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Manager’s guide for a new manager: How to quickly learn the workings of your new team?


classic-booksOne of my friend headed the quality function at a medium-sized durable goods company. And once he got a job offer as a general manager in one of its largest plant, he jumped on the opportunity. After briefly examining the new plant, he declared it outdated and went on to rebuild it from ground up. But while doing this, he neglected the importance of understanding the current processes, and interpreted employee’s silence as agreement. No wonder, his idea was not accepted positively. And soon after the new plan was put in place, productivity plummeted and quality suffered.

In order for you to not repeat this mistake, you need to first try to learn the existing operations of the team, strengthen your relationships with the team members, and then try to make changes to the process. In this blog, I will provide you with few tips through which you can accelerate your learning process about the current processes/procedure of your team.

Ask your people: The simplest method to learn the workings of your new team is to ask your people. You would be surprised by knowing how much of the knowledge your new team has to share. Don’t be afraid of looking foolish, while asking very basic questions to your team. I would recommend you to ask these questions during your one-on-one session with your employees. In this way, you will still get the information that you need, without getting embarrassed in front of many people (if you ask any foolish questions).

Train yourself: Another method to quickly familiarize yourself with the existing processes of your new team is to treat yourself like a new employee. I would recommend you to have few days allocated solely to train yourself. During these days, you should work with your team as if you were a new employee joining the team, and tell them to run the show. By doing this, you will not only learn the existing processes of your team but you will also earn the trust of your team by showing them you care about them. Worst come worst, you will be in the position to define the training guide for the new employee joining your team.

Learn from documents: If I were you, I would invest some good amount of time going through all the documentation of the team before I ask someone. In this way, you can learn about the workings of your team without looking foolish in front of someone. This will also give you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the document standards of your new team, so that you can follow these standards while changing the documentation, if you choose to change the existing process.

I hope, this blog helps you to accelerate your learning process while understanding the workings of your newly acquired team. If you were in the similar situation like my friend, what would you have done?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

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Posted by on March 22, 2013 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to communicate tough strategic decisions to your stakeholders?


Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to layoff someone? Or imagine yourself in a situation like Yahoo!, when their CEO resigned and no one knew where the company was going. How would you have handled that situation as a leader? No matter how hard you try to keep your employees safe from the corporate decisions at the top, sometimes those decisions will affect your employees regardless of your efforts. So, how will you handle those situations? In this blog, I will provide you with few pointers through which you can communicate these tough decisions to your employees very easily.

Announcement meeting: After a decision has been made, the communication to the outside world and the larger community of workers has to be handled with firmness, transparency and candor. Let’s say, your CEO resigned, and you only communicated the news through an e-mail. Chances are……….your employees will have lot of questions about the company’s future, and there is no interactive way to address those concerns. Thus, I would recommend you to have a conference call (or a meeting) with your line managers, before various rumors start churning. And yeah! While doing this, provide them the opportunity to ask their questions. Answers to their questions will make your strategy clear in their minds, and hence, they would be able to communicate that to their employees very easily. Encourage all of your line managers to have a quick sync-up meeting with their employees to communicate this decision with their employees. If possible, have a company-wide hands-on meeting 2-3 days afterwards.

Communicate with media: Imagine, if your company had a big layoff, and you heard about this news from the media. How will you feel in that situation? In the similar manner, your employees will feel cheated, if they heard this kind of a news from the media, instead from their supervisor. And hence, it is very important to communicate these decisions within your organization, before you go public. News conferences and news releases should be given only after talking with the staff . The staff should not read about it first in the media. You need to also make sure that the media doesn’t hear about this news from the grapevine. Thus, you should keep a very small time difference between notifying this news to your employees and the media.

Notify other stakeholders: If you are laying off few people, then you might want to talk with relevant governmental agencies to notify them about the decision. If your company buys any kind of an unemployment insurance, then you definitely want to make calls to those insurance providers for notifying them about the situation. If your decision is affecting any of your commitments to your customers, you might want to talk to them immediately. Obviously, you need to notify your customers, suppliers and the community leaders through an e-mail and/or a conference call. And yeah! Don’t forget to define your future plans in your communication. I have seen many notification e-mails with the description of the problem without any clear path for the future. So, do yourself a favor, and define your future path before you go ahead with any of these communications.

I hope, these tips will help you to communicate any tough strategic decisions to your stakeholders. If you have any other ideas through which we can communicate these kind of news through transparency and sensitivity, then please feel to share it with me here.

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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Why should you listen to your employees while taking tough decisions?


It is never easy to deliver the bad news to your employees, but bad things can happen to any companies. Sometimes, few external factors like economy or exchange rate can affect your company’s bottom line. And at that time, company’s very survival might be at stake. And hence, you might be put in to the situation, where you have to take those tough decisions as a company’s executive. The primary challenge during these situations is – Communication. If handled incorrectly, you might risk of losing your employee’s trust and tumbling their morale. In this blog, I would like to share one of the success story, where listening to employee’s input while taking these tough decisions have helped the company.

While taking tough decisions such as layoffs, restructuring, outsourcing, etc.; you should involve your stakeholders in the planning and implementation stages. You might not be able to involve all of your employees while taking these tough decisions, but you should at least engage your senior management and department heads in the consultation process. Depending on the situation, you might want to keep employees/employee representatives apprised of the situation to avoid any surprises. On various occasions, this strategy might prove to be helpful.

Take this company for an example (company X), where I recently consulted them for downsizing. Company X had really bad financials. It was clear that they had to cut down two of their product lines, which were not performing at all. And hence, they had to layoff few of their employees due to tumbling financial situation of the company. So, instead of announcing few layoffs, the CEO announced voluntary retirement program and some pay cuts. Surprisingly, I was able to collaborate with majority of their employees and get them to agree upon a pay cut and retraining program. As a result, we didn’t need to layoff anyone. Though this was a success story, it might not work for everyone. But one thing is clear. If you are willing to share information with your employees, they will not only value your decision but they might also come up with a plan to handle the situation better.

I hope, this example can inspire you to consider your employee’s input while taking these critical decisions. Have you ever encountered similar situation like this? Are you aware of any workplace/organization that considers their employee’s input before taking tough decisions?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to keep your team motivated in the crunch time?


I am sure, as a manager, you must have encountered a situation where your team has been working very hard for past few months to get that next product out of the door. And due to this situation, everyone in your team feels under-appreciated and overworked. And you don’t know how to keep your team motivated. Does this sound familiar?……..Through this blog, I would try to give you some tips through which you can keep your employees motivated during this crunch time.

Provide feedback: As far as feeling under-appreciated goes, this has to be the #1 killer of team’s motivation. During the crunch time, our focus is so much on the end result that we forget to provide feedback to our team. Sometimes it is very crucial to provide constant feedback to your team on how they are doing. This behavior not only conveys the message that you care for your team, but it also gives you the opportunity to correct any mistakes in your current process.

Communicate purpose: The second biggest killer of self-motivation is negativity. When we set personal expectations at a level that are unattainable, we start to invent reasons for why we are not achieving our goals. We start thinking about past failures that have not gone our way and weak points in our character or at least in our working style. This causes us to come up with all the reasons that we can’t succeed. Hence, to keep your team motivated, you not only need to accept that the timeline given for the project was too aggressive, but you need to also provide them with the reason of ‘why we are doing, what we are doing’. This will provide your team with some background on why you are having these aggressive deadlines, and how it will impact the business, if you don’t meet those deadlines. Also, (if possible) you need to provide them with some blueprint of the plan, so that this doesn’t happen again.

Positive reinforcement: During these tough times, I would recommend you to remember old success stories, and recognize it for what it was. The power of this kind of positive reinforcement and positive feedback can’t be underestimated. Make sure that your team is getting the positive feedback from you that they need. Always make sure to restate your team’s and individual achievements during your team meetings and one-on-one meetings with your team members. This will encourage your team to keep going.

I hope these tips will help you to keep your team motivated in the crunch time. What would you do in this situation? How will you keep your team motivated?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to clearly define the scope of your project?


ProjectScopeHave you ever wondered about …… What exactly does the ‘scope of a project’ mean? …..I have…. I kept on hearing this term from the time when I started my career. Though I have learned its meaning over the years; people around me still describe the term vaguely. Thus, I am  going to provide you with some simple tips, which can help you to clearly define the scope for your project.

The deliverables: Let’s say, you are one of those project managers whose projects are very complex, and you don’t know where exactly to start for defining the scope of your project. If you are not sure about how to move forward with this process then you should at least try to define the deliverables of the project. Don’t stress yourself too much. Ask your customers to provide you with tangible (I mean tangible) deliverables that they would like to see at the end of the project. Once, you figure out the final deliverables of the project, you can then go ahead and try to define the interim project deliverables. These defined deliverables will tremendously help you to better understand the project.

Project boundaries: Once you got some handle on how the project should look like through its deliverables, you should now define how it shouldn’t be looking. For example: Chris is going to look for a software third-party provider within the US. In this case, third-party software providers from China are out of scope. If Chris was considering the needs of the entire global company, this would not have been a good boundary statement since he could not have stated a good out-of-scope statement.

Project Features: Once you have described the deliverables and the boundaries, you have completed high-level scope. Now, it’s time to describe the physical characteristics of the deliverables, called features. If you were building a software framework, for instance, most of the functionalities would count as features. These might include the number of GUIs (graphical user interface), number of APIs (application interface), etc. So, follow the top-down approach and start defining project’s features from its well defined deliverables.

Project Functions: Once you finished describing project’s features, now you need to describe how people interact with a deliverable and how a deliverable interacts with other deliverables. For example, if you need to change invoicing and billing transactions, most of the requirements could end up being process oriented. This would include how billing transactions move from orders to invoicing to accounts receivable. Basically you are defining the information flow in this phase. Thus, make sure to involve all the stakeholders, who will be affected by this information.

I hope these simple tips will help you to better define the scope of your project. Let me know, if you have any other ideas through which you can make this process simpler. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
 

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Few reasons why you should think twice before offshoring your operations?


If you could hire 4-5 people in China for the same salary that you give to 1 employee in the US, why wouldn’t you offshore your work to China? Doesn’t it seem like a perfect plan to save some recurring operating costs? Trust me; it might not be as easy as you think. Apart from obvious major risks like language barriers, culture differences, and copyright infringement; there are various other risks that can make your offshore venture a failure. In this blog, I will put some light on some of those hidden issues.

Increase in travel expenses: Most of the armature businesses will measure the success of their offshore project through the reduction in their recurring operating costs in the US. Often that performance metrics doesn’t take the overhead costs, such as traveling, in to the consideration. Successful outsourcing requires significant face time during the launch phase to establish the rules of engagement and regularly thereafter to maintain the relationship. And these costs greatly increase as both the client and the offshore supplier make lengthy and expensive trips.

High turnover: With more and more companies moving their workforce to India, China, and Brazil; the demand for offshore workers increases, so do their wages. Salaries in India, for example, are increasing by double digits almost every year. For some overseas locations in China, employee turnover is extremely high sometimes as much as 50%­ as employees are regularly recruited away from their current jobs. For a knowledge-based function such as software development, this high amount of turnover can be disastrous in the long run.

Negative ROI: On an average, it takes approximately 3-5 years before one can see the same amount of productivity from their offshore team. Research has shown that although the advertised savings for offshoring were around 60-80%, actual savings of 0-20% were common and in many cases it was negative. Most of the businesses fail to consider the additional costs that are required to increase their management and training efforts, so that they can have the same level of quality in their end product.

Of course, not everything is bad about offshoring. In my next blog post, I will discuss few ideas about……’why you should consider offshoring’. Until then, if you have any other ideas or comments about offshoring, then please feel free to share it here on my blog. Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

 
 

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Reduce your employee turnover rate by hiring fresh graduates


In my last blog, I have discussed about how you can save some money and re-training costs by hiring a fresh graduate instead of an experienced professional. In this blog, I will provide you with few other reasons why you should prefer fresh graduates over an experienced person.

Flexibility: In my experience, I have found less experienced people more flexible as compared to very experienced professional. For example: I had this one intern, let’s call him Mr. X, who was very self-motivated to learn. Thus, Mr. X will come early every morning, and read all the required process documents and training documents before he started his work. He would still work his core hours with some of my other experienced team members, but he was always willing to put in some extra time to learn new things. His hunger for learning new things helped me a lot, as he would come on weekends sometime and finish some of the important tasks of my projects.

Happier workforce: I am not saying that fresh graduates are always happier at work. I am saying that……….. Since they don’t have any past experience to compare their existing job with, they wouldn’t complain as much as few experienced professionals would, who might have worked in different companies and have seen different company cultures and practices. For a fresh graduate, your culture and practices will become his primary bench mark, since he will grow with your company, and learn all the practices and procedures established by your company. Also, smaller incentives like free bagels, donuts or lunch will go a long way for him as compared to other people, who might have seen different (better) days.

More growth opportunities: Obviously, you can have various growth opportunities for your experienced professionals depending on your company’s policies. But trust me, you will have way more opportunities for your employee’s growth, if you hire a fresh graduate. For example: I work in a Software Industry. In my company, we have various job ranks for our engineers. Ranks go from 1 to 6 depending on their experience and capability. Let’s say, if I hire an experienced professional on “Engineer Level 5”. Unfortunately, after his promotion to the next level, “Engineer Level 6”, I might not have clear defined path for his growth. And that employee will feel stagnant in my company, and might try to leave for another job. Imagine, if I hire an “Engineer Level 1”, a fresh graduate, for the same position . I will have more opportunity to grow him within the company in a given hierarchical structure of the company. Thus, I would recommend you to hire a fresh graduate, if you already have few experienced people in your team to provide a direction.

I hope these tips will help understand the importance of hiring a fresh graduate in comparison of an experienced professional. Let me know, if you have any other reasons why you would prefer hiring a fresh graduate instead of an experienced professional. Please feel free to share your opinion here. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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