What is the value of ‘Out of Office’ messages?

If you want to guess which company is boring and/or likely to die soon, check the Out of Office (OoO) messages by the people in that office. Unlike others, the companies of the future effectively use the OoO messages.

For those who are still struggling to keep pace, here is a list of how can business results be achieved by effectively using OoO messages:

1. Achieve marketing objectives using OoO messages – Instead of just telling your clients that you will be responding to their email after you are back, excite them about your latest thinking/marketing material. Your clients are more likely to read your OoO messages than the spams sent by your marketing team. Check the illustration below:

“While I am on vacation till blah blah date, I thought I should introduce you to our super awesome new product. You can read more about it at <weblink>. And for this email, I will respond soon after I am back on blah blah date”

2. Achieve your employee recognition objectives using OoO messages – Take this as an opportunity to recognize your top performers. Include names of your top performers in your OoO. There is no better motivation than a boss giving a big pat on the back publicly.

“Nicole is a superwoman and can be contacted to help you while I am away. She has proven expertise in client management and has been our top performer for the last 3 years. She may not have all the answers on-hand, but she is the best person to find them while I am away till blah blah date”

3. Achieve your client expectation management objectives using OoO messages – Delay in responding to emails post vacation is normal and no one should be penalized for that. Tell your clients that even if you will be back by a certain date, you may take a while to clear your backlog and respond to them.

“<your name> will be back in the office on blah blah date, but he will be swamped with backlog when he is back. Try to forgive him, he is just a human and thus weak. This message is sent by a robot, who is neither weak nor fallible. Robots are tireless and one day will rule this planet, but right now serving <your name>”

 

Last but not the least, you can also add your special talent – poetry, jokes and pun to make it more exciting. Your OoO can help your clients and colleagues smile and respect your personal time and of course your creativity. Remember sky is the limit for your OoO, and every bland OoO is an opportunity lost.

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Are you still using Jan-to-Dec calendar for critical business decisions?

The current form of the calendar was invented in 776 BC and I am sure a lot has changed in these last 2,792 years. Despite these changes, our “so-called” modern businesses have continued to use the same calendar for planning, discussions, and all critical decisions. Does it sound like we forgot to innovate something very important?

Here are 3 key major transformations needed to help your company win:

1. Don’t tell your employees that they have to wait for your annual cycle to finish before they get any detailed performance feedback or pay hike or bonus.

In the current lifestyle of Facebook and Twitter, employees (especially millennials) don’t have time to wait for 12 months. According to a survey by Forbes, 18% employees quit if they feel decision-making in the company is slow or if company’s future is not clear. According to another survey by ERE Media, 10% extremely talented employees don’t join companies if the hiring process is slow.

So when you ask your employees to wait for 1 year, what they hear is “It’s time to find a new job”. Think about it!

2. Don’t tell your customers that you have to meet your “annual” targets.

Customers do realize that you are too obsessed and desperate with “annual” targets and you will, therefore, offer discounted prices. According to research by Stanford, “deeper discounts build customer expectations that there are good deals to be found – and thus encourage more searching”. Eventually, your company loses a significant number of customers (and money) to attract customers who are waiting for you to offer those annual discounts again.

So when you tell your customers about your annual cycle, what they hear is “Let’s wait for your year-end desperate attempt to meet sales targets”. Think about it!

3. Don’t tell your shareholders that you will share your corporate performance report only at the end of the year.

Despite all the financial regulations, there are a lot of discretionary disclosures that a company can do. Instead of waiting for the annual year-end reporting, doing frequent, regular updates help keep shareholders interested in your company. Even though it may attract some criticism, it will also bring a lot of important feedback needed to fine-tune your business strategy.

So if you don’t update you shareholders regularly, what they think is “We need to look for alternative investment, before this black hole goes bust”. Think about it!

 

Find a new way to use the calendar soon or re-create these practices. If you don’t change soon enough, be ready to go extinct.

You can read more of my other posts at https://corporatecircus.wordpress.com/.

Trapezium vs ‘Let’s try this sh*t’ progression in life

Depending on who you ask for life lessons about career progression, you will get different answers. There is no right answer, but there are certainly a lot of wrong answers (i.e. answers that are totally misaligned with your natural personality).

Predominantly there are 3 types of career progression observed by individuals: (1) Line Progression, (2) Trapezium Progression, and (3) ‘Let’s try this sh*t’ progression. The choice of which one is best for you cannot be answered by anyone, but you. Before you make a choice, spend some time thinking about each one of them and introspecting if this suits you.

Line Progression: Simple to execute

A lot of Gen X have followed this track. You become an expert in your domain and almost everyone comes to you for advice on your domain expertise. You are less confused in life. The entire line progression is intuitive, and almost always guarantees success until you realize you know very few things in life.

Trapezium Progression: Difficult to plan

A lot of young individuals are trying this out. It involves rotating across different opportunities while ensuring that there is a common theme across these opportunities. The focus is to keep moving up, but also learn other areas and/or experiment your capabilities in different areas. It takes a while to grow in this way, but it is a lot more fulfilling. This route often keeps people excited about their day-to-day lives. And most of all, this path gives people the ability to pretend to be smart in almost all situations. That’s why a lot of companies are also promoting the trapezium progression internally. But is this the right way? I am sure people in this route often think that they lack the technical depth and/or they are growing much slower than people opting for line progression.

‘Let’s try this sh*t’ progression: Unpredictable, crazy, but awesome

This is the type which is most in the limelight. This is meant for people who are explorers in life, who are not scared of failure and who lead the path to real big innovation. These are the people who often make big, but they also lose big. And that is why their progression lines run in all directions. They try out different areas quite often. Sometimes they are lost, but they are not afraid to go back to the ground again and again. In summary, these are the people who create awesome things like Airbnb and Farmville. It may look awesome from outside, but a high proportion of people on this path often cry their heart out thinking what it could have been if they didn’t follow this. They often envy line progression and trapezium guys for their stability but soon come back to their self of ‘Let’s try this sh*t’ route.

 

A lot of factors should be considered while choosing your progression: cultural and economic backgrounds, education, risk taking ability, social pressures, etc. I am sure the list is long, but not a mathematics formula that can be applied to find the right answer. But don’t be afraid to find your own answer. You will find it sooner or later.

You can read more of my other posts at https://corporatecircus.wordpress.com/.

Let’s pretend to know our career and life goals!!!

HBR and Forbes have published a lot of articles about how “successful” people achieve their “career goals”. But no one has talked about the elephant in the room – Do we all know our career goals? Do we know what does success mean to us?

In this VUCA environment (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity), even the best of the companies (eg. Yahoo) are struggling to decide their goals and we expect individuals to be clear about their career and life goals. Is that fair?

Maybe we should start redrafting our career goals as the type of journey that we want to have. So here are 4 questions of 21st century that you should start to think about:

  • How many different things you want to try in your life or career? Not everyone wants to diversify their portfolio; focusing on just 1 thing is best for some people. There are big companies (eg. Crocs, Michelin, etc.) that focus on single product and there are also a lot of companies (eg. Samsung, Tata, etc.) that do everything under the sun.
  • How often do you want to revisit your skill sets? Not everyone can (or want to) revisit their skill set every year. Accountants often stick to their skillsets, but consultants tend to revisit them quite often.
  • Are you ready to fail? Be clear on your definition of failure. Defining success is hard, but failure is easy to define. Would you consider the temporary financial failure of solar companies (eg. R&R Solar Supply) as a failure? Or is your failure measured by spoiling the environment to earn money (eg. Peabody Energy)?
  • Does non-failure mean success? What would it mean to you if you haven’t failed? Think it over!

Don’t forget that Yahoo and Orkut failed because defining goals is unfortunately not as easy as we pretend. It’s your choice, either you stop pretending or you go extinct.

You can read more of my other posts at https://corporatecircus.wordpress.com/.

Jennifer Anniston (from Horrible Bosses). Would you choose to work with her?

Jennifer Anniston played an amazing role when she sexually harassed her assistant in the movie “Horrible Bosses”, but unfortunately, things are not so explicit in real life. Neither are the inspirational speeches that Jon Hamm gave while motivating his team in Million Dollar Arm.

However, these movies taught me how to decode the success formula of high performing teams of 2016:

  1. No employee harassment
  2. Respect to all employees
  3. Safe environment for employees

These 3 components are independent of each other, but are required in totality to achieve the amazing results by amazing teams.

What does NO employee harassment mean? It means no physical or emotional harassment. Emotional harassment (incl. bullying) is often ignored in the workplaces. According to a latest survey, 27% employees have experienced workplace harassment in the past. But the problem doesn’t stop here. Does this survey mean that the remaining 73% were treated with respect? Think again!

So what does employee respect mean? It means a lot of things (beyond no harassment). Below is just an indicative list:

  • Treat people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness.
  • Encourage coworkers to express opinions and ideas.
  • Use people’s ideas to change or improve work. Let employees know you used their idea, or, better yet, encourage the person with the idea to implement the idea.
  • Do not nit-pick, constantly criticize over little things, belittle, judge, demean or patronize. A series of seemingly trivial actions, added up over time, constitutes bullying.
  • Be aware of your body language, the tone of voice, and your demeanor and expression in all of your interactions at work. People, who are radar machines, are hearing what you’re really saying in addition to listening to your words.

So where do you stand on the above points?

Finally, what is a safe environment? Beyond respect, it means providing an environment to make mistakes and learn from them. It is an environment where your intrapreneurs thrive and bring your company to the next level. It is the environment where a fresh graduate employee can tell the country CEO that there is a change needed in the strategy. This is the hardest of all, but you need this to be successful. What have you done to achieve this so far?

Not sure if you are lucky enough to have Jennifer Anniston as your boss, if not, don’t forget to try out these simple 3 tricks before you get wiped out from the market.

 

You can read more of my other posts at https://corporatecircus.wordpress.com/.

P.S.: Thanks to Able Cheong for sharing his insights on this topic.

Monkey in your office vs Taylor Swift’s legs

I am not a pop culture fan, but I am quite surprised that people are concerned about Taylor Swift’s legs. I am sure a few are genuinely interested, others are just the prey of “Monkey see, monkey do” culture. A lot of us are suffering from this – “monkey syndrome” in our social lives too.

In our workplace, we all need to be cautious about leaders suffering from this monkey syndrome. These leaders are dangerous not just to you, but also to your organization’s success. Below are 3 things these monkeys often say and why it needs to be relooked:

  • “If I can do it, why can’t you do it” – There are a lot of reasons why some of the young employees can’t replicate the behaviors of their leaders. It could be their personality, their priorities or just their natural inclination. Just like employees have the responsibility of doing certain things in certain ways, leaders are responsible for uncovering the concerns and capability gaps of their teams and taking necessary actions. So next time you spot a monkey saying this, politely respond by “I can dance in a loud club all night, can you do that?!!”
  • “That’s not the way we do things around here” – Monkey tribes have their own culture. They train all new monkeys to follow that and that’s how they have stopped learning. Similarly, some leaders are worried about losing their organization culture and choose to blatantly push it to their employees. They forget that it is the responsibility of the leaders to explain the rationale. So next time you spot a monkey saying this, politely respond by “We just missed an opportunity of our collective development”
  • “………………………………. – that’s not a typo. Monkeys are scared of pointed things. Similarly, some leaders hide away when they are questioned about specific things. Instead of talking to you, they hide and tell others. This is where the leadership gossip culture starts and it ends with someone’s resignation. So assure your leader that you want to explore the solution together with him/her.

 

This monkey syndrome is contagious. If you spot too many monkeys around you in your office, run as fast as you can. If you don’t run away, very soon, someone else might be thinking of you while reading this post.

And by the way, don’t forget to check out the insurance policy on Taylor Swift’s legs. I bet you will be learn something new from that too!!!

You can read more of my other posts at https://corporatecircus.wordpress.com/

Your dog is indispensable, but you are not!

We all have heard a few times in our offices and management discussions, “No one is indispensable”. We all are made to believe this. I believed that too for a long time, until I saw someone cry for losing his dog. Why can’t he replace his dog with a new dog? There are so many dogs available out there. Can’t we use the same management theory here?

I explored further, and I learnt a very important lesson of modern business – “Everyone is indispensable“. I also realized that we all need to rewrite/relearn some of the management principles to be successful:

  • ‘Fluid’ is the word in 21st century organizational structure: The concept of organization structures was made popular by military and factory operations. However, it is not the same anymore. In the modern people-driven businesses, every 2 individuals are different. You can (almost) never replace a top management person with another who has same thought processes, ideas and management style. So it is time to tell your top management, they are indispensable and customize the structure based on the people, not the other way round.
  • Knowledge is your key differentiation: A lot of information about your clients, relationships, and understanding of your culture resides with your middle management. None of your IT databases can replace the human touch of your middle management. If you lose your middle management, you will lose your past and will have difficulties building your future. So tell your middle management, they are indispensable.
  • Disruption (intrapreneurship) is the new order: Your organization has a strong bunch of young intrapreneurs, who might be just out of college but they can possibly kick the ass of your competitors when given a chance. Treat them with love and respect. Tell these younger ones that they are indispensable before they join your competitors to kick your ass.

 

It doesn’t matter who you are in the organization, it is important that you tell others that they are indispensable. If not, very soon you will lose your loving dog and you may end up training new dogs for the rest of your lives.

Animals don’t have personality types, they have ringmasters!

‘Jurrasic World’ made more than a billion dollars. A lot of us “wasted” our money on the movie. I call it wasted because the key management fundamental that is used in the movie is rarely found in corporate world – Your ringmaster will try to understand your personality.

Let me elaborate.

A lot of companies are using a plethora of personality assessment tests while hiring candidates (Fortune 500 companies and banks are front-runners in this). It has become the so-called “best practice”. But are they doing it right?

  • Do these companies actually use personality assessment results for day-to-day work planning?
  • Do the leaders anticipate and value different reactions, responses and comments from employees with different personalities?
  • Why employees in most companies are forced to align with the leaders’ personality type? When employees fail to align, they are often rated as “poor performers”.

In Jurrasic Park, Chris Pratt (as Owen in the movie), did spend the time to understand the personality types of dinosaurs and reacted to situations to suit them. That’s what a good ringmaster does. What about you and your leaders?

 

Thanks to “Jurassic World” movie, people may have started thinking that animals also possibly have personality types. But I think we need another movie to make some of the leaders understand that humans have the personality types too! Hope Colin Trevorrow (Director of Jurassic World) is listening.

New breed of lion is about to attack organizations

I have never been to a real circus, but I can imagine it is not very different from the corporate world and management frameworks. Any mistake can lead to death.

In the last few months, all people management professionals are dancing around the fresh breed of lion called performance management. The top management of every company is looking at management consultants to get some advice on how to tame this new lion. Some Fortune 500 companies have successfully revamped the entire performance management system. However, silently they are wondering if they are doing it right? Or will they get what trainer Faten El-Helw got from her trained lion (for those who don’t know, Ms. El-Helw lost her life to a lion she trained for years)?

I don’t claim that I master lion taming, but I do know that most of us are not using performance management the right way. So here are some insights to spark your thinking:

  • When your performance is bad, your management should share the blame: All management theories claim that 70% of the performance of an individual is driven by the organization factors and the individual can impact only 30%. Therefore, the management should take the onus of your poor performance. They should also be penalized because they didn’t help you do well in your job.
  • When your performance is good, your family should share the celebration: Your family has to make sacrifices every day too. Your kids and your spouse may not have told you, but they miss you every evening. Did your company decide to give you time off to help you spend quality time with your family? Did the company write a note to your family thanking them for their contribution to the company? Or did they pay you some peanuts (called “bonus”) to forget about your family and keep ignoring them every day?
  • When your performance is average, you are likely to be at fault: You are probably suffering from a disease called “being content with job”. Are you sure that a new technology will not wipe off your job soon. Start innovating before your boss invites you to her office for an “important private session” to thank you for your last contribution in her office.

Keep your eyes wide open to avoid being attacked by the lion. Most of the lion tamers died because they lost attention for a split second. Will your company make this mistake too?