Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Some thoughts on future of work

  • Most of the work will be automated and that is good for us. Most of us are terrible workers – machines are always preferred for routine jobs.

  • We will see huge unemployment and that will be good. The goal of technology is to make things easier – then why we want everyone to work 60 hours a week? Better we just work as and when required and if and only if our talents are really required. There will not be any resource problem and no need to work for money. Everyone will be able to enjoy extended vacations in Mexican Riviera enjoying guacamole facials and pristine beaches as long as they want. Everyone will have access to best foods. People will work only if they love their work – they won’t get any other privilege in the society except job-satisfaction. Remember today most of the people don’t love their work – they work for money.

  •  There will be a lot of interesting work for people who really want to solve the big problems facing humanity today (energy, pollution etc.). As people need not work for money talented people will be able to get out of high paying mundane jobs and work on truly interesting(and satisfying) problems. And for these selected few working hours will increase - they won't mind as they will truly love their work. As there will be no monetary benefit from those inventions there will be free exchange of ideas accelerating the invention cycle. 

Why Top Leadership makes all the difference

Short answer - Clout factor - a CEO can influence all the employees but a line manager can influence only a few.

The CEO enjoys a tremendous leverage - it's upto him to use it effectively. CEO needs to inspire, CEO needs to lead.

A line manager cannot change the fate of the company but a CEO can - for better or worse. And if laws of thermodynamics or history of corporate failures(most of the companies ultimately fail) are taken to be true - most of the times it is for worse!

How differences are built up over time

I sometimes wonder why there are so many differences in capability, power and wealth between us. We all are human being having almost similar physical and intellectual power and capacity when we are born. But forty years down the line, some become super wealthy or win noble prize whereas some continue to struggle doing some mundane work.

Where and when we are born help. Per Warren Buffett he was very lucky to be born as a white american male. It gives tremendous competitive advantage if your parents are educated, rich and well connected. And it is extremely difficult to be successful if you are born poor and need to struggle for even the basic life needs. But every rich kid cannot make it even though he is at advantage. What are the other factors? I believe there are two other critical factors to success – mentoring and continuous improvement. It takes time to become really good at something (ten thousand hour rule). You learn things by practicing over time through trial and error. But proper guidance and coaching can make a big difference as well. A good coach can teach critical skills which takes years to learn by trial and error. Also a good coach gives confidence, helps to keep the focus and to dream big. You need to believe in yourself to become successful.

Let me give an example. Two friends start at the kindergarten – both having almost same potential. One kid gets better attention and guidance from his parents and makes it to a better high school and then to a better college. Better college ensures better classmates – better connections make better opportunities and the peer exchange of ideas increase productive capacities.  Over the years the magic of compound interest makes a huge difference and the two childhood friends cannot believe their gaps.

Success is rare as it needs time and multiplicative impact of so many positive factors. Remember it is not addition – it is multiplication. So you have always the fear - one low score and you are out of the game. Are you feeling hopeless? Let's not be so pessimistic. Yes, it is difficult to fight if you had a bad childhood or had a bad year in college. But remember multiplication has its own advantage as well. Continue the good work and you can find something big positive which can help you overcome all your shortcomings. Yes, miracles do happen - so continue to fight till your last breath.

How can you become successful at your career - I believe there are two ways. Either go conventional crowded path of corporate career and do smart+hard work for years. Or find some path where nobody is going(yet) - being an early adopter of some future profession has extreme competitive advantage. So keep your minds open, take risks and work hard+smart at the same time.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Can we capture the successes of so many failures?

There can be only one US President. Only one F1 Champion or only one Best Actor in Academy Awards. Only one city can be chosen for a specific Olympic or only one winner in a National Talent Show.

So may people try for these highly coveted wins..are they all failures. No one remembers the second, forget the third, forth or others who could not make it till end. But are they all failures?

There are so many beautiful songs considered for Song of the Year (sometimes I cannot make a selection - they are all so good!) and so many young genius students who could not make it to Harvard(or IIT whatever!). There are so many 'failed' projects in corporations and so many 'failed' scientific experiments. Are they all failures? No they should not be.

We should celebrate failure and learn from them. There can be specific viewpoints for which lost an election or a specific style which was not preferred by the jury (neither mass judgement nor selective judgement guarantee absolute best selection). Everyone is obsessed with the winner(those on the top gets all the press). So much thought process, innovation and creative energy is wasted - only because we collectively fail to appreciate the people who could not make it to the top. If we can change that we will learn so much. Also the world will be much more enjoyable as everyone will not focus only on winning.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Agency Problem and HR Profession

Think of a perfect company where almost every employee is happy,engaged and has high performance work ethics. The reason - they were chosen perfectly for the right job and their incentives match their expectations. There is minimum attrition and hence the only recruitment need is for organization growth. Every employee respects each other, believes in company's compensation structure and even everyone knows each other's salaries. This perfect company is very generous with employees making great contributions but also is very fast in firing people with negative work ethics. Hire slow and fire fast keeps the sanity of the workplace.

But things are never quite perfect. Ineffective recruitment is very common - large scale recruitment without proper job-skill match or work ethics alignment creates a lot of very ineffective employees. Each ineffective employee multiply the inefficiency of the company - increasing cost and resource wastage and lowering profitability, customer satisfaction and market competitiveness. Once you have a pool of bad recruits, it is very difficult to attract great people. Two reasons - great people don't want to work in a mediocre company and also bad selectors(who were the initial bunch of bad recruits) cannot or do not want to select great new recruits. The culture of bureaucracy over meritocracy prevails. Good people leave the company. To fill those positions the company needs to attract new recruits at a much higher cost. To compensate the higher cost of new recruits(who are not great quality recruits and are highly overvalued) the company cannot keep a competitive compensation for the existing employees. The result - higher attrition of existing employees(some of them were really good, wanted to stay with the company long term and make a difference) and highly demotivated workforce.

Now the question is which case is attractive for an HR employee or for that matter the HR organization. Theoretically HR success metrics from a shareholder's perspective should be keeping the Highly effective and motivated employees for the highest term possible and thus increase company revenue, profit and market value. But practically - in a perfect world there is nothing much to do for a HR organization and that calls for a small HR organization(HR is a cost center in traditional accounting). Because everyone is happily engaged with their work - you don't need a big team to arrange Team building activities or daily social events(or send Team Engagement emails). Because of low attrition you don't need a big team to handle employee separation or new recruitment activities. Only a small group of HR Generalists can support the essential payroll and clerical tasks. As a HR professional do you really like to work in such a world? Of course no.

That's why we need complex compensation structure, annual performance reviews(where fixed percentage of employees has to be grouped into best, medium,worst categories),high attrition and costly replacement. Oh yes- These poor employees are not engaged - lets' send an invite for virtual cricket match....everybody loves!