No GPS cells in my brain

I am one of those who just cannot remember the way out of a new place.  Last week I joined CISCO India which has offices on Outer Ring Road.  These are huge building complexes interconnected. And as a new employee, you will end up moving between these buildings  for HR, IT Support, Cafetaria, Parking etc.  And if you donot have the nature’s equivalent of GPS in your brain, you are in for fun!!  Here is my share in the last 3 or 4 days:

  • I drive my car into a parking space and discover that it is full. Come out of exit,  enter another parking lot and find that also full.  Before I realized that I am circling the same parking lot, I finished 3 rounds
  • Next day, I get into multi-level parking and didn’t bother to note down which level and where I parked. In the evening, I end up searching for my car for 10 minutes
  • With all the blocks of developer cubes and offices structured very similar, I invariably get into wrong block and mistake that someone else is sitting in my cube.  So now I remember to remember whether I should take a left or right after getting into a rest room, for example
  • Cisco has these several “You are here” kind of self-guiding maps almost in every block and every corner.  This has always been my problem. In an attempt to find a colleague’s office space, I stand infront of one of these maps but cannot figure out whether to take a left or right.   Another similar scenario where I get totally confused is looking at a route map and guide the driver in terms and north-south/east-west  etc

Is this just me or something that I can explain away with lack of genes or presence of some unexpected genes ?

I know if I continue in the same place long enough,  ultimately my sub-conscious mind takes over and this becomes a simple motor-skill.   Till then, I am having fun 🙂

Hiring talent into startups

It is hard to hire good talent in India these days – no matter which company. And if you are a startup, the problem only gets compounded.

While things are changing of late, I feel it is partly cultural and partly lack of awareness of startup advantages. I even came across few folks, who after going through complete recruitment process backed out in the last minute because they (and their parents) felt that their marriage prospects would be affected because of “unknown” company 🙂

There is ton of material on internet w.r.t startups. Based on my experience, few things I found that helps great deal in attracting smart geeks and good talent into startups:

Motivation & Vision. It is important to communicate this to the prospective candidate- why did you start this company and where do you see this would go in the future.

Give them examples of world changing startups and how they started. If your founding team members have past startup experience, have them talk about it. Recently, I came across the following quote from Alexander Tamas (of DST):

“The urge to built something meaningful that changes the world is a life time chance.”

Do you think of your company the same way ? If you don’t, don’t complain and stop right here.

Passion. Not only the candidates need this, but he/she should feel this in the company – in every employee out there already. So, think about how you are going to make candidate feel/perceive this in your company ?  There are no silver bullets here – if you (and your founding team) have this, it will ooze out in every thing that you do.

Sense of ownership.  This is one attribute that every single individual is bound to mention, if he/she ever worked for a startup. No big company is going to match what a startup can offer. Take full advantage of this and talk about at length to candidates. If you already have some team members, have each one of them (esp the junior ones if you are hiring into a junior position) talk to the candidates about the work they do and how they feel about it

– The Team. No smart geek wants to work in isolation. Developers like to hang out and work with other developers who are smarter than them. Having a brainstorming sessions on challenging problems with people they respect and lookup to – is like an extra dose of dopamine. They don’t mind getting addicted to this form of drug. The only question is do you have sufficient quantities of this drug (in other words, can your team produce this drug) ?  Expose the candidate to just a smell of this – he would be sold in no time.

Trust. This is ultra critical if you want your employees stick to the company, especially in startup companies. But unlike the other factors, this comes into play only after the candidate joins the company. Like a customer always trusts a company that is transparent and pro-active, employees trust their company if they find it transparent and company trusts them.

I am no expert in this matter, you will find plenty of stuff on this topic on the web. Only one key advise though: If you promise your employees something (be it their promotion, pay hike, change of work/roles & responsibilities, company future/next steps etc), please donot ever go back on your word. Put in extra-ordinary amount of effort, if required, to fulfill your promise. If you don’t, employees are gonna get hurt. Once they get hurt, they are gonna loose trust.  You may go out victorious by just announcing the failure to keep promise as some change in company policy etc. You think that meeting went well – but the effects of employees loosing trust is like a “slow release drug” – unless you are an expert in human psychology/behaviour, you are not gonna be able to correlate these negative effects with specific incidents.

But if you must go back on your word, there are ways to do that without lot of negative impact. Own it up!!. Just come clean with the employees, be transparent, explain as to why the promise couldn’t be kept, explain to them where you goofed up. They understand that  end of the day you are human and forgive you.  You may even see them even more committed if they believe you.

In short, just treat them as family – you donot have to take up any extra steps and your actions will be natural.

Comments ?

Drop bad customers – says Dabbawallas

Was a reading an article in TOI on Dabbawallas case study being added to Harvard school’s syllabus. Dabbawallas success is an old story but everytime I read about them, it amazes me as to what can be accomplished by determined and passionate souls. Inspite of all the risks(like depending on public transportation system etc) their system has, they attribute their consistent and continued success to one single point and that is:  each Dabbawalla is an EQUAL share holder. And that’s what drives them no matter what risks and restrictions

Makes me ponder – Do we have instances of “EQUAL” partnership any close to this in the more sophisticated IT world ?

Another interesting point they make  (print version of the article) is that they donot tolerate bad customers. If a customer doesn’t respond in 10 seconds, they get a warning and they drop those customers if they repeatedly donot respond in time.  They say this is the only way they keep their utmost punctuality. Good lesson for many startups who sometimes get stuck on couple of customers who take them for a spin.