Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Eliminating Corruption?

We all believe and strongly agree that corruption is a negative function that we would like to eliminate from the World.  The passion and intent of people was strongly visible with the Anna Hazare event a few years back - millions expressed solidarity physically as well as virtually.

Here, I am referring to corruption as deliberate fraud or stealing by the people who are part of an enterprise or a system as compared to thieves and bandits from outside the system who take by force.  And also, only financial corruption as compared to other forms of corruption - moral et al.

Unfortunately, corruption has been in existence since the humans came into being - cant be wished away and is part of the basic human nature.  Governance and laws cannot be a full or permanent deterrence really.  Harping on laws and legal bodies as the sole method of tackling the corruption is a waste of time.

We are aware that corruption can hurt more than any theft in any organization (Lockheed, Enron, Satyam as some of the many real world examples).

A few years back I had attended a session by Nigel Iyer (Septia Group), a UK-based CA and passionate consultant and expert who has over 20 years to understanding corruption as well as advising corporations on how to address fraud and corruption.

He made a few critical points:
1. Corruption can be separated out into three tiers - bottom tier (fudging travel claims), middle tier (typical sales orgn - bribery) and top tier (special relationships, kickbacks, modifying operating approach - like top bosses continuing to get bonuses in spite of poor business performance).
2. Corruption should be looked at from the perspective of opportunity (who holds the power/control) and motivation (who wants to).  Focusing on the top and middle tier is more impactful and less time consuming.  The focus on the lowest tier creates more and more work with mostly a feeling of control.
3. Addressing corruption is not a one time activity and can never be taken out of any group or company.  It can only be controlled and requires appropriate systems and constant efforts.

In my experience, operating with trust is critical, but not without systems and methods to address the potential for any one with the opportunity to take more than their due.  Over the years, I have also realized that trusting people can be taken by staff as laziness in process/financial diligence - and hence open to being taken for a ride. The challenge is in balancing trust with appropriate systems based deterrence to being taken for a ride.

I believe in automating the lowest level expense and claims systems and at the same time have an independent (read non-influenced) personae approving the highest level expense/spending.  For example:
1. Student fee collection through mobile money transfers
2. Geo-tagged mobile app for expense logging and reporting
3. Senior level expenses audited

Good Education, Leading by Example and self-correcting Systems are more relevant and long-lasting in the fight against corruption than deterrence by law and punishment.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Successfully managing large and multi-location teams

In the last thirty years I have had the good fortune to work with inter-related teams across continents and multiple cities.  Teams that are seemingly independent but depend on each other to deliver on large projects or just complex projects.  In fact their individual success is determined by their ability to work together.

Specifically, the kind of projects that I got exposed to are:
1. Consulting, Sales, and Setup of Mini Core-sector projects
2. Custom Training Development and Delivery - Product OEM and Bespoke eLearning
3. Product and Services development and distribution across own and franchise network
4. Field Services Operations with hubs and independent professionals relying purely on telecom and internet

Most of these teams had multiple skill types and roles - for example, auditing, surveying, field research, development, design, market research, training needs analysis, business development and sales, project management and consulting. 

In addition to dependent teams like links in a chain, the teams had a flavor of fully independent teams - who were more like partners (franchise, sub-contractors), ones that were independent Business Units but interacting with the other groups and needed support on prioritizing and quality management.

As all people who have worked with spread out teams would know that there are immense challenges, without any exceptions, in working, managing, and getting the such teams to deliver timely quality outcomes.

I cannot claim that I was successful all the times - mostly it was make do and get things moving. However, when I look back at the whole range of experiences the following are top three areas critical to success:

1. Rhythm of review and communication - each team has to have a daily connect - for multiple time zones better to have at least 2 times connect in a day.  Elements of understanding change dynamically and anything more than a day will lead to possibly that much minimum delay in case not addressed.  In one of my large projects, this was insisted upon by the customer project manager, and at that time, it seemed like a pain and much time in going in communicating two times a day.  But as the project progressed and became complex with multiple issues - we realized that this was the key for each of us to move forward.  It brought out both good and bad news upfront and helped resolve issues amicably.

2. Appreciation versus criticism - we have to believe that everyone is working.  Cannot make assumptions that the others are not working.  I have found distrust a slow and sure death of projects.  Yes, they are not thinking like us and sometimes one team's understanding and efficiency will be better than others in the similar work - we should not use that to beat up the under-performing team rather - keenly watch how they are struggling and appreciate every effort.  Jim Collins in his "Good to Great" says get the unaligned/in appropriately skilled people off the bus.  My view is that this aspect should be exercised very carefully and not freely - else we are always in the mode of getting people off and on-board and not really getting anywhere.  Appreciation works much better given that point 1 is executed well.

3.  Clear Common Goals: With only outcomes or expectations for each team in the chain, I found a lot of "throwing over the wall" work.  It is near impossible and more importantly unproductive to keep defining and refining the intermediate outcome requirements as a means of judging the work of a team.  Each of the teams have to figure out among themselves how each of them best contribute to the final product.  Best for all of them to be aligned to the final goal.  This takes communication effort and time to evolve but is definitive and long-lasting.

Of course there are many more aspects that need to be worked upon and agreed, however, I feel they are specific to the different compositions and are usually addressed matter of course anyway - like technical specs, timelines, individual roles and responsibilities, political and administrative hierarchy etc.

With the way the organizations are evolving, the distributed way of working is the only way of working and one needs to accept that fact rather quickly for success.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Digital India ... India in the next 5-10 years

A couple of weeks back I attended the Digital India Summit organized by Times Now along with MAIT and Nasscom Foundation.


The highpoint of the conference, in my view, was the first panel that discussed the Digital focus and direction for India in the coming decade.

IT and Telecom Minister Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad eagerly participated amongst the IT and Telecom Industry leaders.

The minister's vision of a digitally enabled India was simple yet far reaching and very profound indeed.  He said that for him a digitally enabled India would have arrived when a "Dalit woman in a remote village is able to earn a livelihood providing services from a digital device - possibly a mobile."

If you reflect on the statement and its true intent one will see the magnitude of change that we as a country need to work on to get even close.  There are many aspects to get to that state and all of it not just digital change.  Access (bandwidth/spectrum) and reach (mobile handset) is probably the smallest albeit necessary element of making such a vision happen.

Before I share my perspective on what I believe are critical aspects to bring such a vision to fruition - let me also share some key observations by the panelists (always debatable points but nevertheless points to consider):

1. Software automation is making BPO jobs redundant and in the next 3-5 years the BPO jobs will drop instead software development jobs, coding for mobile apps and similar kind of jobs will increase.
2. There are now ways to train novices rapidly on being coding for mobile apps - these should be picked up by training organizations
3. Make in India while boosting economy overall is not about creating jobs as most manufacturing will have NC machines and increasing automation.  Instead the jobs are with e-Commerce companies. A flipkart today already has 10,000 jobs created for the supply and delivery chain.
4. Spectrum is not becoming available fast enough or cheap enough and hence it is imperative to look at developing solutions that can deliver even with low bandwidths - like compression technologies etc.
5. Fibre laying and reaching the interiors of the country is going to take time and lots of monies - it might be better to focus on Satellite internet connectivity that can reach locations at rapid pace and much lower costs.

The observations may be valid though most likely not fit in the time frame in which they are being predicted.  However, one can see that these observations are hardly helping or aligned towards making the Dalit woman having a livelihood with digital devices.

In my view three critical areas need to be worked upon:

1. What are the services that the lady in the village can be offering?  What is it that she brings to the table for the local people as a service?  What would be the services needed in rural India at the household level?
2. Linked with the services above, the training delivery that is combined with an intuitive device and easy learning of a person who is most likely illiterate.  Intuitive here means very different from the current set of interfaces that work only for the young generation and rarely for the oldies.  If one says that we address literacy first then the order of magnitude of the challenge only goes up manifold.
3. I think the Minister chose a Dalit woman as part of his vision because he believes that the cast barriers need to go.  This I feel is a critical element of change that can only be brought about by collective will of the populace and the political leaders of the country.  You might want to consider a news item as follows to see the gravity of the situation here.  http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/bihar-village-bans-women-from-using-mobiles-506357

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Enabling Rural India ... Real India

The word Rural brings to mind dusty untarred roads, small block like houses and even hutments, poor people. From no electricity to unsafe drinking water and no toilets.  And all things that remain an enigma for people born and bred in cities.  But India is changing ...

My real experience of the villages and rural areas began in 2006 when I thought I could do something worthwhile for the Rural youth.  India is in the villages.  67% of population is rural even after 67 years of independence.

Last year, I joined Ruralshores.  Ruralshores has been setting up BPOs in the rural areas.  The basic insight that drove the setting up of Ruralshores was that city/town based domestic BPOs were being staffed by youth who had migrated from rural areas.

While the youth come with dreams of being able to do something worthwhile in life ... the cut-throat competition of the domestic BPO business keeps the salaries really low considering the basic living expenses in towns and cities.  So youth are constantly on the move looking for jobs that pay even slightly more.  The whole migration is also loading the infrastructure of the cities - making living tough economically as well as socially.

This lose-lose proposition is continuously being boosted inadvertently by all concerned. Govt doing so by supporting large employers in towns with sops.  Businesses consider rural as tough areas to work so keep figuring methods of tightening productivity and keep salaries lowest.  Skills and training providers continue to train people in the cities and towns for such jobs - since the numbers required are large.  All in all - everyone's struggling to make it work.

What RuralShores began with one center 5 years ago has now spread to 20 locations in 10 states and is providing employment to 2000 plus rural youth right near where they stay (within 10-15kms).  The journey has not been easy at all but clearly demonstrates that its not only possible to make the change happen but make it really impactful for the people, for the customers, and the social fabric of the community.

Challenges can be further eased and make it scalable if the Government gives the Rural businesses a priority.  The corporates become willing to explore outsourcing to rural locations ... quality is guaranteed and only requires a bit of patience ... will surely lead to long-term benefits for all.

The experience with Ruralshores is interesting and possibly a long-term game changer for India - I desperately hope so and will keep making my bit of the effort on the same!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Challenges in Skilling Rural Youth

I am not sure if these are challenges only with Rural youth or the challenges of youth in India in general.

I am writing here what I believe is happening and hence needs to be addressed by the country at large - not just the training community.

The training organizations moving into small towns and rural India struggle with meaningful skilling of youth.  When I say meaningful - is to say whether the youth are employable as accepted by Industry, or more importantly, the youth know that they need to do to work at it for a a couple of years before they are on track on their aspirations.

Here are a few critical challenges that I have observed in my experience with training the youth (in slums, small towns and rural areas):

1. Each student has had a varied exposure - challenging the standard and cookie cutter courseware and training.  This leads to dropping of interest after just the first few classes.  Unfortunately, the common challenge on top of this is the key belief that all of them need to learn English whereas the problem is in communication skills.  Another way of saying the same thing - ability to 'understand' a question and being able to share individual's own 'thoughts' on the matter.  So when they are taught 'English' they feel they are learning but actually dont end up performing when any one other than a teacher speaks with them.

2. Perception of what is the job they want varies, again, dramatically.  So the challenge begins with what course to join.  And even if the counsellors push them into a course - the dilemma continues through the course.  This leads to low learning motivation and at the end of the course - not necessarily striving for the job options.  Most of the rural youth are looking for government jobs and not linked with skill or interest.  There is a linked challenge of the salary being the key determinant of the job type.

3. Students are used to school and college education where they can get by even when they miss classes.  Their understanding of passing the exam as the main thing is deeply etched with 10-12 years of education.  What this does is that training - building skills with practice and hence attitude and specific skills beyond the required knowledge - is missed out practically for most students.

At each place and location these kept recurring and were the biggest hurdles to scaling the training and hence employability.  We have had piecemeal and temporary locational solutions but nothing concrete and scaleable yet.

The quest continues ...