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Posts Tagged ‘Separations’

 

Earlier on, we had touched upon the importance of brand equity. One can undervalue the criticality of this attribute only at one’s own risk and peril.

Corporate Brands

Companies benefit immensely from making conscious efforts to keep their brand images shimmering. If asked to quantify the resultant financial uplift though, their CFOs would be found twiddling their thumbs. But it is not difficult to see the kind of benefits which accrue from having a shimmering image, whether in matters of human resources, sourcing or marketing, besides in such grey areas as liaison and government dealings.

Several instances can be quoted from my own stints with the Tata group.

When a INR 5 crore modern leather processing factory was established at Dewas in 1975, the plant was commissioned without any delay, with all necessary government approvals in place. No government officials had to be appeased, whether in cash or in kind. In fact, the then government of Madhya Pradesh went all out to support the complex being set up.

In another case, a senior manager deputed to the headquarters of the Electricity Board to secure power connection for a small manufacturing unit ended up assuring a demanding government officer that a measly amount would be paid upon the issue of the necessary permission. A 50% advance paid to the officer concerned was shown in the manager’s travel expenses claim. A furious general manager called in the manager and gave him a severe dressing down. Yours truly was called in and asked to resolve the issue. My visit to the place cost the company five times the amount demanded. Somehow, I could secure the permission without any further underhand payment and got back to my desk with a feeling of triumph and pride at what had been accomplished. The senior manager soon left the company and moved on to a greener pasture.

Tatas are well known for their sound values and systems. They have a unique way of handling under-the-table demands by all and sundry. When it comes to compliance, the emphasis is on avoidance and not on evasion. As to corporate governance, their 150 year old record is blemish free.

Tatas repersent a fine example of what Alan Wallner is apt to call a Conscious Brand. As one of the thought leaders who happen to be a part of the Conscious Enterprises Network, he believes that branding is not just about physical attributes; rather, it is about the inner presence of a person and of the team that creates the brand of a business – it’s the way we treat other people and work together to create something remarkable.

A Mighty Responsibility

To keep a brand duly buffed up and shining is no mean task. Besides management back-up, a positive culture and clear policies which facilitate an ethical approach to business dealings, it needs extensive training at the front level of any organization.

Experiences of Customer Delight

Sometime during the late 1980s, I once had a problem with a Kodak camera I had bought just about a few months back. Somehow, I had not been careful enough to save a copy of the purchase proof with me. I contacted the shop from where I had bought it and he refused to entertain me in the absence of either a bill or a receipt. But when I contacted the Kodak office in person, they made no fuss. A technician checked my camera and within twenty minutes, I walked out with a brand new fresh camera in my hands.

As a lay customer, I once had a problem with my TataSky direct-to-home service account. When nothing satisfactory happened for a week, I gave a piece of mind to the next person I could manage to speak to. Within a day, not only was the problem addressed but even a senior person called me up to apologize for the inconvenience caused.

Such first-hand experiences restore one’s faith in a brand, thereby giving it a unique advantage – that of free word to mouth publicity!

Converting Ex-employees into Brand Amassadors

At HCL Infosystems, another large company, a separation with a disgruntled star performer was handled very delicately. The outcome was that he ended up being an ambassador for the company, referring candidates for several other key positions in the following years.

Even a massive plant closure involving over 1,000 persons was handled so very decently that there were no protests and red flags of any kind, nor any interference from the local politicians or communities. Key personnel who could not be accommodated were assisted in securing alternative career opportunities, with the Human Resources Department playing a key role.

Caring for the Delicately Nurtured

Unilever recently stated having introduced a policy with zero tolerance towards domestic violence.

 

A ten-year stint of mine with Tatas matched well with my own upbringing. However, by the time the episode touched upon by me earlier occurred, I was in a bubble at the other end of the spectrum of values. I had perhaps permitted my honest visage and sincere disposition to be put to nefarious uses. Sure enough, the fault of accepting a situation of this kind lay somewhere within me.

Personal Brand Equity

It stands to reason that one’s brand equity is built over a long period of time. Once built, it becomes like the fragrance of an exotic flower. It travels much ahead of one, often opening up new vistas, offering a wider canvas for one to perform and excel at whatever one undertakes to do. The observant ones amongst those around us are surely able to size us up much quicker than we can manage to do ourselves.

Professionals need to step back every once in a while and check if their brand image is bright and shining. Keeping one’s brand value burnished helps in career progression. It is also an immensely satisfying slice of life which promotes self-worth and boosts self-confidence.

My experience tells me that these are the kind of inputs which go into keeping a professional’s brand value burnished.

Under-promise, over-deliver

Being aware of our core strengths as well as limitations helps us to assess our chances of success in delivering on a project. By ensuring that we commit conservatively but deliver zealously, we build up a reputation of reliability. There are indeed times when a polite ‘no’ could save us from denting our reputation.

Honesty and openness in relationships

Our colleagues and team members are equally smart. They are quick to sense a touch of opacity on our part. They detest a lack of transparency in us. Dealing with those around us with honesty ensures that they repose their faith and trust in us. As a result, our capability of getting things done improves.

Being a friend, philosopher and guide

All of us have some expertise which may not be directly relevant to our Key Result Area. It could be an insight into the realm of alternative therapies which a colleague can use for one of her family members. It could be about handling rebellious teenagers at home. If we put such expertise to use by helping others around us, word goes around and others rush in to seek our counsel. We might have the image of a tough task master, but this softer aspect of our personality helps us to build a unique brand for ourselves.

Networking

Whether within the organization or outside, networking goes a long way in building up our reputation. The trick, however, is in avoiding those with a negative outlook, while promoting ties with those who have positive vibes.

Keep learning

Keeping the saw sharpened always helps. By refreshing our knowledge pool continuously, we remain a leader in more ways than one. Often, a dash of humility is all it needs to remain ahead of the curve.

Being genuine

By being ourselves, we enhance our dependability. Others feel reassured and refreshed after each encounter with us. They do not mind confiding in us. In turn, this helps us to understand and address their anxiety and concerns better. Our ability to deliver improves.

A brand is all about reliability and dependability. It offers good value for money. So do professionals who work on the basis of deliverables. Smart ones realize that an image cannot be built up purely based on optics and communication. It needs to be backed by real inputs so one’s brand value remains intact and is kept shimmering at all times.

One of the key factors in building a brand and sustaining its image is the kind of value system it represents; moreover, the purpose which guides it.

 

(Illustration: Keller’s Brand Equity Model)

 

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/bidding-an-adieu-to-mr-ratan-tata

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/building-up-the-employee-brand-value-3

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/a-not-so-plummy-encounter-with-an-arm-of-the-law)

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What is it that makes a professional fondly look back and remember the time spent with a particular organization?

The initial package sounds jaded over a period of time and the Law of Diminishing Utility eventually kicks in. The seniority for which one so adroitly negotiates at the entry stage fails to charm after some time,  unless backed by further achievements, recognition and rewards, added responsibilities and advancements. Time also takes the glow and shine off the social prestige which goes with being associated with one of the better known brands in the industry.

So, what is a professional left with after having left an organization?

The Lingering Sweetness

Much after the association with an organization has come to an end, the everlasting impression one carries in one’s mind depends on two simple factors. One, professional achievements which were individually attained but facilitated and enabled by the support systems ingrained…

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“So, Mr Bhatia, what do you think?” asked the tough looking beak-in-chief. I had just been ushered into this mandarin’s plush office. A cup of tea had been duly arranged, with few snacks in tow.

Across the road, the sea was going about performing its normal task, its mighty waves relentlessly pounding the rocks, roaring and frothing. The night sky was clear and a mild breeze was blowing. The moon was enjoying its usual saunter, its soothing light creating dancing ripples on the surface of the sea. It was a scene which was designed to soothe any soul in aguish.

But my soul was in torment. The heart was aflutter. The brow was furrowed. The pride of the Bhatias was wounded. You see, life had so far never prepared me for being treated as a criminal of sorts. Having been a law-abiding citizen all along, I was not used to being interrogated and that too so very late in the day. Having been held in captivity throughout the day, and asked to pen down my responses to a long list of obnoxious and repetitive questions, the nerves were all of a twitter. All this had happened under the stern watch of some of the junior beaks who looked much like a bunch of dreadful villains straight out of a Bollywood movie.

I eyed him narrowly. Obviously, the beak-in-chief’s looks were not much to be written home about. He reminded me of Sir Watkyn Bassett, the magistrate from the canon of P G Wodehouse. Nature, when planning this unique specimen, had endowed him with bushy eyebrows, a pencil moustache and a prominent jaw which would have prompted even someone like Adolf Hitler sit up and take notice. His eyes were a bit too keen and piercing for one who was not an Empire builder but a mere revenue official of a senior cadre tasked with milking businesses which, in his opinion, had many skeletons made of unalloyed gold stored in their cupboards. Revenue officials all over the world happen to be a class apart; particularly, those in India are well known for their deep distrust of businesses. Guilty till proven innocent is their credo. Shakespeare, I suspect, would have etched out Shylock’s character based on an earnest and conscientious taxman hounding him for concealing his royalty earnings.

I summoned all the Bhatia courage, resilience and tact and gave him an artificially sheepish look.

“To be frank, I feel like crossing over the road and drowning myself in the sea,” I bleated weakly.

All gibberish, of course, designed to deflect, deceive, distract and bring in a temporary rapport between me and the party of the other part. His relief on hearing these words, containing as they did no reference to the facts of the case, was great. He smirked. A sarcastic smile adorned his visage.

The dialogue with this officer of the law continued far into the night but I would spare my audience all the boring details which, if mentioned here, might promptly put them to sleep.

As P G Wodehouse would have put it, one of the several difficulties which authors face when telling a story is as to where to begin it. If they take too much time building the atmosphere and etching out the characters, the audience may simply decide to junk the narrative and start checking their social media updates instead.

On the other hand, if the author were to permit his narrative to take off like a rocket to the Mars, the public simply starts twiddling its thumbs trying to figure out what is happening. They simply walk out on the hapless soul, leaving it a wee bit clueless, much like an Olympic athlete who dazzles with his performance in a stadium which happens to be empty and utterly devoid of humanity, thanks to a raging pandemic.

Allow me therefore to go back a little bit in time. Assigned a senior management position in a small company operating out of a small town located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, I had somehow been sucked into the eye of a storm since past several months. Thanks to a two-timing junior employee and an array of operational goofies, the revenue authorities had been persuaded to suspect something fishy going on in the operations. A detailed investigation was underway for some time. The authorities, as is their wont, were keen to quickly size up their pound of flesh and make my employers cough up a sizable sum without delay. My feudal sense prevailed. A close friend from my college days who had risen to a senior position in the same department of the government elsewhere kept advising me informally throughout the sordid process.

As the episode unfolded, however, it transpired that I was suffering from a misplaced sense of loyalty to the company. My brand equity was at its lowest ebb. The credibility of the technical department which was the real defaulter in the matter was somehow much higher. In me, the company found a ready villain who could take the rap for the unfortunate incident.

Once the case had assumed a shape, I was given the marching orders and left to fend for myself. If I myself had been in the position of the owners then, I would have reacted similarly but perhaps in a gentler and more humane manner. In fact, had the company followed the principles of natural justice and an equidistant approach to all functions, the probability of a corporate embarrassment of this kind could have easily been nipped in the bud.

Subsequently, I had learnt that the matter had dragged on for quite some time and had got finally resolved on mutually agreed terms.

The stress suffered over a period of 18 months of the investigation eventually led to a cardiac issue popping up, duly followed by a long period of rest and recuperation. The family moved in to provide unstinted support and I was soon up and about, living as normal a life as one could wish for.

A great thing about the harsh slings and arrows of life is that even when we feel that there are dark clouds on the horizon and not even a single ray of hope visible anywhere, our Guardian Angels wake up and decide to offer us an olive branch. For the past several years, I had not ventured to seek greener pastures in the town my wife and I made our home. The impression was that for a person like me having a senior position in a company, backed by a package which was otherwise fine though not something to write home about, it was well nigh impossible for me to secure another assignment with a matching, if not higher, paycheck, especially in a town which did not boast of many industries.

A Good Samaritan amongst the broad circle of friends I had came up with an olive branch in the form of a suitable position in the large organization of which he was a key decision maker. An offer got made and was duly accepted. Some nine months after I had lost a great degree of my self confidence, personally as well professionally, I now had an opportunity to turn a new leaf and rebuild it.

This change was just a way for life to show me the importance of observing values and ethics in whatever I did. I realized that one’s brand equity is built over a long period of time. Once built, it becomes like the fragrance of an exotic flower. It travels much ahead of one, often opening up new vistas, offering a wider canvas for one to perform and excel at whatever one undertakes to do. The observant ones amongst those around us are surely able to size us up much quicker than we can manage to do ourselves.

I would urge my audience to take my suicidal intentions – conveyed to the stern beak-in-chief – with a bowl full of salt. Close friends who have noticed the Bertie Wooster streak of resilience within me have held that amongst their circle of pals, I shall be the last one to ever consider a deliberate attempt to kick the bucket.

My idea of mentioning this nasty episode in my life is not to play the victim card and seek sympathy from my audience. I just thought I could share with others what I learnt in the process. My mistake was to not to keep a tab on the ground realities myself. Instead, I practiced partial abdication, mistaking it to be delegation. Trusting some colleagues who had an axe to grind with the company was another. Like the incident mentioned above, there are many others which can also be captured here.

Life, as you all know, is not a bed of roses. It is not a social media platform where narcissism alone rules. It also makes all of us undergo major setbacks. This is indeed its unique way of chiseling us out of hard rock and giving us a better shape.

But with each harsh chiseling, one had somehow managed to wriggle out of the throes of a deep V-shaped depression. One had risen from the remains of one’s dead self. Mighty forces of positivity had prevailed. The chin had yet again become high. The stiff upper lip had come back and the sky had once again turned a cheerful blue. A leap in the professional affairs had eventually come about.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/about-me

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/04/03/planning-a-career-with-an-owner-driven-outfit-consider-some-of-the-values-followed-by-such-businesses

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/of-a-mom-bassett-and-the-allure-of-policemens-helmets

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/divine-grace-works-all-the-time)

 

 

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What is it that makes a professional fondly look back and remember the time spent with a particular organization?

The initial package sounds jaded over a period of time and the Law of Diminishing Utility eventually kicks in. The seniority for which one so adroitly negotiates at the entry stage fails to charm after some time,  unless backed by further achievements, recognition and rewards, added responsibilities and advancements. Time also takes the glow and shine off the social prestige which goes with being associated with one of the better known brands in the industry.

So, what is a professional left with after having left an organization?

The Lingering Sweetness

Much after the association with an organization has come to an end, the everlasting impression one carries in one’s mind depends on two simple factors. One, professional achievements which were individually attained but facilitated and enabled by the support systems ingrained in the culture of the organization. Two, the manner in which one was treated as a human being. Often, one of the results is the number of long-lasting relationships that one makes while the association lasts.

Organizations happen to be made up of people of all sizes, shapes and temperaments. But the treatment received at the hands of key people one comes in touch with determines whether the after-taste remains sweet or sour; also, how long it lingers in the taste buds of our memory cells.

The Brand of the People

A brand represents an element of trust and reliability. The concept is not limited merely to the quality of the product or service on offer.  In fact, the systems and procedures followed by an organization, their sturdiness in the face of adversity and change, the element of fairness in its dealings with diverse stakeholders – all go on to add to the allure and enigma of the brand.

Much of the aura which characterizes a brand emanates from its people. It is they who create a buzz in the employment market. The lingering sweetness of an association is often determined by the Employee Brand Value.

I have had the opportunity of working with several companies. Each one had a different culture and a unique way of handling people. Nevertheless, it was interesting to observe how employees got treated far better by companies which had a stronger brand identity.

Allow me to share with you some of my experiences which have left me with a positive feel and a sweet after-taste!

The Human Touch

The care and companionship I was fortunate to receive in all the companies I worked with was unique in more ways than one.

When the management decided to shut down an operation headed by me, a colleague of mine and I were mercilessly beaten up by a gang of misinformed workers. Prompt medical attention, legal support, counseling for the self and the family and a compulsory vacation followed automatically. A month later, the then MD, nine rungs above us in the rigid hierarchy, called us over for a friendly chat over a cup of tea and instilled in us a sense of pride and fulfillment for having stood up to the rowdy elements in the work force.

In another company, a colleague met with a serious road accident on a busy highway while reporting for work. Over the next two years, he had to undergo a series of reconstructive surgeries to regain normality. No effort was spared to ensure that he and his family got the best support available. This, despite the company facing a severe financial challenge at the time.

In yet another case, my entry was marked by a gentle induction into the operations of the company. As my role expanded and evolved over a period of time, support – technical as well as emotional – was invariably close at hand. Above all, the HR policies facilitated a healthier work-life balance to be achieved. Which is not to say that there was ever a compromise on the goals to be achieved.

A Premium on Compassion

While I was on a personal overseas trip, a much revered colleague suddenly died of a cardiac failure. A prompt mail came from a colleague of mine. I was simply devastated. When I called back to find out precisely what had occurred and how, I was given only sketchy details. Subsequently, an inquiry was instituted to find out who had made the bloomer of conveying the disturbing news to me at a personally critical time!

A woman playing a critical role on the operations side faced a dilemma on a day which was very crucial for the company. Her husband, working in a far off city, was to return home for a brief period on the same day, that too after a gap of a few months. Having delegated her tasks and arranging a smooth conduct of her area of responsibility, she requested for half a day off from work. The immediate boss was in no mood to oblige, but relented after the top boss decided to intervene on humanitarian grounds.

Separations as Brand Building Opportunities

In one instance, a popular and effective manager suddenly decided to leave the company. At a glittering farewell ceremony, he was showered with lavish praise and presented with a gold medal by the President of the company himself. Within six months, he found that he was a cultural misfit in the next company. Feelers came in through informal channel and he soon rejoined us.

In another case, a much pampered and popular junior decided to leave the company after a long stint when he was in fact being groomed to take over a key department. A red-faced bunch of seniors met to discuss what steps could be taken to prevent the person from leaving the company’s employment. When all efforts failed, the group decided not to be vindictive in nature. Instead, the exit was facilitated so as to leave the employee in a highly positive frame of mind. The result is that even today, the , channels of communication between the company and the ex-employee remain open and smooth. Whenever the employee needs support in his new assignment, the company is there to back him up.

When the time came for me to part company (due to personal reasons, of my own accord), a smooth and graceful exit was ensured. In a farewell meeting, seniors, colleagues and others from across the company paid rich compliments in a manner which would forever remain fresh in my memory. An informal association continues till this day.

Winding Up With Minimal Resistance

Since business was not doing well, management decided to wind up the operations at the unit I was associated with in the past. The unit, directly employing more than 1,000 persons, happens to be located in an area which has seen multifold increase in labor disputes of all kinds over the past decade. As of date, there is hardly any unit which does not sport a red flag on its main gate, declaring the union which is active therein.

And what happens in this case? A well thought-out separation package gets rolled out. Most of the management staff get either relocated or out-placed. A well-rehearsed PR campaign gets underway with all the key government functionaries to ensure adequate and effective communication. The outcome of this well-designed initiative is that there are no unpleasant obstructions to the winding up plans of the company. Also, no one in authority enjoys the dubious pleasure of subsequently claiming that he or she could have done something to stop the loss of employment to a plethora of people, had they only been told of it before hand. A smart winding up, no?!

The Trust Reposed in the Employee

A common feel-good factor is the exemplary support provided to a senior manager on a critical mission. Just the feeling that one was free to take a call and will get backed up by the management, come what may, does the trick. An intrapreneur gets enthused no end when he or she is working on a mission wherein the survival of a business entity depends on him or her ensuring that a particular issue gets settled favorably. The top man merely looks him in the eye and tells him to go for it – and the goal is met. The after-glow of a professional  achievement of this kind surely lasts a life time!

Building up the Employee Brand Value

Organizations focus on crafting a powerful employee brand so as to attract and retain the best talent. What I have mentioned above are some examples which have added to the company’s brand value by focusing even on separations. A well thought out plan for winding up ensured that while business goals were met effectively, there was no damage caused to the brand.

When alumni recall their positive association with the organization, it is a sure sign that the memory of its brand is getting leveraged right. Making an employee feel valued even after he or she has parted company only adds to the long-term allure of the brand.

(Related Post: ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/ramping-down-a-business-the-smart-way)

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