Thursday, August 15, 2013

Happy Meals, analytics, Customer focus and a Happy Glow

When we took our three year old daughter to McDonalds for her birthday treat recently, I checked whether there was a ‘birthday drill’ they had (like some Pizza joints). They did, but it sounded a little too loud for a three year old’s comfort. So, I settled on buying a happy meal, given the little toy that comes with it. The series was that of the Smurfs and I was quite curious to choose an interesting one. What surprised me was the fact that the person at the counter brought the whole box of toys, spent time finding unique ones and then let me choose. It isn’t the end just yet. When I chose three of them and asked my wife if she was ok having a “happy meal” too (just so that we could get all the three toys), the employee intervened and said that we could order whatever we wanted and that the two additional toys were a gift from McD’s.
What struck me and stuck with me was the fact that here was a person who wasn’t a manager, had the initiative to bring the entire stock of toys, had the discretion to have a colleague fill in while he moved out of the counter to help me select the toy and actually give two more toys away! There was a manager around all the while and the employee did all this in the full view of the manager. So, obviously, he did nothing ‘illegal’ in the McD’s ecosystem. From a business point of view for McD’s, I think the return on investment of two additional Smurf dolls has more than paid for itself. Not only did I gush about it on Facebook and to my friends, you are reading about it probably half way across the world too!
So, what led to all this value creation for McD’s in this case? Was the employee given a bonus? I don’t think so. Did he feel happy too? I am sure he did. I felt something was missing here. Rather, something was happening here. Typically, every business faces a fundamental paradox. Its called the Principal-agent problem in Economics, and to put it simply, it is because the promoters and the employees are expected to behave in their own little self interest. Go a little deeper and we are looking at constant tension. If a bonus is paid for achieving sales, it goes against the Principal’s self interest. If it is not paid, it goes against the agent’s! Assuming that the bonus is actually going to produce a favorable behavior, it is worthwhile to remember that the behavior is likely to continue as long as the stimulus is present. So, in order to achieve psychological satisfaction for the employee, while not draining the Principal is the dilemma.
So, is there a way that value creation of the business can be achieved with a humanized approach? I think there is.
Much like in solving a coaching dilemma, the answer lies outside the plane of focus. One of the ways of solving the problem of seemingly opposite self interests is by making the organization purpose driven. Purpose has this seemingly magical quality of dissolving the paradox and aligning the inherent interests of both the principal and the agent in the same direction. The purpose of a company need not possibly be an esoteric statement. It could be a Customer Promise.
While writing this article, a little online research took me to the website of that is the operating company of seven McDonald’s restaurants in Western North Carolina. “The McDonald’s Promise” reads thus, “With a sense of fun and youthful spirit, we will proudly serve an exceptional McDonald’s eating experience that makes all people feel special and makes them smile every customer – every time.”
Having a customer promise and aligning all people systems to either feed into that eventually could be any service company’s dream goal. Just having constant ‘indoctrination’ from induction to learning to appraisal to compensation to recognition to talent management to exit, is definitely the first step in the right direction. Reporting them back to the employees in the form of effort/efficiency/effectiveness metrics is the next step that helps build learning into the system. But it shouldn’t possibly stop at that. Having Impact metrics that are customer centric like the Net Promoter Score helps moving the organization from going around in circles to moving up a virtuous spiral of value creation. The plus point being that the entire organization’s decision making sounds like a well tuned instrument that allows individuals make a difference to others, all the while working in the best interests of the company. Compassion is known to create happiness to the practitioner. So, would such employees have a glow? I am sure they would. So would the customers. Wouldn’t they?
Introducing the three Smurfs who triggered this article. Noticed the glow on one of them?

Siddharth is the Chief People Officer at, India’s premier Maternity and Child care centre. He has authored a free e-book on HR analytics at

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why do we need to have fun to learn?

One undergoes hospitalization, one undergoes surgery, someone undergoes a prison sentence, one is sent to undergo training !!??

This observation by Late Ranjan Acharya caught my attention and combined with my own experience as a facilitator and coach, available literature about how the human brain works, learnings from Dr.Marshall Goldsmith ( and observations from human process work all come together in the following few observations of mine.

The other day, I used an inter office commute and a senior colleague of mine who was in the car with me asked me when the next training program was. He also said that he liked the previous workshop and his co-participants learnt a great deal from it. This was interesting to me. I asked him WHAT made them like the workshop. With a child-like spontaenity, he replied, FUN!

Anyone who has seen Dr. Marshall Goldsmith's video on Feedforward would recall his saying "what is the last word that comes to mind when you think of any feedback or development activity? Fun!" Feedforward works well for this precise reason. Its fast, its about a future you CAN change, not about a past that you can't and its FUN!

The brain is said to have a basic structure known as the reptilian brain said to be associated with more basic functions of survival - such as aggression, etc. You can get more information in the following stellar article (

To put it simply, the brain can have a small positive response to a stimulus or a very LARGE negative 'away' response. The large away response is basically to ensure survival. Being in the away response mode means that the 'fight-freeze-flight' mode is activated and the ability to introspect and learn is reduced tremendously. This means that we can have training happening, but learning is an aspiration in such a situation.

If the outcome from the training is long term positive behaviour change, then such adult learning is basically all about changing beliefs that one holds. Changing beliefs changes the choice one makes in response to situations. This definitely needs that the brain is running in a 'toward' mode.

When anyone is having fun, it means that the brain is in a toward mode! When was the last time you saw someone running away with a dog chasing them and laughing their head off?! Cant happen.

Fun in the classroom requires other areas of SCARF to be taken care of. The facilitator needs to be genuinely humble and curious (Status), the schedule and bio-breaks (Certainity), permission to share freely/take phone calls for emergencies (Autonomy), being human as a facilitator (Relatedness) and ensuring learning justice for the individual (Fairness) set the stage to have fun. Learning. Simple. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Levels of thinking....

As a facilitator and later with coach training, it has been quite a personal journey of experimenting with thinking. I am penning this as a 3rd quartile placement conclusion of the same.

Over the years, as a facilitator and designer of enabling efforts, I have come across and used a large number of "instruments", "frameworks" and so on. Off late, I have come to recognise these as manifestations and not the real thing. Strengths finder is definitely an awesome way maker for success. However, being futuristic, and other strengths are actually manifestations when the individual is cruising in her/her real self. I call this cruise state. MBTI describes the preferences an individual makes under cruise state and these decisions to some level help sustain the cruise state. Traits are manifestations that are enduring.

The flow philosophy addresses the experience. It also in depth, speaks about repeatedly getting into the experience in terms of challenge and competency. Flow is a great goal to have. The fundamental approach is that the flow state is the primary state of a human and that beliefs tend to interfere with the same. The premise of coaching is that the individual is given a safe setting and courage to look at, become aware and recognize the offending line of thinking. At this point, choice kicks in and the empowered smile of an insight is observed.

The Quantum Zeno effect from brain studies says that the "mental act of focusing attention holds in place brain circuits associated with what is being focused on. If you pay enough attention to a certain set of brain connections, it keeps this relevant circuitry stable, open and dynamically alive, enabling it to eventually becoming a part of the brain’s hard wiring."

Getting an individual to cruise state is often the winning effort of withdrawing an individual from extrinsic distractors and focus on the real self descriptor. My next effort is all about compiling a set of such descriptors that describe the very being of the self. Being different for different individuals, the cruise state along with the Quantum Zeno effect, when used during coaching helps the coachee to no end.

Behavioural change after this point is most enduring and permanent.

On a slightly different note, the QZE seems to explain "leave it to the process" when the learning outcomes are defined stand by those who are from the process lab line of thinking.

Now, moving into the area of levels of directed thinking, here are a few:

1. at a peripheral level is behavioural observation - like in a ADC - focus on behaviours exhibited

2. labeling comes next as does slightly deeper level of process observation - invitation, celebration, etc

3. Deeper level of feeling - combined with level 2 above is a great tool for facilitation

4. Deepest level of intuition - explained best by David Rock and my understanding as those continuous consolidated feelings with very low amplitude that can be focussed on when brain chatter is reduced

All this sits on authenticity and fuelling that is spontaniety gated by choice.

So, how does one decide what to use and when? The wonderful gift of "being in the moment" or coaching presence is that platform for the same.

One simple model of enabling is all about "here and now" and using sensing alongwith validation over a conversation with a coachee. This is especially useful for what I call Autonomy coaching to identify and discard limiting beliefs. This sits above using intuition for coaching, allows a conversationalist facilitation of individual enablement and gives the coach the flexibility of tapping intuition as and when required. Wow. (In this model, since validation is used, the effect of preferences of the coach, while definitely have an effect, tend to be minimized according to me - as against using intuitive breakthrough model of enabling.)

Cheers! NS

Friday, May 07, 2010

Celebrating the life of a Human Being - my fond memories of Dr.Udai Pareek

The world recently lost Dr. Udai Pareek, the Father of the HRD movement in India. I consider myself fortunate to have had opportunities to spend a few moments with the great master practitioner, every moment of which I learnt something - for life.
My very first interactions with Dr. Udai Pareek were at a psychometrics workshop in Bangalore. I sat in awe and listened as he very simply explained the meaning of the term 'role' and quoted examples from the 'here and now' of Indian life. I had an opportunity to listen to him on the same topic twice more on different occassions.
The next time I met him was when I slinked out of a nephew's thread ceremony to attend a one day workshop on Organization Behaviour. On that occassion, after lunch, I was one of the early participants to return to class when the projector was being set up. If I remember correct, the next session was on roles where the organizers were looking for slides for a projective exercise. With great hesitation, I approached Dr. Pareek, laptop in hand. With much hesitation I shared with him the fact that after the previous workshop I had used many of the psychometric instruments in office after automation and that I had the projective exercise scanned and ready with me. I still remember the pure celebration that Dr. Pareek shared with joy. He called the others and shared information about the automation of instruments that I had done and by that evening, he asked me whether I could guide a student! I still remember the day at Hotel Atria - was difficult leaving the workshop - was so excited!
Later, when work took me to Noida, I had an opportunity to meet him over lunch, during which I got to spend close to 5 hours with him discussing topics as varied as organization development in Kashmir to the concept of the leadership crucible.
Dr. Pareek, then shared that a CD could be made with me as co-author with the automated instruments and that he expected me to accept money from the proceeds of the CD. While the co-authorship itself was something more than I could handle at my age and experience, he also insisted that I needed to accept a portion of the proceeds of the sales if I expected him to work with me.
On my last day at Delhi (before I relocated to Bangalore), Dr. Udai Pareek had included me in the panel of a 5 day psychometrics course that was taking place there. I conducted a one hour session on roles there and was presented a carved keychain and a custom made pen on that occassion. What was more thrilling was the fact that I had to conduct this session with Dr. Pareek in the hall - someone I had learnt the construct from! I boarded the flight immediately after that session to Bangalore. Couldn't have asked for a better kickoff to my next assignment as Head of Learning and Development in Bangalore.
Over the years, I had the good fortune to work with atleast three students whom he referred and build the entire set of psychometric automation with them.
On my last visit to Delhi to attend a wedding, I had an opportunity to look at finishing touches to the CD and at that time, I had the fortune of meeting the maestro again. In fact, I least expected it when he personally came to the guest house where I was staying and both my wife and I had the good fortune of receiving him. Later that day we shared lunch and over lunch I was discussing my scores on the PE scale. I can't forget the few words that he uttered on hearing the scores - 'so confrontation to issues might be an issue'. So True! Earlier that day, I spent a few minutes sharing the steps to automate instruments with students and he was quick to observe that the technique of genuinely teaching something took very little time.
That was the last time I got to spend time with Dr. Pareek. I cherish the mails he wrote to me, each a veritable treasure.
Personally, to me, he was a person I could openly share ideas with and be sure that he would recognise the potential of each and actually help me realize them.
His last wish was that he wanted people to be kind and say good words to each other. A behavioural indicator couldn't be more precise.
The latest issue of the NHRD Journal on Coaching is dedicated to Dr. Udai Pareek 1925-2010.
Master Teacher,
Mentor and Invisible Coach for Millions

Monday, September 14, 2009

The questioning way to enabling - an understanding

I would be hovering over three main areas in this writing. One, the layers of the brain as I read in the GEO. Two, the practice of journaling. Three, how all this seems to fit in in the context of the use of questioning for enabling.

It was quite a chance happening that I requested my fellow passenger for his copy of the GEO magazine after reading the cover item about an article on decision making. I found the article extremely insightful. The author in his wisdom speaks about three layers of the brain's working. The lower most or outmost layer receiving 1,50,000 impulses every second. The second layer, processing these impulses and abstracting them into feelings. The innermost layer consisting of the cognitive ability - one that cannot handle more than 7 or 8 pieces of information at a single instance. The feeling layer thus plays an important role - it abstracts and codifies the lakhs of impulses - which otherwise would overwhelm the cognitive thinking - into easily recognisable feelings.

Journaling as many of us would know, consists of writing down, usually at the end of the day, one's own learnings from the day. The mind, it is said has the ability to thinking sequentially and more interestingly, from a birds eye view - both of which play an important role when journalling. 1. Ask yourself a question, once, twice, maybe thrice 2. Start writing whatever comes to your mind very fast 3. Once you are done, read whatever you have written and look for patterns.

During coaching - which to me in many instances is a simple process of enabling the other individual by questioning beliefs, replacing older with newer beliefs and helping the other individual get his/her own answers - is often the art of asking the right questions.

Putting all this together, it looks like this - the cognitive mind impinges the question on the feeling layer with much force. This seems to stimulate the cognitive mind to see many of the underlying patterns which were very much present like furrows in a playground, but get exposed only during a downpour.

Understanding this, to me is useful for anyone who is getting into the practice of coaching.

Warmest regards,

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Training business leaders

Let me come to the point. I agree and am enamoured by truly making a difference to the HR profession by building capability of young HR professionals. Agreed.
I am also uncomfortable and restless of the obsession of being inward looking.
If there are 10 HR business partners developed, there are probably a 100 business leaders who do not know how to leverage the HR function. There is a crying need to being efforts on this front and probably have a certification such as "People Manager" that means that the leader knows about (meta) HR's efficacy and knows what is possible and what to expect from his HR business partner.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Enabling who? The 10,000 hour rule

As a child, when I went to concerts by Bhimsen Joshi, I wasn’t too intrigued to hear his introduction read that he practiced music for six to eight hours every day. After all he didn’t have to go to school! I could do that too I thought, if only I didn’t have to go to school! More recently, while listening to a few recordings of Bismillah Khan, (incidentally it was at the end of a day of articulating differentiating competencies) the fact that a few musicians seem to be a class apart aroused my curiosity. (This was further reinforced when I beat a rather quick retreat from a close friend’s concert). What differentiates those who seem to convince by being themselves from those who sincerely try, yet fail? Is it luck? Is it something else? My next sojourn to the local bookshop seemed to hold an answer.
I should confess, I am in love with Outliers. I am referring to the book. What particularly has caught my attention is the 10,000 hour rule of Gladwell, that the key to success in any field is simply a matter of practicing a specific task for 10,000 hours caught my attention. Gladwell cites the examples of the Beatles who performed over 1200 times in four years, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time and Bill Gates becoming Bill Gates thanks to a certain obsessive love affair with a computer to which he had access when few others in the world had or could afford such access. Strengths, or talent according to Gladwell (rather, what I understand) is what causes incessant love affairs that spur people to immerse themselves in particular activities or opportunities with a certain maniacal fervor, one that others who possess other talents would never prefer or even dare explore in their mind! (Btw, I am not referring to broken love affairs leading to workaholism)
To me, this also seemed to fit in the strengths model of Gallup, where it is purported that we as individuals take our strengths for granted, simply because it is very natural to us. To each of us, our strengths come very easy and hence, we assume that it is the same way that everyone around us is wired too! Gallup also talks about effort and practice that are needed to covert strength themes into areas of competence.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I hope the printer’s devil doesn’t strike) in “The secret of happiness”, explores the fundamentals of happiness and to help the readers, also looks at what is not happiness. To give you undiluted pleasure, I quote. “Over the years, I came up with the expression "flow": a term to describe the common denominator among those people who deemed themselves happy. The most obvious component of happiness, I found out, is intense concentration, which is the main reason that activities such as music, art, literature, sports and other forms of leisure have survived. The essential ingredient for concentration - whether it happens when reading a poem or building a sand castle – is that it involves a challenge that matches one's ability. The only solution to achieve enduring happiness, therefore, is to keep finding new opportunities to refine one's skills: do one's job better or faster, or expand the tasks that comprise it; find a new set of challenges more appropriate to your stage of life.”
Is it role efficacy? Maybe. Could be. Is it only role efficacy? May not be. Does a block in ‘flow’ cause attrition? Would it be worthwhile looking at an instrument for it? Does career anchor of Ed Schein talk about this ‘flow’ that seems to happen when an individual is able to actualize his occupational self image at work? To think of it, it seems to be too. Multiple constructs, but finally the same human being right? The thing that seems evident to me is that an attempt at fixing a construct tends to restrict the meaning. Hail Schrodinger?
What personally appeals to me is the possibility of the strengths approach (personal preferences seem to correlate with strength themes as well) coupled with a career choice that allows individuals hit the 10,000 hours (or close to that!) of Gladwell at the workplace. That might finally allow the individual live the flow. This might also be the purpose of enabling professionals in a developmental dialogue. Unblock to flow. Enabling who? How about self for a start?