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How to provide coaching to your front line managers?


Coaching your line managersIf you are a Director or a Sr. Manager, who is involved in managing the front line managers, then this blog is for you. I agree that senior management’s role is very crucial and busy, and maybe that’s the reason why you can’t allocate enough time to coach your front line managers. But avoiding coaching/mentoring your front line mangers will create disastrous situations in the future. Your front line managers require more coaching than any other employees in the organization, since they define the culture of your company. In this blog, I will provide you with few pointers to coach your frontline managers effectively.

  1. Provide them training: If you are super busy with your day-to-day activities, and if you are unable to provide coaching to your managers, then please take the benefit of some external trainings. Most of the bigger companies (employees 1000+) have these kind training classes established in-house for their front line managers. So, make sure that your managers go through these training opportunities. While internal training is crucial for every company, not every company can afford to have internal training programs. In this case, you can partner up with few consulting companies to provide similar training opportunities to your front line managers. While selecting those external training programs, make sure that those programs match your company’s culture and working style.
  2. Help them build a network: In a senior management role, you should always encourage your front line managers to network with the key people from your company. By doing this, their area of influence will increase and they will become more independent to do their work. Thus, you should always help them to broaden their exposure within the company by visiting different areas of the company with them, or by introducing them to the new people within your organization. Your work doesn’t get done after an introduction, you need to help them to find opportunities to represent their part of the organization to others. In this way, they can be encouraged to discuss strategic issues and share the information with other management personnel.
  3. Reinforce your culture: Line managers are the one, who will define the culture of your organization. After all, they work at the root level. And hence, it becomes very important to ensure that they are embedded in your organizational culture. In order to reinforce your values, you need to teach them to respect and promote diversity in all areas and jobs in the company (if your company is diverse). You might want to have the discussion during your one-on-one session on how their behavior makes a difference in the organization. Sometimes, it is very important for you to provide them with ongoing information about the people, culture, and history of the organization. Reinforcing these values frequently through your one-on-one sessions or your interactions with them will ensure their growth with the company.
  4. Encourage them: I know, this sounds very simple, but this is very crucial part of the coaching. You need to help your line managers to learn how to deal with and manage ambiguity. Being in the senior leadership role, we always expect our line managers to get everything right. But that may not be the case always. And hence, you need to embrace their failure and provide them encouragement during those situations. I am not telling you to agree with their failures all the time, but have the behavior where they can come to you if they failed. You should also encourage them in their efforts to sponsor and develop potential leaders in the organization. After all, it will help your organization to become better. And yeah! When appropriate, offer feedback, support, and “push back”.

I hope, these tips will help you to better coach your front line managers in your team. So, what would you do to coach your front line managers in your team?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to manage your Chinese employees effectively?


Chinese employees working in a manufacturing plantMy first real exposure to China and Chinese employees was in the early 2009, when my company decided to open its research and development center in Beijing, China; and put me in charge of newly developing system automation team in China. Since then, I have worked with Chinese employees extensively, either it’s at my current job or at some of the smaller companies that I have consulted over the years. Though I am still in the process of learning more about the Chinese culture, one thing is clear, the leadership style of the Western Countries is not effective when you work with Chinese employees. Thus, in this blog post, I would provide you with some insight on how to effectively lead your Chinese employees.

Management style: In developed countries like the United States, we provide opportunities to our employees to resolve problems/issues by themselves. While this kind of strategy (delegate and disappear) is very effective in developed countries, it doesn’t work well with Chinese employees. Chinese people are very traditional, they respect authority and are introverts in some cases. So, they will depend on you to take critical decisions of the project that you have assigned to them. In order to work better with them, you might want to …….(1) Stop by their desk or video conference them at least 1-2 times a day, and ask for blocking issues with their projects ……….(2) Have frequent team meetings to go over critical issues …….(3) Make their introductions to all of the stakeholders of the project, so that they can feel comfortable going to them directly instead of coming to you for smaller issues ………(4) Develop personal relationships with them. Strong relationships can help you go a long way.

Obtaining Information: Similar to adjusting your management style, you might need to change the way you communicate. Let’s say, if you are trying to get some information from a Chinese manager, and if this is your first time communicating with him, then you might want to utilize your contacts at similar levels in the organization to get that information. In most of the cases, information may not flow downward through the hierarchy as easily as one might expect, when the culture of the company is less hierarchical. In order to get the correct information on the right time, you might want to cultivate your informal contacts within your Chinese branch. And yeah! Always make sure to rephrase your understanding of the issue/solution, once you get the desired information. This practice will ensure that you are on the same page with your Chinese counterparts. Sometimes, language barrier can create various problems.

Presenting Information: Chinese culture is very status-oriented. Let’s say, you are a manager in the US company, who manages the offshore team of 10-12 Chinese employees. Now, assume that you want to change your current process. I bet you……when you will present your new plan to these employees, you will get very minimal or no feedback. Due to their status-oriented culture, there may be less feedback from the audience during a presentation than one might expect in a more equality-focused culture. And hence, I would recommend you to give them the opportunity to provide their feedback later through an e-mail or an anonymous forum. In most of the cases, they feel very comfortable in providing their feedback to their superior in a private setting as compared to a public setting.

I hope, these tips can help you to become a better manger, when you are working with a Chinese team. What other changes would you make in your management style, while working with Chinese employees?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 

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How to write effective e-mails to get quicker response


Have you ever been in an e-mail chain where more than 10 people were addressed in the e-mail, but no one knew who is going to respond? If you are a manager or in a similar position, then you must be getting these kind of e-mails at least once in a day. Isn’t it? Actually, this situation is very common than you might think. On an average, 70% of the e-mails in the work place are targeted to the wide audience to get some people’s input, while notifying others at the same time. And that’s where the problem occurs. Since there are multiple users involved in ‘cc’ of the e-mail, all of them think that someone will respond, and at the end, no one ends up responding. In order to avoid those situations, and get quicker response to your emails, I am providing you with few tips on writing effective e-mails.

Use appropriate subject line: You must have been through the situation, where one e-mail might have been forwarded and replied so many times that its subject line doesn’t have any value anymore. Isn’t it? Let’s say, you get an e-mail from one of your employees (Mrs. X) regarding the issue that she found during her testing. The subject line of that e-mail might be “Issue found during testing XYZ product”. After few to-and-from communication with engineers about this issue, you forward this issue to the product manager for prioritizing the resolution of this issue. In this situation, product manager might take few hours or an entire day, before he can respond to this e-mail. Reason being…..from the subject line, this e-mail didn’t seem important to him. And hence, whenever you are forwarding an e-mail to someone, please change the subject line to target your responder. If you would have changed the subject line to “Prioritizing issue resolution for XYZ product”, then you might have got a quicker and descriptive response.

Highlight names: Let’s consider the same example given above. Let’s say, you want to forward this e-mail to the product manager and the engineering manager for their specific responses, and you also want to include 4-5 engineers in ‘cc’ of that e-mail to keep them informed about the resolution. And your e-mail description might say something like “how do we prioritize the resolution for this issue?”. Since, this e-mail is directed to so many people at the same time, you might not get any clear response, since people will wait for others to respond. Let’s say, you would have wrote this instead……”@Steve: How should we prioritize this issue? @David: Is it possible to fix this issue in our next release of the product?”. I am sure, your response would have been more clearer, since you have targeted your questions to each individual included in the e-mail. Thus, I would always recommend you to target your responders by their name, if you are expecting them to provide their input.

I hope, these tips will help you to draft an effective e-mail, so that you can get your responses quickly and easily. Do you have any similar ideas through which you can improve your e-mail communication?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 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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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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Why should you hire fresh graduates instead of experienced professionals? (Part 1)


I have seen many companies investing their millions of dollars in hiring experienced professionals for their company. Though I understand the need for hiring experienced professionals, I think that companies should invest more dollars in hiring fresh graduates. For example: if you already have few senior engineers in your team, you should not look for more senior engineers. You should instead think of hiring fresh talents. Following are few reasons, why I would hire fresh graduates over experienced professionals.

Lowering costs: This is one of the primary reasons why most of the companies hire fresh graduates. On an average, fresh graduates cost 20-40% less than an experienced individual. I am not saying to hire them just because they are cheap, there are various other cost benefits for hiring graduates. For example: You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars in the talent search program. You can partner with some of the local universities in your areas, and take benefit of their career center, which will be more than happy to find out a talent match for you. Or you can participate in Career Fairs of few schools and interview people right there and then. This will also reduce all the traveling and lodging costs, which you might end up paying for inviting an experienced person for an interview.

Easy to train: Imagine, if you hire an experienced professional, who seems to provide you all the answers that you require. But have you ever considered the cost of re-teaching him your culture? Since the person is experienced, he would be familiar with the culture of the last company that he worked for. So, before even teaching him your culture, you need to make sure that he forgets some of the aspects of his old culture, and dwells in with your existing culture. On the other hand, if you hire a fresh graduate then you don’t have to reteach him anything. He will basically learn everything from the beginning, and grow with your company. It’s like writing something on an empty white board, you can write anything without rubbing off any previous prints. Thus, unless you are looking for someone from a different culture/company to come and change your existing team dynamics and your existing work practices, I would recommend you to hire someone fresh and new.

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 14, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to design an internship program that works for you and not for the intern?


InternshipHave you ever been in a situation, where you have invested so much time and money in hiring the cream interns, but they never chose to work for you after graduation? This is not true in today’s economy, where students are thankful to have any job. But still……..I am sure, most of you must have seen a situation where your intern accepted a job offer somewhere else, and your time invested in him/her didn’t pay off for you. Through this blog post, I will provide you some high level ideas through which you can design your internship program to help YOU.

Summer Interns: Don’t get me wrong, but I am a huge fan of pay offs when it comes to business. I understand that you want to help your interns to grow his skillsets. But at the end of the day, you should also be benefited from this relationship. After all, you are investing your time and money to train this intern. Thus, to take the best work out of a summer intern, I would advise you to provide him with few smaller standalone projects. For example: projects related to testing, nice to have projects, bug fixes, etc. This practice will ensure that your work gets done, while giving you an idea of work ethics, self-sustainability, and leadership skills of your intern. I would also go further by saying…..you should hire only those students, who have only one semester to go. This will give you an opportunity to hire that candidate without disrupting your work flow too much.

Full time Interns: Most of the companies don’t offer this program. But I would highly recommend to include this program in your internship. This kind of internship means…..hiring someone part-time, probably 20 hours a week, while he goes to school. I would prefer to hire a local candidates over out-of-state candidates for this kind of internship. This will not only improve your relationships with local Universities and help you to get better full time candidates in the future, but this will also give you an opportunity to get out of paying unnecessary relocation costs. For this kind of internship, I would hire anyone from senior to about to graduate. Since, their working hours need to flexible due to their school schedule, I would assign them projects which require minimal supervision and are of lower priority.

CO-Ops: This kind of program is neither famous nor talked about. But this is my favorite internship program. CO-OP, formally known as cooperative education program, gives an opportunity to the employee to hire someone for an entire year to work for full time. In short, this is like hiring an inexperienced contractor for an entire year. I would mostly hire this kind of interns for a specific projects, which requires medium supervision, and which can be done within a year, OR some manual effort like testing, data entry, etc. I would recommend you to target those schools, where they offer online classes. Thus, if you really like this person during his contract period, you can then keep him as your full time resource, while he simultaneously finishes his school. Try to hire a Master level candidate who is about to finish his school in the next semester. In this way, you will get a resource who is mature but flexible.

I hope these tips will help you in making your internship program work for you instead of working just for your interns. Let me know, if you have any other ideas through which you can improve your internship program, so that you have a reasonable pay-back on your investments. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 

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New manager’s guide for the inventory check


Have you ever taken over a completely new team? Have you ever had a hard time in finding out what your team has to offer? Well…. in this blog I am going to talk about how to assess your team’s inventory as a new Manager.

Human capital: Most of the new managers always start their inventory count by assessing their tangible items first. For example: computers, machine parts, etc. I would definitely recommend against it. As a new manager and a new member of the team, one should  familiarize himself with all the team members in the group. You should identify their job description, skill sets, work history, recent projects, and major accomplishments. Find out under what circumstances your team will be given access to any additional human resources, such as outside contractors or assistance from other teams. Find out under what circumstances human resources will be drawn away from your group or reassigned to other teams.

Raw materials and office supply: Once you are done with all the human resource information, you should start assessing all the tangible items available to you. For example: computers, furniture, special equipment, office supplies, work space, hardware, software, etc. You should also identify finished products on hand, and try to get estimated values of those products (if possible). While you are going through the process, it would be nice if you can identify future inventory requirements for your current projects. This will not only help you in better forecasting your inventory needs, but it will also give you an idea of how efficiently your raw materials are used.

Shared inventory: Most of the managers fail to count their shared inventory during this process. I would recommend not to do that. Try to determine if there are any other managers who have ownership over any parts of your team’s current projects. If there are, then you can introduce yourself to these managers so that you can begin to develop good working relationships with them. Ask these other managers to explain how your roles intersect and overlap; ask them to describe what they expect you to do (and not do).

Future supply: Once you are done assessing existing supply, you need to identify any new initiatives that your team has planned for the future. What does your team plan to focus on? When do they plan to begin these new initiatives, and when do they hope to finish them? What business need are they trying to serve? Etc. This will not only help you to better predict your future inventory needs, but it will also help you to determine a roadmap for your team.

How would you access your inventory, if you took over a completely new team?

Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to fire someone without getting sued?


Have you ever fired someone? Were you ever in the situation where your employee’s growth was stagnant, and there were no other options other than firing that employee? Well……trust me, this situation arises more often than you would think. So, what would you do in this situation? Let’s say, you went ahead and got rid of the poor performing employee without any prep work. In that case, you might end up like my friend Naveen (changing the name for protecting privacy). Naveen fired his poor performer few months back, and now he is getting sued for ‘retaliation’. Obviously, this kind of examples should not become a roadblock in your job while performing your duties. Thus, I am providing you few tips through which you can fire someone without having the major risk of getting sued.

Give one more chance: Imagine….if you were the employee, who is on the line and about to get fired. Obviously, you don’t want to be in the situation where you think that you are a peek performer and your manager hands you a memo saying… “You are fired”. Thus, I always recommend managers to treat their employees as they would like to be treated. Hence, make sure to give your employee the last fair chance to improve his performance. Don’t just have verbal talks with him, make sure to document this and forward it to HR to put on his file. This will provide your employees with one last chance of improving their performance, while it will provide you with a supporting document, if you ever get prosecuted.

Work by the book: Before you take any drastic steps like this, make sure to read all the HR specific and company specific guidelines. If I were you, I would talk to my HR business partner or company’s attorney before even thinking about this. And before even talking to your HR personnel, I would recommend you to prepare a file which should contain all the documentations showing that you have had communications with your employees regarding this problem (i.e. e-mails, memo, etc.). When you have this discussion with your HR personnel, don’t forget to talk about all the minute details of your employees like his race, gender, recent leaves, etc. I have seen various situations, where employees have sued their employer for firing decision on the basis of their race or gender, and the firing decision didn’t have anything to do with that. Thus, it is better to disclose all the facts with your company’s attorney beforehand.

Have a crime buddy: By ‘crime buddy’ I meant to say, someone who knows the same information as you. In most of the situations, I would recommend you to include your immediate manager or the HR business partner. This practice will make sure that someone will back you up, if there are any legal proceedings in the future. Most of the managers know this fact, but don’t know how to implement this. Here is one tip….have a lunch with your immediate manager, discuss about this issue during the lunch, and then forward all the current documentation to him/her. This will ensure that you are not the only person accountable for this decision.

I hope these tips will help you in the unfortunate situation of firing someone. Let me know, if you have any other ideas through which you can save yourself after firing someone for their poor performance. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 
 

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Manager’s Guide: How can I make it easier for a new hire to transition in my group? (Part 3)


SelfAssessmentOnce you are done training your new hire on the workings of your team and the organization (see my previous blogs), you can then go ahead and talk to her about her development within your organization. This will not only help you to develop some strong relationship with your employees but also motivate her by demonstrating that the company is willing to invest in her future. In this blog, I will provide you with some practical tips through which you can motivate your new hire.

Motivation: It is very essential for you as a manager to discuss what are meaningful motivators for your employees. Make sure that your new hire knows about your existing employee’s values and energizing criteria. You should also explain her the potential financial incentives (i.e., cash sharing, bonuses). Describe the potential opportunities for advancement with the team, department or company, and how she can advance herself to achieve those motivators. Don’t just train her theoretically on how we will measure her accomplishments, but provide some specific examples of her probable accomplishments. For example: You will work on this software development project, and your achievements will be measured against the total time and budget required to finish this project. This will give her a clear picture of how your team recognizes accomplishments. She can then work towards achieving those goals, and making your team successful in the process of doing that.

Learning & Development: No one wants stagnant employees, who can’t grow with the organization. Thus, every new hire should be explained their growth options by their managers. As a manager, you should always inform your employees about the path to succeed. You should not only explain them what is expected from them to advance their career in your organization, but you should also talk about opportunities to participate in associations, professional organizations or networking groups through which they can succeed. You can go one step further by finding out how your employee likes to learn (seeing, listening, doing), and then exploring what skills and abilities your employees seek to develop in order to perform the job more effectively. You can also take this opportunity to discuss how your employees can prepare for future responsibilities, and what type of developmental opportunities are available.

I hope these tips will help you to become a better manager by providing a clear direction for your newly hired employee. Let me know, if you have any other ideas through which you can help your employees to easily transition to your company. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 
 

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