CEO = Chief Enabling Officer, says HBR blog

post on the Harvard Business Review blog is a real attention-getter for its re-defining of the CEO’s role. CEOs and senior-level managers are all perfectly poised to be great leaders who enable and empower their team members to perform to their full potential. Sadly, many a time and in many an Indian organisation, this doesn’t happen. Often, the top brass is unaware of ground reality and they are so focused on the big picture that they forget the details that matter: like happy employees, for instance.

The CEO’s new role, I’m convinced, is to help employees see themselves as empowered leaders — as those who influence and drive change. The new CEO can’t play chieftain; he must be a team player obsessed with enabling value, someone who is willing to collaborate. Someone able to discover new grass roots leaders and nurture them,” writes Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, in the HBR post. Putting employees first and helping them discover their true talent and potential is immensely beneficial to the organisation in the long run. A CEO is not just the face of a company; he should be a guiding light, a helping hand, and a mentoring guru. I think this also applies to department heads and other biggies in positions of responsibility in an organisation. Leading a team should be more about uplifting others.

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Boost Your Efficiency: Seven tips for freelancers and those working on a SOHO basis

There is a compelling reason for this post and it is perhaps best exemplified by a Google Images search for ‘working from home’. Just two pics on the first results page (excluding the illustrations) feature men in it! The rest are all women in various stages of undress, juggling a child or two and a laptop or more innocuously, keying into a laptop while relaxing on a bed.

In my three-plus years of freelancing, I’ve actually had associates call me up to discuss work and then playfully say ‘Now you can go back to sleep’ before hanging up. Was that supposed to be a joke? Well, I am still pondering the punchline three years hence. It’s just that people tend to assume that since you work from home, you are
a) generally whiling away your time and pausing to work once in a while
b) cooking/bathing your kids/sleeping/other random activity while talking on phone to clients
c) always available for shopping sessions, lunches and other non-work activities at any time of the day

And in my experience, this sort of negative bias applies more to women than to men. Agreed that most women take a break from their careers to manage home better and freelancing fits right in with flexible working options. But to automatically assume a freelancer is less professional than her employed peer is to assume the worst. I personally feel a freelancer brings that extra bit of professionalism, commitment and dedication to work simply because, even the smallest error reflects badly on her, as opposed to the organisation one works for (in case of employees).

All of my clients were happy with my decision to launch DropCap and get a ‘proper office’. This, despite the fact that there was going to be no tangible difference in the services I offer them! So I guess it’s not just enough to be professional but essential to also be perceived as being professional. Of course, getting an office is not a solution for everyone.

So here are some useful tips for freelancers and those working from home to boost productivity and maintain professionalism in all aspects. These tips are slightly tilted to suit women but men are free to take away a lesson or two.

  • Change out of your PJs and get into something that spells smart-casual. No, you needn’t doll up in a sari but do wear something half-way decent. A tee and jeans are perfectly acceptable. This helps you shift your mental gear to work mode; plus, you don’t have to run to change every time the courier comes, thus saving precious time. Rule of thumb: Choose something that you wouldn’t mind wearing to make an emergency trip to your bank.
  • If your home has a room isolated from the rest by design, choose that for your office. Saves you from many a distraction.
  • Have to work from a corner of the bedroom? Close the door, tell your maid not to disturb you unless it’s important. Keeping your child out of the room is even more difficult, and kids have the knack of materialising at your elbow and yelling away just when you are on a call with your most important client. If you are going to make a call, lock the door. Kids banging on the door? Escape to the bathroom! Essentially, do whatever it takes to maintain that degree of professionalism.
  • Decide how much time you are willing to work and stick by it! Can do only two hours a day? Draw up a schedule, incorporating the time slots that you are willing to work and just do it! Even if you don’t have actual work that day, find an exercise you can do or use that time for professional networking or catching up on industry news. This is also an exercise in instilling self-discipline, a quality the freelancer needs in huge dollops.
  • Keep learning! The freelance professional has to always be one step ahead of her employed peers when it comes to knowledge base and expertise. Give clients a reason to hire you and not the competition!
  • Associate with others in the same field by joining professional groups in your area and attending group meetings and get-togethers. Helps you gather leads, make new associates and keeps you updated on what is happening around you. It also gives you a chance at peer interaction, which is vital for someone working alone most of the time.
  • Get a mentor. Find someone whom you respect and would like to emulate. Keep in touch with that person on a regular basis for valuable tips, ideas and advice.

Word of caution: these tips are only applicable to those who are serious about freelancing. If you are undecided or unsure about freelancing as a career option, weigh your options before you plunge in. Believe me, halfheartedness shows up clearly in your work, and it is not a pretty sight.

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The Importance of Being Nice!

I was delighted to stumble upon an interesting article by entrepreneur guru Geri Stengel, which stressed the importance of being nice to staff and customers alike. DropCap endorses this message because it fits just right into our vision of ourselves as a firm that cares. When I decided to set up the business in a formal manner, one of the first things that came to mind was this very concept, which is so oft-overlooked in today’s hasty world. It seems everybody treats everybody else with the ‘get outta my way’ attitude. And this is not just a one-off incident that happens when you bump into a random grouchy stranger on the street! This sort of negative attitude is an increasingly rampant top management and customer service issue.

When I first started freelancing, I was a tad diffident about my natural ability to engage and empathise with people. I was apprehensive that my mostly-male associates would put down any such activity to ‘feminine wiles’. However, as I grew surer of my abilities, I decided to just be myself, come what may. So I started listening more, paying better attention and hey, presto! I was able to deliver more meaningful answers to clients’ needs. Making a customer happy is not just about providing the right kind of product or service but it’s also about both the intrinsic and outward quality of the service. And I absolutely agree with Geri Stengel’s point that happy customers translate into repeat customers. I have personally refused to go back to service providers who offered great products but lousy customer service.
It does pay to be nice, as DropCap is finding out the good way. It’s a great feeling when your service is appreciated, even better when clients are willing to pay a premium for quality, responsive service despite the plethora of other options available. The importance of being nice is a spin-off from the biblical concept of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Value your business? Join the Smile More, Scowl Less movement.

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