Category Archives: Developing Collaboration

Building a Culture of Learning and Engagement – Part 2

Continuing with the ideas I had shared in my previous post, Building a Culture of Learning and Engagement, we need to find processes for learning and engagement that engage the mind-body-spirit of our employees. This would help to make employee engagement not just an intervention but a way of life in our organizations.

I received some excellent comments from readers to that post, and now I’m sharing some ways in which I believe we can achieve our goal:

        1. Creating a purpose driven work-force
        2. Including conversational processes in Learning
        3. Having a ‘Jugnu’ approach
      1. Creating a purpose driven work-force: Purpose can be described as the reason for our existence. Organizations are not always purpose driven but they are definitely vision driven and have clear goals and strategies. As part of alignment, we do help people see how the organizational vision connects to their role.Suppose we flip this approach. Supposing we start with each employee instead. Get each employee to identify their personal purpose and values – what matters to them – why do they exist – what makes them wake up with a spring in their step – what makes their eyes shine? Questions that perhaps they have never considered.Jobs don’t really require an answer to these, do they? Yet, a purpose statement helps us to understand the reason we exist, live and work. If we facilitate this discovery for employees, we build a sense of confidence and self-discovery in them. Only then should we link it with their organizational roles and the vision of the organization. We at Pragati Leadership strongly believe that this would enable a realizing of potential and power within people and they would then be able to be better engaged and involved with themselves and the organization. If I don’t understand myself and what I want, how will I understand what the organization aspires to achieve and my role in the same?Giving people the freedom, resources and autonomy to be able to pursue their personal purpose at work (along with their organizational role) would help to bring out both positive energy and involvement. Hindustan Petroleum has done this in a remarkable way with great success.
      2. Including Conversational Processes in Learning: Most of our OD and HR interventions are highly structured and well planned. They enable sharing of knowledge and building of skills.Yet it is informal conversations that lead to collaboration, connection and co-creation. Informal conversations lead to sharing of ideas, best practices and innovation. Organizations need to create spaces and forums to operationalize this. Two such conversational processes are: Open Space Technology (OST) and World Cafe. What is common among both of these is that a theme is chosen and people voluntarily sign up for areas or issues they are passionate about. This leads to learning and passionate ownership of actions. Many companies have experimented with regular monthly or quarterly forums where OST is introduced to employees . This has led to new ideas being generated, and more importantly,  people coming forward voluntarily to take responsibility for their implementation. These processes are sustainable, cost effective and require no external intervention. These are critical ongoing OD interventions that can build engagement and learning.
      3. Having a Jugnu Approach: The word ‘Jugnu’ means ‘fireflies’. Fireflies glow in the dark. Where there is darkness, they show the light. In an organizational context, Jugnus refers to those people who show more learning luminosity than others. In order to enhance the vibrancy, learning and luminosity of an organization, the HR/L&OD team can identify a cadre of employees called ‘Jugnus’ or ‘I-Catalysts’. These are people who are internal change agents for learning and engagement. They are naturally interested in sharing, learning, have a positive and optimistic approach and are natural communicators and magnets for others. These people can be identified through seeking nominations and selected using a check-list. With some degree of I-Catalyst training, they can become the extended arm of HR/L & D in order to catalyze learning among employees. I-Catalysts would typically be line managers .They would help to promote learning among employees by organizing and facilitating informal learning e.g. brown bag workshops, best practice sharing, debates, peer assist sessions, films, storytelling etc. Research has shown that the trend in learning is that organizations are moving away from formal training to informal learning where they don’t need to be in a classroom for picking up new skills etc. I-Catalysts can spearhead this process of informal learning within the organization.


Photo credit: pareeerica via CC BY-NC

When a culture of purpose, conversation and learning gets created, it automatically leads to greater employee engagement and involvement. People’s strengths and talents are used better. There is higher ideation and innovation. People meet across departments and silos and there is a naturally higher collaboration. There is less fear and more joy. More importantly employee engagement is no longer an HR intervention, rather it becomes each person’s priority. When this happens, the goal of the HR department has truly been achieved.

Are some of these ideas adopted at your organization? I would love to hear readers’ experiences and share knowledge so that we all learn and grow.

by Anu Wakhlu


Nothing You Can’t Do Once Your ‘Can-Do’ Spirit is Back

In my work of building collaboration within organizations, I often come across individuals who say that their performance is hindered due to the various issues they are facing. I have especially observed this among people who have spent between 2 and 4 years in the role, they seem to focus on all the problems – lack of resources, lack of cooperation from colleagues, issues with vendor deliveries, and so on.

I then ask these people to ‘roll back’ their lives to when they came to this organization for an interview.

nothing you can't do vivek blog

Photo credit: thetaxhaven via CC BY

At that time, the interviewer must have briefed you about the organization and your role, and probably also shared the challenges they are facing. Maybe there’s a crunch on resources, people related challenges or the market is sluggish.

So I ask these individuals, what was your mindset, what were your responses then? I’m pretty sure that you said, ‘fair enough, these are the challenges, but I will overcome them. I will find my way around, get cooperation from the ‘tough nuts’, influence the tough suppliers.

This is a great ‘can-do’ spirit, but somehow, I find that, after about two or three years, people have forgotten this ‘can-do’ spirit that they would have had during the interview.

So in my programs, I invite people, whatever their role, to recall that mindset and suddenly, there is a big ‘Aha’ moment for them.

If all of us, in our corporate lives, can start each day, with that mindset that we took to the interview, it will be magical. We will soon resolve the issues as our mindset is tuned to. Our approach will be, ‘I know there are issues, but the reason I’ve joined this organization is that I can make a difference. I will take charge. I will find creative solutions.’

I have found that this helps people to start seeing solutions, rather than problems.

Would love to hear from readers, have you seen this change in attitude? What can managers do to help individuals to find that ‘can-do’ spirit again?

By Vivek Yatnalkar


From Just Another Option to Employer of Choice

Why are people leaving?

Why is it that organizations hire talented (or seemingly talented) employees, train them, take pride in them (or are disappointed), and watch helplessly as they leave?

There are many factors at play here. The often heard one is the lack of employee engagement, but the real issue lies much before engagement goes for a toss. Attrition is only the result. There is no point focusing on the result. One has to focus on the causes.

The causes are varied. From the lack of proper job fitment, to a lack of touchtime with the manager, to not receiving mentoring or recognition, to feeling that one is not being allowed to contribute fully, to a lack of autonomy, a lack of direction, career growth, compensation and many others. These things need to be fixed in order for the end result to look better.

Allow me to demonstrate this through my own experiences, which will undoubtedly find echoes in everything you may have experienced or heard about engagement, retention or attrition.

Earlier in my career, I was with a BPO firm was about 3 years, and another one later for a little less than 18 months. The latter one was a mega name and had a great value system and some noteworthy HR practices.

So why did I stay for longer with the former? In the former company, 2 things stood out. I was given an almost free hand to innovate and implement, and free speech to contribute. I felt valued. I received high class training, which added value to me. So why did I quit? Well, the trainings stopped, and I was not being given credit for the work I was putting in. Nor were my managers mentoring me the way they were earlier. The place had slipped into a harder place, a business only place. It had grown. It wasn’t like a start-up anymore.

The reasons for my leaving the other company were also exactly the same. I wasn’t getting the feeling that my contributions were valued enough. The growth of my career (which I’d call my own “Business”) was not accelerated, but being impeded.

Solving the Employee Turnover Puzzle

While most of the attrition factors point directly to the manager, it is the responsibility of the organization to groom the manager and to demonstrate, not just communicate, the values that the organization states it seeks to inculcate.

The problem isn’t always top down either. Leadership in most organizations today knows the value of engaged employees, and exhorts the organization to respond to that need. (According to a Gallup study, higher employee engagement in organizations translates into an 18% rise in productivity, a 12% rise in both profitability and customer metrics, and 31% reduction in employee turnover!)

However the Leader’s message gets lost, often at the level immediately below him. The KRA’s of the senior management do include people metrics, but year end review seldom see these being discussed. Senior management knows this and allocates their scarce time to the results that will be discussed – the bottom-line.

The triple bottom line rarely if ever gets any focus. The companies in India that do focus on the triple bottom line, like ITC, find themselves on the 2011 BT list of Best Companies to Work For. The above study says that employees today are beginning to look at the career as their “business”. If organizations cannot help their business grow, they leave.

So what is the answer?

Every organization on that list puts employee comfort, health, flexibility, learning, growth and balance at the centre of their HR initiatives. The message is clear: Help employees discover and express themselves fully, and they will reward you with their loyalty, productivity and creativity.

Therefore the answer is for managers to pay a lot more attention to how their employees feel. Feel about themselves, about their manager, about the organization, and about their relationships with each other. And how does the manager go about doing that?

For starters, we as organisations must focus on imparting learning in Interpersonal, Communication, and Team Building Skills to our managers. By equipping people managers with the skills they need to make employees feel more valued, the employees are guaranteed to feel appreciated & important.

Next, we invest in building ourselves as a Learning Organization. This can be done by offering learning opportunities to our employees to further their professional and personal growth. However, Learning Organizations are those that don’t stop at training, but additionally create a learning environment that allows people the room to make a few mistakes, try new things and learn from them.

HUL is one organization that allows its employees a free hand to implement practices they think will benefit the organisation. As a result of this autonomy, their reputation among young aspirants, particularly students is that of a “dream company”. A 2011 survey by Nielsen said that HUL is one of the top five employers of choice.

Additionally, HUL provides year-round leadership training programmes, a mapping of employees’ potential and a three-year career projection, should they choose to stay on in the company.

Furthermore, we help our employees to find, rediscover or maintain that delicate Balance between work, life, interests, society, taking and giving.

Having helped our people find this awareness, we can be confident of providing a kind of leadership that nourishes the self, the organization and society.

And before long we will find ourselves on both lists: Best Employers to Work For and Most Admired Companies.

About the author: Aman Zaidi



Organisations are much like humans. They grow, they forge and manage relationships, they play nurturers and yes, they want to live past a hundred. It would make sense for organisations to do another human thing – make New Year resolutions (beyond the financial goals they set for themselves every financial year!!)

Here are a few things that I would love to see organisations resolve to do, starting this year:

Focus on Strengths – Align people to roles where they can use their innate Strengths as opposed to roles where they are merely competent. This is what will move your organisation from “competent” to “Strong”.


At the very least, Employ a Competency based approach – Use Competency Based Interviewing (preferably in conjunction with Strengths instruments) and use Assessment Centres before promoting employees. The science will take the guesswork out of hiring and promoting, saving organisation the heavy costs that result from poor performance and rehiring.

Focus on creating “Interpersonal Wealth” – It’s a more equal world than ever before. Traditional

power roles don’t hold much importance any more. Employees are less intimidated by their bosses than they used to be. There is a plethora of options out there today.


Similarly, wives are not subservient to husbands and children are not to their parents (at least in the urban world). It is just not possible to pull rank, to get things done on the basis of hierarchy – there is no hierarchy. What is needed is excellent interpersonal skill – so good that it gets termed

“Intrpersonal Wealth”! From just getting along to forging deeper relationships to having enough personal power to influence outcomes, it is interpersonal wealth that will be responsible for making organisations thrive. The smart organisation will invest in helping their employees develop this because it will impact not only their relationships with their customers and peers but also impact how well they are doing in their personal lives. Just like some organisations are investing in…

The physical health of their employees – Repetitive Stress Syndrome, Carpal Tunnel, Blackberry

Thumb, Computer Vision Syndrome, neck and shoulder pain, Deep Vein Thrombosis, Insomnia, Stress, what not! The human body is more perishable a resource these days than it ever was! Mandatory Provident Funds and Insurance are not enough. Mandatory exercise and fitness levels, mandatory limitation on working hours, mandatory vacations, ergonomic seating, “optional standing desks” and counsellors in the office – there are some things that are being done by some organisations. Many more need to be still done by a lot more organisations. The definition of workplace safety too needs to be revisited.

Employee Engagement – For those organisations that are not measuring and improving engagement yet, please partner with organizations like Gallup, Mercer, Hay Group or us. It’s a vitally important metric and in an increasingly competitive and dynamic marketplace, it is set to become even more important. In fact, I would like to see it being discussed at shareholder meetings!

Ethical – We live in difficult times, corrupt times. Recent political events in India suggest that there’s a wave rising against (financial, if not yet moral) corruption. If this is a genuinely new India, it won’t be long before people start paying more attention to corporate corruption (eg. data manipulation or payoffs to obtain ISO or eSCM type of certifications; or corporate-politician nexuses). These are times to be exemplary leaders, to show other organisations and employees the way.


Environment – There are more reasons why these are difficult times. Industry and humanity are almost locked in a battle for our earth’s meagre resources – water, land, minerals etc. It’s an age where the words “more” and “consumption” are possibly heard more In conversations than “thank you” and “please”! No one knows the meaning of moderation or restraint (neither corporations, nor politicians, nor the affluent, nor the middle class, nor Phaneesh, nor Tejpal). In such times, it’s important to think about the impact of our actions on others now and on ourselves eventually.

We need to stop and think about how what we do affects those around us. Trees, tribals, minerals, mountains, seas, soil, air, water, fuel.


 CSR – Being responsible members of society. Ensuring the well being of the vicinity and the people we share this landmass with.Walking the path of the man who spoke of pursuing the greatest good of all.

About the Author:

Aman Zaidi, The author is passionate about employee engagement and facilitates a signature workshop called Creating Involved Employees


Advaita – An approach to Conflict Management

By Aanchal Sethi and Vikas Bhatia

Through centuries, Man has been subject to conflicts both internal and external.  Denied access to God and His Divinity, man remains a hapless victim to the forces beyond control. Pain persists due to inherent contradictions between diverse thought streams resulting in perpetual conflict:

Conflict with nature; Conflict with self; Conflict with prevalent value systems.

What is conflict?  How to we thrive in spite of all conflicts?  Is there a better way to manage conflict?   Questions for which we seek answers forever.

Unfortunately conflict is one imperative of truth which just won’t vanish as the entire universe is essentially a product of conflict itself. The dilemma being, there cannot be any creation without friction, forward movement ceases without friction.

Conflicts originate through duality or Dvaita where duality means separation. Hence war persists on all fronts; a new Mahabharata every day. Surrounded by the Kuru warriors, each one an Abhimanyu, equipped with limited knowledge, does not know how to come out of this chakravyuh – the Chakravyuh of conflicts.

The lack of that knowledge (Advaita) does not allow the Abhimanyu in us to break free from the formation of worldly desires and embedded conflicts.  A desire to even break free from desires thus becomes a desire and hence conflicted. Man’s relentless pursuit of peace is elusive due to universal dualism (Dvaita) controlling the universe.  The apparent form and shape of the universe, including the building blocks of atom, the electrons and protons have an opposing nature.

The opposites always create some sort of conflict, but also very necessary for the functioning of the universe.

When conflicts are not there, one notices a sense of intimacy or belongingness.  A sense of Oneness is a characteristic often seen in the states of non-conflict.  Hence one way of defining conflict is a state lacking in Oneness or Togetherness.  How does one identify with this state of Oneness and practise that to resolve conflicts.  Is that view of Advaita only useful for inner conflicts or for resolving outer conflicts in the world too?

Conflict will always exist, how we choose to deal with it often determines our destiny.

An examination of the actions by the various characters of Mahabharata reveals how our approach to conflicts often aggravates conflicts or does not fully resolve conflicts.  And thereby it also defines our character and destiny. Most significantly, Krishna’s counselling to Arjuna on the battlefield reveals interesting insights into the role of Advaita and resolving the conflict, both inside and outside.

This knowledge of Advaita (non-duality- there is NO TWO!!) is the supreme knowledge rarely applied in moving ahead in conflicts.

Each conflict situation produces its own unique response from the affected person or persons.  The ability to recognize an appropriate strategy to deal with the conflict makes one effective in moving ahead in the world and yet remaining peaceful within.

Dhritarashtra ­- blind at birth further blinded by love for his sons, does not think it prudent to counsel his sons against their rivalry with the Pandavas. Gandhari, his wife, also chooses to not see the reality of things by tying a cloth across her eyes. Blinded by a sense of misplaced loyalty, she also becomes responsible for the unnecessary saga of war.

Both parents are unable to perceive the truth, largely due to their vain desire to see their progeny succeed. They keep “Accomodating” their son’s unjust desires and ignoring the issues of ‘Dharma’ – the duty which a king must fulfil for his subjects.

Amidst us there exists the avoiding turtle, who at the mere sign of a disagreement withdraws into a self-imposed shell. Bhishma held such an exalted position in the Kuru kingdom, had he wished he could have prevented the entire massacre of Kurukshetra. Bhishma bound himself with the vow of self-abdication and proved that even an exalted virtue like selflessness can aggravate a situation.

A leader’s reluctance to go by ‘Dharma’ – the act that must be performed and instead taking a stand that is just for the sake of pleasing the team often lets issues simmer. It is so easy to undermine the organization’s foundation by engaging in this strategy of accommodating or avoiding. Mere avoiding or accommodating does not take away the conflict.   In fact it materializes with a much greater intensity as we see later in the Great War. The comfort zone for leaders – essentially is a failure to recognize that all attachments – to people, desires and concepts come from the very nature of Dwaita.  Due to low intensity of the conflict at an early stage, the awareness and willingness of the individual to work from the space of Advaita is often limited.  This is the paradox!!  Even when the treasure trove of Advaita is readily available, we are reluctant to dive into it!!

Duryodhana’s flaming ambition ( read Ego – the component of our existence fuelling duality ) compels him to weave webs of deceit, treachery and lies.  His ambition is so sinister and grave that he builds a Lakshagrah (Palace of Wax) to burn his own brothers.

This is Competitive conflict at its fiercest. A hyper-inflated Ego doesn’t even allow the being to even contemplate about Advaita.  In its re-inforced belief that I am the winner or I deserve to be the winner of the world which is separated from me (the limited identity caused by ego). The inflexibility demonstrated by Duryodhana in his demeanour towards Pandavas is due to his strong Ego-sense.  Most of the conflict situations in the world do arise due to a very strong Ego-sense.  The dissolution of the Ego-sense leads to experiencing Advaita.  Unfortunately the dissolution itself cannot be carried out by the mind-Ego complex. This is only possible due to divine grace, which Duryodhana does not even care about.

A compromise solution is often perceived as an easy way to resolve conflict.  Here the apparent voice of reason is born out of a desire to end conflict but at the same time it is not rooted in Advaita. Here the assumption is – we are separate and we need to come close. The coming closer is just temporarily to alleviate pain or conflict.  Yudhishtira, conscious of unending conflict bends down and dangles the compromise with five villages only to have lost his dignity in a game of dice.  This is a beautiful example of an inner painful Conflict between temptation & Dharma. This compromise solution is just temporary.

A real win-win Solution is only possible with a being who is an embodiment of Advaita himself. Krishna, the master collaborator always has the right solution for the moment.  Note that, the right solution does not mean end to conflict but letting things unfurl the way they are supposed to be.  With war clouds looming large, both Arjuna & Duryodhana seek Krishna’s support. The master collaborator lends Narayani sena to the Kaurava’s and Narayan (himself) to Arjuna.  Now, that is letting a solution emerge as per the Dharma and also befitting the Karma of the individual. There is absolutely no Ego-sense interference in the working of the Advaita…the complete, perfect and all inclusive!!  Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram.

Human life is rooted in the duality of mind-ego complex which makes life a constant stream of conflicts.  In this imperfect world, the duality is embedded and perpetual.  On the plus side, we are all blessed with seed of Advaita, to end this constant Dwand of Dvaita….

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti…