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5 reasons why good Generalists are like potatoes

A man in pin-striped business suit looks happy looking at a bowl of potato fries, a bowl of potato wedges and bowl of potato chips

I was never a fan of potatoes growing up. I thought they were boring, mushy, and bland. But in the last 20 years and having moved 16 cities, I realize they are the perfect food! They are the ultimate all-rounder: mashed, fried, baked or boiled. Top it off; they go with everything, including cheese, egg, or meat – not to mention veggies too! As a bonus point: they are inexpensive and available across the globe!

I never liked potatoes as a kid because they looked too bland and mushy. But in the last 20 years, I have realized that they are the perfect food.

Rajesh Soundararajan

Potatoes do not discriminate against any other ingredient or cuisine. They can be enjoyed in any shape and size chips to fries to wedges, without discrimination! Also, Potatoes are versatile and are a must-have in different cuisines.

Much like the Generalists who can just work in any organization and culture. They have the unique ability to adapt themselves according to the needs of a team or an organization without discriminating against anyone. Like potatoes, they imbibe its values or culture of their workplace.

Generalists are like potatoes. Like potatoes, they do not have a distinctive snob factor. They usually do not cost much to hire while delivering immense value to organizations when hired well!

Like potatoes that are easy to prepare, Generalists can quickly be onboarded across industries because they possess skills which are applicable across domains

Generalists are the ultimate all-rounder, like potatoes.

Potatoes are versatile and adaptable and can be cooked in various ways. You can have your mashed spuds straight up or make them into chips, wedges or even potato gratin. These versatile tubers can be used as the main course or as the side dish—they are equally good either way!

A good Generalist is similar —they are the ultimate all-rounder who can take on any role you give them, no matter how big or small. A true Generalist will always be your second-in-command (after all, they are exceptionally good at taking orders). They are also more than capable of stepping up to lead projects if they need to do so—and sometimes even when they do not need to do so because they want some more responsibility!

Generalists are wildly versatile – mashed, fried, baked or boiled. Oops.

Have you ever noticed that potatoes are versatile? They can be mashed, fried, baked or boiled. You can use them as a side dish or main course. You can even make potato salad out of them (and who does not love potato salad?).

Just like good Generalists! Good Generalists are versatile, and they can be used in many ways. They can be used as a team lead, a project manager in the main course, or as that go-to resourceful guy.

Top it off; they go with everything, including cheese, egg, meat, or veggies. A good Generalist can be put in any department – project, product, sales, operations, or finance. They can be worked with in many ways, go with many departments and are not too pricey and accessible.

They can be your side dish or even your main course.

Like potatoes, a good generalist can be your “side dish, or even your main course” (sic). The potato and the generalist are both versatile. They can work on projects requiring technical skills but not too much specialization—tasks called “the 80%”. If you are looking for someone to take care of the back-end development of your website or app, great! Oh wait, did you say your Operations team have quit en masse? Look for a few generalists. That is yet another area where they will shine, not outside their boss. And after all this, they will probably still have time left to help with other things like graphic design or marketing (if you need it).

The bottom line is that if you need something done quickly and well—and do not mind having them around after they are done—good generalists will always be there for you.

They are also not expensive and accessible across the globe.

Yes, they are not expensive, like some Yartsa Gunbu, Spanish peas, Wasabi roots or pink lettuce. Potatoes are accessible across the globe and inexpensive. Well, there may be some La Bonnotte Potatoes, but they are more exceptions than the rule. They can be grown in most countries, which means they are available all year round, unlike other foods with strict growing seasons. Potatoes contain a valuable source of carbohydrates, vitamin C, potassium, and fibre, making them ideal for people on a budget or with dietary restrictions. Even more importantly—they can be stored for months!

Well, the generalist is produced in most countries, universally available, and significantly less constant skilling and grooming. Generalists are a valuable resource for contextualization, standardization, and cross-functional and cross-industry innovation…Even more importantly, they have a long shelf life unlike some of the tech industry, where the skills courses/certifications they attempt to gain are already ancient by the time they finish a course!

A Generalist is like a potato – good in everything but rarely gets credit for all the goodness.

Yes, a lot of things, well, from being a Patient Care Assistant or a Police Officer or a President, but they rarely get credit for all the goodness that comes from being a Jack of all trades. A Generalist can be hired for any project or team because they are usually capable in many areas. It is high time we see their versatility and pay attention as they should. From fries to wedges to chips – they are everywhere

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and found it helpful in shaping and shifting your career. If you are a Generalist like me, do not worry. We have lots of time ahead of us to prove that we are good and the best at what we do!

Follow me on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/rajeshsound/

A man in pin-striped business suit looks happy looking at a bowl of potato fries, a bowl of potato wedges and bowl of potato chips
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Leadership Lesson

Role, Respect, and Resources – the three Rs to building a successful team.

RRR

Introduction

A successful team is not just about brilliant people and good ideas. There’s no point in hoping to be successful with a bunch of individuals who don’t have clarity on what they should do, don’t have the independence to do what they should be doing, or don’t have the resources to do the things they should be doing.

Many teams can function better if these three key factors are fixed – role clarity, respect for their independence, individuality, innovation, and resources to succeed.

Role clarity

Role clarity is the first step in building a successful team. Role clarity is about knowing what to do and what is expected.

Clarifying roles involves defining responsibilities, accountability, and authority. It’s important to remember that role clarity has three main aspects: who does what, who owns what, and how decisions are made.

Each member of the team not only needs to understand not only their role but also how it fits with the other people on the team or project.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the role of each person on your team? Who’s going to do what, and why?
  • Have you ensured that everyone has clear expectations about what they need to accomplish and how they’ll do it?
  • Are there any gaps or overlaps between roles that need to be addressed?

Respect for their independence, individuality, and innovation

Each individual on the team is different, with their strengths, weaknesses, and personal interests. They would do things differently to reach almost similar outcomes. To build a team that works together, you need to respect the differences in your team members and give them independence. 

Respect also means being flexible and adaptable, seeing things from another person’s perspective. A successful leader will empower their team member to do their job by listening to their ideas and suggestions, letting them be themselves, and supporting them when they fail and succeed—wilful stepping back under watchful expertise. 

Ask yourself:

  • How do you respect your team as professionals and individuals and give them the independence to do what they need to do?
  • How are you respecting them for their intelligence and their abilities to complete the task without your micromanaging?

Resources – both tools and skilling being made available to succeed.

Resources are the tools that they need to do their job. These resources include:

  1. The technology—computers, phones, software, etc.— and tools help them do their work more efficiently or effectively.
  2. Training programs teach new skills to be more productive at work (and stay relevant in this fast-moving industry).
  3. Coaching from managers who provide feedback on how to improve performance and achieve goals faster.

Ask yourself:

  • What resources would they need to build efficiency and effect in what they do?
  • What can you provide each team member to provide with the skills and resources required to do their job and do it well?

The three Rs to building a successful team role clarity, respect their independence and resources to succeed

In conclusion, we can see that the three Rs to building a successful team are role, respect and resources. This is not just a catchy phrase but a solid framework for how you should think about your team members as individuals.

By understanding their strengths and weaknesses (role), respecting their independence and creativity (respect), and giving them the tools to succeed (resources), you can create an environment where everyone feels like an equal member of the group.

#team #teambuilding #teamwork #teamleader #teamplayer #teamplayer #teamplayer #role #respect #resources #respect #role #teambuilding #respect #teamplayer #teamleader

team building, team success, team meeting, cooperation, conflict resolution, building a successful team, leadership skills

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Leadership Lesson

Want to become better at your job? Follow these 3 things. [A beginner’s guide]

I addressed a group of young people in their early twenties and in their first jobs, on building their careers.

During the conversations, when asked about how they were contributing to the company’s success, most said they were not aware of the management team’s plans, and that I should ask their super bosses.

The same week, I met a few more mid-level managers who had decent experience and were reasonably good in their functions and jobs. I curiously asked them again how they were contributing to the company’s success. Again, the answer was almost similar to what the rookies in the first jobs said.

In both cases, this is what I shared with them, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share in this post –

All businesses need three things.

  1. Revenue maximization
  2. Profit maximization
  3. Operational excellence

Everything and anything that you do as a business or in your job will fall under one of these things. All functions – sales, marketing, finance, technology, operations, customer support, or human resources – focus on one more of the above three. That is the purpose of their existence.

So, if you are the CEO, a rookie, or a mid-level manager, when you wake up every morning, you can ask yourself these questions (or similar) and work towards them during the day.

The questions you may ask each morning?

  1. What are my revenue sources?
  2. How can I increase my sales?
  3. How can I add more customers/ partners ?
  4. How can I go into new markets?
  5. How can I increase my profits?
  6. How can I reduce the costs of my operations?
  7. How can I do more with less?
  8. How can I build efficiency when to all the things that I do?
  9. How can I build effectiveness into all the things that I do? Can I do something better or find a new way to begin things that can help me become faster, cheaper, or better.

Revenue maximization

  • How can I get closer to my customer/ partner?
  • How can I address my partners/ customer’s unsolved problem?
  • How can I get more share out of the customer’s wallet?
  • How can I increase the sales?
  • How can I get into new markets?
  • How can I get new customers’ questions?

Profit maximization

  • What can I do to cut costs?
  • What can I do to increase profits?
  • What can I do to play better with the pricing?
  • How much should I increase the product’s price to bring in 25% more in absolute profits?
  • How much will a decrease of 5% in the selling price affect my profits in absolute terms?

Operational excellence

  • How can I build efficiency and effectiveness in the system?
  • How can I hire better people?
  • How can I write a more efficient code?
  • What technology or framework should I deploy to give better response time to my users?
  • How can I motivate people so that they deliver their best every day?
  • What can I do play build a culture of continuous improvement in the organization?
  • What can I do to improvise on a current way of doing things so that I can increase more sales or get into new markets?
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CEO change differentiate future Leadership Lesson manage organization people risk-taking

3 Steps towards Building an Amoeba Organization*

Is your organization structured like an Amoeba?

Successful businesses can continually alter its organizational structure to meet the changing demands of the environment in which they are operating. Each of that change helps them propel forward to achieving the goals the organization has set for itself. And finally, it is not bound the rigid boundaries that are prevalent in the industry or in other industries. Let us take each of these with an example

Business is no Biology, Why then are we talking of Amoeba, here?

An amoeba (/əˈmiːbə/) is a type of organism which

  • can alter its shape, primarily by extending and retracting pseudopods.
  • propels forward (and feeds) by using and extending a pseudopod and let’s go its rear portion
  • do not form a single taxonomic group and are found among the protozoa, fungi, algae, and animals.

A successful business means these 3 things

1. Altering the structure:

Altering the structure of an organization is usually a daunting task. It requires a leader to think out of the box and often begets undesirable resistance from HR and other units that look for status quo for ease of administration. Even in the many cases where an organization undergoes reengineering and restructuring, it often is a laborious exercise and involves months of planning and years of execution. It is anything but simple. But then creative leaders know can get this done.

In one exceptionally large organization that I was working, it was boom time and the business team was quite successful in meeting and exceeding targets. We had an extremely capable sales team and marketing team. The technical team was terrific. The Unit was on a super-fast growth. Yet, burnouts and the low compensation started to take its toll. The Business Unit leader was fully aware of the consequence and had many meetings with HR in vain. So, in this case, he hired a ‘marketing manager’ and the job role was clearly defined as an ‘excitement specialist.’ The measurement was about creating excitement in the team and help the unit be a fun place. The new-hire, an ex-advertising professional from a reputed Advertising Agency exactly knew what to do to build that excitement in the team. She was successful and the need for that position had been done away within 12-18 months when intended results of retentions and motivation were achieved.

There were other times, what was needed was ‘just a process to be set in place,’ or entire unit was to be focussed on ‘competitive win back.’ The organization structure changed countless times, where the required people were brought in or moved out and/or roles changed dynamically. Such changes could not have been reflected under the rigid structure, but with a creative leader, we were able to achieve none the less. The organization not only survived one of the worst dot com busts but propelled forward to be a leader in the industry as competition floundered. And that brings us to the second point.

2. Propel Forward:

To propel forward is a simple term but then defining the forward is the key. The forward could mean winning competition even at a short-term loss or it might earn profit maximization. It might mean the need for PR or need for better sales closers. There can be a couple of areas where one needs to move forward, and it only means adequate resources are deployed in those areas for that duration to make them successful. Any less, the effort would go waste. Any more, we might not be doing it efficiently. Propel forward for an organisation unit may be different from the standard industry practices.

The key to propelling forward is to let go of the past that is holding us back. We could have had an organization that was great and successful in the past but continuing the same activity and being tied to the past will slow the unit down. The key to propelling forward is to let go of the tenets that gave success in the past and unbound and unleash itself.

3. Unbound and hence Unleashed:

The core tenet is being unbound and unchained by the dogmas that exist in the organization and unit. Any change like this is seen as maverick and would lead to eyebrows being raised and questions being asked. The only way to address such criticism is to continue to deliver on outcomes. The team would need to be fully aware that they are being taken into full confidence and it needs to work on ‘a mission mode.’ Goals are pursued as a mission, and the team sees itself as a task force and a crack team. Call it permanent beta, disruptive innovators – any name that you wish. The idea is to take the team along and make sure they are unbound and unleashed all the time to deliver their best.

Go ahead try it! Build your own Amoeba Organization*.

If you like such articles – You can follow some great resources on

 This above article first appeared in the Times of India on April 03, 2019

Rajesh Soundararajan is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Futureshift Consulting, a boutique consulting outfit that helps organizations chart their business, marketing and technology strategies that generate demand, drive predictable revenue and achieve impactful outcomes.

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*I am not talking here about Amoeba Management, which is a system designed by Kazuo Inamori, the creator and current honorary chairman of Kyocera. Amoeba Management is different from building an Amoeba Organization that I am talking of and is primarily composed of personnel in a company, with a clearly defined purpose of making a profit for itself.

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Six Things to Remember While Writing Feedback

Over the two decades in the many leadership roles, giving/writing feedback was one of the most arduous of all jobs — across dozens of roles, organizations, countries, and cultures. If you are a manager or a team leader — you are solely responsible for the feedback you are giving your team, both on content and method.

So, what is the secret of giving/ writing feedback?
Feedback giving/ writing is both an art and a science. It is an extremely critical component of team building and as much as it is for developing one’s own career. I have condensed the feedback process into six points that can work in any situation. Good feedback will help your team be high on energy and ideas, become awesome in execution and develop a great attitude.

The secret sauce, ironically, is not about the receiver of the feedback. It is about asking yourself (feedback giver) these six vital questions.

  1. Am I being specific?
    It is extremely critical to be as specific as you can be. It is easy to get carried away with analogies and incidents related to the point being discussed. Such meandering, however well-intentioned it may be, often leads to dilution of the message. It may even lead to a defensive mindset being triggered for the receiver. State facts and give examples in support of the feedback being given. Nothing more, nothing less.
  2. Am I showing the way to grow and develop this person?
    Your job as a reviewer is to develop and grow people. Pointing to shortcomings does not help in any case. In fact, it would work counter-productive as the receiver pulls up the defences and closes their mind to any suggestions.
  3. Can this person really do something about this?
    Think before if this person can do something about this or if you can help to change this behaviour? If the answer is no, that specific feedback is best left unsaid. Yes, think about it. What is the purpose of feedback on which the person cannot act?
  4. Will this add value to this person?
    Focus your feedback on its value for the receiver. If your feedback will not add value to the receiver in the current state, resist from even saying it. Often, it is for us to offer some advice because it is dear to us and (however well-intentioned) do not think of the value it would add to the other person.
  5. Does this represent facts?
    Write feedback promptly when the incident is fresh in your mind. Do not let other unrelated incidents influence your feedback. Good managers maintain a small notepad, to jot down incidents when they occur. This small notepad is worth terabytes of data that may be residing in our memory. Maintaining and referring that small notepad, will always bring us back to the facts at hand.
  6. Finally, let silence do the heavy lifting.
    Silence is an extremely powerful tool. Any good negotiator would tell you that people tend to underestimate the power of silence when it comes to sales and social dynamics in general. “Saying nothing is way more powerful than spoken words” they would vouch. Silence during feedback not only defines alpha roles but also build the readiness to assimilate, process and draw on an action plan in the receiver’s mind. You must recognise the five signs that indicate silence is needed
  • Interrupting by talking over someone else
  • Formulating your response while someone is talking
  • Using a break in the conversation to create a distraction to change topics
  • Talking in circles
  • Monopolizing airtime

With these six simple steps, you will see your self a lot more effective and sought after by your team and people Try it out!

This article first appeared on the Times of India Blogs on March 22, 2019.

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Rajesh Soundararajan is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Futureshift Consulting, a boutique consulting outfit that helps organizations chart their business, marketing and technology strategies that generate demand, drive predictable revenue and achieve impactful outcomes.