A quick framework on quitting the right way at work

Generally the world looks down at people who give up – they are called all kinds of derogatory things like “loser”, “quitter” and so on . We are taught from an early age on why hard work can overcome all challenges – often with stories of heroes to make that point .

I think this sets us up for failure more than success – at least for most people . There are always exceptions and by all means let us applaud them .

I started off this way too – thinking it will be a shame to quit jobs or projects or whatever and that it will all get better if I just worked harder , smarter etc . All that happened was that I became more miserable both physically and mentally . So I changed my mind .

To my horror – I realized that the hard correction I made was a terrible mistake . Quitting too quickly made everything worse . To cut a long story short – I figured out a rough framework to think through when to quit and when to double down .

Over the last couple of weeks – I had lengthy conversations on this topic with some young men and women that I mentor in India . I figured it’s a good idea to post this in my blog since it is a fairly common theme .

As always – these are strictly my personal thoughts and opinions .

1. Prevention is better than cure

The better we qualify upfront – the less our chance of facing grief later . That means you choose your employer carefully , your projects carefully , your sales pursuit carefully and so on . Easier said than done – because often we don’t have great choice in the matter . For example – you are assigned a sales patch by a manager and you have no say in it . But whenever you can – spend the time qualifying upfront . I will discuss options on what to do if you have no options later in this post .

Part of having choices is a safety net . That means having a little rainy day fund set aside , living under your means , keeping your skills and network active and relevant etc . Without a safety net you will never have good options .

2. Listen to your body and your family

Your body has a way of telling you if the stress level is getting to an extreme . For me – this used to manifest as extreme acid reflux and nausea . I would just take some OTC medicine to get over it – but my family could easily see it was stress that was causing it . Took a long time before I realized my mind was numb to the issue but my body wasn’t . Since then I have spoken with tens of people about it and it seems everyone has some physical manifestation of it – some people cry , others have heart burn or head aches … but at the height of stress everyone seems to have a physical symptom that is a clear tell . And I am yet to see a person whose family couldn’t spot the correlation fast 🙂 .

Unless you recognize you are stressed – you won’t act on it . No one deserves to be miserable for extended periods of time . This doesn’t mean you need to quit to solve it – but that might be one answer .

An easy way to test this is to take an immediate time out . If a week away from work makes you feel a LOT better – it should tell you clearly where the problem is . Irrespective of the decision to quit – it is always a great idea to take vacations whenever you can so that you can mentally and physically reset .

3. Can you make peace where you are ?

We often get miserable about absolute things in isolation – a specific salary raise , a promotion we didn’t get , a difficult manager, a less talented colleague moving up faster than us etc . When we are worked up – it is hard to put these things in context .

A few different things have helped me get through this aspect . One way is to write down on paper . For example – say it is important for me to stay rooted in technology and directly work with clients . If I get a promotion now – I might have a more internally facing role . Should I wait for another role to open up that better fits my criteria or bite the bullet and take it now ? Is the extra money worth the potential lower satisfaction ?

Another question to ask – are you looking for a promotion for more money ? If so – would you be ok with no promotion but a raise alone ? Would you be ok with a raise in variable pay instead of base pay ?

If I can’t make up my own mind – how can I convince my manager of it ?

The second way I get through this is by having an honest conversation with multiple mentors . One such conversation many years ago helped me come to grips with that fact that there will always be some people who will be better ,smarter and luckier than me in any short window of time . Another conversation clearly showed me I lacked some skills and there is no way I will move forward unless I got those skills . I don’t think I would have figured these things on my own .

Also – pls remember you need to have mentors in place to use them in a time of crisis .

4. Know where you want to go – at least roughly

As the Cheshire Cat told Alice , it doesn’t matter which way you go unless you know where you want to get to .

Till you know what is that makes you miserable and what will make you happier for a longer term , it doesn’t make a lot of sense to quit . The one exception to that is extreme stress . If my body tells me that I shouldn’t stay the course – I will quit . I only had to do it once in my career . I left with no backup plan (and left significant money on the table at that time ) and till date I feel I did the right thing .

The best time to plan your next move is when things are stable at work . Then you are in a better frame of mind to decide objectively and have no time pressure to act . Just as experienced drivers scan the horizon and the rear view mirrors even when cruising – it is smart for us to be aware of the evolution in our markets so that we are prepared to act without making it an emergency .

5. Can you change the rules to make it work for you where you are ?

Everything is negotiable at work . If you get a bad manager but the company is one you like – you could try to ask for a transfer . If you get a sales patch which has no immediate sales prospects – you can ask for a different compensation plan to make it work . If you don’t want to be an SAP consultant – ask if you can work on a UX design project .

You have to ask the question and present options before you quit . Just because the first answer is NO or because your friend heard NO when she asked – it doesn’t mean you will get the same answer .

It is also important to ask the right person who is empowered to act on it . In many companies the first line manager is not empowered to act on such matters . You as the employee should feel comfortable to find an up line manager to have this conversation before you leave . As an executive – I have often felt terrible that I could have easily made things work if only I knew what was going on . If your up lines don’t care very much for that conversation – then it’s usually pretty clear that there isn’t much of a point prolonging your departure .

6. Quit in peace

If you have gone through all the above and have had no success in resolving what makes you unhappy , then you can rationally conclude that quitting is probably the next best action .

As I mentioned above – unless your body/mind tells you otherwise strongly , try hard to have a place to go to before you quit . In most cases you can navigate the known devil a lot more than the unknown devil .

When you have made a rational decision to quit – it makes the process of leaving less traumatic . You send a very short resignation letter , give a courtesy notice and burn no bridges . It’s a small world and it pays to leave on good terms .

I personally do not accept counter offers if my employer makes one after I chose to quit . Ideally I would have thought through and negotiated such options before I made the final decision to leave . Once that decision is made thoughtfully – at a minimum , it is very unfair to your new employer to accept a counter .

What you feel after the election is what corporate leaders feel routinely

So TV channels called the election and Joe Biden is the winner . Some of us felt elated and others refuse to accept it – and a large spectrum of people in between those extremes . No value judgment from me on that in this post – I just wanted to draw some parallels with the corporate world that I am a part of .

1. We often don’t trust data

The (often unrealistic) gold standard in corporate circles is “data driven decision making” . The hard part is not about having data – it is about whether you trust the data .

Just as right leaning folks won’t trust data shown on CNN or left leaning ones doing the same with Fox News – corporate world has its issues . The search for “one source of truth” was on when I entered the workforce in the 90s and it is still on . The reality is the best case is you settle for a version of truth that you make peace with and you stop worrying about other perceptions at some point . This is why CFOs get frustrated when the CIO implements a costly data lake and fancy BI on top – and the sales leader still believes “Big Ken’s excel file” .

2. We often don’t understand what the data is trying to tell us

Election results have been coming in for five days and it was clear for the professional data scientists where this was headed . But did it make any difference to people who were watching who leaned left or right ? Hardly ! Right leaning folks looked reasons why it’s all false and left leaning ones tried to hold their breath and tried hard to contain their excitement .

This is true in corporate world too . You look at data and try to find a way to fit it to your “world view” . This is why many corporate leaders do more of the same expecting different results . We only see and hear what we like and filter out the rest . Taken to an extreme that also means we often only collect and measure what fits our narrative .

3. We tend to think in binary terms

Last election , the polling industry lost their face in a big way . They thought Clinton will win and Trump won instead . That led to Trump and Clinton supporters both stopping to believe the models from statisticians like Nate Silver . It didn’t matter that many professionals tried to explain that what the model says is the chances of each candidate to win . If Trump had only 20% chance to win on the last day of last election – that didn’t mean that Clinton was sure to win . It just meant that she had a much higher chance to win . But that’s not how we see it – we often think in very binary terms .

I run into this routinely at my clients – especially when having discussions on data science related projects . There are only a few people who instinctively understand what probability means and that it is not binary . The smart ones immediately start mitigating the risk in various ways – but often I have to nudge them in that direction .

4. We can’t easily abstract and rationalize

Data often doesn’t plot into nice line or curve . It will always have some outliers . When we know of ten votes that didn’t get counted or three dead people who seem to have voted – its natural to think that the entire election is rigged . We often cannot easily think through whether there are enough of such votes to have changed the outcome of the election .

Similarly we look at aggregated and/or filtered data and make decisions that might not be useful . So when we wonder how a red state turned blue when everyone we know is a Trump supporter in that area – we don’t often realize that there are significant variations between zip codes or even within zip codes . We also don’t quickly realize that the dozen people we know in Georgia doesn’t represent all of Georgia 🙂

This happens quite often in the corporate world . Most decisions are done using aggregated data . I will make one example from a few years ago where a sales leader decided to over invest in the west coast business because sales was booming and every director there got two extra reps . A year later – sales rose only modestly and profit dropped a lot . It was a simple case of only one small part of west coast business over performing and everyone else not seeing enough demand . When you don’t know the details – you can make terrible decisions and get confused when you don’t get results .

I will stop here – there are probably a dozen more parallels . My puppy insists I need to go play with him 🙂

Please read this BEFORE you get a puppy

Some of you might know that I got a German Shepherd puppy – Archie – a few months ago . He is about 5 months old now and is pretty much the center of attention in our house now 🙂
I have had dogs all my life and I used to compete actively in dog shows in the past . In any case, my social media posts have been a lot about Archie since he joined our family and that has been a catalyst for some friends to get their new fur babies .
At least twenty of my friends have bought pups recently as they find time to spend at home and it looks like most of them will be home for way more time than in the past . Another twenty or more have been asking me questions about this .
The benefits of having a dog are very clear to everyone . But the “costs” are generally unknown . So I am going to leave a short note here to point my friends to .
The price to buy a pup is usually where the $$ starts ringing alarm bells to people who are new to dogs . My cousin showed me the photo of what looks like a mixed breed litter and the asking price was 3000 pounds in UK . She had the good sense to not pay that . There is no way to pin point a right price – but the larger point here is that the initial price is a very small part of what you will probably spend over the life of the dog . In any case if you are curious – a puppy bred by an ethical breeder from parents who have been health screened and titled is usually in the few thousands of dollars , where as you can get one also from a pet store or a friend for perhaps a few hundred dollars . Of course you can rescue a dog from a shelter too .
Buying from an ethical breeder is about increasing your odds of getting a healthy pup with predictable temperament . Dogs are like us – there are no guarantees on how they will grow up irrespective of what their pedigree is . Also – most of the top breeders who sell pups for what might look like a huge price generally don’t make any profit overall . Some do but most don’t . I know several wealthy people who ruined their wealth because of their craze for dogs . It can easily become an addiction .
If you prefer to adopt – absolutely do that . There are plenty of great dogs in shelters who deserve a good home . Don’t get caught up in the battle of “breeder vs shelter” . You just do what you think is right . I generally buy from breeders and I donate time and money to shelters . I have friends who are breeders who are very active in rescue . If more people were responsible breeders who watched out for their pups throughout their life – there won’t be as many dogs in shelters to begin with . It’s a touchy topic with extreme views on both sides – which is why I said you do whatever you feel comfortable with .
One of the first debates when you get a dog is about dog food . That is a religious debate and in 40 years I haven’t found a solution that satisfies multiple people . I personally have been feeding proplan for the last twenty years and I am happy with it . Do your research knowing that there is very little agreement you will find amongst dog owners . Expensive kibble doesn’t mean it is better for the dog . My general view is that watching how an invidual dog is thriving is the best gauge and not just reading the label . If you have the time and money to spend on it – feeding raw food is generally considered the best option for a dog .
Then there is training and socialization . That takes a non trivial investment of time . For me it is the part I enjoy the most with my dogs . But even if you don’t enjoy it – do a little bit so that your dog behaves well and you are not worried every minute for the next decade or more . If you don’t have the time to spend with your dog – don’t get a dog . Go work in shelters , play with your friend’s dog or wherever else instead . A dog is not a toy . He doesn’t speak your language . If you don’t have the time to to give him quality mental stimulation – don’t get one !
All dogs will need veterinary care and that takes time, emotional drain and of course money . I have spent thousands of dollars on surgeries on some of my dogs . Even routine care like cleaning teeth , vaccinations and so on can cost money that will add up . There are insurance plans etc that you can take – but remember the dog a living being and you are taking full responsibility . A dog should not be a toy you toss away when it needs repairs .
Quick word on dog shows . I was hooked on showing for a long time and now I am not . I still compete from time to time – but it’s mostly to meet friends than actually winning . You will go through all kinds of emotions if you like to compete – because it is a ritual and culture that is unique and a wide variety of people are part of it . It can be very satisfying and if you want to do it , find a good mentor and take it slow . Again – it could get expensive if you want to do it seriously . Just to give you an idea – a lot of people use professional handlers to show their dogs . If that’s how you do it – it could take ten thousand dollars to make a dog a breed champion with American Kennel Club . If you do it yourself – you have to learn to train and groom your dog and it might take you longer to get that title . It will be more fun without a doubt – but those hotel bills and gas bills to go to shows all add up .
Last word – dogs only live for a relatively short time . It is harder than you think to let go – but when the time comes you have to let them go into their long sleep . You never replace the old dog with a new dog in your mind . A bit of you dies with each dog and a bit of you is born when you get a new dog . All I want to do is to make sure you understand the emotional drain could be significant when the time comes !
You need to weigh both the value and cost – tangible and not so tangible – BEFORE you get a dog . As much as I love to see my friends enjoying dogs, I am even more troubled seeing people who get a dog and then regret it and give them up to shelters etc . So please think through thoroughly before you get your dog .

From Engineering To Sales

Yesterday morning, I woke up to see a mail that said I was given a “Thought leader” badge by IBM – which is our highest level of competence in consulting . We have switched a few different HR frameworks in my time here and this badge was a retrospective of the level I had achieved more than a decade ago as a senior manager .

It just reminded me of my shift in career direction and I posted it on LinkedIn . That led to a lot of people reaching out asking me about how they should think about a career transition between Engineering and Sales .

I am a mechanical engineer by training and a software engineer by profession . I chose engineering as my line of work strictly because I saw how much my father enjoyed being one . This is also why I chose a career in IT after my business school instead of Finance which was what I largely focused on while doing my MBA.

I am an introvert by nature . It takes a lot of effort for me to not let that hold me back and occasionally it still exhausts me trying to do that . This probably was the root cause of me hating sales with a passion when I started working . When I looked at sales as an engineer – I felt it is all about telling half truths and lies , wining and dining clients , speaking a lot of jargon and using fancy vocabulary , having a good golf game , taking credit for engineer’s work and so on . Net net – I couldn’t think of sales as an honorable way of making a living . The reality – which I know now but didn’t know at the time – was that I didn’t have the confidence to do any of the things sellers did every day .

I was a reasonably good developer , mostly thanks to an early start . I learned BASIC when I was in seventh grade and C when I was in ninth grade . My favorite uncle gave me his old PC when he left for his masters in US . Other than training dogs, and playing cricket – the only other thing that I had real interest in was in creating silly video games .

A big attraction for me to work in IBM was that this company had an iconic status in tech . I felt I can thrive in that environment . So when I joined and learned about career options , the most attractive option was to become a distinguished engineer – which is the executive rank for our technologists , much like a partner in consulting . I started getting all the certifications and other credentials needed and was generally progressing fine towards becoming a DE . The stretch goal – more like winning the lottery really – would be to make IBM fellow .

That is when my boss and I had an interesting discussion . He said something like this – “You will probably make DE in a few years and it doesn’t look like there is any big risk that will stop it . So why don’t you take a year trying to carry a sales and revenue target and see how you like it. If it doesn’t pan out – go back to your tech career” . A few discussions with my mentors made me realize there is no risk in trying this and I took on a sales target as an associate partner .

To my shock and surprise, I realized that pretty much everything I thought of sales – all the negative stuff – was purely my own ignorance and fear . I needed some training – and my boss signed me up for training in negotiations , executive presentations etc when I made those requests . I cannot emphasize how much that training helped me .

Here is what I figured out . There is a big similarity between good sellers and good engineers – they are good problem solvers . Engineering gave me two skills that proved very useful in sales

1. The ability to analyze problems systematically and finding solutions to the components

2. The ability to then combine the components to a cohesive solution for my client

All problem solving needs assumptions . And that exposed a weakness I had . As a programmer, I rarely needed a lot of help from my team to analyze problems . When I needed that help – I knew how best to ask that question and who is best positioned to give me a good answer . That was not how it worked in sales .

The unknowns are many in sales and often no one person knows all the answers . What’s worse – you often can’t even ask the right questions . That was the hardest challenge for me personally to overcome . Learning to ask for help early and often , and trusting others to build a solution with me . Doing trade offs on tech with people who think like me and doing it on a solution where everyone thinks differently – it is an acquired taste . Interestingly, once I acquired the taste – I think it made me a much better engineer too !

Then there is the idea of how you move from good to great . In engineering – tech changes from time to time , but if you are used to solving problems from first principles – you will thrive despite the massive changes around you . Sales can make use of the same idea – except that it is about people . Moving from being good to being great (or in my case aspiring to be great ) is all about your ability to understand people and their motivations – which is quite a bit harder than reading legacy code and figuring out a modernization strategy .

People do business with people – not with companies . We talk more about what is good for the company – but the truth is that sales is about what is good for people in that company . That needs relationships , that needs the ability to understand what makes people successful and motivated to work with you and so on . And when I say people – it’s not just people at your client . It’s people in your own company too ! The more deep our understanding of people – the better the sales process all around , even if no transaction happens in short term .

And that brings me to story telling . No one really likes to change – including and especially me . And yet – sales is all about making change happen . Of all the tools in sales – the ability to tell a story is what I find the most powerful . Stories are magical when told well – they get people to focus , helps them switch contexts and feel inspired . Numbers and facts don’t have the same effect on people . That was a hard switch for me as my basic DNA is mostly quantitative in nature . It took me a lot of effort to blend facts and figures into stories to make it work . But post facto – I can assure you that the juice is worth the squeeze .

Now that I have covered a lot on being effective , I will make a couple of points about efficient selling .

As programmers , we learn about code hygiene and why that is useful . That concept readily extends to sales too . Keeping pipeline updated , having people QA our pitch stories etc are all great things . Also just like with coding – your ability to say No is what eventually makes you most successful . Qualifying every step of the way – ruthlessly – is your key to being successful in sales . When I look at my old code , I have often wondered why I typed up thousands of lines of code that never executed . Similarly when I look at my old deals – I have often wondered why I bothered to do all the things that don’t matter to the client very much . Learn from my mistake and ask yourself frequently if your opportunity is more or leas qualified today than yesterday . And don’t keep the info with you – share it with your team and your boss . There is always someone with a fresh perspective on what can be done to make it better . Share it with your client too and ask if you are still headed in the right direction.

And then there is the time dimension . As engineers, we write code to ship and that usually comes with firm dates that look unreasonable . Sales is that way too . It’s not a deal unless there is a predictable date to go with it . Learning to estimate the time it takes to close a deal is just as much an art as it is to estimate a finish date to coding . Eventually you will have to pick a date and make it work on both fronts – with the associated cursing , coffee and late nights . There are always dependencies that we only learn about late in the process . Good engineers figure out a model to thrive in that stressful environment and it’s something you can figure out just as well in sales too .

I will conclude with this . For me – engineering and sales are co-mingled parts of my job . I switch from largely sales oriented to largely tech oriented roles every few years to keep it interesting . But there is never a case where I ignore one in favor of the other . It is a model that works for me and it probably will work fine for all of you engineers too who want to expand into sales roles .

I still need to learn to play golf better , improve my vocabulary, develop a fancy accent and develop a taste for fine wine 🙂

Victor Hugo on Enterpise Technology

I had a Sunday morning group chat with a bunch of friends who also make a living from the enterprise tech Ecosystem like I do . We were mostly talking about how our world seems to be changing even faster since Covid came along uninvited , and how each of us is coping with us .

After the call, I had a lively discussion with my daughter about Victor Hugo. She is taking an AP course on English Literature in high school and needed examples of famous writers who stood up against the powers that be of their time. So we spoke about Hugo and Napoleon . I chose the example mostly because we had vacationed in Paris last Christmas and she could relate more easily to the stories I told her at that time .

After these two conversations , I did some internet research on Hugo . I can’t help but connect Hugo’s writing to our life in enterprise technology world these days – on how we look at our life and work , how we survive and hopefully thrive , our fears and prayers and so on .

I am sure at least some of you will be amused like I was when the thought came to my mind 🙂

1. Emergencies have always been necessary for progress.

2. Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man.

3. It is by the real that we exist; it is by the ideal that we live.

4. Utopia today, flesh and blood tomorrow.

5. There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.

6. Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers

7. Be a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.

8. Be a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.

9. As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled

10. People do not lack strength; they lack will

Four simple steps to minimize analysis paralysis

Today, I was asked by a young colleague on how I avoid analysis paralysis . It took me down memory lane a bit . After the call, I figured it is a question that others might have as well and hence decided to share some thoughts here.

I am not a big risk taker by nature . I have often thought about the reasons why . My hypothesis is that there are influences from my parents and the managers I had in my formative years , and the academic system that I went through all contributed to me measuring twice or thrice before I cut .

There was a period in my career where I was a poster child for analysis paralysis . I would measure endlessly , toss and turn and lose sleep , and never make any cuts . Looking back, I understand why I was so stressed out . It was the first time that I was given a sales target . I felt the weight of the world was on my shoulders and even for very small deals I would over analyze and delay getting back to the client .

One very rainy day in Oregon, my client and her boss invited me to a coffee meeting and said something like this . “Vijay, we absolutely enjoy working with you on technology topics . You walk us through pros and cons and help us take decisions . But when we ask you for a commercial proposal , you struggle even for small things . What is causing your difficulty ? Why are you not taking the same approach as you do with tech questions ?”.

My clients came from engineering and finance background themselves . They had never sold anything in their lives either . But they gave me the best framing of the problem and almost overnight my problem with analysis paralysis was overcome .

So here is how I approach decision making in four simple steps

1. Gain clarity on my role – who is the best person to make the decision and why ? If it happens to not be me – do I have a role to play in helping that person take a decision ? If I am the decision maker , do I know who else needs to help me make the decision ?

This step helps figure out the minimum number of people required to take the decision and by itself eliminates a lot of paralysis . It is also important to make sure it is the best qualified people . Often we make decisions based on assumptions . People who are not close to the ground reality rarely make good assumptions , and that in turn makes even simple decisions really bad

2. Determine time line and consequence of inaction . How urgent is the decision ? And what will happen if a decision is not made in that time ?

Most decisions are not as urgent as they look upfront. Often we find that someone had padded time in the process and you just happened to be in a part that got squeezed and can negotiate a more realistic time line . Used to an extreme, this could have a negative effect because you just end up procrastinating because you are good at buying time 🙂

3. How important is the decision being right the first time ? Is this something I can change my mind on with minimal trouble if I got it wrong ? Or is it the kind where I absolutely have to nail it or else the consequences are more than I care to live with ?

Decisions that have big impact and are difficult to change – by all means spend the time and effort to get it right . The other kind – it’s often better that any decision is better than no decision . It takes a calm mind to determine which kind of decision we are dealing with when we face the problem for the first time . It’s only human to think most problems are big and important

4. What are the big trade offs ? Am I sweating the small stuff – things that have a low chance of going wrong , and things that could happen but have low impact ?

Here again we need the right people to make that determination . If you end up with the wrong categorization of risks , you will probably make a terrible decision. It’s like the millionth reason to surround yourself with the right people who can look at a problem from diverse perspectives . Once you know the risks and their categories, you can plan to mitigate them .

That’s it ! Just a simple four step process to help get to a good decision . For me a a good decision is one that lets me sleep better at night . I feel confident that there is a high chance that I got it right , and I also feel that in case I didn’t get it right – I know enough to mitigate .

A wish list of three for UI / UX for the casual user

Yesterday, I needed to update something fairly trivial for a certain payroll deduction . It used to be a simple form on our intranet the last time I used it (several years ago) and I searched for it . The search didn’t help me much and I asked a colleague where this form was and he told me it is now in workday, which is what we use for some HR related functionality .

So I logged on to workday and searched and eventually found out a link to do this update . The UI navigation and the workflow were so not intuitive that I had to phone a friend again to finish that update . Honestly looking at the confirmation message – I can’t say for sure whether what I intended to do and what the system did actually matched . I will have to wait for my next pay stub to confirm .

I am absolutely a causal user for HR systems . I periodically use it for goal setting and appraisals and so on . And rarely there is some other change like the one I needed to do yesterday . Consequently I have no intention of taking a tutorial to learn how to navigate an HR system myself .

HR is not the only system I use infrequently . Some times I need to use procurement system to buy something – like to buy a a phone every few years, or to order new business cards when I have a change in role . Actually I went through a few role changes and didn’t bother to get new cards since no one seems to use it any more 🙂

The only system I really use frequently is our CRM system and some financial reporting where I keep track of my business . Those apps – I take the time to learn how to navigate etc .

So what am I looking for in systems that I log in only infrequently ? Just three things really

1. Ease of discovery

I need to be able to search and find specific information from some common starting point like the intranet . Why do I need to login first and then search within each SaaS app ? They should expose search and then make me login to actually use it .

2. Ease of access

For me – this simply means it should be on my mobile . I don’t really care if it’s an app since I rarely use it . Ideally this should be a bot which works via text or voice chat , or even SMS . Everything doesn’t need a UI to provide me with a great UX

3. Simplest workflow possible

I get it that every update probably triggers some workflow in a company . The only thing I care about is if I have to provide some input , and to know when the update will take effect . If I need to take approval from someone – I want to know status and contact info . As a casual user – I don’t want to see a page full of steps the system auto approves etc .

Unfortunately – and I know this from being an ERP consultant myself in the past – workflows are designed for the most complicated use case and then forced down the throats of casual users . This really should change fundamentally . It was not a good idea then and it’s a terrible idea now . And that is putting things delicately .

If I have one update to make – I just need a one step process . I shouldn’t have to go through multiple screens to do that . If your framework needs a two step process for something like an audit trail – figure it out in the backend and don’t make it the causal user’s problem .

Ideally it should be fire and forget for the causal user and things magically happen behind the scenes . It should be possible to get status easily – ideally via a natural language question via chat or sms – when I ask it , or automatically triggered if the system is stuck for a while for any reason

That’s pretty much all I wish for .

Future Of Business Travel – A Road warrior’s personal take

Like many other professionals in my line of work, I have paid my dues in terms of million miler airline status , decades of top tier hotel loyalty and rental car loyalty status etc . I got to live and work in three continents thanks to this job – and have enjoyed getting to know different cultures and expanding my skills and my world view . I have enjoyed better vacations with my family because of the loyalty rewards as well . For more than twenty years, I have taken business travel for granted and rarely given it a second thought . I often answer “at a Friendly Airport near you” when people ask me “where are you based?” 🙂

The last time I was in a plane was in early March this year when I returned from India after my father’s funeral . The honest truth is that I don’t miss business travel today . My entire global team – more than a thousand people – took about two days to become fully remote . We have been productive and now are quite comfortable running our business with webex , mural , Trello , slack and so on .

So why did I start thinking about business travel again ? Simply because I have started to realize that meeting people on webex is not a long term sustainable strategy for growing relationships – be in personal or professional . Also, while it is possible to build on existing relationships – it’s extremely difficult to build new relationships in a remote fashion . Efficiency can be managed somehow when we are remote – but not efficacy !

What is behind my reluctance to travel ? It’s primarily the fear of getting COVID-19 . There are secondary worries of course about social unrest , cleanliness , availability of food and so on given the lack of consistency of guidelines across US and the world on reopening, access to medical facilities should I need it in a hurry etc .

1. Zero contact everywhere I go

A good start will be to make sure everything about my travel experience becomes digital .

Airlines are good about this generally with boarding passes and occasionally baggage tags . But the physical agents and kiosks are still required at the slightest deviation from the happy flow . I don’t want to be in a crowd at the customer service kiosk , or go ask a gate agent for status or anything of that nature . I would love for airlines employees and me all to have mobile to mobile communication for vast majority of the time .

Hotels are inconsistent about digital keys – many of them still don’t offer it . I would like them to hurry . Check in and checkout have no good reason for me to ever meet an agent in person .

I don’t want to swipe my credit card anywhere either . Why do we need a physical card in this day and age ?

2. Common digital identity for all my travel

I don’t want the TSA agent to pickup my passport or driver’s license . I also don’t want the hotel to need to check that in person . There should be some machine to machine way of handling this . Technology really cannot be the bottleneck here . Privacy is absolutely a concern for sure – and it should be based on an opt-in basis .

Even without the COVID concerns – why do I need to have separate profiles and identity kept with each transportation provider ? Even within One world alliance – I often have to identify myself repeatedly if I am traveling using more than one airline .

3. A “Trust and Transparency score” I can search and rank by

Some airlines do not give away their middle seats and some do . Different hotels, rental car companies have different cleaning schedules . Some hotels serve food and others don’t . I need to know all this – and probably more – before I book my travel . This needs some kind of a score or tag that I can search providers by and choose the ones I am comfortable with using .

Travel industry essentially needs to make me feel really comfortable – and earn my trust with their transparency – before I travel again . I absolutely want that industry thriving again and I think business travel returning to growth is a big part of such recovery .

4. An expert digital travel advisor that follows me around on my phone

Things are changing by the minute and I don’t have the time and energy to stay on top of it when I am on the road . I need a digital friend to stay on top of my travel for me – warning me if my risk exposure is changing based on my location at any point (is meeting at a location where overnight there was a surge in Covid cases) , helping me change travel plans (was there a curfew announced and do I need to reschedule) with low friction , answering questions (where is the closest hospital with ICU capacity open) etc . I also want my family to have access to some of this information when I am on the road .

In my current estimate – there is no great need for me to travel for rest of this year unless there is some big unknown exception that arises . But I am almost certain that I will need to travel beyond that horizon for work and probably also to visit my mother in INDIA . I truly hope the travel industry will do everything they can to transform themselves and earn my loyalty again .

Emotions at Work

Very interesting question early in the morning today from a younger colleague – “How do you keep away emotions from work ?” . I thought it is worth expanding on the point of view I explained to her on the phone.

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

I have often been told that we should not be emotional and instead we should be objective at work. That is rarely possible in real life in most scenarios – at least for me. So the closest to a good option in my mind is to manage these emotions as a “portfolio” so that I can survive and thrive without unnatural tactics. Before you ask me (since my colleague asked me today morning) – I will tell you that I do not practice breathing exercises or Yoga or chanting . Those are all probably good things to do – just that I have no first hand thoughts to offer.

So here we go .

Fear ,Anger and Courage are the ones that we need to confront the most given the consequences can be terrible. I feel both at times – and the way I control it is by thinking of the worst case. Am I going to lose a deal ? Lose a talented colleague from my team ? Can I fix this now or later? etc. Almost every single time I realize that the worst case is something I can mitigate. That is how I channelize these two emotions – I often convert them to courage to act.

Sadness and Joy – I do not hide Joy. When I am happy people know it. When I am sad – which is not often – people close to me can read it. On work, I feel sad most often when someone who should know better does a less than stellar job. I feel sad more often than I feel angry. And generally when the person realizes it – it helps them course correct.

Disgust , Surprise and Anticipation – Thankfully there are only two or three incidents in my entire career where I was truly disgusted. It just taught me to not work with certain kind of people. Surprise is actually a beautiful feeling in personal life – but unfortunately I am wired in a way that I do everything to avoid surprises at work. I try hard to not surprise anyone myself. I am not sure if this is good or bad – but the dislike for surprises is something I have to live with. I do a lot of anticipation – in the form of plan A/B/C . It is an intellectual pursuit that makes me feel good most of the time.

Trust and Respect – This is the ideal state of operation in my mind. Being liked at work or being feared at work are both long term problems for a leader. Obviously between the two – being liked is the pleasant and easier alternative . The world of business is not fair and often involves decisions that are hard on the people taking those and communicating it to others. If your objective is to be liked – you will be miserable when a hard decision needs to be taken, and others will feel a big let down. If you operate with fear as primary tactic – you will never have a motivated team. So the only real option is to aim for trust and respect as your operating parameters and help everyone get to a frame of mind that you will be fair in all cases.

Kindness and cruelty – This is pretty black and white . I heavily favor kindness. But there is a certain difficulty in how you execute on it. For example – let us say there is a colleague who cannot seem to operate at the next level to earn his promotion. The kind thing to do is to give him a chance to improve and then if he does not – tell him where he stands including the potential of leaving your team. The cruel thing is to tell him he is doing well and then fire him arbitrarily. Telling him that he is doing well when he is not – that falls under cruelty and not kindness in most cases. It is a thin line for a leader to traverse. I cannot say I have mastered it fully.

Shame, Pity and Envy – I do feel shame especially when I make mistakes repeatedly when I should learn and do better. I used to pity myself and feel envy for others – for a long time. That stopped after I got a better perspective from my mentors. There are always going to be some people who are better than you , were luckier than you etc and you are never going to be totally honest about evaluating yourself objectively. Once you make peace with that – Pity and Envy vanishes. It took me a long time to get there and I have had a few lapses – but generally I think I know when to catch myself these days and reorient my thinking.

Depression , Democracy and Demagoguery – the deadly trio !

My late grandfather Prof R Easwara Pillai was an eminent historian and an amazing story teller . He had mastery over three subjects and how they connected with each other – Economics, Politics and History . I grew up listening to him telling me stories that would emphasize useful principles from these three disciplines . I would never forget his explanation of the theory of diminishing marginal utility the fourth mutton cutlet will not taste as good as the first !

I didn’t major in any of the three subjects my grandfather loved – I chose to become a mechanical engineer like my father . But thanks to the love for all three subjects (especially history) that I developed hearing those stories , I have continued to read up, listen and learn what I could .

For the last couple of months , I have been thinking about the post Covid world from many different angles and have posted some thoughts on future of IT services , the need for holistic solutions , and the impact on China .

Today morning I posted the following on FB about the economic realities that India and US are facing ,

The two major economies that I have an interest in are US and INDIA . Both need to kick back into growth but their options are rather different .

INDIA is a much smaller economy in size – both aggregate and per capita . But it has been growing at a much faster clip . Even with revised numbers – INDIA might be able to grow at around 2% when US etc might enter negative territory .

US – and many other developed countries – has been pumping money to help local businesses get through the hard times . INDIA has not done anything similar – though when it comes to taking care of citizens with food and medicine and containment, INDIA has done a magnificent job . But let’s focus on the economy angle now .

The unfortunate reality is that India can not afford to do what US does in terms of a massive influx of cash into the economy . If we look at the tax revenue assumptions in last budget – we can easily figure out that it was unrealistic to begin with . Now with income and trade both coming down , there is no way to make a lot of tax revenue in this fiscal .

US can absolutely print money – dollar is a strong reserve currency . That’s a limited option for INDIA . I have no doubts INDIA will also print some rupees but the inflationary risk is higher and may be 1% of GDP via this method is already enough to take INDIA back to a period no one cares to be in .

INDIA Government thus will need to borrow heavily at least for this year – some from within the country and some from abroad .

Government bonds are a viable strategy . But the domestic market for it will be weakened by both corporate and personal savings affected by the shut down . Still – there are still healthy and large balance sheets who might think about this favorably . And there are plenty of rich people and some NRI inflow to make this work

International borrowing is a more complicated problem . INDIA has made it easier to invest . But that means we need consistent tax policies (which doesn’t happen very well) , tight inflation management (which is quite good now but needs to continue), and consistently good credit ratings (also done decently so far). But there is one thing INDIA can not control – investors can also trigger a liquidation based on how their home country policies (and political rhetoric) changes . All that said – INDIA needs international money to get through this .

Whatever happens , I hope government doesn’t get stupid and just start taxing more on existing base like the disastrous policy of 1974 that Mrs Gandhi brought out . The irony was that MMS was the tax policy creator who then under Rao was also the bold leader to bring INDIA to the modern world .

I hope INDIA starts to take manufacturing seriously from now on – especially when there is a global will to move some out of China . That in turn might be something that US needs to look at seriously too . A lot of the pain in US was caused by letting

most of manufacturing leave our shores .

The two historic events that are used to compare and contrast the covid crisis are the Great Depression and the spanish flu . I had a chance to read up on the former a lot during the 2008 financial crisis and I brushed up on that a bit in the past few weeks .

The most chilling part of that horrible decade starting 1929 was the rise of Adolf Hitler . Just a few years ago – he tried to overthrow the government and got jailed. Strangely he wasn’t deported to his birthplace of Austria because the good judge thought Hitler thought and acted like a German and hence can stay in Germany . Nazis were not taken seriously – and eventually Bavaria even let them back into official existence . Hitler by then had realIzed that being a demagogue was a lot easier to get to his goals than the use of violence . The depression gave him the perfect platform – primarily around tackling unemployment – to consolidate power . By 1933 he was the Chancellor of Germany !

A lot of evil happened in his long tenure . It made me think about the trio of depression, demagoguery and democracy – which is the unfortunate intersection of economics , politics and history .

History – even recent history – is full of people who used demagoguery to great effect for their purposes . Senator McCArthy might be the best example that a lot of people can relate to in this context .

Demagoguery is not binary – it’s a continuum for politicians in any functioning democracy and probably cannot be avoided . So then the logical next question for me is what’s the flaw in democracy itself ?

History and politics have an intersection in the past that perhaps can provide a clue .

The great philosopher Socrates wasn’t a big fan of democracy the way it was practiced in Greece . His point of view was something like this

A ship needs a captain who knows how to navigate a ship at sea – and not just a random person who was elected to the role of captain by people who don’t know what skills a captain needs . Similarly if you let people to vote who haven’t been taught to think deeply about the role of politics and administration – then you will get bad results and rabble rousers !

Essentially Socrates put the onus on educating people before they are allowed to vote . So in his view – you can’t vote just because you are of a certain age and was born inside the country .

Given the general lack of civics education in this country , I guess what we dislike about politicians can be traced back at least partly back to us ! And if we haven’t thought through what we need in our elected representatives and administrators – and a depression hits us , the demagogues will have a field day and we may not like the results very much .

What happened to Socrates eventually ? Demagogues of the time charged him with “corruption of the youth” and by a thin majority, the 500 jurors voted him guilty . He was – quite tragically – put to death by poison .

The life of Socrates was some 2400 years ago , and Hitler’s was less than a century ago . If we haven’t yet learned the lessons from the past intersections of economics, politics and history – we better start now !

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