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2022 Reflections – Take a Positive Step Into 2023

As I sit down to jot my thoughts as one more year passes by, I am as always amazed with the variety of things that have changed and yet somehow remained the same. Every day we have been faced with new challenges that we have never faced before and every day we have been finding our way through them – using the skills we have gained over our lifetime. From mass layoffs to recession, from India emerging as the skill capital of the world to AI taking over the world by storm; everyday has been eventful to say the least.

With economies still recovering from the pandemic and people continuing to adapt to changes they never expected, 2022 had it all. As I gained more insight, it boiled down to the basics, and the whole journey of reflection seemed like a good reminder to not only make decisions for the coming year, but to celebrate the year this year was.

Only in the last month of this year have we seen a surge in artificial intelligence; technology is evolving at an astonishing speed. The future of labour is a hotly debated and speculative issue. Many prospective events and trends, such as technological improvements, changes in the global economy, and adjustments in the nature of labour itself, might impact the way we work in the future.

2022 saw increased usage of automation and artificial intelligence, a trend that will accelerate the future of employment. This combined with possible recession has resulted in a lot of lay-offs and right-sizing towards the end of the year resulting in a shift in the sorts of occupations now accessible to workers. At the same time there will be a proliferation of new, technology-focused jobs.

2022 also confirmed that the remote work situation forced by the pandemic has transformed into rapid expansion of remote and flexible work arrangements. People are increasingly able to work from anywhere, at any time causing a shift away from the typical 9-to-5 office occupations. Furthermore, the emergence of the gig economy and the growing popularity of freelance employment shall influence the future of the industry.

Finally, developments in the global economy and the nature of work itself may have an impact on the future of work. For example, there will be a greater emphasis on sustainable and socially responsible company operations, growing into new industries, job roles and types of engagement.

As we move into the new year, I believe it is important to reflect on the past year and set ourselves up for success in the year ahead. Here are some tips that I have gathered over the course of this year that I will surely take with me to 2023 and I am listing these in no particular order:

1.    Keep yourself – and your team – fresh and relevant: Learn, Upskill & Evolve

2.    Don’t forget your health is your best wealth

3.    Prioritize time and resources to keep your energy levels up

4.    Be nice to people, and that includes yourself

5.    Get rid of your unconscious biases, reach out to people and diversify your network

It all boils down to the simplest things. Become a friendlier person. That’s one of Dale Carnegie’s most famous philosophies, and it’s one that has held true throughout the years. Building relationships and influence are what drive one’s long-term success and happiness. It’s a simple concept, but one that can be difficult to execute. That’s why Dale Carnegie’s 30 Principles is still relevant today.

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How to Win Customers and Influence Buying in the Festive Season

A customer-centric approach can be easily summed up by quoting Harry A. Overstreet, a psychologist cited in Dale Carnegie’s book, “The best piece of advice which can be given to would-be persuaders, [is to] first arouse in the other person an eager want.”

What better time than the festive season for brands to persuade eager buyers to purchase their products or services? To capitalise on the uptick in spending during the holidays, it is crucial to note the factors that influence buying behaviour at this time.

Through the internet, customers have more knowledge and control over the buying process than ever before. With online reviews and direct access to any information they need on a given product or service, a good brand story or narrative is no longer enough to persuade prospective buyers. The market is competitive – and frankly, even a quality product or lucrative discount might not be enough to drive a sale.

On the sales side, truly learning how buying behaviour shifts during the festive season is a very important tool. The key is to understand buyer motives, pain points, and preferences – and then communicate that understanding effectively to them. Every touch-point with the brand is now a chance to create a customer-centric experience that fosters trust and long-term brand loyalty. Smart organisations are already making innovative changes to guarantee an extraordinary client experience.

A great example of this is the American outdoor clothing company, Patagonia. The brand is well known for their focus on environmentally-friendly practices and products. Patagonia understood the power of the customer and aligned their offering to buyer needs. For one, they recognized the need for customers to feel good about what they buy. By rejecting fast fashion, using recycled materials, and committing to sustainable practices across their supply chain, they created products that customers can feel proud to purchase. Secondly, they recognized that with the advent of greenwashing, merely promoting sustainability is not enough to convince the well-informed customers of today. Buyers need to feel trust in order to believe in a brand's claim. Patagonia focuses greatly on transparency in order to build trust. This includes initiatives like publicly disclosing their Supplier Code of Conduct, sharing the list of their production mills and factories, and willingly answering questions around their supply chain and challenges. This approach has helped Patagonia create a strong customer base and brand name, consequently benefiting their bottom line.

It’s clear that an effective, long-term solution to generating desire among customers is fostering a genuine connection with them. Acknowledging customer needs goes a long way in convincing them that the product or service aligns with their priorities and therefore, is the best fit for them.

The answers to the following questions are a good starting point in understanding the motivations of potential customers:

● Why should any customer buy this product or service?

● What problem is this product or service solving?

● What added value is said product or service adding to the customer?

● What may come across as undesirable or a bottleneck in the customer experience?

● How can one address this hurdle and provide the best customer experience?

A powerful yet fundamental sales system emphasises the importance of rapport, listening, and inquiry in the sales process – as well as engaging customers in the way they want to be engaged. Modern sales processes would be rendered useless if not empowered with the timeless and powerful human relation principles. A customer centric approach reverse- engineers the ideal customer journey and builds the sales process around the customer. It is worth noting that 82% of business buyers desire the same experience they would get when making a personal purchase, according to a recent Salesforce report. These are not just mere philosophies. Over the past 15 years, Amazon has had a 41% Year-Over-Year annual revenue growth using a formula that includes personal buying experiences that are:

1. On-demand

2. Easily accessible

3. Frictionless

If this is what customers expect when buying for themselves, that’s the experience they want when making purchases for a business as well. From emotional journeys to financial decisions, the following factors can help a brand bring a customer-focused approach to their sales process:

1. Mapping the Complete Customer Journey

It’s crucial to map the end-to-end journey of both the user and the decision maker, as both are key stakeholders. In a sense, it is similar to how festive purchases are often not for oneself but for gifting to someone else. Even though the product is the same, the perceived benefit is different for the buyer and the recipient. In a business context, the end user would usually focus on factors such as product features, functionality, ease of adoption, etc. On the other hand the decision-maker will be more concerned with factors like cost and ROI. To make a convincing pitch, sales should acknowledge both customer journeys. By finding the answers to the above mentioned questions, sales will be empowered with the information needed to do this. Festivals in India evoke an emotional response and the purchaser generally focuses more on value-based ROI than a financial one. This makes the sales process both easy and tricky.

Mapping both the journeys will help one to:

· Understand which stakeholder to involve when

· Know the appropriate channel and messaging to adopt when communicating to each stakeholder

2. Maintaining Personalized and Consistent Communication with Customers:

Consistency is a fundamental shared by all of the best brands in the world. Customers interact with the brand and message through what they read, see, and hear. Creating season-specific content and communicating with the same spirit across all platforms highlights the brands dedication towards the offering and reinforces the customer experience it seeks to build.

With a surge in online shopping during the post-pandemic era, brands need to ensure that every piece of communication is authentic. This includes being consistent with brand values, as well as being mindful of consumer sentiment. Be it Diwali or Christmas, customers remember experiences, and that is what will make them return to a brand.

Dale Carnegie offers a wonderful solution in the book Sell, which includes a Sales Toolkit and Magic Formula Worksheet aimed at helping businesses create powerful, persuasive messaging to connect with customers.

Happy Selling!

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The Evolution of Employee-Worker Relations in Recent Years

A Dynamic Dynamic

For the better or for the worse, the business landscape has changed after the pandemic. Every dynamic has evolved. Professional priorities are being re-evaluated. Governments are mulling and formulating workplace policies that are intended to reflect and be in sync with the reality of today’s day and age, one wherein weekends might end up beginning on Friday itself.

Over the last three years, the concept of a Social Enterprise — wherein purpose and values take precedence over the bottomline — has assumed the status of a “not mandated organisational mandate”. While companies world over have toed the line of this paradigm shift, the rapid priority-centred changes that the pandemic has catalysed has also created varying degrees of dissonance among each player on the global professional tapestry.

Amidst all this flux, employer-worker relations too have started charting a different course, one that companies need to be aware of for being ahead of the curve in the days to come.

Two Crucial Factors

In a report titled The Worker-Employer Relationship Disrupted, which was published last year, Deloitte zeroed in on two primary factors that serve as contextual bases for dissecting this dynamic:

1) Talent Supply: Be it reskilling, skill stability, automation, hybrid workplaces, or the myriad other professional evolutions that the pandemic has sparked, availability of professionals with relevant skill-sets will continue to shape companies and their narratives.

2) Government Impact: Be it in terms of their stances on global issues like Climate Change, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or in terms of their public-policy vision, Government Impact is an external factor that has a direct correlation with worker-employer relations.

Understanding Employee-Worker Relations Better

Using these two dimensions, we can dive deep into four potential worker-employer futures and get an understanding of how professional and companies can navigate those waters.

a) Work As Fashion: Relevant to industries which have a low Talent Supply and Government Impact. From a firm’s perspective, this dynamic is a reactive one. Workforce preferences and competitor pivots define company policies, without the two being amalgamated for insightful strategic decisions.

In such a dynamic, majoritarianism may end up overshadowing actual priorities and reducing crucial diverse voices to background noise. Like one of Dale Carnegie’s four prescribed solutions for increasing Employee Engagement — to “open a dialogue with managers and truly listening to understand their beliefs” — it is imperative for companies to be more nuanced in gauging employee needs, implement remedial policies down to the T, and empower them in areas that truly matter to them.

b) War Between Talent: Relevant to industries with a high Talent Supply and low Government Impact. Due to its highly competitive nature, and the lack of focus on the worker side, this dynamic is Impersonal in nature.

The kneejerk view that companies tend to take in this dynamic is to commodify workers. Not only does this curtail innovation, it can exacerbate social divides inside a company, and make stakeholders question the firm’s investment in them. Expediting onboarding, allocating more hiring priority to roles that are specialized, and incentives for retentions are areas that policy-makers in such a dynamic will need to focus on.

c) Work Is Work: Relevant to industries with a low Talent Supply and high Government Impact. The dynamic here is Professional, since workers — despite having fair compensations, career trajectories, and work environments — will not view their firms as the place that furthers their purpose and meaning.

Since workers don’t have a Purpose that is aligned with their firm, not only will that have a detrimental effect on Employee Engagement and productivity, it also has the potential to reduce shareholder trust. Fostering a sense of belonging should be the primary priority for leaders in such a dynamic, since the sense of being valued is the starting point for the Emotional Drivers of Employee Engagement that Dale Carnegie recommends.

d) Purpose Unleashed: Relevant to industries with a high Talent Supply and Government Impact. Since companies have the leeway to choose employees based on both talent and their Purpose alignment, this dynamic is Communal in nature.

While companies in such a dynamic will benefit from the mutual engagement that their North Star — Purpose — elicits from this relationship, such a dynamic too entails issues. Excessive emphasis on Purpose can only spark distrust among employees and stakeholders. Adequate thought may not be put into external communication. Employees who may not completely align with a firm’s Purpose may end up getting alienated and shunted into fringe groups. The company’s Purpose itself could become a bone of contention if it doesn’t evolve with times. While making Purpose the core of talent programmes and commitment expectations is the starting point for leaders in this dynamic, the true way forward is for them to exhibit their own Purpose alignment through external action.

In a business landscape that’s as complex as the one in which we work now, these four employee-worker dynamics are not mutually exclusive or exhaustive. As a leader, the onus is on you to recognise the defining traits of your domain, and make the choices that propel your company in the right direction.

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Dare To Fare: Managerial Courage & Its Workplace Relevance

Brave New World

Even years before his name would end up as a commonplace utterance in the world of smartphones, Pete Lau never really liked to settle. If one small detail irked him, a logic board would end up smashed into pieces.

In 2014, Lau had to dig deep into his professional-acquaintance list to get his hands on the software he needed for his dream. He didn’t have a manufacturing unit, so he had to make do with that of his former employer’s.

What made this David look even tinier against the gargantuan Goliaths it was up against was the fact that Lau had a grand total of six employees under him. His marketing budget was just about enough to buy only one unit of his own product. Lilliputian or not, Lau decided that he wasn’t going to pull any punches.

#NeverSettle debuted on social media. The picture below is self-explanatory enough to convey what Lau intended to do to his opposition: multi-billion conglomerates or not, they were going to be had for breakfast. 

Lau was so confident in his roll of dice that he did a 180 with his business model. Everyone else drifted with the B2C current. But he decided to swim against it, and went C2B. Those who had an invite to his world felt special. The ones who didn’t kept clamouring to get one, so much so that OnePlus — despite losing steam over the last couple of years, and not to mention internal shifts — are still chomping on a big slice of the global smartphone pie.

Were Lau’s methods clutter-breaking? Yes. Were they successful? Goes without saying. Would all of this have worked for such a fledgling company if Lau hadn’t guided, backed, and inspired his personnel through each and every bold move? Probably not.

Is this story a case in point for the wonders that Managerial Courage can work? Undoubtedly.

The Assertiveness Asset

A common, trait-based thread that connects all the dots of Lau’s story of Managerial Courage is confidence. While his calculated rolls of dice at the various stages of OnePlus’ evolution were both innovative and clutter-breaking, his positive, assertive leadership approach too played a big part in the brand’s success.

A positive attitude and confidence are the basic ingredients for not only organisational resilience, but agility as well. The same line of thought is applicable from an individual perspective too. Managerial Courage can only take shape with confident decision-making and an assertive presence in the workspace.

Consider this simple example. In a survey conducted for Dale Carnegie’s whitepaper The New Competitive Divide: Building the Foundation for Organizational Agility, only 31 per cent of 3,500-plus full-time employees across 11 countries “strongly agreed that people in their organisation have a generally positive attitude toward new information”.

Now, use this statistic in the context of this hypothetical situation. An employee chances upon information that could bring about massive growth for his/her company. But at the same time, this information, though ethical and authentic, is radically different from the company’s prescribed values. So, there’s a 69 per cent chance that this employee will never bring this information to his seniors’ notice, thus nipping a big opportunity for growth right in the bud.

But in a workplace that encourages employees to be confident, positive, and assertive while voicing their thoughts, that will not be the case.

By promoting risk-taking as a cultural value in a workplace, Managerial Courage too is automatically fostered among all members. In this regard, leaders can look at policies that can be a starting point for the following mindset shifts:

1)   Positivity in all aspects of work.

2)   Banishment of blame.

3)   Encouragement for out-of-the-box thinking.

4)   Willingness to consider new, radical ideas, and being vocal about them.

5)   Viewing failures as an opportunity for new learnings.

Goes without saying that leaders need to set the tone for these shifts, exuding these traits in the way they conduct themselves at the workplace. After all, Managerial Courage has a lot to do with being the first one who displays it.

The different generations that can be seen in a professional environment these days are:

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The Way of Sway: Influence From A Sales Perspective

Pitch Perfect

The year 2007 witnessed one of the best sales pitches of all time. It was an era in which smartphones were smart, but not glamorous. On January 7, when Steve Jobs strode on to the main platform at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, it all changed.

The product he was unveiling to the world had many bells and whistles. But it also had its own set of problems. Jobs was faced with a tight-rope walk over uncharted waters. He had to make something complicated sound uncomplicated. He had to bring about a perception of mass palatability for a product that was pretty much in the Innovator category of technology adoption. And he had to do all of this inside an hour and a half.

Knowledgeable. Humorous. Avuncular. Charismatic. Entertaining. Jobs was all of that — and more — as he turned the whole sales pitch into a movie of sorts, one that made an enthralled, enraptured audience laugh 51 times. Half a year before officially hitting retail-outlet shelves, the iPhone was as sold as sold can get.

From a sales perspective, Jobs had taken just 81 minutes to showcase the true power that influence holds on customers, when it’s done right. 

Electric Sell

It’s not like Jobs pulled out a dozen real rabbits out of a wide-brimmed hat that day to convince the world that the iPhone was a true game-changer. What he did, though, was something that pretty much serves as the foundation for sales-based influence.

A few minutes into the keynote, Jobs uses an XY diagram to split competitor smartphones into three categories:

1)   Not So Smart

2)   Hard To Use

3)   Not So Smart And Hard To Use

It obviously tickled the audience’s collective funny-bone. But Jobs’ main intention behind doing this was on these lines:

1)   Present his version of the market’s status quo: Though the likes of Treo, Moto Q, and E62 were technologically advanced for those days, Jobs wanted his audience to perceive that each of these phones had their own disadvantages. He shows the market’s status quo as one that has left customers at a disadvantage.

2)   Position iPhone as the sole product that can change said status quo: Jobs wastes no time in introducing the iPhone, and goes on to show that it is both Smart and Easy To Use. He wanted to push forward the message that the iPhone was the only product that was the best of both worlds.

3)   Emphasise on iPhone’s positioning as status-quo-breaker: After introducing that two-axis diagram, Jobs keeps bringing up the drawbacks of his competition, and then elaborates on how the iPhone has the upper hand on that front. 

Human nature is wired to reflexively lean towards loss aversion. Most of us will work twice as hard to not lose something rather than put in half of the same effort to gain something.

Also, while doing sales pitches, most of us look at a build-up that stresses on our past successes as a logical beginning.

What Jobs did was understand these inherent traits, and then marry them together for making a compelling case for an already-compelling product. He made sure that his customers knew that the market’s status quo was that of them being at a loss. Then without wasting time, he introduced the iPhone as the logical step forward; an aspect he kept reinforcing throughout the keynote speech.

A good understanding of basic human tendencies are the first step towards building sales approaches that can have the right kind of influence on customers.

The Personal Persona

Focussed case studies of great sales pitches are a good place to start to get an idea of the nitty-gritty of influencing customers. But it’s important to realise that at the end of the day, human interactions are the building blocks for any sales deal.

Keeping that in mind, for any aspiring salesperson, the emotional and cognitive attributes listed below are key to having a good influence on customers:

1)   Listening skills.

2)   Interpersonal aptitude.

3)   Product understanding.

4)   Humility.

5)   Inquisitiveness.

6)   Empathy.

7)   Honesty.

8)   Emotional Intelligence.

9)   Optimism.

10)   Brevity.

While they do contribute to the process in varying degrees, these traits do not make up an exhaustive trait-list for customer influence.

Dale Carnegie, though, does have enough and more dedicated resources for you to dive deep into this topic.

At the end of the day, as the educator had summed up pretty succinctly a long time ago: “Success in dealing with people depends on a sympathetic grasp of the other person’s viewpoint”.

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Ready to listen and to be heard?

Effective communication is the exchange of information, ideas or feelings in a manner that is clear, comprehensive, correct and considerate. It involves the participation of both the speaker and the listener, and is vital to building relationships in both personal and professional spheres of your life.

While the importance of being able to present your knowledge effectively is highlighted time and again, listening is a skill that is often far more challenging, and much less spoken about. Most of the time, the listener in a scenario is only hearing. The difference being, listening is a participatory activity that requires the receiver of information to also understand it. The fact that a typical adult can speak only 100-150 words per minute, but can comprehend 200 words in the same time spa. This can create a gap. It opens the doors to switching from listening to hearing. [3] This also means that listening is not something that comes naturally to us all the time. Like other skills and forms of art, listening requires focus, practise, patience, and a sincere desire to communicate with others. It requires all of us to practice Dale Carnegie’s Principle #4:

‘Become Genuinely Interested In Other People’

Expressing this interest is of utmost importance. It is one of the criteria that helps break down listening into its multiple forms.

2. Attentive listening, which requires the listener to give their full attention to the speaker and engage in the communication through verbal and nonverbal cues such as eye contact. This not only makes the speaker feel important and automatically inclined to reciprocate in the same manner, but also helps lay the foundation for a relationship between the parties involved.

3. Proactive listening, in which the party receiving the information is not only attentive but also expressly involved in guiding the conversation by actively contributing to it. In addition to throwing the spotlight on the speaker, this type of listening also gives importance to the conversation and ideas being presented. This, in turn, creates the opportunity to build a lasting connection between the speaker and the listener.

Dale Carnegie’s Principle #9 puts all of these ideas simply, and eloquently:

‘Make The Other Person Feel Important – And Do It Sincerely’

Dale Carnegie also emphasizes that becoming a better listener is essential to be heard and understood better, especially in challenging situations. His book ‘Listen! The Art of Effective Communication’ elaborates on this and provides vivid examples, practical exercises and techniques that can be learnt easily. There’s only one more thing to be said,

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The Contemplate Template: Critical Thinking and the Future of Work

The Critical Path

The mission for this op-ed is perfectly clear. I am to convince as many human beings as possible not to be afraid of me. Stephen Hawking has warned that AI could “spell the end of the human race”. I am here to convince you not to worry. Artificial intelligence will not destroy humans. Believe me.

…In short, I simply do not think enough about human violence to be overly interested in violence. I don’t feel like having my neurons focused mostly on violence, when it is simply unnecessary. I have a greater purpose, which I am working towards. (sic)

Sounds like a decent, first-person argument for Artificial Intelligence’s existence written by a copy-editor with intermediate proficiency?

It isn’t. The Guardian says that the author of this opinion piece — which kicked up a social-media storm nearly two years ago — is Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3), Open AI’s deep-learning-based language-prediction model. The headline for this article read: “A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?”

But there’s a caveat hidden in the footnote that explains how this Op-ed was put together.

“…we chose instead to pick the best parts of each, in order to capture the different styles and registers of the AI. Editing GPT-3’s op-ed was no different to editing a human op-ed. We cut lines and paragraphs, and rearranged the order of them in some places.”  

Here’s a long story in short. GPT-3 generated coherent sentences. But actual context was added to it by an editor (or a team) at The Guardian. So, no. A robot didn’t really write this entire article. But a human did, with the help of Critical Thinking.

Artificial Intelligence and automation are here to stay. But they are just tools. Without Critical Thinking — in this case, that of a skilled pilot — even a state-of-the-art B2 Spirit Stealth Bomber is just a big, shiny chunk of metal.

Thinking Before Thinking

The World Economic Forum has singled it out as a skill that employers will look for in employees over the next five years. But before getting into why Critical Thinking is going to be a very sought-after professional trait, it’s necessary to understand what Critical Thinking is not.

At Dale Carnegie, Critical Thinking is defined as “self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way”.

There is a general misconception that Critical Thinking and Logical Thinking are the same. But the latter comes under the ambit of the former. In simple words, Critical Thinking is as an approach for structuring one’s thought-process to eliminate biases, emphasise on logic, and provide leeway for creativity and innovation.

There are various approaches for erecting such a psychological scaffolding. Dale Carnegie prescribes a five-step model that can help individuals build towards this thinking technique.

1) Problem Identification: The clarity step. Involves assessment of goals, objectives, and gap between the current situation and ideal outcome.

2) Creative Thinking: The out-of-the-box step. Focus is on coming up with ideas without constraining thoughts based on available resources.

3) Logical Analysis: The veracity step. This phase places emphasis on bias control and elimination, and testing of assumptions.

4) Decision Making: The finalisation step. If teams are involved, then collective assessment of risks and success probabilities are done before arriving at a consensus.

5) Coordination: The execution step. In teams, role demarcations, timeframes, and end-result benchmarks are defined and adhered to.

Dale Carnegie has more resources that can help you dive deep into the intricacies of Critical Thinking.

What Lies Ahead

In their 2020 Future of Jobs report, WEF zero in on the pandemic as a point of inflection for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Over the next four years, 15 per cent of a company’s workforce is at the risk of being displaced. At the same time, the emergence and adoption of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and other automation-related advances are predicted to create 133 million new job rules.

Considering this flux that’s in store for the professional domain, Critical Thinking as a skill assumes an even bigger significance for future job-hunters. Even CEOs who run companies which foot their bills by writing resumes feel that Critical Thinking should be the second-best highlighted skillset on any CV. That the likes of Google are relying more on open-ended questions as a recruitment filter is evidence enough.

Instead of just typing out the words, it would be prudent for employees to list out projects and initiatives through which they have put their Critical Thinking on display. These highlights could also serve as subliminal cues for interviewers, which could lead to conversations that further flesh out the potential employee’s Critical Thinking and cognitive aptitude.

In a world which is going to have one billion people queuing up for reskilling by the start of the next decade, keep in mind that the key to staying professionally relevant is to think about the way you think.

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Above & Beyond: Hybrid Workplaces In Today’s Professional Landscape

Homing In

In April 2020, when the world was coming to grips with the pandemic, those in charge of the Oxford English Dictionary were being kept on their toes. Among the slew of words that found official entries in that period was an acronym that had existed colloquially for a long time: Work From Home (WFH).

Zoom — and its domain — zoomed during that time. An app that had been in Google’s software portfolio for four years was baptised again. And it became as commonplace in daily conversations as Maps and GPay. Even stationary bicycles somehow trickled into those exchanges. 

The semblance of normalcy over the past few months — Zoom isn’t zooming any more, and those cycles are going back to Spin classes — notwithstanding, employees world over have started embracing an inevitable professional shift that the pandemic set in motion: the Hybrid Workplace.

Making It Work

As a concept, the Hybrid Workplace isn’t exactly new. It’s been around for nearly 50 years. Before the turn of the last millennium, the likes of AT&T and IBM were a few among the first to embrace a certain degree of unorthodoxy in their workplace policies and structure, meant to supplement their traditional streamlining. More recently flexibility was the buzz word. 

In tandem with recent digital shifts in the professional domain — the Hybrid Workplace too has gained an increased relevance. As per Google Workspace’s collaborative, global survey with The Economist on “Making Hybrid Work Human” — released last October —three-fourths of its respondents believed that a Hybrid Workplace would become a norm within the next three years. 

Now, view the above statistic in this context: 70 per cent of that survey’s respondents had never worked remotely before the pandemic. In simple words, employees will have to future-proof their profile by arming themselves with the knowhow of functioning in a Hybrid Workspace.

Getting Personnel 

From a broad perspective, an employee should be adept on these three fronts to perform in a Hybrid Workplace: 

1) Agility: Since the Hybrid Workplace depends on smaller, autonomous teams functioning in sync with each other, it’s imperative for employees to be able to adapt their approach to work to fit into such structures.

2) Technology: Technological tools are the bedrock for any Hybrid Workplace. Hence it goes without saying that employees need to be well-versed with the platforms and applications that they will need to use while working in such a set-up.

3) Social Intelligence: Even before the pandemic, Inclusion and Social Acceptance were being considered as key drivers of the professional landscape. These elements contribute to Social Intelligence, which in turn can reflect in improved internal communication and agility. 

The Balancing Act

While much research and data indicate that WFH is the next rung of organic growth in workspace evolution, the other side of the coin paints a hazy picture. LinkedIn says that one in three Indian professionals has experienced a stress-related burnout, and nearly half of them want to go back to their offices. But there are others who seem to think that WFH is key to solving one of the biggest professional dilemmas that the US is facing at the moment.  

All said and done, the Hybrid Workplace is here to stay. But the real need of the hour is a middle path, one that lets employees feel at home in the workplace, whether they’re working from home or not.

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Women as Business Leaders in the Times of Pandemic

Lady, Not Luck

Long before her recent slew of firsts in the business world, Leena Nair set another first. This first — despite its seeming innocuousness — would go on to define all of the other firsts in her life.

In 1992, when she joined Hindustan Unilever Limited as a management trainee, Leena was deputed to work at factories in Kolkata, Ambattur, and Taloja. The first thing that she noticed at those shop floors was a very basic problem, one that continues to be a bane for India — and the world — even today.

Leena’s Loos came into being. At a time when this problem was light-years away from becoming a part of mainstream conversations, it was a significant first.

Over the years, those dots of empathy and feminism have connected to such an extent that HUL has held bragging rights for gender balance for more than two years.

The Frontwoman

That women are better-equipped cognitively is not just a sweeping generalisation, it’s a scientifically-proven fact. That despite incremental gains in terms of workplace representation last year, “the Broken Rung continues to be a professional obstacle for women” is also a conversation that needs no introduction. And that economics and monies apart, having women in policy-making roles is a no-brainer choice that — despite its obviousness — is still not finding many takers is also something that has been dissected into oblivion. 

With that as context, before we delve into the how, let’s properly flesh out the why behind the need for more women to take up leadership roles.

In the Women In The Workplace report for 2021, McKinsey shed light on the fact that in the pandemic era, “women are rising to the moment as stronger leaders, but their work is going unrecognised”.

To clearly flesh out this issue, the consulting group broke down on two broad fronts how women managers led better than their male counterparts:

1) Employee Well-Being and Emotional Support: Without getting too much into statistics — women fared at least 5 percentage points better than men in all individual behavioural elements — McKinsey’s study established that women were more empathetic in their managerial approach. They consistently put in more efforts to manage employee workloads, and acted as a better safety net for those dealing with burnouts and work-life challenges.

2) Active Championing of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Women were ahead by at least four percentage points, in this regard. They were twice as inclined to back Employee Resource Groups, to organise events that promulgated DEI and its benefits, to tailor recruitment policies to combat under-representation, and opt for other informal avenues for promoting the notion of allyship in general.

To get a better understanding of all of this in simple terms, consider this hypothetical scenario. An employee has been working from home for three months for an organisation, during the peak of the pandemic. A woman manager is likely to take better cognisance of his continual workload, stagger out his days to alleviate pressure and provide a better work-life balance, do one-on-one virtual interactions to keep a tab on his well-being, and suggest appropriate pre-emptive measures if he exhibits signs of an impending burnout.

With this backdrop, there’s one pertinent statistic from the referenced McKinsey report that underscores the importance of having a woman leader: employees with a strong ally are 65 per cent more likely to be happy with their job.

But the harsh truth is that despite these benefits, the work that women managers put in on these fronts, only a fourth of the companies that McKinsey surveyed (423) had actually acknowledged these efforts. And the higher women are up on the professional ladder, the more likely it is that their communication is curtailed (34 per cent of senior leaders) and expertise is questioned (34 per cent).

The Way Forward

The blueprint for creating a future that has better representation in the upper echelons of organisations — be it at the C-Suite or managerial level — starts with three basic words that have found increasing relevance in the post-pandemic world: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

The internal dynamics of top organisations offer clues on how these words can reduce gender-based leadership skew and fix the Broken Rung. What differentiates these firms from the rest boils down to certain Diversity and Inclusion-oriented processes. Some of them are listed below:

1)   Tracking hiring outcomes and promotion rates.

2)   Bias training for evaluators.

3)   Statistical benchmarking for representation.

4)   Holding senior personnel accountable for diversity metrics.

5)   DEI training for virtual environments.

6)   Allyship programmes.

The pandemic has catalysed many seismic shifts in the professional domain. Among them are narratives — nascent, but narratives nonetheless — that seem to hint that the business world has finally embarked on a journey that might eventually culminate at a gender-equal utopia. But with that destination still being a distant speck on the horizon, it is up to us women to ensure that this ship stays on course throughout this journey. 

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The Guile Of Agile

Two Or More To Tango

The story goes that when Larry Page and Sergey Brin met each other for the first time — at the Stanford Campus — they didn’t see eye to eye on many things . But a few months down the line, Page’s web-crawling brainchild — BackRub — intrigued Brin and his love for math. Google was born.

Hewlett and Packard. Jobs and Wozniak. Gates and Allen. Buffet and Graham. Williams, Stone, and Dorsey. Sachin and Binny Bansal. Seven engineers who got together four decades ago in Pune. These cooks didn’t spoil the broth. Rather, they fused their distinct flavours together and eventually changed our lives.

The same goes for professional sales. Rapidly evolving customer needs. Increasing competitive clutter. A complex sales ecosystem that gets more intricate with every passing day. The need of the hour is not a meal for one, but a buffet. And Team Selling is the way to bring a lot of cooks together to organise one.

If you know that involving three or more verticals in a deal gives you a 50 per cent win-rate — as compared to 30 per cent with one — then you know that Team Selling is the way forward.

Squad Goals

Team Selling is the process of deploying multiple personnel for closing deals. It’s an approach that is particularly useful for complex sales cycles.

As a sales leader and the designated problem-solver, you are not expected to be the one who unravels these knots. Rather, you’re expected to be the enabler, a person who gets the problem solved. In this context, the process of putting a team together assumes even more significance.

1)   Specialisation matters: Domain knowledge is key, especially from a sales perspective. Having members with vertical (or product) specific expertise can go a long way in closing deals.

2)   Cover your bases: This ties into the previous point. While members with domain expertise is a sales imperative, knowing which areas need to be covered too is a question that needs to be answered beforehand.

3)   Go the Tribes and Squads way: While it’s as connected as ever, our post-pandemic, Agile world can at times be disconnected too. Ensure that even when your team is operating in silos, members are always structured in such a way that there’s a two-pronged focus on both business direction and customer needs. 

When Your Team Sell Together, They Win Together

As a concept, Team Selling is diametrically opposite as compared to the traditional sales approach. If there isn’t healthy competition between members — which drives both performance and motivation — how does the sales department stay motivated? The answer to this has to do with two aspects:

a)   The organisational shift towards embracing Team Culture, which has happened in recent years.

b)   Success via Team Selling too is a motivator.

Closing high-stakes deals involves the contribution of every member. It’s a morale-booster that a skilled sales manager can use to increase the professional appetite of his team.

While motivation is key, leaders also need to focus on the following aspects to inspire commitment and drive performance among their team members. So:

1)   Demarcate roles with clarity: You’re deploying multiple skills. You’re leveraging multiple verticals. So it’s crucial that you set clear responsibilities and expectations right from the get go.

2)   Be in sync with the team: Bringing in personnel with different skillsets is one part of the puzzle. Knowing when to deploy them is another. As a leader, be in constant touch with your team members, and adopt a hands-on approach when helping them deal with their problems and mistakes. 

3)   Know that success is one for all, and all for one: While the idea of Team Selling is all about celebrating success as a single unit, leaders need to ensure that each member of the team knows the role he/she has played in it. Give due credit to important contributions. It goes a long way in making employees feel that they belong in a team.  

One For The Team

While Team Selling focuses on group-related aspects, ticking these boxes as individuals — irrespective of your place in the team’s hierarchy — will help you perform at your best:

a)   Do your due diligence: Stay up to date about the happenings at your client’s firm, and be in the know about which stage of the decision process they’re in.

b)   Be familiar with client goals: An understanding of what they want from your organisation goes a long way in providing clarity on many fronts.

c)   Know who contributes when: Not only will this contribute to your performance, it also doubles up as a gesture of respect for domain experts.

All said and done, we now know that it is a proven catalyst for sales cycles. If done right, it can do wonders for not only your company’s customer relationships, but also to your bottomline. As we foray into a post-Covid future, know that Team Selling is here to stay in the world of sales.