Corporate Kurukshetra – Lessons from Arjun Part 4

Here is fourth and final part of the corporate rendition of 12 lessons I derive from the life and times of Arjun. This part will cover: 1. Bear Losses, 2. Never Forgive, Never Forget and 3. Strike at the Right Time. For Arjun’s life story, please refer to “Life Lessons from Arjun”. Like in the previous parts, here I stick to the Lessons for the Corporate Warrior.

1. Bear Losses

The organization you work for has a P&L statement. So do you. The only difference is that your P&L goes with you and you’re the sole proprietor managing it. You’re the boss when it comes to your personal P&L. A failed execution, someone getting the credit for your work, a pitch you didn’t win, a lost bid, competition making headway into your key account, an opportunity missed, a cut in the resources at your disposal, reduction in your team size, exit of an important team member, an increment or bonus below expectations, getting a bad rating, losing face due to poor performance, peers outshining you, making a strategic retreat from a situation, simply letting go at times and so on are all losses with varying intensities. You might not consider all of these losses as personal but they do have an impact on your performance which results in a negative impact on your growth. One loss that you might always call your own and crib, sulk and sob about is the personal time and effort you might devote to things like ‘Upgrading Skills’ or ‘Exploiting Opportunities’ or ‘Forging Alliances’, especially when less comes out of these efforts than expected. Yes, all these things need a lot of time and effort but it’s you who signs-up for these extra efforts. You can’t describe them as ‘losses’. You can call them ‘investments’. Your attitude, at the end of the day, chooses how you describe them for yourself. Losses, irrespective of their nature, just can’t be avoided. In the Corporate Kurukshetra, you can’t win any war without losing a couple of battles. Like you, there are many ambitions out there and they’re not going to let you win easily. Whilst you do your bit, there are other factors and individuals who do theirs. So keep your chin ready for some blows. Being conscious about potential losses and not being afraid of them will help you sail through. A loss can do two things to you. One, it can demoralize you and two, it can make you risk averse. The bad morale has to be flushed out of your system soon as you need to remain pepped up and positive, especially when the chips are down. Instead of being risk averse, focus on being risk aware. You running away from risks is not going to keep the risks away from you and had risks not existed, your organization wouldn’t need you in the first place. A loss will expose a risk you ignored so ensure you enlist it and ensure you mitigate or outsmart it the next time you’re in it. Losses, to a great extent, are good to bear as they make you stronger and sharper. Making the most of the learning in a loss is of course in your own hands!

2. Never Forgive, Never Forget

There can be may forgettable experiences at the workplace. A bad performance, a bad review meeting, a failed idea or commitment, a lost contract or account and so on are examples of things you would want to forget. The list can be full of situations, things and people you would want to get over with. The longer the list, the bigger the mess you’re in and you don’t score good marks for a shorter list either. Because a short list of things you would want to forget probably suggest you’re not that significant in the scheme of things in your office. Yes, it works both ways, it is complicated and there are no written rules. That’s how it is. Now, you’re neither paid to forget nor can you afford to forget anything. The good, the bad, the ugly all of them need to be remembered for ready reference in future. Forgetting chapters that didn’t go well for you are not going to be forgotten by people around you. You forget and you pave the way for being reminded of your unpleasant experiences at a later date. If you do not factor past learning from a failure in a new plan that you’re working on, there is somebody sitting in office to remind you of how you failed the last time you tried it. It will be good if someone else reminds you of your past failure rather than being reminded by a new failure itself. To keep the unpleasant situations at bay, you’re required to work smarter than before, set new goals and be spend more time on due diligence. Reinforcing the good, improving the bad and eradicating the ugly should be the your personal target. For that, you need a list of situations, things and people falling under each heading, for which you need to remember. Whilst you can’t afford to forget, you can definitely be kind and forgive. People at the workplace would be grateful if you forgive them for screwing your happiness in office and will definitely look up to you to forgive them when they do the same again and again. Your damage will only keep increasing and the casualties on your side will keep mounting. You forgiving people is not going to change them. In fact, by forgiving, you’re reinforcing a behaviour that didn’t work well for you. You’re also sending a signal to all around you that you’re a soft target and that you’ll not mess with anyone messing with you. You don’t need to react immediately to every situation or individual, all you need to do is make a mental note to self and start gathering ammo. By forgiving, you’re less likely to make a note forget referring it in the future. Office is not the best place to be the next Mahatma. If at all you choose to be one, you need always be cognizant of the fact that you’re not surrounded by similar DNA of benevolent nature. Before you forgive, ask a question to yourself – will you be forgiven if you’re on the wrong side?

3. Strike at the Right Time

You may be equipped with the right skills and experience on your resume. You may also have the best of strategies and plans on your computer. Your mind might be full of ideas. You may be charged, motivated, positive and your veins throbbing with passion. But the Corporate Kurukshetra demands more than all these hygiene prerequisites for success. You still need one more thing to reach that finish line. That one thing is you acting at the right time. Yes, something as basic as the right timing will eventually decide where you stand on the three-level podium. Your timing will give you the edge (or deprive you of it) when you’re in a meeting room with equally (or more) competitive, ambitious and passionate people. Being prepared is considered as a given as nothing ever replaces being ready and hands on. Getting your timing right on routine things is also obviously a given as that’s what gets your salary gets credited for. What’s important is being on the right side of timing on the ‘D’ day. Read the ‘D’ day as a specific assignment, project, case, task or cause. The specifics are the ones that make it to the “best practices” or the “awards night”. The specifics are the ones that get a special mention by the higher ups. The specifics are the ones that bring you in the consideration set for an elevation. You need to calibrate your timing to meet the needs of these specifics. The right time doesn’t come by on its own like the sun every morning. Neither does it announce its arrival nor will it ever send you an outlook invitation with an attached pre-read. You might be able to buy yourself time, but you’ll never be able to buy right timing. At best, someone might just tip you off. There are but two ways to find the right timing. You’ll either need to sniff around your office, get a sense of the situation, assess it and set your agenda rolling. Or, you’ll need to liaise, rally and lobby with people at the right desks to create an environment that makes the timing right for you. When working on your next plan of action, don’t just factor the time. Factor the timing as well!

That’s all for now and this brings me to the end of the Corporate Kurukshetra series. I hope you had a good time reading it and realize our scriptures have a lot in store for us. Even today. I definitely had a great time bringing this together. Please share your thoughts and feedback for it will help me sell stories better!   





Corporate Kurukshetra – Lessons from Arjun Part 3

Here is Part 3 of the corporate rendition of 12 lessons I derive from the life and times of Arjun. Like the previous parts, this part too will cover 3 lessons: 1. Forge Alliances, 2. When in Doubt, Ask and 3. When in Need, Seek Help. For Arjun’s life story, please refer to “Life Lessons from Arjun”. Here I stick to the Lessons for the Corporate Warrior.

1. Forge Alliances

Thumb rule – you have just one friend in office. One permanent friend and that is no one but you yourself. There are no permanent friends or foes in office. There are just permanent interests. On your first day in office, you entered alone and the same will be the case on your last day. You’ll exit alone. You’ll exit with a mixed bag of good and bad people experiences. Some you would cherish, some you would wish you forget. Your entry into your current office is history and your exit is sometime in the future. For now, whilst you’re in office, embrace some realities. Whether you realize and like it or not, there are two sides. Liking or disliking is a different issue. But if you haven’t realized it yet, you have a problem. If you’ve realized there are two sides and you’re not on either side yet, you’re someday going to come under crossfire. You don’t come to office to make friends. What you need to have in office are allies. Look around and you should be able to categorize your colleagues into two sets. Those who you know want a pound of your flesh and are waiting for a chance. And those who you think will probably not let that happen! No prizes for guessing who your allies ought to be and why. It’s always good to have allies in office. The ones who will cover your back in a bad situation, fill-in for you when a personal commitment and a deadline to meet clash, the ones who’ll answer your SOS calls and so on. It’s even better to have allies who complement you. Imagine having an ally who’s good at what you’re not so good at. Not that they’re going to be doing your work but with some help you’re definitely going to be better than what you would have been alone. You need someone who is good in his or her domain and acknowledges your strengths in your domain. People who respect your capabilities and experience, understand your situation and have a firm sense of purpose themselves are ideal candidates to forge an alliance with. Forge alliances with ambitious and positive people who can add value to your work and be a part of your success story. Ally with people who inspire you, motivate you and challenge you. Picture an ideal ally for yourself and ask yourself a question. Why should your ideal ally forge an alliance with you? Well again, no prizes for guessing that others need to see you as an ideal ally too! You don’t get anything free in office. Be verbose when forging an alliance by outlining what you have on offer and be clear in what you want in return. Be ready to scratch backs if you want your own back scratched. It’s simple. Don’t feel shy or ashamed to strike win-win deals with the right people. There also exists a third category of people among your colleagues. The ‘arms dealers’. They’re not on either of the sides. To a very large extent, they’re also immune to cross fire injuries. They thrive on chaos to get away with their prize. They swing, sway and always smile. You’ll never know what’s on their mind. There is but one rule to deal with such colleagues – “keep safe distance”. Ensure you have some strong and long term allies on your speed dial. The more, the merrier!

2. When in Doubt, Ask

Do you often crib how ‘directionless’ your work life is? Do you think it’s quite often that you’re expected to deliver something but you don’t know what and how? How you’re not clear on your tasks after a meeting is done? That there lies no way forward in a project? That after all your stakeholders make their point, there are no next steps? Or how vague an idea from someone seemed during that brainstorming session? Well none of these situations or people are going to get more articulate for your convenience. You have but one ask here – ask. All questions are good questions and no questions are bad questions. Period. You need to ask when you have low or no clarity. Doubts or queries aren’t bad. Who, what, when, where, why and how are the words that start the process of solving the mysteries around your desk. Ending sentences with a question mark highlights the fact that your mental faculties are sound. You try to picture things in your mind and feel uncomfortable with the ‘missing’ pieces. You may think asking questions may complicate things but that’s far from being true. Asking questions or sharing apprehensions clarifies expectations, helps define goals better, clears the air, reduces ambiguity and positively effects time management. There can be three reasons why you might not (or choose not to) ask. One, you fear sounding stupid. Two, you think you know it already and there is no need to ask and three, you do not see the ‘missing’ piece at all. The third reason is fine. It still lets you ask when you realize something is missing. But the realization has to come before it’s too late. The first two reasons are recipes for disaster. The fear of appearing stupid is a stupid fear. Appearing stupid by asking beforehand is by far a much better deal compared to being proven stupid later. By asking upfront you not only help yourself, you also help many others who choose to keep shut. Thinking you know it all is an eye opening thought. If that’s the reality with you, you’re wasting time in your current job. Time to move on. Getting into things half-heartedly is a bad start and no one can afford that. So the next time you have a question meet, ping, call, text or email the right people. Needless to mention, the right people obviously are the ones who would know the answer. If they don’t, you’ll need to find out who has the answer – for which, you’ll need to ask!

3. When in Need, Seek Help

Knowing you need help and asking for it – both difficult things to do. Yes there are times, you do need help to ensure you successfully navigate through situations in office, especially the bad ones. You need help when your ‘things to do’ list piles up suddenly, when something catches you unawares, when a buried issue crops up, when you’re simply not able to get a task moving, when you lose control on a project, when the ask changes faster than you progress or may be when you’re on a damage control mission. The list is endless and such situations are normal. You will also need help when you’re doing something for the first time and cannot afford to fail. You’ll also need help when you’re taking a go at something for the second or third time, having failed earlier. Obviously you learn on the job but you’re neither paid to learn nor are you paying to get coached. You’re paid to deliver and that’s what counts during appraisals. Hence you can’t keep having a go at things and keep failing at the cost of your organization’s resources and time. When you’ve tried and not succeeded, it’s a good idea to seek help, learn and move on. The why-it-didn’t-happen-right-the-first-time thought can be parked for introspection at a later date. The right help will set you on the track to succeed. Help doesn’t wait around your desk. When you’ve realized the need for help, you need to seek! Ideally, your mentors, gurus and allies are the ones who should be made aware that you need help. You’ll need to fire an SOS so that they know you are in need. Also, help also doesn’t have a permanent chair of its own in office. In fact, help chooses its own chair in a given situation. The face of the help keeps changing, depending on the need of the hour and can be sitting anywhere within or outside your office. Focus on the quality of help coming from an individual and not on things like experience, designation or function. It can come from anywhere. But you need to make a wise choice when accepting help, for it will expose your vulnerable side. In desperate need for help, do not let others get a chance to grid their own axe. You never know who exploits an opportunity at your cost. Weighting options is the only rule you can follow. And remember, help only helps those who can be helpful in return, in future. So ensure you’re seen as helpful yourself. Remember the faces who helped you, as on their bad day you should be doing your bit as well. Do not fail to remember those who didn’t help. That list can’t be ignored either. Seeking help, so long as it doesn’t become a habit, is good!