There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Light

By Sudeshna Dasgupta

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Business Talk: Which Way Ahead??

By Ananya Mukherjee

HR pundits have identified the gaps in the existing HR strategies that when effectively addressed can translate into higher productivity and better bottom-line results.
Basic Instinct: Being Fundamentally Right
Naturally, as the market rebounds, employers will be looking at using this upswing to their advantage. Growth is clearly on everybody’s agenda, but what is the best way forward?
“In times of crisis we have traditionally responded by being conservative and hedging our bets, but with recent events we are realising that the situation is quite volatile and unpredictable. We have to have the combination of being quick to spot opportunities and act on them and being prudent in other places where maybe opportunities are not so intense. Market-specific adaptation is needed,” Milagros C Perez, vice president for Global HR areas, Philips, says.

Learning points
Therefore, keeping the voice of the markets within hearing distance is key, she adds. HR needs to truly understand not just what the markets are saying but also ensure that these are accurately translated into its plans concurrently. “In HR, we are starting to do this through a disciplined approach to workforce planning, working hand-in-hand with the business in concretising the implications of our business plans and projections into structure, headcounts, capabilities and sourcing. In addition, we intend to review our existing HR practices to see where it makes sense to have market-driven policies instead of global ones,” she underlines.
Star Wars: Talent Attraction & Management
Having said that, no matter how foolproof the infrastructure is, businesses cannot run successfully without managing the talent optimally. No strategy or execution can be achieved without the right people in the right places and HR needs to be relevant in achieving this for the organisation.
Moreover, as Singapore transforms itself into a global hub for technical and managerial expertise, global talent will become increasingly central to its competitiveness, HR leaders point out. The challenge, however, is not restricted to attracting global talent only, but also to find innovative ways to prepare local talent for global roles. Developing a new generation of leaders and accelerating their development is seen as one of the fundamental challenges in the year to come. “Singapore, like Japan and China, has a rapidly ageing executive pool. The next generation of executives is ambitious and keen to join the executive ranks at a much younger age than their predecessors. The challenge is to accelerate their development and build a ready pool of next-executives who can move into leadership positions sooner,” notes Indranil Roy, managing director, Asia Pacific for Korn Ferry International’s Leadership and Talent Consulting Business.
Besides, the workforce today is a combination of different ethnic and cultural groups, with different expectations and as the job market slowly improves, better work opportunities will surface. Employees may be tempted to leave if they feel that their employers are not giving them enough in terms of stability, growth and developmental opportunities, or they do not feel connected with their organisations, Sureish Nathan, vice president, Asia Pacific, Center for Creative Leadership, observes. “Perks like compensation and career development opportunities play a big part in retaining talents, but ultimately, the most compelling reason for employees to stay is the relationship they have with their immediate managers,” he says.
Long-term solution
As a starting point, fair pay and attractive benefits will have to be in place to reward the employees who have weathered the downturn together with the organisation. Also, it is high time to start coaching your employees and giving them a chance to continue learning. A company is likely to lose its key employees if it does not provide enough opportunities for their development, learning and advancement, HR practitioners share.
As mentioned before, engaging and retaining talents is about how good leaders are. A CCL study on employee engagement conducted in partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton found that among those who strongly agreed that they worked for a manager that cared about their well-being, 94% said they intended to stay with their current employer. “The most effective way to engage and retain employees is to improve the quality of managers at every level in the organisation. Companies need to focus on helping managers learn how to be a good coach, give effective feedback and provide direction to facilitate the learning and growth of their people,” Nathan suggests.
Never say Goodbye: Talent Retention
Attrition is an issue that remains a major concern for HR whether the market is buoyant or recovering, and so it will remain a dominating factor in HR management in 2011. Human resource gurus agree that retention is linked to engagement and this is strongly correlated with how an individual feels his managers and the organisation are interested in his individual and career development. So why is developing talent a challenge? Andrew Bryant, director, Self Leadership International remarks: “Because it requires an integrated and cultural approach and many organisations are too focused on execution with the minimum cost. In addition, there has been a strong Asian mindset of following establishing procedures rather than finding creative ways to lead and solve problems.”
Follow the leaders
However, not all organisations fall into that category. Employers have formulated all kinds of innovative designs such as workplace fl exibility, work-life harmony initiatives, rewards and recognition policies, healthcare benefits amongst others to top up the already existing tools like pay for performance, higher bonuses, career management, training and development opportunities that help retain talent. For instance, NatSteel has found a unique tool to motivate its workforce which has an average age of 42. Protecting the health of its people is key to sustaining productivity and managing medical costs, says Frankie Yung, vice president, human resources, NatSteel. The organisation has done well in this regard, having achieved the Platinum standard for the Singapore HEALTH Award.
The organisation has a comprehensive health programme, Yung informs. It conducts annual health screenings for all staff aged 40 and above, and biannual health screening for other staff. “This enables us to arrest any health issue at its early stage. Any employee discovered to have chronic illnesses are managed by our Occupational Health Unit on an ongoing basis. Through this effort, we are able to reap the benefits of having less downtime, while ensuring that staff productivity is not compromised.”
In short, foster a work environment in which employees feel appreciated for their past conducts, see that their present is taken care of and perceive a definite growth for themselves in the future.
Measure the Intangible: HR Productivity
Having said that, it is also time for HR to look into its own mirror image and gauge its functional success. Traditionally, HR professionals talk generally and conceptually about employee morale, turnover, and employee commitment as outcomes of HR efforts.
But the HR function can no longer be an expense generator and administrative function and not a value-added partner. As HR expert Dave Ulrich was once quoted as saying, to fulfill the business partnership role of HR, concepts need to be replaced with evidence, ideas with results, and perceptions with assessments.
ROI-the ultimate checklist
Naturally, the need for measurement becomes vital. HR gurus recommend that as managers, you need to focus more on the money spent on people costs for ROI in terms of dollar and compare the improvement with the previous year. Beyond that, begin putting each of your job functions under the microscope. For example, start with checking the quality of your recruitment skills. Are you hiring the right talent for the right job? Check the performance appraisals of new employees and you’ll know if you are doing it right.
Determine the difference between the talent who take jobs offered due to development opportunities and the employees who leave the company because of a lack of a good career path, and you will have clues to many unanswered questions.
The Road to Success
With the emergence of significant regional powerhouses like India,China and Korea,Singaporeis no longer an attractive destination for low cost activities. Even for higher-end skills like R&D and technical expertise, China andIndia are proving to be increasingly attractive destinations. Singapore, therefore, has to constantly set the bar higher for its own workforce to remain competitive. The emphasis has to be on innovation, creativity and higher-end technical skills and governance skills.
Most importantly, markets and economies are changing fast. Most of HR insights are from hindsight and no one can confidently predict what is going to happen. So organisations make choices based on how it views the world and where it fits in it. Whilst as HR, you can plan for those choices you must also know that at any time you may have to change the course because the landscape will change yet again. However, by mapping out some of the anticipated challenges, HR managers may be able to plan their strategies more effectively.
(The article was first published in The HeadHunt newspaper)

Aleph: Where Time & Space Converge

By Ananya Mukherjee

If Aleph is indeed the autobiographical account of  Coelho's journey of personal discovery, The Zahir is perhaps a reflection of his inner search, only narrated more beautifully. Aleph, in all fairness is probably Paulo Coelho's most personal account ever to be printed in black and white, yet, if you have read The Alchemist or The Zahir before, you may find traces of a deja-vu in Aleph.

The novel starts with Coelho's revelation apropos the stagnation of his spiritual growth. He embarks on a journey that starts from Africa and then to Europe and Asia via the Trans-Siberian railway. Most of the book describes the author's experiences during the journey with his publisher and Hilal, a girl whom he meets in the travel. Coelho soon finds out that she's the one whom he had loved five hundred years ago in a different incarnation. What follows next is a very intimate account of the relationship in their past lives. 

Here the novel takes a Bollywood slant and for those with a more realistic eye, the timelessness of Hilal's presence in Coelho's life is somewhat unconvincing. If reincarnation and related stories are not particularly your choice, I would suggest you skip this novel.

To me, reading Coelho is a trial of self discovery more than the relevance of its contents in terms of realism. The beauty of the sentences leave an indelible mark on me, the magic of his words and thoughts often overwhelming and provoking the mind to see beyond what the eyes can behold. 

And who knows such an Aleph may just exist somewhere for you too....waiting only to be discovered!   

Fourth Estate Under Threat!

By Deepak Adhikari
Kathmandu, Nepal

In the dead of the night on June 5, Khilanath Dhakal, a reporter with the Nagarik daily newspaper, was brutally attacked.
He was in Biratnagar, a once thriving industrial town in Nepal's southern plains. Members of the Youth Association Nepal, a wing of the Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), a party that until June 30 ruled the country, targetted him.
They were angry with his report on June 2 which exposed their attack on a rival gang while inside a local court.
Dhakal, 23, had moved to the border town a year ago. He was invited to an intersection with the pretext of a meeting and then forced to pillion ride a bike. The assailants, armed with bamboo sticks, drove to a secluded place and assaulted him. He sustained serious head injuries. Luckily, not long after his attack, a policeman spotted him running for his life.
A man of slender build, Dhakal is now back to work after undergoing 18 days of treatment in the local hospital’s neurology unit.
“The attack was the worst incident of my life. But on a positive side, it triggered a massive, countrywide campaign and my case became a symbol for a battle for the free press,” Dhakal told the Doha Centre for Media Freedom. “My pictures and the accompanying news was covered by all the media and it felt good to be a part of the campaign.”
Undeterred by the assault, he started to file stories for his daily column, often highlighting the wrongdoings of Parshuram Basnet, a local UML activist, who, says Dhakal, ordered the attack.
"Parshuram Basnet became indispensable to certain leaders in UML precisely because he has been able to acquire overwhelming dominance over rivals in the environs in and around Biratnagar,” wrote columnist Aditya Adhikari for The Kathmandu Post in June.
This phenomenon, when the state allows the prime suspect loose, in disregard for the rule of law, has cast a dark shadow over Nepal's fragile and troubled transition to democracy.
Private media flourished after the restoration of democracy in 1990 and is credited with creating awareness about the fledgling set-up.
It also helped the 2006 pro-democracy movement that forced King Gyanendra to step down and paved the way for an end to the decade long Maoist insurgency. But since then, the media has found itself in a murky environment.
Several armed groups, all jockeying for power, launched after the Maoist insurgency ended. They often threaten journalists, prompting them to self-censor.
Culture of impunity
Journalists like Dhakal, working in a hostile environment outside the capital Kathmandu, no longer feel safe.
There is a culture of impunity that encourages and protects armed groups, which rely on violence and even resort to murder in some cases.
These groups could either be purely criminal or gangs masquerading as political outfits. Often nurtured and used by political parties, the government rarely punishes them.
This protection, Dhakal said, is at the heart of the crisis.
"This also shows how weak the state has become,” he said. “If the officials arrest these people, then there is pressure from the politicians. Fearing for their jobs, the officials bow to the highhandedness from the politicos."
These days, Dhakal, who has recently reported on an illegal arms deal involving Basnet, treads cautiously, informing the local police about his whereabouts.
But, he adds, he still “can't think of any other (better) profession except journalism."
The Committee to Protect Journalists’ impunity index, released in June, ranked Nepal as the seventh most dangerous country out of 13 from 2001 and 2010.
“Political parties have, in competition with each other for power and resources, built vertical networks that extend from Kathmandu to the districts ... and operate in a grey zone between legality and illegality,” wrote Adhikari.
A series of attacks
It has been a long time since journalists in Nepal have been able to report freely.
Several recent examples demonstrate the kind of threats reporters encounter.
The assassination in February 2010 of Jamim Shah, a media entrepreneur was covered internationally. After providing detailed coverage of the circumstances leading to Shah's murder in the Kantipur, the country's influential daily, its editor and publisher also received threatening phone calls.
In January 2009, Uma Singh, a radio reporter in her mid-20s based in the restive southern plains of the country, had written articles critical of the local administration. A group of armed men hacked her to death. 
In December 2009, Tika Bista, a 22-year-old journalist with the national Nepali-language newspaper the Rajdhani Daily was working in the remote western hills of Nepal. Members of the Maoist party attacked her until she was unconscious, leaving her 20 metres under a cliff, with severe head injuries and lacerations. Forced to flee, she now works from the Kathmandu office.
Maoists and the monarch
The darkest day in recent history for Nepal's media was on February 1, 2005. Gun-toting army soldiers raided newsrooms across Kathmandu and major cities, following King Gyanendra’s orders. All communication systems, including the internet, were shut down. The country's half-dozen TV channels and radio stations were banned from broadcasting anything except the royal proclamation.
During the King's autocratic rule, from February 2005 to April 2006, there was a severe media clampdown and heavy censorship. After the restoration of the parliament in 2006, however, the interim constitution guaranteed freedom of press.
Before that period, the biggest threat to the safety and independence of Nepal's journalists came from the Maoist insurgency.
Journalists, especially those critical of the leftist rebels, were threatened, kidnapped and murdered. 
Shailendra Kharel, a freelance photojournalist who worked in the conflict-hit midwestern region for theKantipur daily, said journalists were often caught in the middle.
"If we covered Maoists, the army would suspect us for collaborating with the rebels. On the other hand, the Maoists would call us spies if we met security personnel,” he said.
More than 14 journalists were killed during the insurgency, a majority of them at the hands of state security forces.
It was after that period that criminal gangs entered the fray. Threatening journalists, such as the young Dhakal, they punish those who even think of writing anything critical of their behaviour.
"Things like these tend be a natural byproduct of the transitional phase that we're in," said Dharma Adhikari, the general secretary for the Media Foundation, a Kathmandu-based research group.
In recent years, the threats from non-state actors have far outweighed the ones from the state, but the Nepalese media is ‘revolutionary,’ he argued.
"The media has been one of the most vocal institutions in the transformation taking place in Nepal,” he concluded, echoing the sentiments of many who continue to endure pressure in their fight for press freedom.
Deepak Adhikari is a Kathmandu-based journalist whose work has been published in his native Nepal and internationally, including TIME magazine. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being....Jobsless

By Aritro Bhattacharya
Kolkata, India

This Bijoya Dashami, as Maa Durga of our ancestral Puja was about to hit the waters of Ganga, I slipped in some fervent prayers. There were the usual greedy supplications to take care of me, my parents, my girlfriend, my one-car-one-home-one-pug-two-kids utopia, my depravities, my aspirations, my fears, my nightmares. It was all about the I. The prayer, inexplicably, however, ended with "Maa, take care of Steve Jobs". But then, not so inexplicable I guess. It ended indeed with an 'i'.

Before the 8th of January, 2007, Steven Paul Jobs was as alien to me as Justin Bieber is to me now. Prior to that fateful smoggy Bhubaneswar morning, I was another cog in the all-encompassing wheel of Infosys. I was 24, I was still trying to get a hold of software programming, boozed and/or doped most nights, and had already attempted once to take my life. I was trying to be in terms with a bad heartbreak, and to top it all, my ex-flame was in the same town, allegedly with another guy. Rudyard Kipling, I believe, once famously said that all of us want to run away from something- if not from a troubled home or childhood, at least from an unpleasant school. At that point of time, I really wanted to run away. From life it seemed.

But then, I digress. On that fateful morning, in between learning to be efficient with spreadsheets, I clicked open a mail from a friend of mine. It was a fairly long note, and the subject was suffixed by the dreaded "Fw:". I was about to use my newly-found alacrity of pressing Shift-Del, but then suddenly, the penultimate sentence of the mail caught my eyes. Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, it said. And I decided to not go back to my mundane A6-B5 filling up of cells. And am thankful I did.

By now am sure you have assumed, and correctly so that the mail contained a copy of Steve Jobs's famous speech at the Stanford commencement, that for the last few days have been translated and transliterated into every conceivable language by every conceivable newspaper. In 2007, however, it felt orgasmic. It felt like a million suns had exploded in my brain. It resonated as the best poetry I had ever read. The three stories literally had me hooked on. If the first salvo was about connecting the dots, the last straw invariably was about stoking the hunger and stupidity within oneself. It wasn't about reading a billionaire technocrat (honestly, I didn't know it then) ranting about his life. It wasn't about the drivel of a been-there-done-that honcho. Certainly not the pedagogy of a CEO to future business leaders. Rather, it was Bob Dylan. And the Buddhha. Or Vivekananda. And Rajesh 'Anand' Khanna. Or Sharukh 'Kal Ho Naa Ho' Khan. It was Lucky Ali. Or Kurt Cobain. And Allen Ginsberg. And Mohammad Ali. And Che Guevara. And the innate Bohemian we all secretly cherish. And it was all I needed. To come back to life. And solving its eternal puzzle of connecting the dots and expecting that a Mac Air takes shape. Even after churning out a thousand useless prototypes.

Today, when the world mourns the death of a genius. A visionary. An employer. A friend. A husband. A colleague. A classmate. A partner. A father, I feel lost. Because I was not an employee, or son, or fanboy, or colleague, or partner, or techno-blogger, or biographer, or columnist. I was just a believer who Steve Jobs healed. And inspired. And retaught dreaming. And hoping. And had been doing so for the last several months. Every single day.

Bijoya Dashami and Dussehra coincides every year. This year was no exception. As the Hindu diaspora revelled in the defeat of bad by good, I stole in a sly smile. Steve Jobs defeated cancer, didn't he?? After all, he is on the same side as God!!!

Thank you, Steve. Stay hungry stay foolish iWill.