Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Where are the young leaders?

The other day, I was reading an article in Economic Times titled "Corporate India Wants Young Blood to Head Companies". There was a concern in on non-availability of business leaders in corporations in general highlighting lack of strong business leaders with multiple organizations. Here are some of my views on why the organizations are facing this in general in IT industry specifically.

Lack of Identification of Generalists

Before the IT industry became mainstream in India there was a traditional brick mortar industry which had groomed strong generalists. Every organization used to invest at least a year in its engineering talent to explore the whole of the organization projects as Graduate Engineering Trainees. The engineering talent was exposed to all functions of the organization to gather knowledge of one or more functional areas. A complete view of organization is important for someone to lead at an organization level.

Growth at Break Neck Speed

Industry growth post liberalization has been so fast that the functional leaders even have not even got enough exposure to their functional experience to move up the ladder. And most of the time the focus has been in execution rather than skill building to stratetize. Project lead in three years engineering manager in five years had become norm. While the experience has been useful in grooming early leaders there is a definite miss in helping the leaders in understanding the technology they deal in and its nuances. While managers need not have the complete technology understanding at least they should be in a position to take decisions and not pass on all decision making to the functional counterparts. When it comes to that situation the risk appetite of an individual naturally goes down. Risk necessarily is a lack of understanding of unknown and over-estimation of risk will only lead to bad resource planning.

Resource View of Organization

Business Leaders have a resource view of an organization. As strong it may sound ultimately during hard times the resource and investment decisions are the ones that gets questioned. Leadership which tend to understand this approach best tend to make the best decisions. From a systemic perspective an organization has four roles - execute, supervise,  policy and strategy. Functionally an organization may constitute the following functions - plan, build, sell. And when it comes to policy and strategy the functional influences tend to blur. Thus companies need to have leaders who have the widest experience in multiple functions tend to drive better policy and strategy. But seldom you see policy makers have been part of multiple functional roles. There is a tendency of growing supervisors to policy making roles and thus creating deeper conflicts of interest in the organizations in identifying future strategists.

Forced Verticalization

Somewhere the industry has missed identifying generalists. In any IT organization today you have defined career paths leading to building, planning and selling or people management roles. At mid-level one has to choose one career from another and lateral transition is painful as a transition will mean one may lose out the experience she has gained in other functional role. With personal growth and industry growth being fast a lateral transition which otherwise would have been a positive experience for future career progress will be shunted in limited functional growth. Industry needs to understand some people are good at whatever they do and should not be limited to functional boundaries and their enterprising capabilities should be used for organization advantage. The other day I was discussing with a business leader who is establishing an India development center for a well known new generation technology company and realized he is already hiring functional silos rather than gathering multi-faceted talent which is essential for an entrepreneurial set up.

Academically Inclined

Several times, I have been criticized for being academically inclined but I guess I will still be talking about it in this context. Learning may it be through academics or through on job cannot be ruled out. Human beings have built organizations and every system that human beings build have a structure and the structure has been analyzed, understood and explained by many academicians. It's probably easier to learn it from them rather than making all the mistakes on the job. Again learning through academics may need not give you enough insight unless you know how to apply it. Organizations need to realize how important is it for the manpower they have is formally trained in aspects of the function they are executing. However, trivial it may sound for most technologists -  "Finding a point inside a polygon" is not a simple problem. You can see the solution in the FAQ of comp.graphics.algorithms on the Usenet. Similarly, many of the standard HR issues discussed for hours in closed doors may have simple solution in the management literature if someone likes to spend a couple of hours with the text.

Does that mean India lacks young turks who can manage businesses? Not at all. We have some of the best innovations and lots of interesting business models are being tried out by entrepreneurs. I guess the biggest concern we have today is the people who are selecting the next generation or leaders are looking using the wrong parameters. They have increase their risk appetites and allow some new leaders and pull them out of the functional silos and assign a bigger role. There will be failures with current market situations of lowering profitability definitely that will be a concern.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Brainstorming Sessions

The more I sit through Brainstorming sessions the more I realize the lack of understanding in the industry of fundamental principles of brainstorming. Brainstorming is supposed to be used as a tool to generate large number of ideas in a short span of time and not to find solutions to all issues. In fact it's not a forum to show ones knowledge or lack of it. But we all have seen how many mindless discussions in name of brainstorming that take up valuable time out of a productive day.

Here are some golden rules to follow in a brainstorming session.

1. Have a problem statement or focus around which to do brainstorming.
2. When calling for a team for brainstorming session make sure there is a specified moderator and scribe.
3. Moderator should not be participating in the discussion, the scribe can clarify what idea the person suggesting but cannot impose his/her own thoughts.
4. There is nothing like a silly idea or suggestion. However, all proposed ideas should be around the decided focus.
5. All participants should contribute. Loud mouths should not be permitted or allowed and should asked politely to sit quite.

The brainstorming session is typically made of 3 parts.

1. Idea generation.
2. Elaboration
3. Idea ranking for action

1. Idea Generation - Typically 15-20 minutes of idea generation where everyone suggests what idea they are proposing. No one is allowed to dominate the session. Moderators should make sure the ideas are listed visibly. No idea is bad or turned down unless it's not around the specific focus of the discussion.
2. Elaboration - Typically about 30-40 minutes where in everyone is allowed to speak for their ideas but not to turn it down. The intent should be particualrly here to justify their view points or group similar ideas suggested by two different people.
3. Idea ranking - This is simple voting process where in most liked ideas are prioritized over the relatively lower priority ideas as suggested by the team. This should take no more than 15 minutes.

Following these simple rules can definitely make brainstorming sessions enjoyable and converging. Wished the simple principles be understood well in corporate settings in general to be effective.