Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How Much Does A “GREAT WORK PLACE” Cost? Anyone?

Hold on to your thought horses. The buck doesn’t stop with “Google”. Felt obliged to state this right at the onset as it is a common misconception among entrepreneurs that “employee friendly policies” comes with a neck-high price tag, are not “pocket friendly”, and only companies of notable stature can actually afford it. Also, Google has become quite synonymous with “Great place to work” tag since 2007. The more Google is loved by its employees, the more they are looked at with contentious eyes by other corporate behemoths that are still holding on to the “age-old schools of thought”.  Being averse to change, can never be an “in-vogue” thing and corporate houses are increasingly coming to terms with the fact in the face of burgeoning attrition rates and fire-fights within the organizations. The day isn’t distant when we would start seeing CVs in the form of booklets with an ‘index’ and a ‘prelude’ preceding it, denoting job hops. Hence, there is more to learn from “Google”, than learning other things with its search engine app.

Until some years ago, HR policies and initiatives was more a matter of a choice rather than indispensability. Then one fine morning, a company located atop Mountain View, CA released some report, won awards and the world woke up from decades of slumber to strike the dart on “the art of employee retention”. Some followed suit, replicated, innovated, ideated and is fairly doing well. No boon arrives without an equal share of bane. Globalization, information revolution, knowledge economy and liberalization has uncorked a whole wide world, unveiled opportunities and challenges; gigantic stress levels, sowed competition, but at the same time massaged the most destructive and insatiable human trait – “WANT”, making people spoilt for choices. Until our beloved planet faces an Armageddon like situation or the present recessionary conditions keep on dipping down the meter, the situation is only bound to compound itself with time. There is no shying away from change- sooner or later.

I am not an entrepreneur and neither have I worked with any of these huge corporate houses directly. I have never been an HR exec and neither have I studied in a management institute. However, before stumbling upon a conclusion and brushing aside these ramblings of a ‘common man in the service industry’, I would request you to stop and reflect for a second. I have worked with a few companies, all PR firms, through my 5-year old career and each one has an intrinsic identity, defined by its people, its culture and processes. Work and its manifestations do not differ much, but there are things that defines ‘this’ firm’ from ‘that’ firm. These differentiations would have been redundant, negligible and invalid had it not been for increasing attrition rates and internal brand reputation management, expressed in employee loyalty and productivity.  

Well, something just struck me while penning this blog. Being an employee, most of this is bound to reflect an employee perspective, but why leave out the employers as they are the ones who should usher in the change in the first place.

So, Mr. Employer, what are some of your top priorities:

·         Optimal utilization of available resources
·         Ensure optimal productivity
·         Curb Attrition – It takes time and investment to induct a new resource and bring them up to speed
·         Achieve set goals and tick milestones on the profit chart during yearly review period.
·         Retain talent
·         Expand client base
·         Cut costs

However, in the process of chasing these regular aspects, what they often overlook is the fact that they are dealing with humans here, not robots and humans come with something unfortunate, called ‘HEART’ - God’s myopic corporate foresightJ. What they fail to provide their employees is ‘motivation’- the only fuel for success when you are working for someone else’ and money truly is not a motivation, often misinterpreted.  It’s just compensation against the services rendered. Quite plain and simplistic as that.

So here, without naming any organization in particular, I am penning down some of the HR practices I personally have witnessed and experienced. Best Companies develop their own unique cultures in which employees are able to say "I trust the people I work for, have pride in what I do, and enjoy the people I work with”. Great workplace- It’s a difficult thing to do – it takes effort and humility. Yet some do it, they want to create a great workplace and they achieve what is important to them, beyond simply making a lot of money - how they treat people is important.

There are no statistics that can ever prove that a free lunch, a non-hierarchical, non-discriminatory organizational structure and a multicultural campus-like environment contribute to the organization's success and profit. What can be proven is the fact that, this firm in question is  growing at an immense pace -retention of employees is high, attrition is low and revenues are strong, People are eager to work for the company and applications to job openings are exceedingly high as compared to their counterparts in the same industry segment. Their management teams have figured out the formula that works for them by treating people with respect, supporting their creative endeavors, and working hard to adhere to their motto of “we are employee first, customers later”. It's not magic, or rocket science or paternalism or entitlement. In some ways it is plain common sense. Motivation can weave wonders. Employees go out of their way to perform, and they don’t even expect an incentive in the form of cash rewards. They just enjoy the drill and the challenges.  

So here goes some of the unique initiatives:

1)    Occasional parties, surprise elements, annual off-sites and fun activities around festive occasions
2)    Non-hierarchical organizational structure. Every employee irrespective of his seniority/position shares the same sitting area. No designated cabins
3)    Visiting Cards do not carry designations of employees
4)    TGIF a weekly, company-wide get-together, also referred to as “Friday Forum” wherein new employees are welcomed into the organization. A representative from each team share client updates and upcoming events/launches/projects. A platform where each week a team or a person is recognized for work and rewarded accordingly. Followed by games and fun activities for all
5)    TGIF is also a platform where the management makes important corporate announcements/way forward.
6)    Flexible work timings and 1 duvet day each month (when employees can work from home)
7)    Every new joinee is assigned a ‘buddy’ who helps him in finding his way around the organization. Someone who helps that person settle into the culture
8)    The office sponsors lunch and snacks for the person on the 1st day of joining
9)    During birthdays and anniversaries, the person get gift vouchers from the company, accompanied with cards with wishes from all employees within the organization
10) Separate mailing lists within the organizations for fun activities during festivals and special occasions. (a case in point is ‘Ghostbusters’ – Includes everyone from entry level executives to senior level executives across office branches. They can collaborate and assist the HR in bringing fresh thoughts for initializing any out-of-box fun activities)
11) Late comers are fined Rs100 and once the Rs500 limit is reached, he/she has to treat his team members out
12) Regular team lunch sessions from team managers and timely reimbursements of expenses incurred. This activity is to facilitate better team bonding
13) Whenever somebody does some commendable work, an email from the manager recognizing his/her subordinate’s effort and resultant outcome achieved,  is communicated across all centres
14) Surprise activities/fun at work, initiated by HR once every month
15) Training sessions related to the job, organized every quarter, involving external experts
16) Performance linked pay
17) Every person who quits after a year in the organization, irrespective of level: is given a proper farewell)

These are just some of the initiatives I have a top of mind recall of, there are many more. (Some of these firms are global, but these are practices which are followed in India).  However, the common tenet that underlines each of these activities is ‘respect’. Respect is demonstrated through practices that provide professional support to employees, encourage collaboration and allow for expressions of care both in the workplace and outside. Professional support is shown to employees through the provision of training opportunities and the resources and equipment necessary to get work done, as well as through the expressions of appreciation for accomplishments and extra effort.

Seamless and transparent collaboration between employees and management requires that leaders and managers genuinely seek and respond to employees’ suggestions and ideas, and involve people in the decisions that affect how they get their work done. Employees experience camaraderie in the workplace through the level of intimacy they find, or the ability they have to be themselves. Hospitable workplaces are friendly and welcoming to all employees, and encourage people to have fun during the work day. A strong sense of community develops in organizations where people feel that they are part of a team or a family, that they cooperate within and across departments, and that people are connected by common values and purpose.

At the end of the day, everyone come to office to work. There is no fun spending 9-10 hrs a day inside four walls, staring at the computer screen and day dreaming all the while. If that was the case, there are much better ways to spend those numbers of hours outside the office premises, doing what all would like to do. Nobody gets paid to be yelled at or gets paid for feeling like a prison inmate. Everybody has ‘horse’ instincts and sooner or later, everyone wanders for ‘greener pastures’, albeit, grass looks greener on the other side. Suppressing this sole ‘instinct’ is today a grand debate in Global Corporate HR Colosseum and efforts are being directed to negate that.

Soham Majumdar

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Falcon Nemesis

Chapter 1

An abysmal melancholic aura shrouded the distant vicinity. A crimson slash smeared the once enthralling horizon. The winds and the dunes blew the same dust of hopelessness asserting the beginning of a wretched end, the dark nimbus clouds have the same tale to tell. A ravaged country lay ahead- the rock laced mountains, the desert sands- dark crimson stains hued every object. The mirage reflected it, the pale morning sky casted it, the sands and the dunes spoke about it; and the only sound that echoed out of that hellish dungeon were those of cries, wails, sobs and a deafening silence. Yes, a silence shriller than the most heinous of cries and a silence that’s becoming more and more pervasive by the minute. Gods own children lay crouched and wounded everywhere, the pale moon shining on the clots and divinity chuckling over its own creation.

Amidst the crimson rush, a mirror reflected the emaciated frame of a man trying incessantly to answer the questions asked by a shaken fate. He closed his eyes to shun everything that encapsulated him but with a constant nagging fear that he has to open it again and behold things that he never wanted to. He knew exactly why all this has occurred, it was inevitable, yet avoidable coz as they say truth and life are somehow stranger than the strangest of fictions.

The time-clock traced it back to September 11, when the mightiest nation fell victim to the wrath of one man. History repeated itself like it always does but this time, it did so with a propelled magnitude. He consciously defied the judgment of destiny because he believed that the weeping deity is wandering in the maze created by his own creation. Revenge begets revenge- begets revenge.

The frail emaciated frame stepped out of its dilapidated shack and what followed next bedazzled humanity for all times and time itself stood testimony to the fact. The vicissitudes of fate is to weave a destiny that fate itself would shiver to behold.

Six hours ahead.

A muted telephone buzzed in the office of Mike Derek, a retired senior officer of the US CIA bureau, now running his own private detective agency. He chose not to answer the call, instead flipped on a pre-recorded voice message- “Hi Charles, I am out for an urgent meeting, will ring you back, your papers have been dispatched friend, lets catch up for a drink on Friday. Goodbye”. A childish grin lightened the countenance of the man on the other side of the phone because his name was not Charles and he got the cue which was precisely meant for him. He smiled

Chapter 2

Time: 17:00 hours
Place: Delhi International Airport, India
Day- Wednesday

A uniformed bespectacled man in his mid-forties was sweeping the floor adjacent to the arrival terminal entry gate of the airport. Charles walked right up to him and muttered- “I am so sorry to bother you, I think I had dropped my pen here a while back, have you by any chance managed to see it somewhere here? The man looked up at Charles and at the same time dropped a worn out pouch on the floor which he pretended to be seen as accidental. Charles got the message again, picked up the bag and strode inside. The bag had all those documents that Mike alerted him about; the stack of parchments that established Charles as a legitimate citizen of the United States of America and some hand drawn maps.

Time: 1800 hours
Place: New York City, United States of America
Day- Friday

It was summer- a wet mist brewed twilight and the sun racing to hide behind the crimson horizon in the vicinity, after the day long downpour. The airport was swarming with people- not as much unlikely for a busy nation.. He quietly walked past the aisle, traversed a few yards and waved at a Taxi. A polite voice confirmed- Washington DC? The driver gave an assured smile and zoomed past. Thirty minutes later, a few miles down the foreign streets, the rear view mirror of Charles’s Cab reflected the remaining traces and a clumsy void that once housed- no too long ago- the world’s tallest towers, a bustling business arena, one of the most populated site of New York City. As the man sitting at the rear-seat of the car struck a match to light a cigarette, within the bluish yellow flame he could see the same void stretch of land- sans boundaries as it seemed- but not the one that housed the twin towers, but that of his ravaged country, palate of sands and blood- which now housed innocent victims of some satanic catastrophe for which they were not responsible in any distant manner. His country- Afghanistan.

The Taxi screeched to a halt in front of St. Allen’s bakery at a shady crossroad of Washington DC. Charles got off the cab, tipped off the driver and walked inside. Smiling at the guests who gathered there for their supper he climbed up the stairway, knocked and entered Room No 42. As he closed the door behind him- “Welcome my guest” whispered a voice, distinctly different from the voice which once said-  “Hi Charles, I am out for an urgent meeting, will ring you back, your papers have been dispatched friend, lets catch up for a drink on Friday. Goodbye”. As Charles pulled aside a chair to sit down, his eyes met someone he knew well enough. Someone, who was a prisoner of somewhat same kind of fate; known to the outsiders as a guardian of the federal law- Officer Mike Derek.

“So Charles, tell me how have you been? Any problems?”. All that came from the other side was a smirk and the quietest possible “No”. Mike rang the bell for coffee. Neither of the two exchanged a singe intelligible word till the last sip of the warm brew, perhaps they both knew why they are here for- they surely knew. “Goodbye Charles, don’t forget to take some rest, you must be fatigued, we got a lot of work to do, busy days ahead of us…hoping to see you tomorrow morning- Mike placed a torn piece of paper on the table beside the bed and walked out.

Charles switched off the lights and lied down. As his glance swept past across the room and then outside the window, he saw the neon board which displayed “The School of Cyber Artillery” across the narrow byline on the other side; where he met Mike for the first time six years ago. Nothing has changed through all these years except the circumstances, the purpose and the resultant horrific misinterpretation of existence- to live and strive towards achieving a distorted and destructive objective- infuse terror and attain vengeance.

As thoughts spun down the memory lane, a kaleidoscope of colors, images, voices and events crossed his mind- Charles fell asleep.

At around 5 AM in the morning, the silence of the dark room was troubled by a noisy telephone ring. It rang thrice and stopped. Charles woke up, got dressed in one of his best business suits, climbed down the staircase, crossed the road and picked up the parcel which said, “Mr David, C/O “The School of Cyber Artillery”, 5th Main, 2nd Cross,  . Washington DC. A familiar expression appeared on Charles’s face, the expression is always there whenever this man is too sure of himself. He walked up to a stationary shop round the corner of the road as the shopkeeper was pulling the shutter up for cleaning before the busy day starts. Charles purchased a few cables, cartridges, camera, a few blank DVDs and some metals. “Hi Charles, Howah, whassup? Haven’t seen you around for quite some time…How is Della? Where are you putting up? You are no more in that school I hope?. Yes, Charles was a poor student and he was subjected to such sarcasm earlier as well.

“No, I am putting up at California, am a restaurateur now” was the crisp short answer to those quiver full of questions. The shop-owner seemed quite content with that answer and didn’t bother to ask anymore questions. He smiled, shook hands and got back to his cleaning. Charles left- Never to meet him again.

Next day, the daily news paper reported the death of the shop owner. Reason cited- Bankruptcy and debt. Charles knew a different version of the story which is best untold. There was no Mr David in that school either to whom the parcel was addressed.

Charles retired to his one room apartment atop the bakery where the crowd has gathered for their morning cuppa of tea and muffins. He did not take the main entrance this time, but the spiral stairs in the backyard. He decided to catch up on the slumber, interrupted in between.

After completing their education in the “The School of Cyber Artillery”, he and Mike were colleagues at the Pentagon, working as cyber security administrators and IT infrastructure supervisors along with four others. This was about five years ago. A one-liner telegram cost him his career, his happy and fulfilled life, ruined him and brought him home, never to make him come back again.

Chapter 3

The time has arrived to knock at the door of destiny, crafted by that telegram; which now brought him here amidst the peace and tranquility in a ruthless search of vengeance and catastrophe.  A catastrophe that will make the world’s biggest nation fall to its knees. The pages of history would be written by an event that history itself would shiver to behold. Charles took out the laptop from the same parcel and switched it on…

Time 2:30am

Charles computer screen displayed an e-bomb manual- the same military grade weapon that a CIA-supported Internet watchdog, Search for International Terrorist Entities institute, raised an alarm on August 7 when it noticed the e- bomb manual circulating in jihadi fora supporting Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya movements.

As the hour-glass struck 3 am, some cracking sounds were heard at pentagon’s IT systems hall- almost unheard. Seconds’ later, all electronic systems went totally dysfunctional, the computers and even the main data source got completely erased- or so they thought

A few days ago a newspaper carried the story of terror organizations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya circulating popular jihadi Internet manuals to make Electromagenetic Pulse (EMP) bombs that can wipe out data from computers within minutes. A powerful radiation of electromagnetic waves generate as soon as an EMP, also known as an e-bomb, explodes while passing through any electronic gadget and it disables it. The cyber security officials raised an alarm as soon as they found out that this time the victim is them.

Charles entered a password- the third and the final try- The Falcon Core 2046! Confidential mission critical military information resources, ammunition reports, experimental trial documents of  nuclear weapons and their sites, flowcharts, formulae , , technical documents, top secret de-coded defense equipments files, ammunition reports were remotely downloaded from the storage infrastructure and computer networks.

The cyber- surveillance team of pentagon did their job….emergency back-up on, anti- virus software activated, the shield put up, networks were shut down and disabled – The hacker traced – But it was too late…

3:30 am- Charles walks out of that shabby hotel room, leaves all doors open…after disabling all the laptop’s functional features, wraps it in the same package in which he had found it. Crosses the road to that same ammunition academy from where he had picked up the parcel from… puts it at the doorstep and walks off.

Carefully wrapping the hard-drive and the cds, he strode inside Suniville hotel, asked the man behind the counter- I want to stay here for the night, here is my id- The name it carried was – Dan Sullivan…I am expecting a friend of mine to come tomorrow morning at around 8, please send him upstairs. The man behind the counter replied- I am so sorry Mr Sullivan, actually your friend was here a while ago, he waited for quite some time and left, left a parcel for you- here it is and your keys sir…

The same smirk appeared again on Charles chiseled countenance- No problemo, thanks for your help, see you, bye…With those words, Charles went up the stairs to his hotel room. A uniformed man was waiting at the door- silently uttered ‘Mike’. Charles handed over the bag of cds and the hardrive to him and went inside. The parcel contained his flight tickets and the ‘friend’ and the man in the uniform was the same person, sent by Mike Derek.
Charles smiled.

Chapter 4

4th July, Time 11:00 am

United States of America was in a pensive mood- The celebrations of Independence Day was muffled by the frantic news telecast over all national broadcast channels of the last night’s data theft and the explosions. The elite investigative departments sprung into action to trace the culprit and negate the losses. - Charles smiled and boarded his flight.

11:30 am- Suddenly, all electronic channel broadcast was interrupted- People thought it to be a security measure. Every household was wondering how grave the issue was- The screens go blank, comes back and what all of the multitudes of screens displayed now was more than just nightmarish to the millions of American citizen who woke of to a morning of celebrations and merrymaking.

Iraq, Afghanistan, China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan and channels of a few neighboring countries displayed the title “The Falcon Nemesis” with Pentagons’ logo in the background followed by - in complete graphic detail; all the confidential security vault guarded information that was robbed last night….

The nation watched with bewilderment- emergency announced- curfew launched- all broadcast stopped- FBI and CIA was tipped off- The President gets a phone call- “The Falcon Nemesis is here Sir- That beautiful reality show is being aired internationally Mr President. It is up on the Internet as well. I am sending you a copy of the CD for your comfort. Enjoy!”- a laugh…beep beep beep beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep….The deafening silence prevailed…

6 days later- A car bomb killed 10 army personnel and injured many others at one of the US Military contingent at Abu Dhabi.

20 days later, a passenger airplane- Airbus G 599 crashed and massacred the Navy headquarters at the Pentagon city.

The nemesis has begun…

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Confessions of an overworked mind by soham

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article by Soham Majumdar are personal. 

The author had written the article at 2:30am in his 1 year in the industry. A few questions that he till date couldn't answer has opened the floor for PR Professionals today to tackle the questions:

PS: Don't Kill Me For This :)

Unanswered Questions in PR

A perfect read for a gloomy ‘work-cannon’ loaded Monday

After about one and a half years of my stint in the boxing arena called ‘public relations’, I am faced with these inexplicably intriguing questions. Yes I agree that, to most of us, the questions may seem unintelligent but as the wise man say- Questions are never stupid, answers are. There can be countless justifications negating the validity of my question’s intelligence quotient, but I won’t ask you to relax and then think about the answers coz in that state, most likely your answers can only label my questions as ‘stupid to the stupidest of extent’.:-)

So, here I make a humble request to all of you. Try and answer my questions on a typical PARANOID day at work when all the devils of the world and beyond contaminate the souls of our revered journalists, corp com people and other stakeholders.:-)

Here are some of my questions (there are many more):

· Why does that particular abandoned lonely soul in corp comm needs an SMS update early in the morning, inside his washroom post a press conference/interview/trade briefing that happened a day earlier and why they can’t get out of their washrooms till the scans hit their inbox- I guess they fear that the coverage would evaporate in thin air if they are late in brooding over it…(Or their email inboxes are perpetually in the self-destruct mode?) :)

· Why do we send the ‘same’ clip to the client in a wide spectrum of multiple diametrically diverse formats that technology has ever managed to bless us with. – SCANS, PDF, PPT, EXCEL, ZIP, MONTHBOOKS, WEEKLY REPORTS, CDS, DVDS, TRANSCRIPTS, Calculating their AD rates, etc etc- Cant they not decipher things in the first go…?

· Why do the that impatient corp com soul behave as if they will lose their jobs, their stocks would crash and their employers will be on the streets begging if a particular coverage that appeared 5 years ago is not mailed to them within a 5 mins timeframe?

· Why do they spin protracted yards and wax eloquent about going ‘Green’ and similar policies and enclose this line in their mail - “Please don't print this e-mail unless you really need to. “ if on the other hand, they want coverage on every piece of paper in the planet?

· Why do they endow us with incredibly inhuman deadlines and act as if the universe will fall apart if we don’t meet the same. Finally, when we do manage to kill ourselves to meet that cursed deadline, they forget about it and send a stinker at the end of the day for committing a gruesome crime- Why didn’t we remind them on time?:-)

· Why do the Presidents and VPs of the world suddenly wake up one fine afternoon and starts hallucinating and contemplating about their worth in this life and pester their PR agencies to send them all the best coverage that they were lucky to receive over the past 8 years within 60 mins. Are they so in secured? Or, do they think we are Gods to meet such a divine deadline

If it is all about positioning our work to the client as some Pro-client PR professional will like to argue then I would like to put it- Don’t we anyway do a lot of other work as an agency to prove to the client our expertise and efficiency.