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The odyssey of news

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2011 at 6:57 am

World moves at a fast pace. Things happen anywhere and everywhere. It is nearly impossible for the news reporters to be at all these places at the exact time of the incident. Often, they reach the spot ‘after the fact’ of the incident. This model worked in the old days when people relied on print media and television to garner information. However, in today’s world, information travels at gigabytes per second if not more. Internet is (nearly) ubiquitous. It is also a great forum to post news and your views for free. Thus, the users become first-hand reporters of news. The shift caused by internet users reporting news has a major impact on the news industry. Here is why:

  • First, the users are the first to market. By the time the news agency catches up, its no longer ‘news’. The word is spread already. People watch news to get additional information that they cannot gather from ‘tweets’.
  • Second, my hunch is that there is a preference to hear firsthand information. This is different from listening to the standard and nearly unchanged form of media reporting.

Internet has changed the dynamics of traditional news. It has now become both the source and destination for many news agencies. The news industry is going through a transitional period. As with any change, some handle it well and others struggle. Consider for example the incident of 9/11. Tourists’ video camera captured the first images. As we fast forward nearly 10 years later, the twitter community had the potential to know that Bin Laden was dead. The form and shape of information has evolved over the decade. Given that this has been established already, then why do news agencies write articles based entirely on tweets? If I want to read tweets, I know where to find them. I don’t need a news agency for that.

With the changed dynamics, the news agencies should take information from the internet one step further and expand on the incident with detailed and authoritative analysis. They have the capability to provide the history, the current incident in the context, and its impact on future. Very few agencies do that. Consider The Economist for example. They are not the first to report the incident on print. However, their analysis makes it worth my while to read. They circumvent the need to be ‘first to market’. On the other hand, news agencies that still have their strategy set to old standards struggle for information. The desperate need for information drives them to reprint tweets and copy other news agencies.

This transitional period for the news industry determines who leads the pack and who follows. It is time for the news agencies to revisit their strategy and evaluate how they want the next decade to be. Their role has changed from news reporters to news analysts! They can be assured that with the pace of technology, the medium will change. Whatever solution they come up with needs to be broader than factoring in youtube and twitter.

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Importance of Transferable Skills

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm

As you grow higher in the corporate ladder your transferable skills matter more than the technical skills. This is often a shocking discovery for someone in the high-tech industry. An excellent engineer gets promoted to a manager and finds out his / her world has turned upside down. For instance, what enabled success as an engineer is sometimes an obstacle to your success as a manager.

Your ability to analyze a given situation, identify opportunities and make improvements are transferable skills. Your ability to code in Java or Verilog is not a transferable skill as you move up the ladder. Lets consider a few of my examples:

  • As an ASIC Engineer at a start-up, I was responsible for system verification along with two other team members. At the end of the week, the management summed up the number of regressions by each person to assess their performance. You get what you measure – the other two members worked hard to push up their numbers each week. I came up with a out of the box solution. I automated the  verification process with scripts so that the regressions were done with or without me. This boosted our productivity significantly. After saving money and reducing cycle-time, I moved on to lead other parts of ASIC development. Now, how do you transfer this ‘process’ thinking to a different situation? Read the next item…
  • In a completely different role from hardware engineering, I was leading the sales operations for a Fortune 100 company. The team I inherited ran the same reports everyday manually. Every time I needed information, the team had to go through a lot of data processing. Worse yet, the information gathered was always looking backward instead of forecasting. I hired a IT team and designed a business intelligence application that automated the report generation, provided instant dashboard for different levels of details customized to the viewers need, and more importantly provided forecast so that I can scale my resources appropriately. This increased productivity. We were able to serve our customers better by predicting their needs and being proactive in providing solutions. I relieved the team of mundane tasks and assigned them to higher-order work.

With effort and practice you can transfer your skills to many different aspects of business. You can bring fresh ideas and implement solutions regardless of what role you take. Learn the tactical skills needed for the job so you are competent. Focus on developing and nurturing your transferable skills.

The power of questions

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2011 at 10:24 am

As someone who has worked in a variety of verticals and business functions, I attribute some of my success to common sense. However, the adage that common sense is not that common is very true. Often, people look for complex solutions to problems to showcase their value-ad to the organization. How do you tell them gently and politely that there are other better ways to solve the issue?

You can be direct and to the point. If your coworkers share similar style and are open minded, this works well. However, lets come to the real world. Yes, the real world, where you have coworkers who have their ego and emotions attached to their ideas. The real world where they can just bulldoze you to make their point or brand you in the wrong way. This often leads to friction and frustration.

Even if you get your solution implemented, you may win the battle but lose the war. When you work in a team with peers, it is imperative to have a conducive environment. Also, you ‘want’ to team to work with you instead of ‘have’ to work with you. By asking the right questions, you spark the team to develop better solutions. You can influence the team and guide them in the right direction.

One tactic that works really well for me is to ask clarifying questions instead of just offering solutions. Show them that you understand their solution, you are curious about how it will play out in different scenarios, and how their solution will help in such situations. As they try to answer these questions, they will uncover the folly of their idea and become more open to brainstorming a better solution. This makes people more comfortable around you instead of being threatened by you.

As a bonus, here is a video I came across about asking questions:

http://www.allianceleadership.com/video-asking-questions.htm

Why do some large organizations fail?

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2011 at 6:50 am

There are some lessons to be learned from successes. There are far more lessons to be learned from failures. A group of ambitious people start a company with a great product idea. The company is successful and expands. As the company grows, there is turf war. The focus shifts. Instead of taking risk and launching great products, the focus is on job security. In some situations, this behavior is so pronounced that any risk takers are managed out of the company. This sends a clear message to the rest of the team. They just do what they are told to do. Besides, why would people take risks when there is no associated reward (promotion, bonus, etc) and when they have a chance of getting fired?

In an open environment that nourishes innovation, the employees are happy. They don’t have to fear for their jobs or go through a ton of red-tape to develop their ideas. The team produces great products that helps the company overcome competitive pressure. The company does well and stays profitable. However, in many large organizations, this has just become a day dream. Consequently, there is layoffs and job insecurity. This triggers a downward spiral. In an insecure environment, people avoid risks. This impacts innovation and the company eventually becomes less profitable, triggering more layoffs.

Unfortunately, many leaders in large organizations are biased and like to think that they would NEVER turn down a good idea or NEVER build territories. If they have open and honest conversations with their employees, they will be surprised and shocked. Hope this blog makes at least a small difference in some of your thoughts and actions.

Have you ever had your valuable idea rejected? Have you spent more time on red-tape than it would take to develop the product? Have you thought that the risk is not worth the reward? I’d like to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments sections below…

MBA Life-cycle

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2010 at 4:46 am

I frequently encounter coaching requests from ambitious people trying to find their way. Excellent engineers want to change careers and become marketeers, operations leaders, and a handful few aspire to be engineering leaders. In order to accomplish this, the typical route taken is to go to B-School. Most people I know go to school part-time or start with a full-time program but end up taking a job in the middle of the MBA program. The observations here are primarily about the first category of people who start with the part-time program.

One of the key things that I have observed is that the students are forced to utilize their time effectively to manage work, school, and home. This often implies less hours at the office than before. In my line of work, fewer office hours should not matter as long as the employee produces results. However, quite often the candidates find themselves in turmoil. Some managers perceive fewer hours as less work and soon this turns into a performance improvement conversation.

Another observation is that the candidate often loses interest in the current line of work since it no longer aligns with their future goals. This impacts their performance at work while their performance at school is impeccable.

Third observation: While some candidates enter the MBA program with clear career goals, others are still finding their way. Often someone in the middle of the MBA program is still trying to decide the right career. This makes it very difficult to have meaningful career development conversations with the management, rendering the management team helpless in the candidate’s development goals.

Is there an existing study / finding that points to the MBA life-cycle? This will help the MBA aspirants to know the risks before taking the plunge. What are some of your observations?

Key things to consider when changing jobs

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2010 at 3:53 am

Changing jobs can put a lot of pressure on a person. A highly successful candidate in one environment may find the new situation daunting. It takes time to pick up the cultural nuances, unspoken engagement models, established inner-circle, etc.

Depending on your level of tolerance to change and various risk factors involved, you can take a gradual or abrupt approach to change. If you are averse to risk, then either (a) a new responsibility in the same team reduces the environment related stress or (b) a new team using the same technical skill set reduces the subject matter related stress. Keep in mind that the dynamics in every team is different even if it is within the same company.

Changing company and career at the same time poses a lot more risk. You have to learn the new job, team, company, its value chain, its competitive landscape, etc while still producing results from the get go. There are lots of variables to consider when taking this approach.

Regardless of how you proceed with your career development, one key thing to note is that what gets you there wont keep you there. The elements needed for success in the present situation are not always the same as the elements needed for success in the past. More about this in a future blog post.

What are some of the things you consider when changing jobs?

Successful Meeting

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2010 at 8:40 am

As a meeting organizer you have a moral responsibility to be of value to the attendees. If you called a meeting and you are not fully prepared for the meeting, you have robbed people of their valuable time. Meetings cost companies resources, time and money.

It is not uncommon to find yourselves in a meeting where the organizer is winging it. People do notice whether or not you are prepared, whether they are adding value to the meeting, or gaining anything out of the meeting. Sadly, there are websites that coach you on how to wing a meeting.

It is a crime to call a meeting without an agenda 🙂 Its not hard to put together an agenda if you know the objective of the meeting. If you do not have an objective, then why do you want to meet? Now these are the easy parts of requesting the meeting. While they are important and give structure to a meeting, how do you improve the success of your meetings?

  • First, it is essential you do your homework. Yes, work is somewhat like school! What do you or the audience need to know/do before the meeting so that the items in the agenda can be discussed productively? For important meetings, you may have to do have preparatory sessions with a subset of the invitees if needed.
  • If you expect someone to present, discuss this with them in advance and get their presentation material ahead of time.
  • If you are the subject matter expert, then think about what you want your audience to take away and design your presentation accordingly.
  • Have clear call to action.
  • Ensure people know their deliverable by sending out the meeting recording, action items, etc.

Hope these help you to make the best use of everyone’s time. Happy meeting! Please share your tips for a productive meeting or horror stories about some of the worst meetings you’ve been in 🙂

A living document seldom lives

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2010 at 6:42 am

Documenting your work can be dreary. Its not as creative as writing a piece of code or solving a problem, which are fun activities. Unless you are a document writer, chances are you do not look forward to this part of the job. However, it is important to document your work so that:

  • Some time from now you can look back and recollect what you did
  • Pass the work to someone else and you can move to solve the next problem
  • It may be required if you are in certain type of industry or for certain customers
  • Its good housekeeping to close the project correctly

There are circumstances however, where a process is created to keep documents current ‘just because’. When your team is going at the pace of 500 miles per hour, if you require them to document every little change or development, you have to ensure that you have the right business justification for it and provide resources to facilitate this.

Expecting your team to keep a document alive can be a painful process. It can slow down the progress. Eventually, the looming project deadline will always take priority over writing a document. This renders your living document aged and untouched. Instead, keep the work flow & work style of your people in mind when you request something of them. Create a process that fits their style to create a win-win situation. Can you request them to just jot down key points during the project? Then can they write a complete and proper document at the end of the project and close the loop?

I would like to hear your ideas on the topic.

How to improve Self-confidence

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm

You may have already read my blog on self-worth. I came across an interesting blog in HBR about building one’s self-confidence. If you are new to the work place, you may find that there are several knowledgeable people in the team. There may also be some who takes another person’s idea and hashes it like their own. There may be someone who finds / creates loopholes in your argument so their opinion matters more. How do you go about gaining self-confidence in these situations?

  • Set larger goals for yourself. If you have been given an assignment, break it down into small pieces. As you complete each piece of work, you have accomplished something! The more you accomplish, the better it is. It helps to boost your confidence.
  • Stay current in your field. If you are a software engineer, know the language well. Browse through forums to see sample codes, problems and solutions. Join community to groups outside your company to gain support. If you are in customer service business, see how other companies serve their customers. What best practices can you adopt? What are the industry trends, productivity enhancers, trade shows that you can attend, etc.
  • Be kind to yourself. It is okay to fail sometimes. Learn from them and move on. Overall, you need to have more wins than fails. As long as you do not make the same mistake twice, you are learning.

Your confidence increases as you accomplish more. Reflect on your past to identify circumstances in which you have been extremely successful. How can you create similar environment for you? Set some achievable plans for the short term and long term in your role and stay focused.

I would like to hear from the readers about what worked for you. Please share your tips to benefit others.

Importance of follow-through

In Uncategorized on March 8, 2010 at 8:46 pm

A lot of people get easily excited about a new concept. Its like the shiny new band wagon. They want to get on it, drive it and benefit from it. However, the attraction lasts for a short time. Once the shine wears off, people move on to the next big thing. But, success requires perseverance. Lets explore a few examples in this article:

  • Have you blogged in the past and discontinued? Unless there are new contents, how do you get new hits?
  • Have you started a project and left it incomplete? How about your garage clean-up planned last spring? How many new improvement ideas do you have sitting in your to-do list? How many have you completed more than 50% already and then your priorities changed?
  • Do you make focused effort to go to networking events, but never follow-up with the people you meet?

Unless you follow-through and complete the project, you cannot fully benefit. If you committed to someone that you will do A by next week, you will gain credibility by delivering on that. If you have already completed 50% on a project, can you work with someone else to get the remaining done? This will benefit the business while you can still focus on your new priority. You have to make adjustments to your execution as you go. But persevering through the obstacles will help you to succeed.