When Coffee Kills : Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

As the business fraternity in India tries to recover from the shock demise of Café Coffee Day Founder VG Siddhartha, lets take a look at some unaddressed issues facing the society at large.

Siddhartha, through Coffee Day was one of the shining stars in India’s entrepreneurial circuit in the late 1990s. From the first Coffee Day in 1996, the chain had expanded to 1600 outlets as on date. A phenomenal achievement considering the modest beginnings. The rise of CCD as a youthful, aspirational brand coincided with the rise of India’s middle class with higher disposable income. Siddhartha had most things going in his favour – a strong business case with a first mover advantage in a then untapped segment ( pre Starbucks, pre Barista, pre Chai Point), a good customer experience offering by and large and strong political contacts. Very little could go wrong, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, running a business in India is not as easy as it seems. For every celebrated entrepreneur, there are untold stories of five to six failures. You not only need to compete with competition, but also with political and regulatory uncertainties. On top of it, working capital challenges crop up. The desire to grow top line, bottom line quickly leads to more debt, leading to increased exposure and when the engine stops due to a seemingly small issue, the vehicle comes to a halt. The desire to become a cult celebrity may force people to take risky paths.

While various angles are being probed into Siddhartha’s death –  tax terrorism, investor pressure, political vendetta, what I fail to fathom at the core of this issue is this. As per the unverified letter written to the shareholders, Siddhartha acknowledges huge debts and declares enough assets to pare the debts. The huge debts could have been a reason to sell off his Mindtree shares. If he was so sure of him having enough assets, why then end his life? He cites pressure from a certain private investor along with tax harassment. Is the pressure unjustified? Was there financial fraud, which not many were aware of? With a new BJP government in Karnataka, was he fearing the worst of times for him? Only Siddhartha knew the answers and hopefully a thorough “un-tampered” investigation will reveal finer details.

With a huge debt burden ballooning and banks tightening credit norms in the wake of the ILFS crisis, Siddhartha had a huge task at hand. Siddhartha’s story is very similar to Ramalinga Raju of Satyam. Great brands, great promise but the owners confessed shockingly when nobody expected them to. And until they confessed, the world did not know that things were murky. They took that step because all roads led to a dead end.

It is saddening that Siddhartha chose to take the most extreme step when cornered. He seemed to have decided that ending his life was better than suffering in possible disgrace. When stress gets the better of the mind, then all hell breaks loose. The most important organ in the human body, aside of the heart is the human mind. Unfortunately, most of us give least importance to maintaining the mind in good condition. When we have the slightest of physical pain, we reach out to a doctor, take tablets. But when something troubles our mind, we decide to keep it to ourselves. We somehow feel that by confessing to a mental health specialist or a counsellor or a psychiatrist, we may be “labelled” as “mentally ill”. I wish Siddhartha had explored these options. I wish he had a coach who had guided him, along the way , when he was taking some crucial decisions. Very few organizations today focus on “mental conditioning” – training the mind. When we know that uncertainity is going to be a recurring theme in the business context, why not accept it and try to work on facing it? The mind, if relaxed and conditioned, can take effective decisions and restrict problems to be viewed just as problems, not life-threatening obstacles. Organizations spend time and money training people on data analytics, presentation skills, managerial skills but ignore the most fundamental skills required to survive in a complex environment – the Wellness Quotient (Physical and Mental). In fact, the word mental is seen as a stigmatic word in our society.

The other unaddressed angle is the whole media hype around quarterly earnings and results. This phenomenon is worse in the developed countries where a CEO’s fate is decided by his/her Wall Street performance every quarter. One bad quarter and you are out. Thankfully, India does not seem as cruel but we seem to be heading in the same direction. The pressure to report sustained growth quarter after quarter results in short-term decisions gaining preference. Unless the obsession with this stops , we will continue to see a bunch of stressed out individuals leading a highly stressed life.  Why would one aspire to be a CEO if life at the top is lonely, ever stressful and one mistake pulls you down and impacts your well-being? What’s the point of earning truckloads of money if you continuously are under the scanner?

There are no easy answers out there. But Siddhartha’s reaction is yet another warning of a deeper systemic malaise which is not being addressed at all. Today’s Indian CANNOT cope with excess stress and the environment is not conducive for discussing or managing stress. This coupled with the media fetish for instant celebrity-dom and quarterly earnings growth is enough recipe for disaster. Hopefully, the Siddartha file leads to a national debate on these two areas as well instead of trivializing it as a case on politics, financial ethics, tax terrorism , or ease of doing business , all of which are relevant but not the only issues.

No country for old men weak minds

Jai Hind

Recruitment Woes: Freaky Fridays: Weekly blog

This week’s blog is dedicated to my favorite department in the corporate world – the HR department. I am an MBA (HR) from Asia’s best institute for HR – XLRI Jamshedpur, but after having seen the way most HRs operate, I sometimes feel glad that I quit HR and moved to Sales. Now-a-days, I hear a fancy term – HRBP. Apparently, it stands for HR Business Partner but I think HR Business Puppet is more appropriate. When they literally have no say in most decisions , why falsely call themselves partners. You will agree with me when I take you through a few of the glorious HR botch-ups which I have experienced in my 9 year corporate career so far.

Let’s talk about the earth’s most customer-centric company “Ghamazon” ( the real name cannot be disclosed for fear of a legal backlash). Getting to know the CV shortlist status of the job you have applied for in this organization is like walking through Abhimanyu’s chakravyuh unscathed. You need to wage a “Ghamasaan” war just to find out if your CV has been shortlisted or otherwise. Of late, this company, which is the largest e-commerce company in the world, has pumped in close to 5 billion $ to win in the Indian market. If only they had invested at least 1%  of this in building a strong HR process, then their employer brand would have been way stronger. I had applied for a few roles here, which I thought would be suitable based on my previous work experience, via their online portal. Almost 20 people (my classmates, seniors and juniors from XL) work in HR here. Sadly, none of them could tell about whether my CV was shortlisted or rejected. They have an amazing candidate job portal, where in the candidate can see the status of his CV (applied, rejected, shortlisted). Sadly, even after 90 days, the portal was showing my CVs status as “applied”. The HR folks didn’t bother to update my status. I called up a few of my friends in the company and none of them had any clue. Finally, one of them said that my CV was untagged for those profiles so maybe I was not shortlisted. Why could the HR simply not update the same in their portal? I understand that the folks in this company are completely over-worked, almost on the verge of burn-out and crave for work-life balance like a kid craving for ice-cream. But what stops the HR from just updating a status on the portal? One of my HR friends in the organization was defending his fellow colleagues saying that each job posting receives 1000+ applications and it is impossible to screen so many CVs. A fair argument, but what stops someone from updating the status to “not shortlisted” for whatever reasons. Why have the portal in the first place? On one hand, the founder talks about the ultimate customer experience like “card-less shopping” while the HR department is not even bothered about updating a candidate’s status online. There’s a huge difference between the consumer experience and the employer brand experience. Hope someday, someone cleans this mess.

The fun gets better at its subsidiary ( let me call it Loud-tail). Ghamazon can’t retail products directly to consumers as per Indian e-commerce regulations so it has created this JV with an Indian partner. So, the interview process in Loud-tail is the same as the parent company. There are two telephonic rounds followed by five face-to-face rounds. This is as per Ghamazon global guidelines. Everything seems fair so far. Thanks to my HR friend referring me, I am shortlisted for the interview stage. After clearing the telephonic rounds, I am called for the face-to-face rounds. Questions are asked by different interviewers on the leadership principles and I am asked to describe past experiences. So 5 different people ask me the same set of questions, I give the same replies to different people. I am told that like MTV roadies, there will be a voting where each of the five interviewers will give their vote against me – yes or no. After meeting the 5 people and doing some research about their profile and experience, I get the first shock. 2 out of the 5 people are 3 years junior to me in batch and at the same designation as me. These people have no clue about distributor sales, but they probe me on it and argue why other approaches could not have been used. This is equivalent to a State Head of Kerala interviewing a State Head of Karnataka. And I get inside info that these two “panelists” have given a “no” vote to me. The fun gets better in the final round , which is called  a “Bar-raiser” round. The bar-raiser has the final say in case of a tie and is supposed to be a senior resource. When I meet him, he tells me that he has just worked for 10 days in Loud-tail and 8 years in Ghamazon. The bar-raiser also asks the same questions, I give the same answers. In all this tamasha, the HR’s role is only to co-ordinate the interviews, arrange conference rooms, escort me to the canteen area and give me a visitor card.I am told that HR is only a “facilitator” and a “support function”. Later, I come to know through my HR friend that I am rejected as the bar-raiser and the two peer “panelists” have given a “no” to me even the hiring manager was confident and had a yes. I don’t take this to heart but I quiz my friend as to why are peers/juniors interviewing a person of the same level. I am told that they need 5 panelists and as the employee base is small, there are not many senior panelists. Great logic but then why not reduce the number of panelists and have only senior folks interview. He replies with a  typical “Lakeer Ka Fakeer” reply – “Ghamazon’s global guidelines mandate that 5 people interview face-to-face”. Fair point but Ghamazon U.S and Loudtail India are two different organizations in two different contexts. Why the hell has a process which is illogical to be followed for just ticking the box? But as usual, why should HR have these tough discussions with global teams? Why bell the cat unnecessarily and create controversy? Typical safe HR mindset. And the best part is the HR doesn’t interview the candidate. It just “facilitates”. The icing on the cake though is the “bar-raiser”. Mr. Bar-raiser has an experience in supply chain and has zero experience of sales, key account management or business development and the role demands a person to be skilled at these. Yet, he thinks I do not have the required skill-sets or “special projects” to demonstrate these. Apparently, I have not met the bar.

The situation in Indian companies is no worse. I worked for six years in WIMC ( Well Known Indian Management Conglomerate). Recently, I referred someone for a Sales regional leadership position. I had sent a mail to the HR as I had their email ids. As expected, there was no reply – no thank you, no status nothing. And then the HRs complain about not able to close positions quickly, not able to generate referrals, not having a pool of profiles. I recently tried applying for a start-up ( let’s call it Hudaan). One of my XL juniors working there gave me a number of the HRBP working there. I called him saying I was looking for suitable opportunities. He said he would call me back. No prizes for guessing, he never called me back. I sent him a text later in the day asking for a time when I could chat with him. As expected, no reply and neither of us bothered after that.

Then, there are the great FMCGs of the world which only want to hire similar industry clones. While on hand, all the HR heads talk about diversity in organizations but in most organizations, there is zero diversity in employee profiles. If you have worked in one industry in sales, the recruiting fraternity ensures that you work in that industry for life. FMCGs want only FMCG experience, Banking folks only banking, healthcare folks want only healthcare and the list goes on. Zero value to the fact that a person who has worked in sales in X industry has his own learning curve which can make him adapt to Y industry. Nobody wants to take a risk and we all have industry clones. The outcome – no new diversity in idea generation, no new perspective. But the HR and the business leader feel proud that they have got an industry person.

All this are just recruitment related experiences. I haven’t even started on appraisals, transfers, resignation letters etc. Will leave that for a different day. Right now, it’s time to head to the gym. If ever I start a bar or a gym in the near future, no points for guessing what the name will be.

…..

……

“Bar-raiser” – of course.

Jai Hind

Omni Channel Fiasco: Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

Omni-channel strategy is a heavily abused corporate buzzword now-a-days. It’s a synonym for “brick and click”. In layman’s terms, it’s a combination of online and off-line presence which work together to deliver the “ultimate customer experience”. The corporate world defines it as a “seamless” integration of the physical and digital world. In a multi-channel strategy, you have multiple formats but they don’t “talk” to each other. A very dangerous futuristic example of an omni-channel experience is as follows.

You are sitting in your commode and browsing your phone. Google baba tracks your commode habits and your commode is geo-tagged. You suddenly figure that you need a change of commode as it has become old and got cracks in it. Google baba also see you searching for “stylish and smooth pink color” commodes. This information is fed to the commode company, which has tied up with Baba for an omni-channel integration via an analytics agency. You have also clicked “I agree to all kinds of stupid shit as it’s a pre-requisite to use your app. I have understood that you can access my contacts, photos , location, messages and have the time of your life at my expense. You can do anything you want by using my data. I accept usage of your cookies”. These online cookies are extremely distasteful, unlike the real tasty ones which grandma used to make for us. As you have again sold your data to these cookie-based websites and apps for free ( which is the equivalent of “ I have paid ..to get laid”), all your browsing habits rest with Google baba and the whole world. A few days later, when you go to the nearest showroom to buy your dream commode, the receptionist asks for your mobile number and email id at the entrance. In two minutes, you will see the salesperson arriving and directly talking about a pink commode and mentioning about it being “stylish and smooth “. This is a highly futuristic scenario of omni-channel integration for the Indian consumer.

A few companies globally are already doing this but for many organizations, this kind of integration is a distant dream as trying to get to speak to their customer care itself is an achievement. Take HDFC bank for example. “Dial 0 for loss of credit card and for 1 for all other things which we don’t bother “. If you have any other issue like upgrading your credit card etc, then they will ensure that they keep you waiting long enough that you feel it’s a dream come true if you get to speak to their customer care. Thinking of an omni-channel strategy is a strict no-no as they only want to adopt a “we manage only lost credit cards” strategy. The tagline in their ads is aptly titled“we understand your world”.

Then, there are a few diamonds like our very own “Airtel” which are so bad at basics that they should be banned for life for using words like “omni-channel”. Not so long ago, it advertised about being an “open” network and a feedback driven organization. I think the folks there are “open” only about their “collections from consumers”. The moment my data card postpaid bill got overdue by a day, their collection department would call every few hours. I had asked them to discontinue my data card in November, when their collection agent called the first time. They had even imposed a late payment fee for delaying. I told them that I can only pay the bill amount and asked them to disconnect immediately as i was no longer using it. The tele-callers asked me to pay and they said they would immediately disconnect. To my horror, every month they kept charging me for the next three months and called me up to pay the overdues. I did not respond. Finally, one brave collection agent called me and said he’s coming to my house to collect the money. I had to tell him that I would call the police if he comes without my permission and file a case of harassment. He then took me on conference call with his boss. His boss threw a googly which even Shane Warne would be proud of. He said that only collections were his responsibility and to get a connection termination request, I had to call on their customer care. It took 120 days for someone to explain me this simple process. I told them that I was filing a legal complaint and they could do whatever they want. After that, the monthly bills keep accumulating till date but the collection agents would have tagged me as a “NPA” and that’s the reason why the collection calls don’t come. No wonder the Airtel girl in their ad keeps harping “Sab kuch try karo, phir sahi chuno”

The lifetime achievement award for a mismanaged omni-channel, however, should go to ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. Upon my financial planner’s advice, I decided to opt for a “hassle-free online” experience. So, I paid the premium amount of 20 odd grand and submitted all my documents online. The next day, I got a call from their customer care saying they have not received the documents. I mailed them again. This exercise repeated twice in two days. Fed up, I decided to go and submit the documents at their branch office in Jayanagar. I quoted my document reference number at their branch location. The folks there told me that online complaints could “only” be resolved by the online team “online”. Their department had nothing to do with “online” applications. I was flabbergasted. In the same company, there were two departments which behaved like India and Pakistan. Based on the offline team’s advice, I cancelled my online application at the offline branch. The money would be refunded and then I could apply again offline in the branch. I was asked to fill a form stating reasons for the online cancellation. The reason for cancellation “personal reasons” was pre-ticked in the form. Before I could give my piece of mind and use the words “legal notice” and “mental harassment” again, the branch manager intervened and counselled the employee to issue a new form. Then, I was asked to provide a blank cheque along with my bank account details. I had paid through my credit card and I couldn’t understand why they could not credit it to the same account and do a simple credit reversal. The front desk employee again repeated “ Sir, online and offline are two completely different departments and we have this SOP” I cursed myself for applying online. I was told it would take 20 working days for the money to be refunded to my savings account. I waited for 25 working days, but my account did not show any refund. When I called the call centre, they replied “Sir, this is handled by the offline department so please sort it out there”. I went to the branch next day and asked them about my status. They had no clue and told me it was the “claims” department job and they had already given instructions. I followed up regularly for the next two weeks but nobody had any clue where my refund was stuck. I was ready to write a long rant on their social media handles but before I could do that, I received my credit card statement.  Guess what? The amount had been reversed in my credit card statement and no one had any clue. Ironically, ICICI Pru’s tag line is – “We cover you. At every step in life”

So friends, the next time you read about a company boasting about its “omni-channel” strategy to provide a best-in-class customer experience, you know which case studies to refer to.

Jai Hind

Birthday Specials – Prince Augustin – Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

I first heard of Prince Augustin in my Group HR days at the Mahindra Group 8 years ago.  Prince would be taking over as the Executive Vice President – Group Human Resources in two months’ time then. In those days, Prince was the HR Head for the Automotive Sector in Mahindra. Prince’s mother had passed away then and we had all gone to attend the funeral in Chembur. I was amazed to see the entire Mahindra auto sector leadership fraternity in attendance for the funeral. There were about 150 senior leaders present for something which was not mandatory and more of a personal gesture. I was awestruck by the way this man had a personal connect with so many people. Outside of corporate success, this is the kind of respect one aspires for in a career. That was my first memory of Prince.

Before Prince joined Group HR, we were told that Prince was one of the most difficult bosses to work with and only a few people could survive under him. There was a distinct aura about him and also a sense of fear. Allen Sequeira, the earlier head of Group HR was retiring after having crafted a spectacular journey over more than 10 years and had set very high standards with respect to various initiatives and programs. Change management , in a diversified conglomerate like Mahindra, which is a mix of old school and young professionals is a complex challenge purely due to the diversity of various stakeholders involved. The baton had been passed over to Prince and some of the critical initiatives like the GMC program ( hiring students from India’s top B schools) , the leadership development program and talent management for senior leaders needed a booster dose and were in danger of decaying. It was a difficult job at hand and all of us in Group HR were nervous about the leadership style. We were told by a few that he was extremely aggressive, and we needed to be very careful. Some people even compared his style to Hitler.

But all those fears were proved wrong in our team’s first interaction. Prince was anything but Hitler-esque. Instead of meeting only the team leader, he called the entire team. And this was not a one-off. Prince never used to believe in the age-old hierarchical school of only meeting and interacting majorly with the direct reports. His level of detailing is amazing. He started getting into the details of the last T. Some of the questions he would ask us in our meetings would make us dumbfounded as to why such a senior leader should be so involved in execution. In my experience, he was the first leader at a very senior level who actually spoke about execution of initiatives and got involved as well. The other thing about Prince was he would always be curious to learn and if he didn’t know something, he would openly admit and get his answers from the team. This is in contrast with a leadership style where certain leaders want to put up a “know-it-all” façade of an image in front of their team.

I spent only 12 months working with Prince but the learnings under him will be carried for life. The best part about Prince is he is not afraid to call a spade a spade. I have seen a lot of HR leaders become politically diplomatic and side with the popular choice or the business head’s choice when it comes to opinions and decisions. Prince is anything but this. If he strongly believed in something basis his logical deduction and opinion, he would not hesitate to call it out vocally to the senior most of leaders. I have seen him get into tough discussions and voicing out his opinion during calls with the likes of Anand Mahindra and other senior leaders. These leaders are above him in hierarchy and designation, but Prince is someone who doesn’t mince words when he feels so and he wants to convey his opinion.  I guess this is why a lot of leaders at that level love Prince for his ability to be honest , straightforward and expressive nature.

Despite this ability to speak his mind, Prince has built an amazing relationship amongst his peers, superiors and subordinates. I have seen a lot of people in the corporate world who have high networking skills but also have a diplomacy and a selfish give and take attitude. Prince invests a lot in building relationships but never changes his core personality.  With Prince, you can be frank and honest and tell your problems and he will try to close the problem himself. He doesn’t believe in postponing or delegating problems. He would ask us –“who is to be called?” Instantly, he would pick up the phone, call the respective stakeholder, talk it out and move on. As a leader, if you can solve the problems of your sub-ordinates quickly, then the respect increases multi-fold. Prince was that go-to-man for all problems during my stint with him. He also would not tolerate mediocrity at work. If a presentation was shoddy, he would call it out and ask us to come back with a better output. Only if he was completely convinced, he would go ahead. Else, he would make us go through the iterations. Working with such a leader also improves your own quality of thinking and raises the bar.  There were quite a few presentations where we were blasted and would go out dejected. But Prince would always come out of the meeting and tell us not to take this to heart and reassure us.

Prince’s career has spanned over 35 years but he has worked only in a handful of companies. He has been with the Mahindra Group since 2003. The thing about great leaders is they are able to build great teams. Prince has been able to keep his long-serving P.A/E.A Kirsten motivated enough to work under him for more than a decade. Prince’s loyal team not only includes his P.As and E.As but also his driver. Whenever he goes to any event or conference, he ensures that his driver Irfan also gets to eat something. He doesn’t need to do this but such noble acts ensure the likes of Irfan also swear by him. He also believes in instant rewards for excellent work. I remember having worked extremely hard for pulling off the Mahindra War Room Grand Finale event and the very next day, he personally handed over a 2 nights/3 days Club Mahindra voucher inclusive of flight for 2 people and a handwritten note for putting all the hard work. I wasn’t expecting anything as there was no such policy but Prince wanted to ensure that we were instantly gratified for our hard work. He did not care about looking at any budget or policy. He just wished well. People everywhere work hard, but very few people get instant appreciation and recognition. Prince was truly princely when it came to rewards and recognition.

Prince also is a gem of a person at heart, and he believes that people should prosper in their careers. Unlike many, he does not believe in holding resources close to him forever. He ensures that people who have worked under him get roles which they like. It was because of his push that I moved from HR to Sales, a drastically different career choice, but he convinced a lot of senior folks about my potential. Later, in 6 months’ time, when I thought I will quit sales, he backed me urging me to see a full year’s cycle and if required, he said he would talk to the Zonal Manager to ensure that I succeed. That was his way of giving confidence to people. I took his advice and by God’s grace, there has been no looking back. My classmate Udit, who worked as his E.A, moved to China after two years. Prince was selfless in more ways than one as he has fought for a lot of people, if he felt he was right.

After moving to Sales, I wasn’t in very regular touch with him but would try to consult him whenever things were not going ok. I invited him to my wedding. He could not make it but he sent a greeting card, a note and a cheque of a substantial amount. I wasn’t expecting this. He had nothing to do with me but still such genuinely selfless acts ensure you connect with a person at a much deeper level.

A work-o-holic who jokes that “work is life, life is work and hence they balance out” , Prince is lucky to have an understanding wife like Carol who has stood by him by a rock and allowed to him to become a HR Rockstar. He has practiced what he preaches “do the things that help you visibly differentiate yourself. Have an abundance mindset, not a scarcely competitive mindset. The world has place for everyone.” No wonder that his alma mater, SIBM Pune, conferred upon him the “Alumnus of the year” in 2011 and “ Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to HR”.

In a corporate world dominated by servility, self-centered, politically correct “yes-ministers”, Dr. Prince Augustin stands tall as a selfless, straight-speaking , fearless HR stalwart . Prince not only by name, but by heart and deeds.

Happy Birthday Prince.

May you continue to inspire people around you. Fortunate to have worked with you.

Jai Hind

Marketing Flyers: Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

A few years ago, when I was working as an Area Sales Manager, I used to get a lot of flyers/leaflets/brochures printed. We were taught that flyers were a very effective way of reaching our target audience. In a simple colorful one pager, the USPs of a product could be communicated. More flyers = more eyeballs = more brand awareness = more brand recall = more sales. We used to have a separate marketing budget for printing flyers. We used to fight with the central marketing team to increase this budget. Those were the good old days. We wouldn’t care to bother what would happen to the flyer. Until I met my mother-in-law…

My mother-in-law is a B.Sc ( Baby Sitting Champion).  One of her key skillsets as per her Linkedin Profile is putting babies to sleep. She also mentions a few certifications in her profile – cost management by effective flyer utilization. I did not understand what this meant. One day, I decided to shadow her for a full day to probe this. As soon as she received the newspaper in the morning, she started shaking it (like a baby cough syrup) to check for flyers. Three flyers fell from the newspaper. She beamed with joy on seeing them. For a second, I thought she had cracked the final question of Kaun Banega Crorepati. I was puzzled. I looked at the three flyers.

The first was an orange colored flyer with a big photo of our corporator and her achievements in the last few years. I could recognize it was our corporator as she had just visited our house recently asking to vote for her. She comes every five years just before elections to show that she’s alive. The only reason we still end up voting for her is because at least she comes once every five years. The opposition party I guess has given up hopes from winning from our constituency and therefore they don’t bother to do this. Our flat broker proudly introduces our family to her every five years. The flyer mentioned her proud achievements over the past five years – 3 crores “sanctioned” for pure drinking water. She had the audacity to write a budget sanction as her achievement. This is equivalent to me writing “prepared a PPT to increase market share in my district” as one of my professional achievements. Or “brainstormed with my team to think of ways to improve work-life balance”. While the front page had a lot of questionable and “sanctionable” achievements, the back page had a full-length picture of the national leader screaming “Ab ki baar, nan maga Sarkar”.

The second flyer had a picture of a dog in the centre. Surrounding the dog were pictures of the party founders, their children, their grandchildren. The headline screamed “Garibi Hatao…  Since 1975”. I asked my father-in-law, who had been following our constituency politics for more than 40 years, about the dog. He told me “It has been proved that the original leader of the party is not an Indian citizen. The surname Gaadi has been the common thread of this party’s leaders since independence. Only if you have this surname, can you become this party’s leader. The country votes for this surname. This time, their dog Tommy Gaadi is contesting the elections. There is a high probability of this party coming to power as most people still have trust in the Gaadi surname. The party also is known for its consistency in campaigning. Since my childhood, Garibi hatao has been their campaign theme. I am sure your kids, when they vote, will also be seeing this theme”

Before I could react, a gust of wind blew over all of us and the third flyer fell on my lap. “Shop at PigBazaar today and get cashbacks of Rs. 5000*” These words screamed in bold. The * mark made me look at the bottom of the flyer. I had to take a magnifying glass to read the disclaimer. “The cashback for 5000 is valid for 30 days from purchase. For a cashback of 5000, you need to purchase 25000 worth material. This cashback cannot be redeemed in one go. For every purchase, a maximum of 1000 cashback only can be redeemed. Thanks for being our dummy. PigBazaar management has the final say in any legal dispute arising out of this. “

I wanted to turn over and read the back-page contents of the PigBazaar flyer but my mother-in-law interrupted me. She took all the three flyers and kept it in a cup-board. I opened the cup-board and was awestruck. There were multiple shelves full of flyers. The brands ranged from Hornimoz Pizza, Himesh Dum Biryani Centre newly opened, Crow-ma electronics and Baba Kamdev’s ayurvedic products

Before I could do any further study, my baby pooped and we all rushed to the cradle. Without battling an eye-lid, both the Nan Maga Sarkar and the Garibi Hatao flyers were used to wrap the used diapers and were promptly thrown in the dust-bin. Before I could weep at the demise of these two flyers, the Chwiggy delivery boy knocked. We had just ordered samosas online for snacks. She took the PigBazaar flyer and wrapped it to suck the excess oil. My mother-in-law explained me many other uses of the marketing flyers – base paper to cut your toe-nails, to put the wet waste in the dust bin, cut-outs for her grand-daughter’s “shop-shop” game.

Having learnt my lesson, I vowed that I will never print any more marketing flyers. I will also stop others from doing this as it’s a sheer waste. I stepped out of my house to buy milk and there was a young buy distributing flyers to everyone. It was a broadband internet company’s flyers.I didn’t want to take it but the boy insisted that I take the flyer. I asked him –“young man, why do you think flyers will work?’ He replied “Sir, flyers are a very effective way of marketing. More flyers = more eyeballs = more brand awareness = more brand recall = more sales”

I looked at my mother-in-law and handed over the flyer to her smilingly.

Jai Hind

Jargons and Farragos : Freaky Fridays – Weekly blog

Jargons are the best thing to have happened in the history of mankind. A few months ago, Mukesh Ambani was quoted by the media “Data is the new oil “. Screw you man. So what? Should I buy the oil? Or should I clean up the data? There’s enough abundance of data in this world and enough shortage of oil. Just because some random person has created a random jargon which sounds impressive and intelligent, the whole world starts using this as if it’s a slogan to liberate us from independence. A layman will have no clue of this shitty jargon. Should I apply data on my head as its a replacement for coconut oil? Or are you selling data in satchets Mukesh bhai? …

The corporate folks take jargon obsessions to an all new level. Jargons are corporate Viagra for senior leaders. The greater the dose, the greater the erection levels … of intellect. Disruption, co-creation, value creation, big picture, dirty picture… Picture hi picture. In many corporates, an individual’s fate is decided by the amount of jargons used in his /her presentation. Lets look at the below corporate case study of Ramu and Shyamu.

Ramu and Shyamu do the same work independent of each other for 20 days and now are presenting their findings to the management. Ramu starts ” Sir, I analyzed various types of data, spent a lot of time with excel sheets, applied various formulas and now I present the findings. ” Rama opens a few drab excel sheets and starts showing his findings. The management is asleep. Shyamu goes next “Sir, I have extrapolated various data cuts , correlated the statistical significance using data mining techniques , applied big data principles and have come up with some strategic insights “.That’s it. Data mining, strategy, big data. The sleepy management wakes up. Shyamu follows his “I have a dream “style introduction with his opening Powerpoint slide. Instead of the excel sheet, the first slide is an animation -filled title slide. The words “data based strategic insights” rotate from the left to the right of the screen like Shaktimaan. Shyamu has complex graphs, hyperlinks and makes an “impact” presentation ending with the punchline “Data is the new oil. Let’s rule the world with our new oil”.

Shyamu is greeted with applause all around. The HR Head calls him “an upcoming thought leader of the future ” and a “hi-pot” (not sure which one of the two was high on pot) .Ramu on the other hand is branded as an “operational resource ” lacking in strategic foresight. He is sent to IIM Meh-meh-medabad for improving his strategic skills. There, he meets the founder of “Bull-shitter.com”, home to the world’s leading management gurus. He is taught the art of bull-shitting his way up the corporate ladder. He is taught the Three Golden Laws of Corporate Bull-Shitting:

1) Always include the word “strategy “in every corporate sentence

2) If you cannot, look at the following words “innovation”, “capability”, “ disruption”, “outperformance”, “ accelerator”, “explode” ,”restage”, “impact”, “levers”, “redefine”, “hands-on” ,“360 degree”, “ elevate “. Refer the McKinley dictionary of jargons for the complete list of words

3) If you still cannot apply 1 and 2 in your day-to-day corporate life, then please visit the STA (Shashi Tharoor Academy ) to hone your skills better.

Pleased with this knowledge, Ramu heads back to the corporate world. He meets his team. Usually, he would ask his team members” Hey, what’s the update on the Madanapally distributor performance?” Instead, he shows off “ Team, what’s the progress on our Madanapally strategy of disrupting the market with our three lever approach ?” His team is confused. Ramu however doesn’t stop there. He meets his HR Business Partner. The HRBRP says “Sir, I wanted to give you an update on our recruitment status”. Ramu blasts the HR “ Dude, how dare you degrade yourself? You aren’t just doing recruitment mate. You are doing “TALENT ACQUISITION” Please never use the operational word “recruitment” again”. Ramu then meets the supply chain coordinator- “ Bro, what’s the update on our supply chain strategy of improving efficiency by using a disruptive hands-on- approach?” The supply chain coordinator, who’s just a graduate and doesn’t understand anything of this, frantically calls his boss. His boss replies “Bro, chill. The guy has just come from his strategic immersion classes. He’s talking about the “delivery time improvement project status”. Ramu next visits the IT person. Usually, he would do a status check progress on the new website UX design. Instead, he kills it “Dude, where are we with respect to “re-defining our customer experience”. The IT person becomes a fan of the way Ramu has thought of “the bigger picture”. In a year’s time, Ramu is back in the list of “hi-pots”( by this time he also develops a pot-belly).

Ramu carries on in this manner for 5 years. He gets promoted every year and, in the process, exhausts all the jargons possible. People are now bored of his jargons as they have become repetitive. Fresh ideas and fresh jargons are the need of hour. He remembers the 3rd Golden Rules of Corporate Bull-Shitting and visits the Shashi Tharoor Academy. He is taught a solitary case study of how to sex-up sentences. Mr. Tharoor himself takes this class. He quotes his own real-life case study where he wanted to tweet his reactions to a journalist’s allegations of murder against him. He says” I wanted to give it back to the journalist but I also wanted people to learn the English language through me. This was my Tweet – Exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations & outright lies being broadcast by an unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalst. When I did this, the whole of India googled the word farrago and the focus conveniently shifted to my excellence in jargons rather than my allegations. Farrago means a confused mixture. I hope you get the case study”. Ramu was spellbound.

Armed with this new weapon, he starts unleashing it at every possible opportunity. “Folks, a strategy if executed badly may turn into a farrago of errors” “ The candidate looks like a farrago of emotions to me. Rejected” “ The website design if not done well may lead to a farrago of errors” His name became Farrago Ramu. A few people committed suicide because of mental harassment. Finally, the senior management reached out to Shyamu, who now had completed a Ph.D in the Shashi Tharoor Academy. Shyamu had taken a sabbatical to do this and was now dangerously jargonized. Shyamu met Ramu. One conversation was enough for Ramu to get a heart attack and tender his resignation. The management quizzed Shyamu what were the golden words he had used. Shyamu replied. “ Sir, you need to fight fire with fire. I just quoted another Tharoor beauty which got him spell-bound.- I choose my words because they are the best ones for the idea i want to convey, not the most obscure or rodomontade ones! “ The management got up from their seats –“ We have heard of lemonade, promenade…what the hell is rodomontade?” Shyamu replied – sir “ Rodomontade means boastful or inflated talk or behavior.  This behavior won Shyamu  the “ Golden Peacock award for Bullshitting Excellence” from the corporate world. Everyone lived happily ever after.

When I narrated this story to my wife, she asked if this was a true story. I smilingly replied, “Bas kar pagli. Dimag ka farrago mat kar. I never believe in rodomontade. Now please pass on my lemonade 😊”

Jai Hind

Corporate Designations: Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

Folks, this Friday, let’s pay a tribute to some of the fancy corporate designations which exist and motivate employees to progress to the “next” level.

CEO: Chief Email Officer. Most people in the organization see this person only via e-mails. This person sends emails and expects everyone to read, remember everything mentioned but the same is not expected from him/her. S/he meets employees once in a blue-moon and people take selfies whenever this happens. Otherwise, to an ordinary employee, this person is an invisible hollow-man who f*cks people without their knowledge. Bas logon key dil mey hai…. aur subordinates key g**nd mey. S/he’s a pain in the ass for direct reports as most of their time is spent in going through his/her communications, planning travel and meetings, preparing presentations. In general, this person doesn’t have the balls to take his/her own decisions. S/he believes in two rules:

 #1 Success is due to self, Failure is due to subordinates’ failure

 #2 When in doubt, refer rule 1

CFO – Chindi Fakirchand Officer: In their previous birth, these finance folks would have been fakirs. They think a paisa spent is a paisa burnt. They only believe in signing off investment proposals which on an excel sheet gives returns greater than 18%. If life were so simple, then we wouldn’t have Microsoft excel and complex models like IRR, NPV for calculating returns. Most of these finance fakirs will have no idea of customers, sales, brands, operations but will have authority to sign-off or veto proposals in these areas. Most of these guys wanted to be in CID, but since they never made it, they will put their forensic skills to use by randomly checking travel bills, vendor bills. They think employees exist only to make a fool out of the organization. In their quest to save the little pennies, they ignore multi-crore scams.

Next comes the marketing genius – the CMO – Chief Masaledaar Officer : This person’s core job is to put mirch masala in anything given and make it sound out-of-the world. S/he believes every product, every ad created is out of the world and nothing can go wrong (until the product is launched) Like the CEO, this person takes credit for all the success of a product including the awards won. In case the product fails, s/he conveniently passes the blame on other functions like sales, production, quality etc. Mirch-masala leads to bitch-masala . S/he has all the typical qualities of a bahu in the “Saas-Bahu” series. The bitch-masala culture is ingrained into the entire marketing department. The BMs ( Brand Managers  Bhand Managers ) visit the market with the sales team in their quest to add value and only end up finding faults. “Process sucks, the sales team is not able to get things executed, initiatives are going down the drain” Obviously, in a country like India, with the kind of salaries we pay to the lowest rung, you cannot expect excellent execution. The bhand managers think they have opened the sales team’s eyes by stating the obvious. After their visit, they write a masaledaar report of how things are badly screwed up. The poor sales guy is taken to task for not able to cover up things. The marketing team lives happily ever after.

Then comes my favorite function – Sales.  The leader of this function (the CSO) is a “Continuously Stressed-out officer”. As the hierarchy in the sales function goes down, the stress levels in this function increase disproportionately ( NSM – Nationally Stressed out Manager, ZSM – Zonally Stressed Out, RSM – Regionally Stressed out and then comes the ASM – Always Stressed Out Manager  ( they think they are Area Sales Managers). They love their mobiles more than their spouses. The conference call facility has been created only to satisfy the libido of these folks. Whenever the senior most person wants to ejaculate, s/he calls for a con-call with his/her subordinates. Then like a network marketing scheme, each of the listeners adds his own frustration and ejaculates venomously with their direct reports. This chain continues till there is no body left at the bottom of the hierarchy. The folks at the bottom of the hierarchy think that the only way to get rid of this ejaculatory shit is to get promoted so that the shit falls on someone below. What they don’t realize is the shit doesn’t stop at the lowest level, it travels regionally, nationally and even globally sometimes. Chief Shit-Taking Officer in retrospect would be a better name for the leader of this function.

Generally, in life, you feel happy if you meet your targets but if you are in sales, you will feel stressed out that you have achieved it. You and your boss know that you have met your targets with great difficulty but shamelessly, you will get a target which is a minimum 20% higher than your highest ever target. No wonder this function has the highest attrition.

Last but not the least is THE ultimate corporate function – HR. The top boss of this department now-a-days is called CPO (Chief People Officer). To me, s/he’s a Chief Paper-Pushing Officer. This department reminds me of Maun-mohan singh. Without business alignment, they will do nothing on their own, not even push paper. They hate to admit that they are nothing but rubber-stamps in the hands of the business guys. Once-in-a-while, they try to call themselves HRBPs  (Business Partners), but in reality, they only increase the employee’s BP ( Blood Pressure). They are trained to say “I Hear You” These three words are the most useless words which the folks of this department use. “Sir, my appraisal was not fair” I hear you. “Ma’am, the canteen meals suck “ I hear you “ Sir, my id card has not yet been given “ I hear you “ Ma’am, my corporate credit card has not yet arrived “ I hear you. The best part is they only HEAR because they have got ears. After that nothing changes. In many organizations , the Fakirchands of finance do not allow separate admin, IT and HR so you will have employees asking all sorts of random questions to these paper pushers “Sir, my laptop is not working” “ Mam, my bathroom tap is not working . I need reimbursement” “Sir, I am not able to find a conference room “The response is the same “I Hear You”. There are a few people in HR who do not wish to be dummys. They challenge business, speak their mind, take concrete action but in most cases these folks are either transferred or asked to find greener pastures. The rest of the folks pride themselves in calling “facilitators” but they are in reality glorified post-men or “Yes Men/Women”. Anyone with or without a degree can get into this function as the only important skill required is to smile and say” I Hear You”

There are other functions worthy of a mention, but before I try to extend this blog further, my wife gives me a piece of her mind for leaving our new-born baby alone and coming to write this blog.

Guess what my simple response to her is.

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“I Hear You”

Jai Hind