Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Leading by Example


As managers and supervisors, getting the support and respect of your team members, getting the work done through them and keeping them motivated is a big challenge. You can enforce rules, read out instructions or give lectures on the way you expect your colleagues and juniors to behave. However, the best way to manage and lead is by setting an example. You can never extract good behavior by setting a bad example.

I have observed two kinds of behaviour at work. I have worked with someone who was punctual, polite and diligent. He completed all his work on time, stayed calm, highly organized and was always ready to help. When there was a problem, he focused on finding the solution rather than finding out the person to blame for the problem. He treated everyone including the lowest level of employee with respect. I have also worked with someone who was tardy, rude and indolent. She never met the deadlines, was impetuous and disorganized and rarely available for help. When a problem arose she focused on finding the person to blame rather than finding the solution. Besides the slackness in work, she was dominating and disrespectful with other staffs.

What difference does the behaviour make? Well, it is clearly a case of Professional v/s Unprofessional. If you’re behaving in a professional way then your colleagues and team members will respect you and follow you. However, if you’re behaving unprofessionally then you’ll have almost no support from your team members. Even when you make a good decision, it will be viewed with an eye of doubt. Even though your colleagues put up a smile in front of you for the sake of social convention, behind the back they will not have even a shred of respect for you. While a professional behaviour will be praised and rewarded, an unprofessional behaviour including the person who exhibits this kind of behaviour will be ridiculed and someday penalized.

As Spider Man says, “Big position demands bigger responsibilities.” It’s very easy misuse a high level position. You can order people around and make them do your work. The ones below you may follow orders out of obligation but will never be ready to help you willingly. To be a responsible person and a good manager or a supervisor also means being a good trend-setter. Example is the best advice you can give. Therefore, before you begin to enforce rules, voice out lectures or read out instructions, you need to make sure that you’re yourself setting a good example for others to follow.
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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pros and Cons of Part-time Work

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I worked full-time at four different places for almost 1.5 years. (Full-time in each of them - 1 month in a bank, 9 months in an INGO, 3 months for an individual and 5 months for an NGO.) Currently, I'm working part-time in four different places - all at the same time. Recently a colleague had asked me, "Isn't full-time better than part-time?" Well, the truth is - it isn't a matter of one being better than the other. It's a matter of preference. Thus, in this post, I'll be highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of working part-time based on my personal experience.

Benefits of working part-time

  1. Flexibility: The best part of working part-time is the flexibility. You don't have to work the traditional 9-5. You have the discretion to choose when you want to work and when you don't. There is no fixed routine anymore. Every day you'll be doing something different.
  2. Optimum utilization of time: When you're working full-time you need to stay inside the office even in those days when you have no work. But, when you're working part-time, you can use that time in doing something else instead. Your time is used well.
  3. Chance to pursue your hobbies: Since you have added flexibility and more time, you have a chance to pursue your hobbies. In my case, I spend a lot of time reading, writing and watching movies. The time saved can be used to change your hobbies into your skills and strengths.
  4. Benefit of variety. If you're following the same kind of routine every day and doing the same kind of work day in-day out, you're more likely to get dull and bored. When you work part-time, you'll be enjoying the advantage of variety as you'll be more keen, active and dynamic.
  5. Higher earning: Full-time job might give you additional benefits in the form of medical benefits and bonuses. However, if you compare the earning in terms of time you spend in a job then you're most likely earning more by working part-time.
  6. More contacts: Since you'll be working in more place than one, you're likely to have more contacts. You never know when these contacts will be a form of help for you.
  7. Development of multiple skills: If the jobs you're engaged in are of diverse nature then you get a chance to develop a variety of skills. On the other hand, working only in one position might limit your use of skills.
  8. Potential for full-time employment: Sometimes an organization can have a vacancy only for a part-time position. However, being associated in some ways to a big organization might increase your chances for working full-time in the same organization at some later date. The chances may be because the vacancy is advertised only internally or because your part-time experience has made you more knowledgeable of the work you'll be doing.
  9. Determining the best option: We don't always know what kind of job we wish to do or what kind of organization we'd prefer to work in. Working part-time gives you a chance to explore your option and later choose the one that you love the most and suits you the best.
  10. Minding your own business. The best advantage of working part-time I've found is that you get a chance to mind your own business. When you work full-time then you're most likely to be affected by the behavior of your team members and colleagues. But, when you work part-time, you go to the workplace, do your work and stay indifferent to other's behaviors. 

Drawbacks of working part-time
  1. No additional benefits: In terms of payment, part-time staffs don't get all the benefits that full-time employees get. Furthermore, they may also miss out on training and development opportunities.
  2. Unstable earnings: When you're working part-time there might be a season when there's no work while some seasons you may be working to the max. Thus, earnings end up being unstable.
  3. A sense of non-belonging: When you're working part-time, you don't fully belong to an organization. You won't be a part of internal meetings and you may not even be invited for office dinners and programs. This might make you feel a little left-out. 
  4. Jack of all, master of none: If you're engaged in jobs that differ widely in nature then you might end up being a jack of all but master of none. Instead if you're devoting full-time to a particular kind of job then you're more likely to be an expert in that area.
  5. Stagnant growth. When you work full-time then you progress along the organizational hierarchy as your performance improves and higher level position opens up. But, working part-time might mean stagnancy in terms of career growth.
Whether you choose to work part-time or full-time depends a lot on your personality, preference and life situations. For the time being, I prefer working part-time because I'm in the phase of exploring options and developing skills rather than settling down, I'm also earning more this way and this gives me freedom in terms of time. I get a chance to work on my personal projects. This priority might change some day and your priority might be different than mine. All you need to know is there is no barometer that indicates one kind of job to be better than the other. Generally part-timers are not considered as highly as full-timers. For ages the society has been valuing 'getting a job that pays you fixed paychecks each month'. But, it's totally a matter of choice in terms of what you wish to pursue and you have the freedom to choose what suits you the best.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Focusing on the Product


Really? For how long?
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The Marketing Mix composes of 4 Ps – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. Out of the four Ps, in my last post, I discussed about how companies rely on cheap promotion like the senseless use of sex appeal to promote their product. In this post, I want to focus on the first P, i.e. the Product and let me limit my discussion to food companies.

When I was a child, there was a Nepali brand of biscuits that used to be very fresh, delicious and crispy. Now I prefer Indian biscuits because that Nepali brand has lost its original taste as well as quality. Their taste is either slightly musty or each piece of biscuit in the packet have dark edges making the biscuits taste bitter. I’ve experienced the same problem with a certain chocolate brand. When it was launched at first it was as good as Kit-Kat. You could purchase the taste of a Rs. 10 chocolate-covered wafer for Rs. 5. When I tasted the same chocolate-covered wafer a few years later, I was disappointed. This reminds me of the ever-increasing brand of noodles. The old noodle brands have diversified their product in terms of the offering in taste. Sadly, the product seems to have lost its original taste. The same holds true for bakery products. When the company is new then everything is so fresh and yummy. A year or two later, the product loses its quality. You begin to find pieces of egg-shells in fruit cakes and the cookies start to grow darker and bitter.

I haven’t been in those production factories or bakery kitchens to identify the exact reason for these kinds of changes in taste and quality over the years (or months, in some cases). However, based on conjecture there must be four reasons why these problems occur. First, the raw material that is being used for making the product may have deteriorated in terms of quality. Second, the quality standards might not be set. If they are set, then they are either not being followed or the quality testing methods and equipments are not available. And, if the quality monitoring methods and equipments are available and the standards are being followed then the standards set may not be very precise. For example, what colour should the biscuits manufactured be? Is it okay if every biscuit produced is burned to black at the edges? Third, the production machine might not have been repaired and maintained on a regular basis. It is obvious that if the input and processing device is out of order then the output cannot be what is expected. Fourth and the most important – these food production companies may have been too focused on pricing, promotion and distribution that the core product received no attention. No one really remembered to preserve the originality in taste and quality of these products.

Is it?
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As a consumer, I’ll try a new kind of food product if someone has told me it’s good. Otherwise, I may rely on the packaging to make that first decision. After the first taste, I’ll go back to the supermarket and buy the same food item again only if I like the taste. If at any point of time the product disappoints me then I’ll stop purchasing that product as long as there are other options available in the market. (I recently did that with one brand of cake that turned from being soft and sweet to hard and extra-sweet.) No one has a commitment towards any product. As soon as the companies decide to switch away from their originality and degrade their quality then there will be a group of conscious customers who will decide to switch away from the company’s offerings. At the end, it is the one who serves the best product on a consistent basis that earns loyal customers in the long-run.
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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Senseless use of Sex Appeal


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On my journey back home along the roads of Golkhupakha to Gongabu there is a hoarding board of an advertisement above one of the roadside shops. In the ad, there are three girls in skimpy clothing. Whether they are the same girl or different ones, I couldn’t tell from a distance. And, then I wonder if it is perhaps the advertisement of a boutique or a clothes showroom that sells summer clothes for uptown girls throughout the season. As I take a closer look and scan at the wider length of the board, I see the name of a certain carpet at the bottom right corner of the advert. The funny thing is I never notice the carpet in the picture. (Not that I wouldn’t but because I couldn’t!) The only things I notice are her boots that is delightfully stepping on the carpet and her seductive pose.

In yet another advert, I can see a Nepali actress wearing a low-neck t-shirt exposing the dent in her cleavage, lying uncomfortably across a sofa and holding a phone by her ears. And, since t-shirt seems to be the only thing she’s wearing I can’t help but notice her clearly waxed legs in high heels. And then when I read the text that accompanies the picture I tell myself, “Ah! This is supposed to be some phone company and not the announcement of Nepal Fashion Week.”

I even saw a big picture of another Nepali actress beside the advert of an alcohol. I kept wondering what the hoarding board represented when it showed half the board with the face of a pretty girl smudged in make-up and the other half with a bottle of rum. Was the board trying to say “pretty girls drink” or “when you drink you become pretty”? Or was it trying to say “if you drink then pretty girls will admire you” or “you should drink because pretty girl says so”? I’m totally at a loss to comprehend!

Using sex appeal and pretty girls to promote a product is not wrong or uncommon. In fact, sex appeal serves the best purpose in the promotion of certain kind of products. Take for example, body spray, body lotion or hair removing creams. An ordinary guy that everyone ignores suddenly becomes the centre of attention of girls because he puts on a certain body spray. In fact, his neighbour is ready to cheat on her husband because of the aromatic pleasure she derives in his presence. It is completely fine and logical to show a girl exposing her thighs if she’s advertising a body lotion or a hair removing cream. Her smooth and gentle legs are the living proof of the effectiveness of the lotion or cream. While sex appeal is the underlying point of attracting the audience in these adverts, the major focus is still on the product. The underdog found hot chicks and the girl got her smooth legs due to the body spray and the body lotion respectively. When this message is translated in print, then a cool guy surrounded by girls can be holding the body spray and a girl can be resting her body next to a big image of the lotion. In both these cases, the focus of the image should, of course, be on the product and not the models!

If the focus of the advertisers is on ‘sex’, then at least use some ‘sense’.  I wonder how many people bought the carpet because they saw the girl in mini-skirt and high boots stepping on the carpet! I also wonder if people switched to that particular phone company because they showed a sexy Nepali actress using the same service. I chose their service only because it gave cheaper call rates to call to the US. These models are, in fact, taking away the focus from the product itself. Why not then focus on the chief utility and the competitive advantage of the product rather than exposing body parts of models that in no way adds any value to the product? I compare these adverts to mindless comedies that aren’t just a disgrace for the models but also for the product and services of the companies these models are posing for and the one who gave that kind of idea for such senseless tactic of promotion.
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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Be Selfish!


I live in a world where altruism is demanded, respected and rewarded. Altruism means placing the welfare of others above one’s own welfare. The foundation of altruism lies in selflessness and it entails in sacrificing personal benefits for the benefit of a larger group. The opposite of altruism i.e. selfishness is, however, condemned and considered immoral. Being selfish is rated as petty, bad and immoral. But, just like Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, I believe in selfishness. As far as your work life is concerned, you need to learn to be selfish. Selfishness, or rational self-interest (in the words of Ayn Rand) is a fuel that drives you to success and good work. It is what helps you stand for what you believe in and prevents you from being a doormat. I’ll clarify this statement with the use of three examples:

I teach and I teach because there are many benefits I derive out of teaching. Teaching helps me develop my skills – communication, public speaking, public handling and leadership. It also earns me good money, updates me on the subject I’m teaching and gives me free time as well as freedom. I do not teach because I believe my teaching is going to bring some kind of revolution and change the lives of the students. Yes, if I’m a good teacher then the students will benefit more than by being taught by a bad teacher. But, being a good teacher also offers benefits for me – better reputation and the chance to continue teaching in every semester. Thus, when my primary reason for teaching is my personal benefits then I will make it a point to teach well and my motivation for teaching will be internal. However, if I’m teaching for the sake of students then first thing I’ll want is approval. And, then I’ll have expectation for bigger rewards like respect and acknowledgement of my efforts. I might be overly ambitious and perhaps too accommodating. My motivation will disappear if the students show no enthusiasm in their studies. I’ll consider the whole process so unfair – I’m teaching for the greater welfare of the students and they just don’t care. I will take any harsh comment from the students very personally and might end up frustrated.

Let us now talk about writing. I write primarily because I can write and I have ideas I wish to share. When I write I’m satisfied because I’ll know I haven’t let the music in my heart die. It is a form of expression and relief for me. It is perhaps the only legacy I’ll leave behind. Thus, when I write for myself I will continue writing no matter what. But, if I start writing for the readers then the first thing I'll want is popularity among readers. I’ll want my subscribers to increase. I will be disappointed if my writings are unable to inspire anybody. I may even try to please everyone and in this process write things I don’t believe in. When I write selfishly, I’m not just being authentic but I’m also okay if no one chooses to read what I write. I won’t be upset when the subscriber and the visitor list don’t increase. There will surely be few articles where what I write and what the readers want to hear will collide.

Finally, let us think of the workplace. There will be two factors that have to mutually interact: the organizational objectives and our personal objectives. Whenever we’re hired in an organization then we’re a tool to achieve the organizational goals. But, why do we join the organization in the first place? We do it because we want to earn money or learn from experience that will help us further in finding a job that’ll pay us well. Or, we might be enticed by the designation and the power we get through affiliation. How many of us are thinking of the organizational objectives and its impact on the society in the first place? If we start caring more about the organizational development rather than our personal development then we’ll start to get frustrated when the decisions of the higher level managers cause the organization to deviate from its objectives. As long as we’re selfish, we’re fine working in the organization. When we start thinking of the greater good, our expectations rise thinking we should receive preferential treatment for the goodwill we harbour in our heart for the enterprise. To enhance our skills we devote ourselves to organizational learning, to increase our chances for future employment we take on challenges and overcoming them will be a thing to boast about in our CV, to earn money we work more hours and to retain the employment for basic survival we follow the organizational rules. At the end, it’s the selfishness that’s at the heart of all our work.

If I don’t teach then the students will have a different teacher and if I don’t write the world won’t fall apart. Similarly, if you don’t work in an organization then there will be someone else in your place. Since we’re all easily replaceable we might as well work for our own sake. The truth is others just don’t care about our actions. It doesn’t matter to them if we’re doing some grand act for their sake or in other words ‘we’re being altruistic’. All they care is how our actions affect their benefit. Therefore, if you want to succeed and be a practical-minded person in the workplace then be selfish. Work for yourself and your personal benefit. Don’t work for others and don’t idolize the concept of greater good. Selfishness may be condemned and may be looked at with vile eyes but being selfish eventually pays off through a better job performance and greater achievement.

See - even a book has been written about the virtues of selfishness!

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