In ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management standard there was emphasis on Management. Subsequently the standard evolved and in 2015 version the emphasis is more on Leadership Engagement in a similar context. However in simplest term this article refers to leadership as those members in an organization who direct and control the organization and/or part/function thereof and are in authoritative and influential decision making positions and whose decisions can affect the entire organization or a portion thereof. Leadership does not only mean top management but it exists at various levels in the organization.
Below are some key leadership mistakes prevalent in IT Services in India that either go undetected or are conveniently ignored.
Punish the messenger – Punishing the messenger has been a trait of human mind clearly noticeable at leadership level. This has existed in Indian mythology too like in stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The messengers were punished for bringing bad news. “He is not coming today? Why did he not inform me? Doesn’t he know that he has an important task to finish today?” Reserve your concerns for the right person Mr. Leader and let go the messenger.
“I don’t know” – The last thing a leader should ever tell his subordinate is ‘I don’t know’. Sadly leadership has a habit of saying 'I don’t know'. Contradicting your own statement goes hand in hand with this. “I think we should try this but I don’t know if that will work”. You are not only confusing others but dejecting them too.
Length not the depth – “I have seen her late in the office, she is a good team member”. Mr. Leader what matters is Smart work and not just Hard work. Working late does not necessarily mean someone is good team member? Also no further assessment is done if someone is seen late for business reasons or personal reasons. Those who are seen late in the office are perceived as being good and those who leave on time are not. This is a big all-time misconception among leadership in Indian IT services.
Too much focus on data – Trust me Mr. Leader everyone in IT Services in India provides fake data in the system. The Metrics approach (Quantitative Process Management) in principle is great but it has flawed implementation. Stressing too much on data might throw you off target by miles. It’s a harsh reality that very little data verification actually happens in the system. No one provides real data because there's a fear that the same data may be used against them. Many a times many of the support functions in IT Services are keen on closing the Helpdesk Calls on time so that the Service Level Agreement (SLA) data looks good but the issues remain unresolved or incomplete. Data never yields a true picture in IT Services in India.
Inability to derive meaningful conclusion from metrics – Leadership has a tendency to reviews metrics in isolation and miss out on reality. For example a company in IT Services in Telecom was consistently reporting near zero post release customer defects count. The performance was > 99% however most of the Formal Customer feedback was very poor. There might have been a correlation between the two that was missed by the leadership. The post release defects data was in fact fake.
Outsourcing key functions like Quality – As a part of cost cutting, leadership in IT Services tends to outsource business support function like IT Administration or Quality. Some of these are key functions and these functions if implemented in right sense can add a great value to the success of the organization. Replacing experienced staff with juniors is another mistake done by Leadership. To perform effectively in functions like Quality you must have dirtied your hands on actual project work and gained good experience for years before you can perform well in such functions. Juniors fail to appreciate the complexities and are ridiculed by practitioners (Though such actions by practitioners can never be supported)
Misunderstood Key Result Areas (KRA) Assessment– What to expect from each function and how to assess employee performance objectively is a big challenge in IT Services. KRAs are set in isolation. KRA’s of dependent functions and employees are not linked and the expectations are highly misunderstood out of ignorance. For example if I am a referee in a game of football, my KRAs are set to ensure at least 3 goals in the match. How ridiculous!
Sticking to one domain for long- Diversification is the key for survival. However leadership out of their own judgment or love for a particular domain is hesitant or reluctant to diversify into many verticals. They stick with a particular functional or technical domain for too long and when they get badly hit they start realizing the need for diversification.
Setting expectations impulsively based on customer’s response – Customer is the King. If customer says something it becomes writing on the wall. Impulsively accepting customer input is common in IT Services. A company that just had one internal short term project and a pilot external customer project in automotive infotainment wanted itself to be Automotive SPICE Level 5 Certified within 2 months because customer said so and leadership accepted it as a challenge, without even knowing what Automotive SPICE Means and what are the pre-requisites and time estimates.
Change from improved back to improving – This is a classic issue with leadership in IT Services in India. Many a times they have a well-established system that works well, under the stupid concept of continual improvement they come up with new innovative (?) ideas for improvements and actually compromise the already improved system. This is seen from basics like various QMS templates to big changes in MIS.
Taking jerky decisions– For leadership in IT Services results must be achieved by hook or crook. In a war between fairness and productivity, productivity appears to have gained a short term victory eventually to lose out in the end. There was a time when a Mainframe guy with 3 years of experience on COBOL, DB2 was given 15 days training on Java and was projected as a senior Java expert and sent to customer site in USA on H1B visa with a fake resume!! Leadership took a huge risk and also paid the price. Good to see that governments in countries like USA are now imposing tight restrictions on H1B work permits.
Ignorant about what to expect from a Management Standard – Out of business pressure, customer pressure and to gain competitive edge IT Services Companies in India pile themselves up with several Quality Management Certifications. The leadership however fails to appreciate the value it brings and what to really expect from a standard. They just are certified but not necessarily qualified. For leadership the implemented processes are like driving rules such that if you don’t follow someone (like a traffic cop) will catch you. Nothing beyond this understanding and expectation.
On-site returned from USA is God – This used to be a classic mindset of leadership. Any of the team member that was sent to USA at customers site (on-site) for any work, even if he is incompetent, he would become God after he returned to offsite (Office back in India). Then his word on any and every matter in the project (even if that might be wrong) was final. The opinion of the sincere, competent junior (just because he maintains low-profile and has never been to USA ) was not considered important.
Approving Stupid Policies like Work from Home & Flexi-Time– Under the idea of employee welfare and work-life balance, leadership approves Work From Home Policy. This does more harm than good. It’s an opportunity for employees to take undue advantage of such a policy. It creates a lot of inconvenience to those who normally work from office!!Work from home means not full day 8 hours work from home. It just means you may attend a portion of work from home due to some constraints or for some convenience. For example you may be present in the office from 8 AM to 2 PM and then head home and then attend a teleconference scheduled with a stakeholder that falls outside of normal business hours due to cross time zone or multi-location participation. Flexi Time is misused and detrimental to the concept of team work. Flexi Time can be compared to a bowler in game of cricket telling his caption, 'I will come on field only in the last 30 minutes for my spell of 5 overs and give you my quota of 3 wickets'.
Finding fault with complainant – This is a classic mistake. If someone makes a complaint and no matter how genuine and relevant it may be, the leadership acumen makes all possible attempts to prove to complainant how indeed he is wrong or how the fault lies with him rather than attempting to solve the real issue or at least view it rationally and objectively. Leadership does not like to hear problems (even though they might be very real and solving them might add a value to the organization).
Readers, this is the harsh reality of how the IT Services in India operates. You may wonder then how come they still make so much of progress and deliver quality on time, most of the time??
Well the answer lies in the fact that they do it at the cost of handful of extremely hardworking and smart working people who burn themselves out, despite of all odds to save the rest and subsequently the organization!