Jan 24, 2015

The growling hunger pangs

I'm a stickler for timings when it comes to my meals. I prefer to eat on time (mostly!). If someone takes up my time while my stomach is growling, I get extremely irritated. The Sneakers ad must have been based on my reactions, I suppose. Due to a certain miscommunication, I had to wait at my daughter's pediatrician clinic today for nearly an hour during lunch time. My temper was at its peak and D was her "naughtiest" self during the wait time. Though I ensured she ate her lunch, it didn't occur to me that I should have atleast grabbed a banana before stepping out. Thankfully, I kept my temper under control and it wasn't lashed out on anyone close (*hubby* dear!).

While eating my lunch at 3 PM today, I couldn't help but remember one of my ex-bosses who had this habit of scheduling meetings between 12 and 2 PM. He is one of the best bosses, mind you. But I didn't have the guts to tell him that the timings weren't working for me. Those were the days when eating healthy wasn't one of my priorities. After the meeting, I would rush to the nearest Darshini and gobble up rawa idlis or a South Indian thali.

Last week, I had a customer meeting at 2 PM. I happily ate an early lunch at home and reached on time. My colleague who traveled from a different city with back-to-back meetings came rushing for this meeting. I asked him "Did you have lunch?". He replied "No, I haven't had my breakfast too. Just ate a few biscuits". I was shocked and saddened. Felt a little guilty too, thinking I should have brought something.

People who are in business development or sales had to travel so much that their eating habits go for a toss. 1 or 2 days is somewhat okay but regularly skipping meals or eating very late is unhealthy and can cause serious health issues like acidity, heart burn, ulcer etc.

It's the responsibility of the individual as well as the organization to ensure *eating on time* is given a priority. There is no point in having fancy cafeterias, exotic menus and salad counters, unless the employee gets enough time to sit down and eat.

Been a while since I ranted anything in my blog. Purpose achieved :-) Do share if you have been in similar situations. Does your hunger bring out the best or worst in you?

Jan 8, 2015

5 reasons why you should develop the practice of writing at work

For anyone dealing with knowledge work that requires deeper thinking, analysis, unraveling assumptions and developing solutions, writing is a must-have skill. Whatever be your role - a developer, designer, product manager, marketer, analyst etc, I would highly recommend that you develop writing as a conscious practice. I'll give you 5 reasons why you should invest diligently in this practice.

1) Provides clarity
A vague problem for which I seek solutions becomes more clear if I sit down and write about the problem statement in actual words. It gives great clarity and helps me to think through the problem scenarios in great detail.

2) Gives directions
As I write down the problem statement, I automatically reflect and think through the causes and context. It also helps me to go deeper into various aspects of the problem and the expected outcome. As a result, I have a good "approach" or steps that I need to take to solve the problem. It doesn't have to be detailed paragraphs, it could be a simple workflow diagram on a piece of paper or a whiteboard.

3) Brings vague assumptions to the fore-front
Many times, when we brainstorm as a team or when we decide on a specific solution, there are multiple assumptions that drive our decision making. Writing inculcates the discipline of consciously noting down the assumptions. You might even start to wonder why you had a certain assumption in the first place.

4) Focuses on the problem
As I had written earlier, for any problem at hand, we like to jump at the solution immediately. It would be interesting to read up on research that has been done to check the levels of dopamine when we come across an interesting problem to solve. More often, the process of solving takes away our focus from the problem itself. Writing helps us to structure our thinking where we get a good grip on the problem and then navigate towards possible solutions.

5) Enables effective communication
Having been in the software products space for 10+ years, I can see how a Product Requirements Document (PRD) has undergone significant changes from the bulky 100 pager to a lean 2 pager wiki + wireframe. But the underlying need of communicating effectively with your team still remains the same. Writing helps you to foresee the potential questions that your team, partners or customers might have and can even enable you to convince them on why a certain approach/strategy that you are proposing is important.

Apart from these reasons, the power of written words also increases accountability among the team members. Random hall-way discussions and ideas work but in order to execute them effectively, writing them down in a way that brings clarity to the forefront is a key ingredient to success.

Jan 4, 2015

Book Review: Delivering Happiness

I'm starting off 2015 reading list with this interesting book on organization culture and customer service - "Delivering Happiness". When we talk about best work culture, there are few firms that come to our mind instantly - Google, Hubspot, Buffer and the pioneer of them all, Zappos. This book is a first-person account of how Tony Hsieh grew Zappos from ground-up, the challenges faced and the foundations laid towards the best customer service and inspiring work culture.

There are multiple lessons for people building startups as well as for those who are looking to focus on customer experience/service as their core strategy. What I really like about in this book is that it doesn't jump into the HOWs of customer service. Rather, Tony has taken the time to talk about his entrepreneurship journey and the lessons learned along the way since childhood. It gives the reader good insights into the thought process of WHYs of customer service and organization culture.  His adventures into various ways of earning money during childhood days provide some interesting and fun moments in the initial few chapters.

The tough calls Tony and his team had to make in the initial years of Zappos, the downturn, pivoting towards warehousing instead of drop-shipping, convincing vendors towards the e-commerce model, taking control of running the warehouse instead of outsourcing to a third-party - there were multiple take-aways in these chapters for anyone in the e-commerce business.

Great customer service and providing a high quality customer experience eventually became their larger vision and a greater purpose. Some of the ways by which they managed to accomplish this goal are running a 24/7 warehouse, surprise shipping upgrades, no-script call procedures where the reps are empowered to use their best judgment etc.

As they embarked on this journey, they also realized that having a strong organization culture is a powerful trigger to provide a superior customer service. They invested efforts towards creating a "Culture book" with inputs from employees and vendors. Culture was formally defined by means of 10 core values. I loved the way the author has taken time to elaborate each core value through examples and case studies.

He had also shared an interesting anecdote around how he improved his public speaking skills. He has shared 3 rules for delivering a great speech:
1. Be passionate
2. Tell personal stories
3. Be real

Towards the end, the chapter on happiness and various frameworks around the factors that contribute to happiness are insightful. I plan to spend some time learning these frameworks in depth, as these are very relevant for both individual and organization purpose. 

Some of the quotes from the book that I loved
"Envision, create and believe in your own universe"

"Never outsource your core competency"

"Telephone is one of the best branding devices out there. You have the customer's undivided attention for 5-10 minutes and if you get the interaction right, the customer remembers the experience for a very long time"

"Your culture is your brand"

"For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny"
My most favorite of them all
"If you just focus on making sure that your product or service continually WOWs people, eventually the press will find out about it. You don't need to put a lot of effort into reaching out to the press if your company naturally creates interesting stories as a by-product of delivering a great product or experience"

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