort good borrowers from bad.”

We see that quite often in our industry isn’t it? Number of companies got folded which were successful due to overconfidence and unnecessary risk taking. Companies like Penta.. comes into my mind. Even Infy’s problems are somehow related to overconfidence I believe. Companies like Yahoo and Microsoft are victims of this problem. Failing to recognize Google as a major threat is Yahoo’s overconfidence I would like to think.  Failing to understand how internet is going to affect their core business is Microsoft’s problem isn’t it? Their too much success in the Windows / Office led to this blunder. Even the subprime problems in US could be attributed to this behaviour easily.

3. Failure-to-ask-why syndrome. No one’s asking the tough questions that transform a success into a replicable strategy. “When you’re confronted with failure,” Gino and Pisano explain, “it’s natural to ask why disaster struck. Unfortunately, success does not trigger such soul-searching. Success is commonly interpreted as evidence not only that your existing strategy and practices work but also that you have all the knowledge and information you need.”

This is the most difficult part right, we never care to analyse “how did we do”? when we are successful. We tend to think mostly it is due our own strengths (first problem) we are successful but a deep analysis will bring out the other factors which are not in our control but contributed to our success. There are many examples we could identify here but I would like to talk about Hindustan Motors (makers of Ambassador cars). I guess they never cared to ask “why we are successful”? If they had, they would not have kept the same model with minor changes for 50 years.

As you could see all three issues are interrelated and we could identify every failure(after mega success) into one of these reasons.  Companies which realized and corrected these problems were able to rebound like IBM. Even to some extent Apple. But I am afraid our dear old Infy is still not asking the right questions. In fact most of our IT companies are not asking the right questions about how long they are going to believe in T&M models and what if the low end jobs gets replaced by Automation (machine learning etc..) / Robotics etc.


The Roofous phenomenon

How do you like to have a team full of star developers, great leaders and excellent team culture! Well I did come across one team like that and I had the privilege of playing a small role in creating such a great team.

Team Roofous was formed in 2005 to support / develop a product which sounds similar to the team’s name. When I was tasked with forming the team, I and my then boss decided to go for a top-down approach. We decided who should be the manager for the team and we hired a person called GS. We also had 3 internal stars coming into the team as leads. We also had 10 graduate trainees coming in to the team fresh out of college.

With GS and other leads we managed to hire the rest of the team from the market. Well, the whole team was new to C# and initially we had to focus on training the team in C#. The client also supported that idea and they also arranged the leads to travel to onsite for 3 months to facilitate the knowledge transfer. One great thing about our customers is, they had a very good exposure to offshoring and they were well aware of the pitfalls in offshoring. They supported us in every move. There was a guy, let’s call him JCR, who was very supportive and knowledgeable.

We split the group into two teams 1.freshers 2.experienced developers and provided c# and .Net training for both the groups. Another good thing we were able to do was asked all the team members to do a tool (a project) in C# for 4 to 6 weeks. This has helped the team to a great extent as they had learnt most of the tricks & techniques of .Net by doing these tools. GS who believed in continuous learning has made the team to have at least 3 knowledge sharing sessions on technology, domain and soft skills every week. This has helped the entire team to learn continuously and improve their knowledge and understanding about the product and technology.

Another great thing is the team went out frequently for dinners and day outs which helped the team to really bond together. I have attended many of those outings and it was fun-filled and action oriented adventures which resulted creating a great team. They had a person to manage all these outings and the title given to that person was ‘CM’. Few guys really did the CM role very well. The amazing thing about this is, despite the team’s disbandment in 2009, it still continues to go out for dinners etc. They still have a CM who coordinates with all the guys across the world (literally). And whoever is around at that time will be present in the get-together.

No need to say that the team had excellent delivery records. For the first two years no one left the team (in 2006 & 2007 where attrition in India was at its peak). They excelled not only in project delivery they also did well in other activities (google code contest, quiz contests, certifications etc..).  After disbandment the team full of superstars went to various teams within the firm and they really did very well in each of their respective teams. Those who went out also performing very well. Now 60% of the team members are living abroad and doing really well.

I saw simple concepts like mentoring, continuous learning and mutual trust implemented in this team and worked very well. I tell the same thing to every manager I managed and every team I created but only a few actually believed. Team Roofous was one of them and credit should go to GS and the leads as well as our customers. Roofous was one team I can never create again I think..



Success factors : Team Culture,Continuous learning , transparency, quality of work, onsite support

The cost of the wrong hire..

A general estimate for the cost of a wrong hire is typically proportional to the earnings of the individual being hired. But in reality, the costs may be higher in collateral damage such as company moral, lost opportunity, personnel lost due to the wrong hire, and bad decisions that were made, lost customers etc.

The cost of hiring the wrong candidate includes the time for the second candidate to get up to speed, any relocation and severance, the cost of poor productivity by the wrong candidate, etc.  apart from the cost of HR, Placement Consultant, Advertisements and other support activities. Overall we could put these costs into tangible costs bucket and the issues mentioned in the first paragraph to the intangible costs bucket.

From Indian IT perspective the damage is more intangible than tangible. Two main areas to consider will be “employees lost due to this person as well as customers who were lost”. The cost of both of them is difficult to measure objectively but the impact to the firm is huge. Generally the impact will vary depending upon how many people are reporting to the person mentioned here. If he/she is a senior leader then we might very well be talking about loosing few good leaders and few customers!

The most shocking behavior here is the people who have hired these bad apples will try and justify their selection. Lots of freedom and a fairly long rope will be given to these hires to make sure they don’t fail. Even after there is clear evidence that they have done a wrong hire they ll prolong the eventual decision just to make sure they don’t get the blame.

Another funny thing about these kind of recruitments is just to make sure they don’t directly get accused, several senior executives will try and do a “group selection” strategy. Call everyone possible to interview the candidate and make sure they don’t reject the candidate! If the candidate is successful the executive who mooted the hire will get the credit. If there is a failure, the response will be “well everyone was involved what to do! sometimes it happens..”

In India, firing is not as easy as in US and companies go through a lengthy strategy to get rid of the wrong hire. They ll start with moving him around, bring a person between his boss and him, waiting patiently for the person to leave on his own (firing will send a bad signal to the recruitment market) etc.,. I had one experience where a great talker who had completed TOGAF certification (he didn’t know how to write a simple app – talk about certifications in India! – that’s for another day) and impressed during the interview hired in a hurry by a smart-ass manager.

When they found him useless they cleverly moved him to my team and I was willing to give it a try (what to do.. I was desperate for resources). That guy turned out to be a disaster and we went through hell before he left on his own (there was a huge celebration on that day) and I felt pity for the company that hired him.

Another incident I recall is, a great technical guy was hired as manager and a well performing team was put under him, due to his exceptional micro-management skills the whole team was gone in one year. Management never realized what had happened and happily rewarded the manager, moved him up and gave him more teams to destroy!

What steps could be taken for these?

HR Policy – Clear HR Policy to let go the wrong hires or rotate them to a position where he might do a better job. Doing a better background check might give some clues. Look for release date forwarded (I mean the current employer is happily releasing him) etc.  If the hiring manager has a better peer network he might able to find out an opportunity for the wrong hire with in his peers.

Whatever the methodology cost of the bad hire is real and all we can do is minimize it!

Related articles

Innovation and Fear of Failure

I came across this post on HBR recently  by Doug Sundheim and its a compelling article on how the word innovation is grossly abused and how failures are the most important foundation on innovation.

He says “Everyone in your organization knows what succes is. It’s the things you put on a resume: increased revenues, decreased costs, delivered a product, etc. Far fewer know what a smart failure is–i.e., the type of failures that should be congratulated,” he writes. “These are the thoughtful and well-planned projects that for some reason didn’t work. Define them so people know the acceptable boundaries within which to fail. If you don’t define them, all failure looks risky and it will kill creativity and innovation.”

Yes, failure is a big bad word in Indian IT and no wants to see failure any where..  Even in movies, we would like to see happy endings, we don’t care how much suffering hero goes through but at the end of the film we would like to see a happy ending!! We do fail many times but we try to find a reason beyond us every time isn’t it?  I know people blame the failure on some superstitious items.

From our childhood, we are actually groomed for not to fail. Parents go mad for small mistakes and criticize children instead of giving them encouraging words.  Fear of failure starts right there at home for us and we strive very hard not to fail from then on.  Right from childhood we are discouraged to do anything different and unusual and if the action ends in failure, consequences will be very disturbing.

I have come across many executives who would like to play safe at any time. They are very careful to follow CYA strategy and make sure that even if there is a failure they are safe from the impact of it. How creativity & innovation is going to thrive in this environment where managers wants to play safe and team members fear for the consequence of failure?  No wonder why India is poor in invention / innovation even though it has the highest number of  Ph.Ds next to US.

I remember we used to study about 3M and the canon in front of their office.  Every time there is a failure the cannon will blast it seems and senior executives will be worried if there is no blast for a long time. We know very well how successful 3M in terms of innovation and products.

Another reason for fear of failure is the extraordinary self-conscious nature of some people. They always imagine that the whole world is watching them and they can’t afford to slip up at any time and they try to act as if they are greatly successful. This behavior makes them not to try anything new even if they are pushed to do.

We know that fear of failure is in our DNA and it is not easy to create a workaround with something like that. Organizations could help employees to overcome these problems at least at the professional level. They should train their management how not to discourage pro-active people who are interested in taking a calculated risk. Managers should encourage risk averse people to try and do something different.

Imbibing something like this into the entire set of managers is not easy to do and it requires some commitment from top management. They should introduce rewards & recognition programs for both mangers and employees who take calculated risks and fail(!). It sounds funny but trust is not something which could be developed overnight and people will change and try taking calculated risks after seeing some of those failures are taken positively.

So what all I have written so far..

1. Continuous Learning

2. Calculated risk taking

Have a great day!

Who ll deliver?

Problems for CIO / CEO these days is: who is going to deliver for them? They are working with every one; their own IT team, software vendors, system integrators, Enterprise app vendors etc.,. But the feedback from businesses is “not meeting expectations”!  While there is a lot of noise being made about how IT departments won’t be there in the future etc. the real issue is not the IT departments alone.  Vendors however big, large/small also mess up the projects big time. Large corporations have policies like not to engage more than a few vendors which makes the problem worse if those vendors are incapable of delivery.

The problem is a huge headache for IT leaders as they are struggling to meet business requirements. Businesses are suffering too as they are not able to keep up with the competition as they would like to do (ideally they would want to beat the competition by providing cutting-edge products and services but let’s stick to meeting the competitions’ offerings).

While there is no immediate solution to this conundrum the frustration is getting higher and higher. Heads roll and new leaders emerge but still the problem persists. If we get some more detail look into the problems we could see some light and the end of the long tunnel..

1. Stagnant IT : You have a huge IT setup but the issue is IT is not really updating itself to meet the demands of business / competition.

2. Misleading Vendors : Outsourcing vendors / Offshore vendors not able to give you a clear picture and their focus is to increase billing and unfortunately it does not directly benefit delivery.

3. Hype / mania etc.. Big product companies / Analyst firms  create lot of hype to sell their products and CIOs fall prey to their sponsored studies etc.. Lots of examples could be given for this .. SOA, BPM etc..

4. Niche companies charging you a lot but after giving a rosy picture for some time suddenly put their hands up and say we can’t deliver

Solutions are not easy to implement.. but is there any other way?  Let’s start with the internal IT problem. I think for the most of the issues mentioned above, internal IT is a strong reason.  Many authors / bloggers have pointed out that the complacency of internal IT is the main source of delivery problems with outsourcing vendors.  Most of the internal IT employees follow a hands off approach when they get the work done by vendors. This leads vendors to do what ever they want without getting any attention. They deliver some working version of the code but due the lack of skills or energy at the source that code gets into production without proper review / rework.

Then the question comes about how to strengthen the internal IT.. Lots of companies are doing it already.. Hiring top talent (this is a bigger problem – to be discussed separately), having highly engaged employees, providing them various benefits etc..,. All these are OK to some extent but the real problem is unwillingness of employees to learn i.e. continuously learn. It all comes down to this.. How to create a continuous learning culture in the organization?

If the managers and leads are technically equipped to handle vendors, most of the delivery problems could be identified very early in the cycle. Companies should find ways to encourage employees to keep themselves updated and also provide opportunities to them to learn / practice their newly acquired skills. Human Resources and Training departments should have this as a top priority. Making people aware of the fact that it is absolutely important for them to learn to stay on the job. Companies should also setup a good firm wide mentoring program to facilitate the enablement of continuous learning culture.

If an organization wants to make itself a continuous learning organization it has to start form the top.  You can’t expect low level associates to convert when most of the seniors are sitting on their laurels.  They should show the way, they need to engage themselves into learning action as well. I have seen many executives don’t even read technology news regularly.

A learning IT organization starting from CIO to the trainee will be deliver I think.. What do you think?

Value of learning culture