It’s all in the attitude
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We were sitting in a central Mumbai restaurant. My friend, an HR head, was enjoying her prawn flambé and insouciantly talking to me about the latest crisis in her professional life. Three of the key employee unions in the factories had sent lockout notices. She was in constant discussion with the management, lawyers and even political representatives. But, to look at her as she relished the meal, one would have thought she had nary a worry. And truth to say, she wasn’t—worried, that is. She had just finished a call with her global head of human resources (HR), who asked her: “Do you need any help? Are you worried? Is this a problem?” Typical queries from headquarters, you could say. And how did she respond? “Not really, this is not at all a problem, this is in fact an opportunity to sort out a lot of things and clear the air.”
It’s all in the attitude, isn’t it? She could have been nervous, worried, a bundle of nerves. Instead, she decided to take the issue head on, comfort her senior leaders across the world and use the opportunity to actually clean up and resolve a lot of pending industrial relations issues. The battle was half won in her mind.
In another instance, the protagonist was battling to institutionalize a culture of management learning in an organization. Termed soft skills, ironical since they are actually the hardest of skills—she had actually managed to convince her client partner to give her half an hour to brief business heads on why it was mandatory for their employees to go through not just technical training but also managerial and soft skill programmes. At the end of the meeting, it was decided that everybody in the company would allocate two days per person for such programmes.
She could have managed the decision just as a number, ensuring that everyone attended, organizing standard run-of-the-mill programmes. But she came out of that meeting and looked at specific gaps in employee competencies which had been identified in the customer satisfaction survey of the top 10 customer accounts. Then, with that mandated bank of days, she designed solutions targeted at addressing those specific gaps. And voila! Her interventions were perfectly aligned with the business needs. Of course, it was a big hit.
She had business heads queuing up to get their nominees into specific sessions.
So would you look at it as two days wrangled out of fiery discussions to run your traditional programmes or would you say, this is my pot of gold, and then creatively structure a solution which hits the ball out of the park? It’s your attitude, it’s your choice.
Consultants, invited by managing directors and chief executive officers to come in, do a diagnostic and recommend solutions, will resonate with this. They, of course, get a ringside view of those at the helm in departments which are within the scope of the business health check analysis. Such leaders can look at consultants as a thorn in the side, or as partners in the improvement drive. And in my experience it is invariably those leaders who look on this as a great opportunity who truly own the change, and lead the transformation charge. In the final analysis, it really is your attitude which determines which side of the fence you are on—part of the problem or part of the solution.
At the personal level too, reactions to situations are indicative of your mindset. Senior leaders granted significant employee stock options could see them as handcuffs for vesting in peace, serving tenure in organizations, not wanting to upset any apple carts. Or they could say, “Hey listen, I’m in this for the long run, I need to stay here till my stocks vest. I’m going to put my everything into this tenure to ensure that it is a successful one. Because my time has been committed already, I want to make a difference.”
Touché, yes, it’s all in the attitude.
Cast your mind back and I am sure many examples will come your way. All of us will remember instances when we consciously lost battles to win the war, stooped many a professional time to conquer and picked up the gauntlet of a professional challenge to show that you could, in the final analysis, do it your way. Recently, a young professional more mature than his years told me how he had decided not to escalate the matter of his nominee for an award being systematically sidelined by one who had veto powers. It was a conscious decision, because in the long run this was one relationship he had to nurture. So he understood the vetoing authority’s perspective, lodged a strong protest, but ultimately decided to “lose” this battle to the cause of being on the same page as the country business leader. My hunch is that the “injustice” will be redressed next time round.
Coincidentally, just last week, a friend forwarded one of Winston Churchill’s perceptive quotes, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference!” I couldn’t agree more.
Hema Ravichandar is a strategic human resources consultant. She serves as an independent director and an advisory board member for several organizations. She was formerly the global head of HR for Infosys Ltd.