By | Prabodh Sirur | In search of Postitive Intranets at In search of Positive Intranets
Curve Benders are people who shift the trajectory of your career dramatically upwards. Because of their presence, you end up with far better outcomes.
What a wonderful word and what a wonderful thought. Thank you, Bruce and David.
When I read these lines, they made me go down my memory lane to locate my Career Benders. Not an easy task for someone who has worked for over 40 years!
Who my real career bender is
- The earliest of my Career Benders was Anoop Sud, the big boss of our Bank’s IT (Information Technology) function. Anoop nominated me to be part of a six-member task force set up by the Reserve Bank of India. It was a prestigious assignment. It was about studying the processes of all big banks in India and building user specifications so that the IT companies could use the spec to build software for Indian banks. This was a life-changing experience for me. It gave me visibility in India’s IT industry
- My next Career Bender was Alok Arora, one of India’s earliest start-up guys, who gave me a big break – from a non-technical banker to a totally alien career in IT
- The next Career Benders for me were Rahul Patwardhan, our India CEO and Sushil Tayal, our Head of HR, Logica. They made my career shift from IT to HR (Human Resources); again a totally new domain
- Sushil Tayal also did something unusual once. He told me – “Go on leave and come back only after you write a book’. Have you heard of such a bizarre task? My story below explains how I went about doing this task!
- Abhay Gupte, CEO and Pramod Fernandes, Group Head of HR, Manipal Technologies became my last Career Benders. They pushed me from IT industry to manufacturing industry. Once again, a big change in the domain and a new learning
It is really tough to say who from the above is my real Curve Bender. Each one had pushed me to take a new direction, to learn new skills, to own up new responsibilities. Each had filled in new colours in my career. Each had contributed to shaping my destiny.
But if you insist on a single name, my vote goes to Sushil. Sushil gave a new meaning to my being.
Let me share the whole story of why Sushil asked me to author a book.
The background – what StrengthsFinder is
The whole story starts with something called StrengthsFinder.
StrengthsFinder (or Now, Discover Your Strengths) is a self-help book written by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. The authors advocate focusing on building strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses.
The theory behind the book is that each individual possesses a certain number of attributes (talent themes). These unique themes make it easy for individuals to develop certain skills/do certain roles better.
In Albert Einstein’s words – “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” It is important, therefore, that the fish should develop its expertise in swimming and become successful rather than trying to learn tree-climbing.
In essence, one should assign a task to a person who has innate talent to do the task. One should provide training in the area of the person’s strengths.
Strengthsfinder has now become an important people-development philosophy.
Building a StrengthsFinder culture
Sushil had belief in the StrengthsFinder philosophy. He wanted everyone to realise his or her true potential by working on his or her strengths. He started creating awareness about the StrengthsFinder philosophy by continuous awareness sessions. He then asked all the seniors to undergo the StrengthsFinder assessment test. Sushil shared the signature themes (i.e. top 5 strengths) of all of us among the management team.
We created plaques for each individual and placed them in their offices. So whenever someone went to his or her office, the first thing that they noticed was the top 5 strengths of that person; thereafter there would be discussions around how their themes were helpful in their role.
In a short while, the whole senior management became quite familiar with the lingo of StrengthsFinder. It became part of our everyday vocabulary. For our internal people-projects, we built teams consisting of members with complementary strengths. It was a very invigorating scenario.
Mapping strengths to the role
The last part of the programme was to have a face-to-face meeting with the StrengthsFinder consultants who showed us what best each of us could do using our strengths.
When my turn came up, we had a good discussion and the consultant told me how my strengths suited to my people-facing role. “You know what – You could actually write a book. Your signature-theme is similar to an author’s.”, the consultant said before closing. It was a revelation to me. I had never written anything of great value in the past so this was a great news to me.
I updated Sushil about my meeting. Sushil listened to me, thought for a while and said, “Go on leave and come back after you write a book”.
I proceeded on leave with a big weight on my shoulders; to accomplish something that I had never done before.
Ultimately the book got published. Honestly, it was a feeling of being immortal.
How my life changed after writing the book?
When Sushil had asked me to write the book, it was from a purist’s point of view (i.e. if someone has strength A, he/she should be allowed to put it to use. Simple). It was not from a business perspective (i.e. what will business get out of this?).
Yet, my experience of writing the book helped me a lot in my work. It refined my perspective and added value to my People Management role.
As a Head of this role, my responsibility was managing the overall Performance Management function and guiding all the managers of our India unit. Because of my role, many employees would come to meet me to resolve their issues. After my book-experience, whenever an employee came to meet me, I would look at him/her as a bundle of strengthsand made an effort to find ways to connect their talents to their role.
Many a time we would find that their talents had little connection with the role. We would then plan a move to the right role.
My newfound experience of writing the book was useful in our employee engagement activities too. Sometimes, we found that people had dreams in such areas that were not at all related to the company’s business; yet we made attempt to make use of these talents. Some examples of what we did –
We used an employee, who did volunteering at a local zoo on weekends, to plan night safaris for clients visiting our office; We encouraged a poet to write an anthem for the company
We supported employees who wanted to do social service, we encouraged environmentalists to initiate ‘green’ programmes in the company, we encouraged employees to file patents for their engineering innovations ……
When I look back, Sushil’s instruction to me was like a dictate from Yoda – “Once you start on your path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”
(Picture credit – Starwars)
The next decade for me is going to be a journey on a discovery path looking for passionate people using their talents for a cause. Hope it will dominate me, consume me as my Yoda said. My Curve Bender changed my life; he gave a new meaning to my being.
How can my young readers benefit from my sharing?
I would encourage you to view this video to understand how the understanding of strengths can give you clarity about your role.
Here’s is a good site to learn about all the 34 unique strengths identified by Clifton Strengthsfinder.
Here’s a paper written by Howard Gardner and team on Multiple Intelligences.
If your manager is not a Curve Bender, you can make him one! You could share your learning about your talents and strengths with your manager and together with him/her, identify a project that will help you use your talents. Sometimes it may not be possible for the organisation to change your role suitable to your talents immediately. But when you take up a few projects and show your excellence, some magic will happen for sure.
If your talents are outside of your organisation needs, for example, if you love to do carpentry, do it on weekends. This will energise you for the coming week. Or find out your colleagues who have similar interest and do something purposeful together that will add to the brand of your organisation.
Wish you success.