Super 30 : Super Sundays – weekly blog

When things aren’t going the way you like, what’s the easiest option? Quit and hope that things will improve and start afresh. Blame it on “external factors”. Blame all constraints.  Look at others around and if you see a “similar to me” example of things not working, then maybe console yourself saying I tried my best but couldn’t manage. Go with the “new flow” and hope that someday things will work better.

My blogs had taken off quite well in the last six odd months when I had taken a break from corporate. Every Friday morning, religiously, the blog would be sent out. The positive feedback received from all my well-wishers kept me going and by the end of six months, quite a lot of people wrote back to me saying my writing had improved tremendously from when I started.  Then I rejoined the corporate world back in July. The first couple of weeks, I still managed to send in blogs. But after that, I just couldn’t manage.

I leave from home by 8 :30 am and come back by 7 pm or later, which I think is the case with most of us working in the corporate world. There is outstation travel on need basis.  Weekends are free. Technically speaking, this should be no impediment to taking out a couple of hours in a week and doing something which you like – writing in my case. But life doesn’t exactly happen as you plan. I just couldn’t manage to type in those characters. I blamed it on everything happening around me – my work, the fact that we had a new born kid , household chores etc etc. I allowed this to be the new normal and was ok to not do something which I had started to enjoy and blamed the “situation “ for this. Ironically, just when my writing quality had started getting better, I couldn’t manage to write. I took the easier choice – when things get difficult, just quit or postpone. Nothing wrong with this approach but in my case, I was not feeling happy about it. I was feeling miserable deep inside that I was not able to do something which I loved. I hoped that the long weekend during Independence Day would re-invigorate me but then I was faced with the writer’s block. I typed in three sentences and shut my laptop. By the end of August, I had a strange creepy feeling that it was all over slowly. I hoped that I would get back to blogging but it just didn’t happen. My worst fear – “the situation will control you” instead of the other way around had come true.

A lot of my friends asked me why my blogs had stopped suddenly. I blamed it on work saying work had made it tough to focus on this. Faced with a difficult situation of managing multiple priorities, I chose the easy path – giving up instead of fighting it out. Until yesterday, when I saw Super 30 .

My first memory of Anand Kumar was in 2014, when he had come in as a guest speaker in the Mahindra Annual Sales Conference. I was an Area Sales Manager in those days. Until his session, a host of senior leaders had come in and delivered typical corporate presentations. Kumar had about 10 slides, mostly pictures and spoke in Hindi throughout. He was in tears when he spoke about how, despite coming from an economically weak background, he had got a seat in a prestigious foreign university, on the back of his research papers being published in international journals,  but due to lack of sponsors, he had to give up his dream of higher education. He had reached out to ministers and various sources but nothing worked. Money is everything. If you don’t have the money, then you are gone. The difference between Anand Kumar and a lot of other people who have quit their dreams when it didn’t seem to work out was the mental approach. Instead of giving up completely, Kumar started Ramanujan School of Mathematics, for IIT coaching. He spoke about how 2 students had enrolled in his first year in 1992. In 3 years, 500 students had enrolled. For 10 years, he was purely running this as a business until one day, he decided to start Super 30 (when he saw a poor student , who had come to his Ramanujan institute wanting to enroll in IIT coaching , but could not afford it). Every year, he would call for an entrance test for the underprivileged students and 30 under-privileged students from Bihar, would be given free IIT coaching, inclusive of food and accommodation at his centre. Kumar was determined that other deserving students should not suffer the same fate as him and he decided to enable them. If you are passionate about something and keep pursuing it, then the world will take notice some day.

In the first year, 18 out of 30 students made it to IIT. Children of rickshaw puller, masons, housemaids from Bihar had got through the IIT entrance. The first in their families. These students had ensured that their and their future generations lives would take a positive spin. From then on, there was no looking back for Kumar and Super 30 and he had a 90% + conversion consistently. In 3 of the years, all 30 had qualified.

Recognitions came in from across the world. Super 30 was in the Time Magazine “Best of Asia 2010”. Barack Obama’s special envoy – Rashad Husain, termed it “the best institute in the country”. Anand Kumar was awarded the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Shiksha Puraskar in November 2010, the highest award given by the Bihar state government in the field of education.

At the end of his presentation, Anand proudly mentioned that because of his success, a lot of corporates and the Government had approached him with donation /aid requests for Super 30 but he till date has not taken a single rupee from any of them. When he needed it, people had turned him down and now it was his turn. Kumar’s journey had his own challenges and he had endured a fair shar of smear campaigns in the media by competitors and death attacks. Kumar exhorted all of us not to “ give up on our dreams” come what may.

At the end of Kumar’s speech, many of us were in tears. Kumar only spoke for 30 minutes but had all of us spell-bound and motivated by the end of his speech. After the session, I ran outside and took a photo with this inspirational figure. This man was not as heard of as Bollywood stars or cricketers, but a photo with him was priceless.

When things are not going your way, you can still slug it out and keep fighting to pursue your dreams. Anand Kumar – you have made the country proud with what you have done. Hrithik Roshan and the makers of the movie “Super 30” might have taken a lot of cinematic liberties in bringing out his story to life, but to me, Anand Kumar will always be an inspiration – six years ago, he motivated us to achieve our dreams and now, he has again woken me up from my slumber and pushed me back to pursue the things I like and not get bogged down by “situations”.

I do not know if my blogs will continue in the same weekly frequency as before ( hoping to publish every Sunday) , or I will again go back to a state where I blame the situation. But for now, I am at peace that at least I have come back and written a blog after a few weeks gap and no prizes for guessing the inspiration behind this.

Long live Anand Kumar and Super 30.

Jai Hind

Diary of a “Stay-at-home” dad : Freaky Fridays – weekly blog

6 months ago, I decided to take a bold and impulsive decision of quitting my job without another job in hand. Initially, I thought I would apply to other jobs but as my wife’s delivery date drew closer and closer, I decided to take a “break” from corporate. I had resigned from my current job and applied to a few jobs but secretly, I hoped that I would not get through any of them so that I did not have to join soon. My wife was supportive of this decision. Her only concern was finances and having saved enough for 6 months, I took the decision to be a temporary “stay-at-home” dad.

Now-a-days, sabbaticals and breaks have become common. Different people take it at different points in time. My friends, who were not in recent touch with me, thought I had taken a “sabbatical”. For those who are not aware, a sabbatical ensures you have not lost your job and can rejoin the same organization after the specified duration, in any available role. Most organizations have a sabbatical policy for people who have completed a minimum tenure. When I told a few of them that this was not the case, quite a few of them told me that I was taking a big risk by quitting without a back-up job and a back-up plan. What would I give as a reason for the break for potential employers? What if the gap becomes a problem in me finding another job?

Nonetheless, I moved on as what mattered to me the most was what I was thinking. I was venturing into “unknown” territory. There was no reference point for me – no one in my close circle had taken a paternity break. Maternity breaks have been the norm since ages. In my head, I was clear that I wanted to give all possible support to my wife and help her through a transition. I was not so much worried about the future.

I resigned in January and my wife’s due date was 6th of March originally. But the doctor had told us to be prepared from Feb 20th onwards. Having worked for 9 years, the month of February was a pleasant surprise for me. I felt I was like one of those “retired” Public Sector employees who seem very contented with life and who walk the race of life at their own pace, unlike the younger generation which just keeps running without any idea. The running race starts from school, where we are told class 10 is a big hurdle, then IIT/medicine, then post-graduation, job, marriage and keeps going on and on. The comparisons about how others are doing keep happening and make us run harder and faster. All this stopped for me in February and life was different.

I would get up early, hit the gym for almost two hours, do some house chores , read the newspaper and wrote chapters of my book. For the first time, I had no serious goal to target. I just wanted to enjoy the time till it lasted. The baby had not yet arrived. I would go for walks daily with my wife and just try to not discuss the fact that we would soon be parents. To distract her , I would discuss the chapters of my book , the people in my gym etc. I also did a few online certifications. I started using Instagram more often. Life was good even without a purpose. I started blogging regularly. This was month 1.

On the 27th of February, our little bundle of joy arrived. It finally hit me that I had become a parent. My wife had started preparing herself to be a mom since the time she discovered she was pregnant. For me, the realization dawned only when I held the little one in my arms for the first time. Post that, life started zipping. Quite a few of my friends told me that life would no longer be the same and I would not get time to sleep, would have to let go of a lot of hobbies etc etc. I was a bit apprehensive at hearing all this. But what happened with me was completely different. As I was not working, I had enough time to do a lot of things. I would burp the baby, do a few household chores, watch sitcoms and in my free time, would start writing chapters of my book. The first two months were very hectic, especially for my wife, as the baby would feed every two hours and she would get very tired. But gradually, things improved and she was able to get better sleep.

As far as I was concerned, the break made me try a lot of creative things. I made my first DIY wall clock from  a used iPad cover, wrote the manuscript of my first book, tried working on a couple of whacky ideas ( a Youtube finance video series and an education start-up). The last two ideas didn’t go through as I had to depend on other partners and it didn’t work out. But I became fitter, stronger and much more creative as a person.

As a dad, my primary KRA was to put the baby to sleep every night and play with her during the day. It was fun and I was in a utopian world. I had all the time in the world – to take care of my body, my mind and family. I secretly hoped that I could extend the break for another year or two. Why would I want to let go of the new found freedom of not running a race against time?

But six months later, practicality kicked in. My savings had almost been utilized and there was a burden of an EMI. I had no option but to start working again. The break was not pre-planned and it had to end sooner than later. I joined in an organization two weeks ago and things have changed again.

“Time”, which was in abundance with me  during the break, is now a luxury. I barely get to see my little one. By the time I am back home, she’s asleep. I hardly hit the gym now. I rarely am in a frame of mind to write creatively as most days I come back exhausted. I have not read the newspaper. Weekends fly away with my wife and baby as that’s the only time I get to spend with them. Slowly, I am getting back into the race of life. The future on the work front looks scary –travel, resolving issues, late nights, burn outs , appraisals, lay-offs, promotions. It looks as if the juice is going to be sucked out. I have not had the time to plan out my book launch. My biggest fear is I will stop doing the things I love – writing, reading, gymming, cleaning and playing with the kid. I hope it doesn’t come true. Secretly, I pray to God that all my worst fears do not come true and I continue to create time to do the things I love doing.

Time and tide waits for none. I hope the tide turns in favour of me sooner than later. Hopefully, the next break will not take another 9 years and hopefully, I will find the time to keep writing. One of the songs playing in my head right now is…

“ Suhaana safar aur yeh mausam haseen… humey darr na hum kho na jaaye kahin”

-Jai Hind

Guest Blogger : 10 unconventional parenting gifts : Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

Money, real estate, gold are cliched. Here are 10 non-monetary assets that we could will to our children

Folks – starting this week, guest bloggers will be contributing to this blog to share different perspectives on various topics. So if you are someone is passionate about writing on anything under the sun in a simple and non-technical topic, please get in touch with me.

This week’s guest blogger is Preeti Iyer. She is a content specialist in the financial services domain. She has written blogs on topics such as parenting, philanthropy, and spirituality. She also reviews books and occasionally dabbles in poetry.

Today’s blog is on one of my favorite topics- parenting. Here you go

Ten unconventional bequeathals for the coming generations

The first cry! And we are hit by a mixed bag of emotions – tears of joy, overwhelmed by the arrival of a new member, sleepless nights to follow, moments of anxiety, host of responsibilities, and the list is endless. The baby, which has just tiptoed into our lives, needs our full attention and time, and needs to be nourished, educated, and reared, and taught the right ways to lead his/her life.

We open several piggy banks for the most precious jewel in our crown, in the form of fixed deposits, systematic investment plans, children’s education plans, and invest in long-term assets, including gold, property, and equities… all this to ensure that every need that can be envisaged, right from infancy, toddlerhood, basic and higher education, medical insurance, teenage, marriage, and last but not the least, inheritance. 

But hang on!!! If you bequeath a crore of rupees as cash, or a mausoleum of a house for your child, does that mean you have topped the University of Parenting? Maybe you have provided for every potential need of your offspring, but how does this ensure his/her evolution into a knowledgeable, talented, creative, nature-loving personality. 

Here are 10 unconventional bequeathals which can go a long way in shaping the personality of a child, and making him/her a more responsible, sensible, sensitive and mature individual.

1. Discovering the joy of reading: The child who reads today, will be an adult who thinks tomorrow. Introducing your child to the world of books and joys of reading in the growing years, can probably help them find their best friend, philosopher and guide for a lifetime. Reading can nourish their brains, and instill a sense of curiosity and quest for knowledge and information. A gargantuan library, be it in the form of physical books or maybe a kindle, can be one of the best assets that several succeeding generations can also benefit from.

2.  Initiating the love for music: The sapta swaras, when woven together, can produce the most melodious tunes. Inculcating love for music, helping them learn to sing or play an instrument, and more importantly, teaching them the right way to appreciate music and talented musicians, can provide them a calming escapade from their hectic schedules, and offer access to one of the most effective stress busters. It doesn’t really matter which school of music they may want to pursue – Hindustani, Carnatic or Western. End of the day, all forms of music are bound by the same thread of seven notes. If the love for music culminates into a passion for dance, that’s equally or even more rewarding. So, how about extending your CD collection to your children and their families further on?

3. Fostering art and craft: Be it a traditional form of art like embroidery or crochet work, Warli or Madhubani paintings, or making murals, or more modern pursuits such as quilling, paper craft, candy stick art, or beadwork, any form of art and craft fosters creativity and imagination and offers immense satisfaction. And definitely, every family will have certain hidden arts and artists, who need to pass on the talent to their younger family members, so that the legacy can continue.

 4. Encouraging philanthropy: The joy of giving can only multiply if we ensure our children understand the need to care for the needy, and provide for them in as many ways possible. Though companies and hence, employers, these days are becoming more socially responsible, what could be lacking is the personal touch.

So, take your child to a local orphanage or home for elderly, and initiate the practice of offering food, clothes, books, and other items of utility to the inmates. We need to ingrain the fact that these are individuals who are not less-privileged in any way, but are those with immense potential and dreams, who only need the means to fulfill their aspirations, may be in the form of money or valuable guidance and moral support.

5. Building a connoisseur’s paradise:  Old is gold and will always remain so. Few decades ago, many of us and our parents or grandparents loved collecting rare stamps, coins, photographs or paintings. Whenever someone would pay a visit, maybe an old acquaintance or a distant relative, we would find great pride in showcasing our repertoire. However, the current generation of kids rarely display such inclination or enthusiasm. Perhaps the advent of internet or technology consumes their mind and mental pace to an extent, that there is less physical room for accumulating and storing such assets.

 6. Preserving antiques and family heirlooms: Can you ever find in the local bazaar or the virtual e-marketplace, the vessel in which your grandmother made her signature kheer, or the ancient bell that hung in the courtyard of your father’s home in his native place? In most of the cases, the answer would probably be no. Certain things, like wine, become worthier with age. And our family heirlooms and antique pieces are no exception. The gap however, arises when our progeny fails to perceive value in such objects because they perhaps do not know how precious these collectibles are, both in terms of monetary value, and as a souvenir.

7.   Instilling the need for spirituality and meditation: One of the saddest ironies in today’s fast-paced, mechanical life is that we try to discover everything around us, except our own selves. What does it take to take a moment, sit down and pause, and dwell on our thoughts? Most individuals, especially children and teenagers, are trapped within walls of peer pressure, advices (some irrelevant or unsought) and an overload of information on the Internet. If they fail to wake up to their inner voice and calling, they may end up in the wrong professions and living someone else’s dream.

Let us introduce our scions to the universal force that binds all of us, to the ways by which we can reach out to the Almighty, share our concerns with Him/Her, and find a pathway to peace and equanimity.  This could help them identify their strengths and weaknesses, choose careers that are aligned to their talents and aptitude, be unruffled by constant challenges or any negative feedback, and remain grounded to their roots, so as to achieve their goals and reach for the skies.

8. Handing down cherished memories and the Family Tree: Not sure how many of you would agree with me, but black-and-white pictures of our parents and grandparents, the ancestral home, the well and cow shed in the backyard, the paddy fields and plantations, have an unmistakable charm. Why lose it to hi-tech scans and personal drives of laptops? Why not print them (if negatives are available), paste them in albums, write down catchy and meaningful captions, and pass it over to the youth of tomorrow? This could help them recall and relive those occasions, appreciate and preserve some of the practices, and maintain tradition and culture.

9. Sharing traditional lip-smacking recipes and culinary secrets: The secret ingredients that go into the chhole prepared by your favourite aunt, the recipe for making perfect modaks for Lord Ganesha, or the tried-and-tested method for making melt-in-the-mouth Mysore Paks… does anyone know these culinary secrets? This is possibly the only way families can ensure that the taste of the quintessential Dadimaa ka Khaana lingers forever, not only in the minds of kith and kin, but also on their tongues. This may also ensure that the nutritive value of food is well-preserved, and the body gets the required nourishment, in a world that is increasingly dominated by fast foods and crash diets.

10.Creating the urge to protect nature and the environment: If we closely examine our surroundings, environment and nature, we could comprehend the pressing need to maintain the ecological balance, use natural resources sparingly, and conserve every drop and aspect of Mother Nature. Depleting forest areas, climate change and global warming, receding water levels, and increasing pollution in air and water, may suffocate those stepping into adulthood few decades later.

So, the answer lies in acting now, before the situation bommerangs into a global crisis. Let us bequeath the strong urge to protect our natural resources, and prevent further damage to the environment, to our children, so that they grow into socially responsible and sensitive human beings.

And after a long blogpost, here is a short disclaimer. The purpose of penning down this blog was to share some of the ways by which we can help our successive generation, learn from and preserve the past, sustain their present and succeed in their future. Feel free to add on to your own list of bestowments. The list is inexhaustive and options are raised to infinity, if only we look at the world after taking off the glasses tainted with materialism, possessiveness, and constant comparison and competition.

Good luck and God bless!!!

Preeti Iyer

http://preetypoint.blogspot.com/

RKR – Father’s Day Special Blog

Rasa-kudi Raghuraman ( RKR) in Hindi , loosely translates to Rasam Peene Wala Raghuraman. In my family, RKR was as big as SRK or MSD or SRT or GST. Even before these acronyms became famous, there was a certain gentleman, who had earned the nickname RKR in the 90s for his Rasam drinking abilities.

RKR had earned this nickname because he could drink 2 or 3 glasses of rasam back to back after having eaten a bowl full of rasam rice. He could easily devour a vessel full of rasam single-handedly. For him, drinking a full container of rasam was as easy as Federer winning Wimbledon on grass. The title RKR was bestowed on him after many such conquests and no one in our family has ever close to taking away the record from this gentleman.

And he was doing this routine, day in, day out just like how Sachin would go out to the nets daily. Harsha Bhogle has spoken a lot about talent, born vs acquired and the relentless hours of practice, which differentiates the champions from the ordinary. If Harsha were part of our family and he would see RKR drinking rasam, he would write an essay on talent, consistency and practice looking at this.  RKR, the phenom, has been doing this since childhood, continues to do this daily and he cares a damn about what others think about this quality of his.

RKR is an amazing athlete as well. I did not know of this hidden talent of his. One Sunday, me and RKR were walking out of our aunt’s house. RKR was scared of dogs, like me. As we came out of our aunt’s house, me and RKR saw a white Labrador barking at us. A teenaged boy was holding it. Both me and RKR were scared. We told the boy to hold the dog tightly so that we could walk out to the main road. As soon as RKR said this, I don’t what happened to the boy. The boy was trying to hold the cuff and keep the dog with him but the dog broke away and came at us. Me and RKR looked at each other for a second. We ignored our mind’s rational decision to stay still and instead, decided to listen to our instinct and decided to run and save our life. We equated the dog to a man-eating Royal Bengal tiger and ran for our lives. We didn’t even look at each other. The dog was coming at us. The boy was running behind the dog. Me and RKR were running without looking back. Usain Bolt would have been proud of our running. PT Usha would have nominated us to the Indian athletics team just seeing our 30 second sprint. The gully road led to the main road via a T junction. As me and RKR neared the main road, the road opened into two directions. I ran to the left. I did not see RKR.

As he was not behind/beside me, I assumed he ran to the right. After about 30 seconds more when I was gasping for breath, I stopped. I suddenly realized that I had lost RKR while running and I needed to find him. I started walking briskly to the other side of the T entrance to the main road. For a few minutes, I did not find RKR. I suddenly started panicking. All sorts of weird thoughts started entering my head. What if the Labrador had bit RKR and RKR was hospitalized? What if he had ran and met with an accident?  I was lost in these negative thoughts for a few seconds.

I felt miserable that I had not run holding RKR’s hand. That way at least both of us would have met with the same fate. It is in such situations that one realizes the true value of one’s father. RKR was after all my dad, who was instrumental in bringing me to this world.  Dejected at the entire chain of events, I was cursing the boy who could not hold the Labrador with him. Neither the boy, the dog, nor RKR were anywhere to be seen. I kept walking in the faint hope that I would see RKR coming from the opposite direction.

I had walked a few metres when I reached a cricket ground on my right. On every third Sunday, a league match would be played with players clothed in whites on a green mat. It would resemble a Test Match ground. I was staring at the middle of the pitch through the grilled fence . All sorts of thoughts started wavering in my head.

As a child, my dad had given me everything I had asked for. All my early memories like my first audio cassette – Darr ,my first animation movie – the Lion King ( my dad had promised me that if I came first in class, he would take me to a nice movie), the Sunday visits to the aquarium with him near Hussainsagar lake and many more memories started surfacing. I was kicking myself for being selfish and not looking at where my Dad was running. I was totally annoyed with myself. I dint want to go back home. What would I answer to my Mom, my aunt, my relatives?

As I neared the stands, I heard a familiar voice shouting at me “ Hari …” . It was RKR’s voice. It was such a relief. I was confused as to how did he land up as a spectator in this match, when a few minutes ago, he was running for his life. He seemed to have read my thoughts “I ran so fast and I could hear the dog coming after me, so I decided to climb up the grill and get into the ground so that the dog could not chase me” When both of us came home and narrated this incident, my Mom couldn’t stop laughing.

That incident, funny as it may sound in retrospect, made me realize the value of my dad. A few children are closer to their mothers, while for a few, it’s the other way around. I was and still am momma’s boy. Because my dad used to work and mom was a house-wife, most of my up-bringing was done by her.  My dad may not be the most perfect dad, but I think I am fortunate that he is still with me. Initially, I used to crib a lot about his imperfections and how he could never equal my mother.

We realize the true value of things when those things are no longer with us. When a few of my friends told me that they had lost their parents at a young age, I realized how lucky I was to have both my parents raising me .Thankfully, for me, the realization has come sooner before it’s too late. We all have our imperfections and, in our eagerness, to compare everything and everyone, we forget that each person is unique in their own way and continue to be judgmental.

Now, the wheel has turned full circle and I have become a dad and I can see my child thinking about me in future in the same lines a few years down the line. There are times when the baby is crying loudly and I am deep asleep. Its not that I intend to but it just doesn’t happen.

Becoming a dad also has made me realize the importance of one thing which most of corporate India has neglected – paternity leave. It’s really sad that most of the board members in the corporate world do not consider this as a priority. The situation is worse in some hospitals -where I am told even maternity leave is a luxury, forget paternity leave. There are a few bright spots like Zomato ( which recently announced a 6 month paternity leave for both men and women)  in an otherwise sad scenario . In today’s times, it is impossible to expect a woman to raise a child independently. The first six months of transition for a woman from wife to a mother is extremely difficult and the basic expectation from her is if the husband /dad spends “time”. There are various things organizations can do – something vary basic like paternity leave, to arranging sessions on how to transition to parenthood, career customization for new parents etc.

My dad worked in a PSU, which was pretty much a 9 to 5 job therefore I have a lot of fond childhood memories . In today’s times, someone who comes in at 9 and leaves by 5 is perceived as “not hungry for growth”. People who stay late , work on weekends, take calls post office hours are perceived to be more “hard-working” and rewarded with promotions in a lot of cases. Unless the culture in corporate changes from the top, there’s a grave danger that our future generations of kids may not have as many memories of their childhood with mom and dad, as our generation had. Father’s Day will become another tick-the-box activity. Let’s hope the future changes for the better.

Happy Father’s Day

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.

…..

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“Bar-raiser” – of course.

Jai Hind

GoT – Game of Tokens : Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

People say that scaling up Mount Everest is the most demanding activity in the world, as Base Camp takes a lot out of you physically and mentally. Even I thought so until I went about trying to get my address changed in my Aadhar card. In many ways, the struggle one needs to go through in this process makes you feel Base Camp was easier.

I had moved from Mumbai to Bangalore a couple of years ago and going by the increased importance being given to Aadhar in recent times, I decided to get my address changed sooner than later. Everyone now-a-days is raising a huge cry about privacy, data security and big data these days. I feel I have no right to comment on such topics if my basic data itself is not correctly updated. This is equivalent to organizations embarking on “digital transformation” projects despite not having basic customer data of correct email addresses and phone numbers. A few stand-up comedians have also created a song about how the Government is playing “Snoop Dogg” using Aadhar. I can’t understand what problem these guys have with the Government. It is “OK” to willingly give consent to FB, Google and all the God-damn apps in the world to use your contacts, read your messages , store your photos but “not OK” to give your name, mobile number and address to the Government of India as it is “snooping on your privacy”.

Having made up my mind to get my address updated, I started scouting for the nearest Aadhar updation center. Right behind my house in Bangalore is the great Jayanagar post office. A few days ago, I had seen a banner outside the post office – “Get your address changed for Aadhar here. “It had an India Post logo. I initially wanted to get my residential address changed at a “Bangalore One” centre, which is the State Government run centre for paying off utility bills, stamp duties etc. But since the post office was a stone’s throw away, I decided to go there to save time. After standing in a queue for 20 minutes, I was greeted with a warm smile by the officer. I gave him my aadhaar card and other documents. He smiled wickedly and said “Sir. We don’t do Aadhar updation here. You need to go to the Jayanagar head post office.” I asked him – “But what about the banner outside which tells a different message?” His smile grew wider when he said “Sir, that’s a branding initiative by the central marketing team. Only head offices have this facility, but they had printed these banners for the whole of India. They wanted to exhaust their marketing budgets”. I guess all marketing departments work the same way.

Frustrated, I went to the Jayanagar head post office. It was around 12 noon. This post office had a “token” system. So, I took a token and waited for about 30 minutes. When the announcer screamed “Token No. 83, Counter no. 5.”I felt relieved. As soon as I reached counter no.5, I was greeted with another wicked smile by the babu sitting at the counter. He said “Sir, all Aadhar related requests are only handled in the last counter. You can go there.” I went to the last counter. A young man in his 20s was sitting relaxed. He was scrolling his mobile. As soon as he saw me, he started opening some files trying to act busy. When I mentioned the word “Aadhar”, he smiled wryly. He said “Sir, we accept only 10 aadhaar requests per day. The tokens for that need to be collected at sharp 9 am everyday and we do this only for an hour. Please come back tomorrow.” I wanted to have a go at him then and there for his nonchalant attitude but decided to avoid it. This guy had no work but still had the guts to say what he said. I thought I will tweet to the PMO about it but I didn’t know whether they would still reply with the same intensity post elections ( now that the results are out and the most responsive minister on Twitter Sushma ji is no longer in the cabinet) , so I decided not to. This story would be good for a blog and anyways I was running out of weekly blog topics, so I decided to move on.

I left the Jayanagar head post office and decided to go to the Bangalore One centre. There were a lot of such centers but I decided to go to the main centre in Jayanagar as I did not want another repeat of the post office fiasco. To my surprise, the centre did not have a waiting at all. I was ecstatic. I went to the first counter and gave my aadhar card. The young lady smiled at me. I smiled back. She asked me “ How may I help you?”. I replied – “Aadhar address change”. She smiled again – “Token”. I smiled back -“ Why?” She yelled at me “ Don’t you know that this centre works on weekly token system? The tokens are given at the start of the week. Please take a token for next Thursday and come back” Apparently, the bigger the centre, the longer the queue. Disappointed, I decided to try a smaller center.

I went to the JP Nagar Bangalore One Centre. It was already 4 hours since I had started but I could not get a simple address change done. I decided that having come this far and waited so long, I would get the job completed today. Even if it meant standing for a few more hours. I started daydreaming. In my dream, I was singing the Gully boy rap song “Aazadi, Aazadi” having done my address change. Before I could dream further, the security at the entrance stopped me. He directed me to a special dedicated counter for Aadhar. I saw 3 people standing there. I stood behind them. At about 1:30 pm, my chance came. As 3 people before me had completed their updation, I thought mine also would be done in a jiffy. Unfortunately, I got the same reply “ Sir, these are the morning tokens and we have fulfilled our requests for the day. It is lunch time and we dont process Aadhar requests beyond our quota. You need to come tomorrow morning”. Like many liberals, I wanted to blame Modi for everything wrong with this country until someone told me these centers were run by the State Government. I wanted to take a loudspeaker and scream “ Kumaraswamy- Yelidiyaapa.. Y This Ch*tiyaapa”

However, better sense prevailed and I came home . When I told my wife that I was “Aadhaar-ed” today by the token systems, she told me to apply online. I somehow had missed looking the online way. I scanned the Aadhaar website for list of documents and figured out that my bank passbook did not have a photo-stamp and the website mandated this. So, I went to SBI to get this done. As soon as I went to the bank, the security guard gave me a “token” and asked me to wait. Before I could scream “Oh No.. Not another token”, there was a song playing on the LCD screen which pacified me.

“Hum Honge kamyaab… Hum Honge kamyaab.. Ek Din

Mann mey hai vishwaas.. Poora Hai vishwaas..

Hum Honge kamyaab.. Ek Din”

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