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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Giving Good and Constructive Feedback

One of the ways to improve any system or process is to get it reviewed by experts and other relevant folks. It is important to provide “quality” feedback should one be assigned the responsibility of performing the review.

I think giving good and constructive feedback can go a long way in helping improve the system or process. In fact giving feedback is as much an art as it is a science. How to give good and constructive feedback? Here are some points to consider which might be helpful:

Know the Background and Context of the Area being Reviewed

Many a time reviewers don’t know or understand the background and context. This might be due to genuine lack of knowledge or the reviewer carrying prejudiced notions. It is helpful for reviewers to spend some time to acquire broad understanding of the concerned area(s).

Do Your Homework before the Review Discussion

Many a time reviewers do the review during the review meeting. This not only slows down the pace of the review meeting but also shows the lack of interest by the reviewer. It is helpful for reviewers to spend some time prior to the discussion to run through the items sent for review and identify the opportunities for improvement.

Get Clarifications before the Review Discussion and, if Appropriate, Share Observations in Advance

In case certain clarifications are required they can be sought prior to the review discussion. This can not only help save time during the review but also ensure that another round of discussion is not needed.  It is also a good practice, if appropriate, to share the review observations in advance.

Maintain Positive Outlook and Communicate Observations in a Constructive Way

How we say something is equally important as what we say. Being positive and constructive in sharing the feedback is helpful to ensure other reviewer(s) and also the author(s) don’t get defensive. The review is not to be seen as a forum to score a point but to contribute in improving the system or process under consideration.

Don’t Shy Away from being the Lone Voice of Dissent

At times one lone voice of dissent can get drowned if all others agree on something.  A good reviewer would facilitate the discussion towards a logical conclusion and consent with others but will also insist that the dissents are discussed at some length and duly recorded.

Don’t Maintain Hard Positions

Reviewers should be open to others viewpoints and thoughts and ready to give up their position if that helps the discussion to progress towards a more meaningful conclusion. Positions don’t matter, the end outcome does.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Killing Our Ego

Killing our ego is the secret to happiness.

And one of the best ways to achieve the state of "killed ego" is to follow the famous Sanskrit Shloka "Karmanya Vadhikaraste Maa Phaleshu Kadacha".

Unfortunately our own ego comes in the way of killing the ego.

Questions like "why me?" or "why not me?" tend to arise in our minds very often.

These questions give rise to the feeling that "I am somehow different and better than others".

We tend to forget that in the end the entire life of a person is nothing and can be Reduced to One Page of Wikipedia.

The efforts and achievement of a person is meant to become that one page.

The moment one kills the ego life becomes simple.

Then thoughts like "good, it’s me" or "great, it’s not me" assume significance.

Achieving or becoming something in life becomes immaterial.

Hill Stations in India

A hill station is supposed to be a town or a city amidst the hills that is frequented by tourists who want to be close to the nature and enjoy a salubrious climate away from the hustle and bustle of maddening city crowds and rush.

List of Some Hill Stations in India

I suppose it is an interesting exercise to try to list down the various hill stations in India. So here goes the list of some hill stations in India:
  • Kullu-Manali (Himanchal Pradesh)
  • Shimla (Himanchal Pradesh)
  • Shillong (Meghalaya)
  • Mussoorrie (Uttarakhand)
  • Nainital (Uttarakhand)
  • Ranikhet (Uttarakhand)
  • Agumbe (Karnataka)
  • Munnar (Kerala)
  • Khandala (Maharashtra)
  • Lonavala (Maharashtra) 
  • Mahabaleshwar (Maharashtra) 
  • Mount Abu (Rajasthan)
  • Darjeeling (West Bengal)
Preserving the Hill Stations

On a sad note it must be said that in the recent years due to increase in the population and general improvement in the income levels of the populace the later part (away from the hustle and bustle of maddening city crowds and rush) has probably ceased to be a reason why people visit hill stations.

Why People Managers Also Need to Focus on Technical Competencies and How Can They Keep Their Technical Competencies Fit and Fine?

Successful managers are good both at technical direction-setting and people management. One reason for this could be the fact that a manager who can handle both technical and people side well would have a balanced perspective.

People or Soft Skills

On one hand, people managers need competencies that are related to people management or the “soft skills” as they might be referred to as. Knowing how to deal with subordinates, peers and superiors is absolutely essential to get the work done.  People management or team management requires a very fine balancing act. All work is eventually performed by people and hence knowing how to manage people is an essential skill for a manager of people.

Technical or Hard Skills

On the other hand, however, managers also need competencies that are quite technical in nature or the “hard skills” as they might be referred to as. Knowing the "stuff" is indeed important so that the team has confidence on the manager as a problem solver or direction provider. In fact, this is that one single skill which is critical for managers so that they remain relevant as their career progresses.

Acquiring and Retaining Technical Skills

Learning the technical or the hard aspects is surely possible provided the manager consciously makes efforts in that direction. Here are some ways to enable this:
  • Performing regular technical review of the team's work (this essentially involves asking right questions to the team, interpreting the responses correctly and asking good follow-up questions)
  • Attending industry forums and conferences (this essentially involves getting to know the state of the art, emerging trends, newer concepts and methodologies and learning from experts)
  • Investing time into self-study (this essentially involves learning through books, journals and these days through Internet also)
  • Taking up speaking and writing opportunities (this essentially involves speaking at industry forums, writing papers and articles)
Why Technical Skills Need to be Focused On?

In general the people manager should have a broad-based understanding of all or most of the relevant technical skills. At the same time there should be a few relevant technical skills in which the people manager possesses strong vertical expertise (this is important to gain "technical" respect of the people being managed). This allows the people manager to know, to a certain extent of course, that the team is in the right direction at the right pace. This assumes high significance as the successes and the failures of the team are ultimately owned by the manager.

In addition, focusing only on people skills and ignoring technical skills completely is not a good career management strategy. Possessing certain technical skills means that it is easy to slide into a consultant, speaker, advisor or auditor roles at any point in one’s career, should the need arise (remember these are individual contributor roles and require technical competencies unlike typical managerial roles).

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