Am I “LIVING” the Life?

This blog is not a ‘TOI Thinking Tree’. However, there are moments in our lives when we often tend to question the basis of our convictions. Today was one such day for one of us. Below is his journal entry for the day.

Around 10:30 am today, my boss at client site asked me to participate in an interview discussion along with two other people. One of the interviewees we happened to meet was Shankar (not the real name). A commerce gold medalist; 8 years of experience; married with 2 kids – A daughter in the 3rd standard and a son who is 2 years old. His wife has a science degree with distinction, and is a housewife. Here is what transpired during the interview (as you will see, the interview went a little bit off track), after the basic work related discussion was over. Do note: they went well. This guy certainly knew his subject fairly well.

 

Interviewers: Shankar, what is your current salary?

Shankar: 1.8 lacs per annum.

 

Interviewers: “!” ….. You have said that you have 8 years of experience; didn’t you get salary revisions during this period? 1.8 lacs for a person with 8 years’ experience is bit strange (Note: it is considerably lower than the market. A similarly experienced person is expected to draw at least 6 Lacs per annum); it is not fitting well?

Shankar: Sir, as I mentioned, I worked as a private school teacher for 6 years out of the total 8 years. Due to family circumstances…. my father was sick.. I could not leave my hometown and join the corporate world. Therefore, I joined a private school as a teacher where my salary was very low. After my father passed away, I moved to Hyderabad and joined ABC Inc. The company offered me a packaged based on my last salary i.e. based on my salary as a private school teacher.

Interviewers: But you know the market standards. What are your thoughts about inflation, increasing expenses etc?

Shankar: I don’t think much about these things as they are not in my control. Inflation needs to be looked after by government. Regarding expenses – If my daughter has grown, and she has to go to school, I cannot stop an increase in my expenses by not sending her to school. So I take these things as they come.

Here, out of curiosity and to understand how Shankar does manage his expenses and his life, (or is it just that he is unambitious and lazy?) the panel decided to probe further. We were interested in hiring him; however, we have had multiple experiences in our professional career of people who are super performers in interviews but due to personal idiosyncrasies are unsuitable for the job. We started using diplomatic language, putting in caveats (“you do not have to answer if you don’t want to” etc.) and Probed. Do note, Hyderabad is a fairly expensive city to live in… 1.8 L p.a. by general consensus is too low an amount to survive here.

 

Interviewers: Shankar, what do you think about life? Also, how do you ensure that you and your family members are enjoying life? It is personal question, but we would really like to know your view point. So you can answer it in a controlled manner as per your discretion.

Shankar: – Sir, Life is beautiful. This is the one and only, limited and finite life we have. So we should enjoy it fully. Every morning, I ensure spending a ½ hour of free time with my wife and kids before I come to office. After going home, I take all the family members out for a ½ to 1 hour walk; irrespective how late I reach home (of course there are sometimes exceptions, such as if it is raining outside). This is the time when all of us share our day’s events with each other. Once a month, I ensure to take them out for a lunch or dinner. Also, once a month, I ensure to take them out for a picnic to any garden or a movie (if there is a good one that has released). Once in six months, we go on a long-trip either to my wife’s parents or to any tourist spot. By doing all these small little things, I try to make their life, and my life enjoyable.

Interviewers: (Wow! With the money at our disposal, even we do not do all of this. If this guy really happier than we are?) – This is great! But, isn’t it difficult to manage all this with limited financial resources? Why we are asking this question is: you have now moved to Hyderabad, and this city is expensive as compared to your hometown. You know this, you have been here for two years. If you will not be able to manage all the stuff that you mentioned with the money that you earn, you may very well leave this job (if we give it to you) and move on. You said your wife is a housewife but is well-educated; can’t she also join a job to share the expenses? It is just a suggestion, please ignore if you didn’t like it.

Shankar: Sir, I don’t think that I am doing too much which is really money dependent. Of course, some amount of money is attached to outings twice a month and trips every six months, but for my family’s happiness, I manage it by cutting corners here and there. Regarding my wife’s job…

Interviewers: No no, you can very well ignore it, we don’t want to enter into your personal domain.

Shankar: No sir, there’s nothing personal in it. I was just saying – My wife is doing the toughest job I can think of, that of taking care of our kids. Believe me, I am not capable of doing it; I may do it for few days, but cannot do it consistently well with the required patience. I need to really appreciate my wife for this rather than cribbing for her not participating in the monthly expenses. Moreover, the duty of managing family expanses lies primarily with me. Of course, if my wife wants to do a job at her will, she can definitely do it; she is an educated woman.

Interviewers: This is a very nice thought, but in this competitive world, don’t you feel this may put you in a lagging situation in the society, say in comparison to you friends or relatives …. these days both husband and wife work to raise the living standards

Shankar: Sir, when my kid cries or when my wife is sad, does any friend or relative come to help me? I definitely need to be nice to all my friends and relatives as per the social norms, but I cannot spoil the peace and happiness of my family by comparing my status against others. In that case, I should have a bigger crib of not being born in the family of a business tycoon, isn’t it? I need to make my comparisons against myself and myself only…I definitely need to ensure that my future status is better than my present. But that is so that there are smiles on the faces of my wife and my kids when I leave home in the morning and when I reach home in the evening. I need to guarantee that…. Just like they are today.

We look at each other, a little sheepishly perhaps. This is quite amazing. This guy is not downwardly mobile. He is not lazy. He is at peace. He is happy. His family is happy.

Interviewers: Great, Shankar. It was nice talking to you, and we will get back to you.

Oh My God! This was thought-provoking. Even though I am blessed with some level of prosperity; am I really living my life?

Training vs Development (Why Leadership Devp. Training fails – from Forbes)

From Forbes.com

Why do the plethora of leadership development training programs fail? – Click here to get to the main article.

Very interesting point. Many of us have been subjected to Leadership Development programs. Did you gain anything?

For the matter I guess all of us have been subjected to multitudes of soft-skills development programs. did you ever gain anything out of them? Speaking for myself (Shom), I gained all of the soft skills (which I claim to have) by observation, and a good part of my subject-matter skills through training.

So there. Taking a stand. You?

(PS: No, this blog is not changing track. There will be many more articles on strategy, pricing, proposal management etc…. i.e. the original posts. But along with those, moving forward, we will sometimes put in links to some of the interesting articles we read, along with our observations, on this blog)

Interesting! Why Small Text Size will lose you business…

You already know that we as a group and as individuals are passionate about the whys and wherefores of communication. One of us takes regular training sessions on ‘getting ideas communicated’.. and articles such as the one here are definitely the ones that pique the imagination.

Text size on websites. Often ignored. But important. Rear this, from makethemclick.com.au

Why small text size will lose you Business (MakeThemClick)

How to know when NOT TO bid for an RFP

This comes as the response to a comment to a previous article: it makes sense to expand on the point.

The former Chief Commercial Officer at my previous organization, Rob, championed and created the template for a “Pond Map” which every practice / vertical leader had to create for his/her practice. The concept was about ‘which pond do you want to fish in?‘ i.e. who is your client? Parameters were created to define and drill deep into the identity of the client for each practice. And every new RFP and every new proposal was expected to go through this pre-defined pond map (note: pre-defined by the practice), and were rejected if the client requirement and the pond did not fit.

A Few observations:

  1. Everyone likes to throw a bowl of spaghetti on the wall, hoping that some will stick. Maybe some will… but the resources used up for this exercise is immense and eventually worthless, especially for an organization which does not have infinite resources.
  2. It trained me and many other strategy team members to ask a basic question to every practice leader, even at the business-case stage – ‘who is/are the client that you would DEFINITELY NOT go for”. Unsurprisingly, the most common response from almost every practice leader was – ‘you know, I don’t think anybody is out of our pond”.
    Well, if everybody is in your pond, you don’t even know what is your pond. And that would get us back to spaghetti throwing.
  3. One common refrain from Sales and Practices was that – There is sureshot money here, would you not go for this deal? While it was not openly said, I think answer is ‘Yes’. every deal is a sureshot win until the prospective client chooses someone else. The process has to be more important than a hunch.

This lets the organization rationally judge and say YES or NO to go for a project. That is: you have yourself defined your pond. This deal falls out of the pond. So this project is out, we are not bidding for it. Even if the tool is not used, the concept is certainly something that every organization should embrace.

Helps in way too many things too. Consider this: if you have defined the opnd you want to fish in, how easy does the initial market identification and market sizing become?

This was one smart, smart tool. The tool is copyrighted by Rob (link), thus I don’t think I can speak about the specifics (parameters and all) here. So decided to just share with you, reader of this blog, the concept.

*Previously on Business proposal management and RFP response: Expectation Setting. Introduction.

Business proposal management and RFP response- Part 2

Introduction: Understand!

The client has asked for a proposal. Or the sales/ research team has found out about an RFP. And you are responsible for the RFP response.

That’s a fun part of writing a business proposal: whatever your role may be: Proposal Manager; Solution Architect; Solution design team member; Sales; Marketing; Account Manager; Product Manager; Subject Matter Expert; EA to the CEO…. It does not matter. You might be called upon to write a proposal. It will be expected that since you know the subject matter, you can handle a project and you can communicate (and communicate well, I hope), you will be able to get the proposal out the door.
What now? What should be your first step?

Understand! Simple as it may seem, understanding the client, the RFP and the purpose your deliverable document expects to serve, is the first step to get a good proposal written.
And it is often (and sadly) neglected in the crazy quest for content; for the SME, and for the financial proposal.
Not saying that they are not important. They are extremely important – but you are putting the cart before the horse if you concern yourself with the price you quote before you have understood the proposal.

Points to remember: 

  1. Understanding is the key to success:
    You will have to understand your client and their need, if you want to win this deal. Here’s a basic (non-extensive) checklist. Get 30 minutes from the sales rep or the senior management representative and try to get answers to these questions (and then document the findings). They will not think that these are stupid questions to ask, take it from me.
    a. Why has the client chosen to float this RFP? Why does the client want to see your proposal?
    b. What does the client want through this proposal– direct and implied?
    c. What is the biggest pain-point of the client organization? What are the other known pain-points?
    d. Who is / are the decision makers and influencers to this deal? Are the organizational pain-points (as above) the pain points of the decision makers too? Why?
    e. What are the business drivers? Example: Cost reduction? Efficiency improvement? Productivity improvement? Unhappy clients? Lack of quality resources? Management mandate? Introduction of a new service?
         This is absolutely critical. If you have not identified the business drivers, you will NOT win this deal.
    f. What is the as-is state with the client? (If this is mentioned in the proposal already – make 3-4 bullet points on this, and discuss to ensure. What meets the eye through the proposal might not be the absolute truth on-ground)
    g. Who will be adversely affected by the changes due to the implementation as per the RFP? Is one of the influenced parties in the decision-making team?
    h. How is this proposal different from others (or not)?
    i. Who are the other clients bidding for this proposal?
  2. “Every proposal is different. Every client is different”.
    Very true. You will hear this from your sales team often.
    But…
    More often than not, the same template, the same flow, the same content with minor changes will be put in your proposal. And then your proposal will not win.
    Don’t!
    You are the master of your proposal. Take ownership. If your proposal deserves and demands to be different from the standard, then for all practical purposes, make it different. Similarly, don’t be different for different’s sake.
  3. The proposal / RFP response is NOT an informational tool, it is a marketing tool.
    Many experienced proposal managers will tell you – “Answer the question!”
    And they are right. Do answer the question. Never fail to answer the question.
    But….
    If you just answer the question, then you are depending on your product being so good that it does not matter what your competitors say or project, unless they lie (and lie they would not)
    Are you really THAT good?
    If you are not, you will have to project yourself and market yourself. Heavily.
  4. Don’t lie.
    Apart from the fact that you should never lie…
    You are also ensuring that a failed due-diligence will ensure that the client is a no-go zone for you; and what’s more, word does get around.
    Does that mean you’d have to only stick to the straight and narrow? No, of course not. Project your forte. Ensure that your efforts to improve your foibles are heavily highlighted. Market yourself. Sell yourself.
    You can do all that without lying. Trust me, you can.
  5. Take ownership. You, and only you, are accountable for this proposal. Everyone else is a responsible party, or an influencer.

And if your sales team insists that the proposals and RFP response does not win you deals: They are wrong!
While you do need efforts in other areas also, good proposals do indeed win you deals.
And bad proposals definitely, definitely, definitely lose you deals.

 

 

*Previously on Business proposal management and RFP response: Introduction.