How to end corruption in India (Part 1)?

CorruptionWith Indian elections around the corner and lots of tweets going on about the corruption in India; I couldn’t stop but think, how can a new leader stop an age old tradition of bribing? Is it only the responsibility of the new leader to change the overall culture of India? What about the people of India? Do they not bare any accountability in prospering this corrupt government culture from ages? Obviously, people have the intrinsic responsibility to be the part of this cultural change, but the major changes can be implemented by the new leader in order to reduce corruption in India. Following is one of the ideas through which we can achieve this goal.

I still remember that day from 2003, when I had to go with my friend to check out the application process for the new passport application. During that time, there was no consistent information available for a simple task like a passport application. No one could predict what kind of documentation will be asked for at the application counter, or how long it will take to finish the entire process. During our first visit, we ended up inquiring about all of that information, and noted down all the necessary procedures to acquire the passport. Next day, we took all the desired documents, which we had noted down the other day, and started our journey again. But during our next visit, the same person told us that we need to notarize all of these documents, and get few other documents. Obviously, we were two naïve kids at that time, who hadn’t experienced life. On our third visit to the passport office, we had realized that this was more than just missing documents. What would have happened to that officer, if he would have just given us the list of required documents at once? Ah. We had then realized that this was the sign given to us by the government officer to give him some extra money under the table. Though we didn’t give any bribe, and visited the passport office at least 8-10 times before getting our passport; most of the people would have given some money, and would have got their work done in 1-2 visits.

When people give bribes to the government officers in India, they are looking for a convenient way to finish their work. Shouldn’t these kind of tasks be convenient to begin with?  Applying for a passport is not a complex task. I shouldn’t be giving some extra money to anyone for doing their regular job. Do you agree? If we were to have the consistent and transparent information available to us before making our trip to the passport office, we wouldn’t have to go through 8-10 different inconvenient trips to do a simple task. Unfortunately, that is how things work in India. For a country like that, where everyone is mostly busy and working 24×7, bribing an officer seems a convenient way to get your work done, instead of hunting for the right information to apply for your passport, ration card, etc.

One of the prevalent reasons behind the corruption in India is….restricted access to the information. When the same and consistent information is freely available to all the citizens of India, they can take their own decisions based on that information. Unfortunately, that is not the case in India. From applying for your birth certificate to applying for your death certificate, there is no centralized and consistent source of information where you can get all the information about all of these applications. Thus, you have to depend on the government officer’s best judgment on what kind of information you need, and how to apply, etc. There are many people in India, who would rather bribe the officer in order to get their work done, instead of visiting the office 4-5 times. Unfortunately, most of the government officers take advantage of this fact, and use the lack of transparent information to their advantage in order to get some extra cash under the table.

Thus, we need a centralized,  transparent and consistent source of information in the Indian government.  If we have that kind of a system in place, government officers are less likely to take benefits of our needs, and more likely to concentrate on their basic duties of helping people. And, maybe, then people of India can demand answers from the government officers based on the facts and consistent information, instead of basing their questions on their assumptions. Let’s make the system more transparent, so that we can hold our government accountable for their actions. If you had all the required documents for applying for your passport, then you should be able to get it within a certain time period. If you don’t get your passport application processed within the average processing time, then you should be able to question the officer and hold him accountable as per the transparent guidelines published by Indian government.

What do you think? Will transparency of information bring a new cultural shift in India? Will it be able to help us in reducing the amount of corruption in India?

Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi


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5 signs of being a bad manager

Bad ManagerMany managers fail to recognize their mistakes. Sometimes its not their fault at all. They just don’t see the early signs of their management failure, and hence, they can’t fix the underneath issue. After all, you can only fix something, if you know what is wrong. Thus, in order to help these managers in identifying the initial signs of failure, I am writing this blog. Through this blog, you should be able to see some initial signs of your leadership failures.

Higher turnover rate: Every organization experiences some kind of turnover in its positions, especially in the market-based economies like the Untied States. However, at least 40% of the turnover in the market place is due to the bad manager. If you are seeing more than an average turnover in your team, then its your time to analyze your leadership skills and management style. When inordinate amounts of turnover exist in your group, it may be that you might be alienating valuable staff members.

Hard time to fill positions:  When you loose people from your team, hiring from within the organization should be your first and most cost- effective option. When you are finding it more difficult to fill these positions within the organization, it may be that you might have developed a reputation as someone for whom it is difficult to work for.  Though it is not always the case, you might want to analyze the reasons behind not being able to fill these positions. It might be telling you something about your hiring practice or your reputation in the organization.

Increase in employee’s disputes: If you are a bad manager, then you must be seeing lot of disputes between you and your team. If Human Resources staff members are called upon frequently to mediate specific human relations issues, then it might be the time for you to do some self-analysis about your management style. This is a clear sign that you are not able to control your team members, and hence, you will not only loose some respect in their eyes, but you will also be seen as an ineffective manager in front of your superiors.

Performance reviews are challenged: For a good manager, a performance review is nothing but an opportunity to document something that happened during the year. Neither the employee nor you should be surprised by seeing any comments written in the review. But that doesn’t happen all the time. Few managers always have an issue during the performance review period, where their performance reviews are challenged by their employees. If you are one of those managers, where your performance assessments are often challenged by your employees, then it’s a sign that you are a bad manager.

Company’s policies are neglected: One of the signs to identify that you are a bad manager or not, is to observe your team. If you are frequently neglected in the decision making process, and if your employees are frequently neglecting the company’s policies and procedures, then it’s the time for you to analyze your management style. If you are deemed difficult to work with, then often your team members and other employees will follow the path of least resistance, and completely ignore you in the decision making process. This should be the clear indication that your management style needs some updating.

I hope, through my blog post you can get few hints about your current management style. Please share your comments here, if you agree/disagree with my point of view.

Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi


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Is my business idea practical? Will it work? – Find out your answers here.

BusinessExperimentIn my last blog, I discussed about how to kick-start your part-time business. Due to overwhelming response of my readers and their curious questions such as….”How would I know that my business will work?”, I thought of writing another blog. In this blog post, I will provide you with some ideas through which you can test your business model very easily and effortlessly.

You will find your prospective customers by getting out of your building, spreading the word, and through word of mouth. I would advise you to use the networking as your primary tool, instead of cold calling people. Try to explore your existing friend and family circle, and develop those new relationships. Try to contact and meet with your potential customers, experts, or people who can introduce you to potential customers or experts — through your family, friends and other contacts.

Start with your primary contacts. Talk with your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, church or professional association members, and others in your personal network. You will be surprised on how much people are willing to help. Tell them about your new business idea. Ask them if they know anyone who might have a professional interest in your business. Get as many names and contact particulars as you can. Prepare a list of experts and expected customers, and then start asking them questions.

The most important thing you want to ask them is…..whether or not your business model is workable. Some of the important questions that you might want to ask them are…..

  1. Will your customers be confident about your capabilities do the job? I mean, do you possess the key resources and/or partners needed to deliver the promised value? Do your proposed key activities support the value provided?
  2. Do any of your prospective customers care about the value you can provide to their business/lives? Are they willing to pay for the product/service that you are offering? Is your asking price too much for the service/product that you are providing?
  3. Will you be able to bear all of the costs needed to implement your business model? What kind of other hidden costs will you encounter in the future (according to their experience)?
  4. Through which channels do your customers want to be contacted and served? Are you possessing appropriate customer relationships attributes required to sustain in that market? 

During these meetings, make sure to avoid selling your products/services. Your meetings should focus on validating your personal business model assumptions from the customer’s perspective. Also, when you ask someone for help, they are more likely to be responsive as compared to the experience when you try to sell them something.

Please make sure to record each answer for your future reference. Try to analyze these data before you make any changes in your business model. Don’t go overboard with the analysis. Just try to come on a conclusion, which can tell you if your service/product is different than others, and if customers are willing to pay for it.

I hope, this blog has provided you with some pointers through which you can test your business ideas. Do you have any ideas through which one can easily test his/her business model? If so, please share it with my readers through the comments below.

Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management


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How to create a cheaper but effective training program for your employees?

Training EmployeesIn my experience, I have seen many organizations wasting their money on conference registration fees and traveling expenses for training their employees. Don’t get me wrong. I highly value training, and I, myself, invest lot of my employee’s time and my team’s budget in training them with new skillsets. But sometimes, conference registration fees can be very expensive, traveling out of town can be extremely costly, and customer service can suffer from several people being out of office at the same time. Skills development doesn’t have to cost you that much. To get the most out of every dollar spent on the training, you should try to capitalize on the in-house talent that you already have within your organization. Thus, in this blog post I will provide you with some tricks and tips through which you can take the maximum advantage of your in-house talent pool for training other employees.

Build a database: If your organization doesn’t already have the database of available for the in-house talent, then you might want to create one. This database will serve as the foundation for any in-house training in the future. Now, you must be thinking that you need to make few phone calls to few IT experts to create this database, right? Wrong. This database doesn’t need to be a tech savvy one. You can just create this list in Excel or Google Docs. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Just tell your employees to note down their existing trainings on a shared spreadsheet somewhere. Ask your employees to give a five line summary of the training that they might have taken in the past, or have been scheduled to take it in the future. Let them be involved in creating this database, so that they are more likely to take the advantage of this database, when they need any kind of a training for themselves.

Advertise internally: Once you have the training database built, you can then advertise this database internally within your organization. Maybe send out a mass e-mail to every person in the organization, encouraging them to look for any new training under this database. Also, train all the managers on how to use the information from this database, and encourage them to publicize the benefits of this database during their individual team meetings. Encourage your managers to look for the new training needs under this database, before they send out their employees for any third-party training. And let there be a central place on the web (Google Docs or SharePoint), where employees can share their opinions about this new program for any improvements.

Let the game begin: Once you have the database ready, you can now let the game begin. For example: Let’s say, Bob took the training on VMware in the past, and now Steve needs the same training for some reason, Steve’s manager can connect Steve with Bob to take this training internally. Obviously, this will require some logistics planning. You might need to make sure that Bob is free to provide the VMware training to Steve, when Steve needs that training. Obviously, this might be a chaotic environment at first. But you can avoid this situation by going through the most popular training taken by people, and then prioritize them, and schedule regular training classes for those popular classes. You don’t need to have a tech savvy system for this. You can just put the schedule of these trainings on a bulletin board, and whoever is interested in that training can take that training during the allocated time. In order to be most effective, don’t choose the same instructor to deliver the same class again. Provide the chance to other employees, who have learned the material in-house, and let them give the next training. In this way, you can not only create a butterfly effect in your organization, but you can also point out the advantage of these training to other employees.

Use of technology: Obviously, not all the trainings will be available all the time. There will be situations where the instructor might be busy or the person who wants to take the training might be occupied. After all, all of these are your employees, and they have day-to-day tasks as well. In order to resolve this issue, you can use the help of technology. If you are not a tech savvy company, don’t worry about it. You can use many open source software available out there to develop videos and presentations for the materials that you want to share. Don’t go overboard with the technology here. Content is what matters here. Though your employees can make the presentation lively with few graphics and videos, don’t go overboard. Let them share their content, and provide a platform to share that content. You can use SharePoint, Google Docs, or a shared network drive to share this content cheaply and effectively. And if possible, provide the link to the training material in the training database itself, so that any user can find out the course that he/she wants to take and then directly click on the link to access the training material.

I hope, my approach here will help you in building your own, cheap and effective, employee’s training program. Please share your comments here, if you agree/disagree with my point of view.

Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

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Posted by on February 11, 2014 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management


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How to kick-start your part-time business without going broke?

PartTimeBusinessHave you ever thought of starting your own business? If so, were you successful in doing so? If not, what is holding you back? Have you ever thought about it? Though I might not be an expert on the subject, I have some experience in starting my own part-time gig, which I would like to share here with you. In this blog post, I will provide you with some advice on how to kick-start your part-time business that you have always thought about, but you didn’t know where to start.

Calculate before you jump-in: Let’s say, you are making $4000/month from your current full time job, and you are saving around $400/month or so. Now, let’s assume that you want to open up a new part-time business of photography, and you are unsure about it being successful or not. In this situation, instead of jumping into the business directly, and getting loans from other people to start your business, you can just calculate the worst case scenario. Assuming that your equipment, advertisements and operational costs being $4000, you can save this much money in 10 months. Let’s say, if you can make this much amount of money in 10 months through your photography contracts, it might not be a bad business after all. Other thing that you want to calculate before entering into the business is….how much will be your operating costs vs. how much money you are expecting to make. Though it might not give you a perfect answer, it will give you a definitive starting point of your finances.

Test your business model: Once you are convinced that you really want to start your part-time business, and once you have done all of the calculations, now it’s the time to test your business model. In order to test your business idea, you might want to meet with your prospective customers to test the assumptions of your business. For example: If you want to open up a new photography business, it would be a good idea to take 1-2 contracts for free. This will not only build up your portfolio, and provide you with some good references, but it will also test your business model. If customer feedback suggests any changes to your current strategy, then go back and modify the appropriate building blocks of your business. And repeat this process with other prospective customers, until you have some amount of confidence in implementing the same business model for money.

Jump in: Once you have tested your business model, now it’s the time to jump in and make some real money. In order to do this, you should capitalize your older customer base to expand your business. Word of mouth definitely helps you to get some business (at least in my experience). Obviously, having some external help from some advertising contractors wouldn’t hurt either. Once your business is up and running, you should continuously assess your business’ profit potential every month. You might have couple of months with some losses, but make sure that you can afford these losses through your current full-time job’s savings. If you are continuously losing money in your business, which can’t be recuperated through your primary job, then it might be the time to get out. On the contrary, if you are making enough profit from your business for more than 6 months, and if you can sustain yourself from that profit, then maybe it’s the time to convert your part time gig into a full blown business.

I hope, these tricks will help you kick-start your own part-time business within few months. Do you guys have any other ideas regarding this subject? If so, please share your ideas through comments below. My readers would be delighted to hear your take on this.

Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management


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Why can’t the software industry survive without project managers’ help?

SoftwareWhat do project managers do? What are they good for, anyways? I am sure, if you have worked in the software industry, then you must have asked this question multiple times to yourselves. I don’t blame you either, since most of the time project managers are not that technical, and sometimes they don’t understand very specific details of an engineering problem. But that doesn’t mean that they are not important at all. Project managers often bring lot of skill-sets, which an engineer or engineering manager might not have. Thus, in this blog post I am going to educate all of you engineers on the specifics of what exactly project managers do, and why they are an irreplaceable part of the software development life cycle.

Provides the focus: Software development is a creative work, and hence, sometimes engineers can’t constrain themselves to focus on the priorities (or project scope). For example: If you don’t know how big is the space in your kitchen, how can you buy a refrigerator that can fix in your house? Even if you find an ideal refrigerator, which satisfies all of your needs, but if it is slightly bigger than the space in the kitchen, then it won’t work out for your house. Project managers resolve these kind of issues by project planning, project monitoring, and helping the team to deliver what the customer wants. For an engineer, it’s easy to get sidetracked during a project, since they might come up with better solutions or additional problems to solve, which usually cost more, take longer, and can potentially kill the project with overruns. Re-arranging your pantry while preparing food for a dinner party could result in hungry guests. A project manager will avoid these kind of disastrous situations by looking at the big picture, and prioritizing all the tasks.

Provides planning: Some software projects grow up too quickly, and become too complex within a short period of time. Due to this changing scope, without a clear-cut plan, engineers can’t concentrate on one thing at a time, and they can get pulled in every direction. When you look at the big picture, you will realize that the needs of a marketing department is different from the needs of the sales team, while these needs might not even connect to the reality in any form or shape. Sales team can sell a dream software, which might be unbuildable, or it might require constant changes to the existing product to deliver that dream software. Project managers make these tasks easier by scheduling, planning, budgeting and controlling all the tasks associated with the product. They also uncover most of the needs and issues up front, and if changes do occur during the software development life cycle, they change the project plan to  make it easier to adjust the course of the project.

Though it is desirable to hire a technical savvy project manager, it is not practical to do so every time. Finding a project manager with management and software development skills is hard to get. And hence, sometimes your project manager might not understand the specifics of your software development issue, but that doesn’t mean that they are good for nothing. Project managers are, and always will, be the critical part of the software development life cycle.

So, next time when you think that your project managers don’t understand your engineering issues, then try to educate them, instead of blaming them to be dumb and stupid.

Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management


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Where to find new content for my blog?

Blogging IdeasEven though you are super excited about the subjects that you are blogging on, you will find yourself out of ideas after certain point. I guess, that’s what happened to some of my colleagues, who started blogging with me as a part of one of our MBA class, and quit blogging after few months. Though I have continued blogging from past 3 years, the path was not that easy. On various occasions, I found myself without any major ideas to blog about, and thought of stopping to blog altogether. The issue I was having was ….. I was unable to come up with new content every time. My life is not that boring, but I work a full time job and normally interact with the same people for the same kind of work. Thus, it became challenging to find out different content for my blog. And hence, through this blog I am going to provide you with  my experience on how I overcame that situation, and how I was able to find out different content for my blog.

Keep learning: The most simplest way to keep learning is through reading. By reading different experiences and mistakes of other people, you can avoid doing the same mistakes that they have done in the past. Let’s assume, if you read an article and don’t find anything interesting to blog about, then don’t be discouraged. Now, this is the extra knowledge that you have, which you can use it anywhere. Opportunities are endless. But yeah! If you are seriously looking to expand your blog, then you might want to read the blog related materials. For example: If I were to have a photography blog, I would subscribe to different photography magazines, blogs, books, etc., and I might read photography related materials online as well. Let’s say, you are not that of a big reader, then its ok too. In this world of multimedia, you can find interesting stuff related to your blog on YouTube, Vimeo, TED Talks, etc. Yeah! You might need to develop a habit to watch these videos regularly to come up with new content, but you don’t have anything to loose here. The only thing to gain is the knowledge. 

Observe yourself: Though this is a very simplistic approach, it’s very difficult to understand. Let me explain. Few years back, I also thought that my life was boring. I was meeting the same people, and doing the same work. I had a 8-5 job, and I was happy. But it didn’t give me much content to write about. Thus, I had to depend highly on my readings, which took me a long time, since English is not my first language. But few years back, I started looking myself from an outsider’s perspective. I go home every day, and analyze my recent achievements, and how did I achieve them. Boom! With this idea in mind, I always found myself new content. From interacting with people to leading my team, I was full of content without realizing it. This approach didn’t just gave me new ideas on how I can increase my number of blogs, but it also gave me a different perspective on my work, and how I can improve what I was doing. Sometimes, it takes us self-analysis before we can look at the same problem with a different angle. 

Provide advice: As my blog became popular, and I got some reader base, lot of people started instant messaging me for advice. If you already have a blog, then you know what I mean. People asked me all sort of things from how I would resolve their situation to how they disagree with my opinion on a given blog post. Though I liked having that discussion with them, I was not utilizing those discussions to the fullest. And I quickly realized that…..if I turn these communications in to a blog post, then I will not only answer my reader’s questions, but it will be out there for everyone to read instead of just few people whom I was communicating personally. And within few weeks, it became a big success. I got few guest posts on my blog, and I was able to share some of the ideas, which I gathered from my discussions with these people. By providing advice to people through your blogs, you will not only answer their questions, but you will also get a reader base, which is interested in your specific subject.

So, next time when you think about giving up blogging, please go through these ideas. I hope, you learn from this blog, and don’t stop sharing your knowledge. By the way, do you have any other ideas through which you have found new content for your blogs? If so, please share it with me here.

Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

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Posted by on December 24, 2013 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management


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