Learning with Leon: My Q&A with Leon Menezes

Leon Menezes’s 18 year work experience in Human Resources, Marketing & Sales, and Customer Services provides him with an imperative perspective in understanding and maximizing business opportunities. Leon joined Shell Pakistan Limited in early 2001 and since then he has been serving as General Manager Human Resources – Pakistan.

PK: Do you think HR will become a strategic partner of the business world?

LM: For this to happen, HR needs to change its image of itself  (‘role perception’). As my friend Dave Ulrich says: “HR needs to talk the language of business.” In order to do this, HR needs to understand the end-to-end processes, how business’ make money and, hopefully, provide the necessary insights to make it happen.

PK: When meeting with potential employees, what is your favorite interview question?

LM: How have you prepared for this interview? This shows your level of interest in the job at hand, the company, it’s industry/history/competition, etc. There is no excuse for not being prepared.

PK: What is your take on the HR fraternity?

LM: I think the HR fraternity has a genuine desire to make a difference. However, it needs to make a quantum leap from being the ‘touchy-feely’ guys who are “outside the room” to real ‘business HR who are at the table’ and with a heart.

PK: Your advice to the following would be:

  • HR Consultants: Take time to diagnose the issues and don’t go into your ‘bag of tricks’ in the first meeting. To get to the solution, you need to understand the problem (and root causes).
  • Candidates (applying for an job): Do your homework and be honest. Don’t fool yourself and don’t try to fool others.
  • Line Managers: How do you like to be treated? Take time for appraisal and feedback discussions that will develop your people.
  • CEO’s: You are the Chief HR Officer of your company; you cannot outsource it to the HR department. HR is the custodian of the policies and processes but they must be owned by you and the Executive Committee.
  • The Government: The elephant in the room is our ever-increasing population. With resources shrinking, we must do everything we can to get this under control. Then we may have money for education and health.

PK: With your upcoming retirement from Shell in 2 months, whats next?

LM: I’ve had a passion for teaching and want to indulge that. I don’t want to restrict myself to HR-related topics so let’s see how that goes. In addition, a bit of consulting and facilitating along with my other pursuits (writing, golf, music) should keep me fairly busy. I am on the board of a well-known charitable institution and would like to help there a bit more.

– Paul Keijzer

Yes Sahib (Yes Boss)

Having spent almost a decade in South Asia, I am still not used to the “Sahib” culture. Maybe my Dutch egalitarian values are so deeply rooted that I still can’t get used to it, or maybe it is my aversion to being given a specific title of importance.

Some of my desi friends who are accustomed to being addressed as Sahib (or Begum Sahib for the female bosses that are out there) always say that addressing your boss as Sahib is simply a sign of respect. I do agree with them, displaying respect for senior members (in both senses of the word) in your organization is a sign of civility and professionalism. However, you can display respect in many different ways and in my view there are certain negatives associated with a Sahib culture.

So what are these negatives? First and foremost it puts a manager on an ‘undeserved’ pedestal, giving him a sense of authority that is not necessarily earned nor deserved. Secondly, it assumes that the other person is submissive and of lesser importance, causing a divide and creating artificial ‘clay layers’ in the organization.

I believe it is important is to be on a first name basis in the workplace. The way you are addressed in any work environment sets the tone of your relationship with your coworkers. As a senior manager or CEO, while there is always need for a level of respect, being on a first name basis has its equal benefits. Employees can be uncomfortable with the connotation of status that goes with the use of formal titles and sometimes feel more connected to their colleagues when those connotations are out of the way. It can be just as difficult for employees to adjust to this ‘first name basis’ atmosphere, but in the long run it can create an open and trusting workplace environment.

If you want to build a team based culture where everyone is stimulated to give their best no matter their designation or level, please ask your subordinate to stop calling you Sahib or Boss or Sir. Try going on a first name basis and see how that works for you. Changing workplace norms can be seemingly difficult at first, but without these changes there is no space for improvement.

– Paul Keijzer

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A Positive Reinterpretation

Last January I went to Panama with Earth Train’s Mother Nature CEO Program, jointly led by Lider Sucre and Nathan Gray. Both Lider and Nathan are truly inspiring figures and recently Nathan proved why I hold him in such high regard.
In one of his emails, Nathan shared that following a 2008 surgery to remove a benign tumor in his brain, his doctors have recently discovered another one, twice the size, pressing on his brain stem. He is now scheduled to have open-brain surgery in September.

If given such news, I, like most of us, would have freaked out. Nathan didn’t, and believes this to be (in his own words) “nature’s way of nudging me to focus on what’s important”. You can learn more about a person by how they respond to hardships over success’. I would like to share part of his email:

“ … We all talk about the importance of teaching a man how to fish. Nice, and certainly better than trying to hand out fish. But, in a world where our seas are acidifying, that´s but a four-foot jump over a six-foot trench. What we need to do is to teach men, women and children how to teach and, ultimately, how to create learning communities. We´ve been content to focus on tools for positive change, be that projects or inventions like micro water purification units. We need to encourage the emergence of tool-makers. Teachers, tool-makers, and community builders are the vanguard of a liveable future.”

Nathan, you truly inspire me.

– Paul Keijzer

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Rooting Out Corruption at KESC

Having worked in Asian developing countries for almost 15 years, I have come to learn that corruption and people trying to obtain undue benefits, has always been part of this working culture. I am always surprised by the ingenuity of their schemes. For example, I came to learn that bosses received payments from their subordinates in order to receive higher performance grades, which in turn led to higher salary increases.

I visited Karachi Electricity Supply Company (KESC) recently and met Asir Manzur, Director Human Resources. KESC has gone through a stunning transformation and after all the labor unrest, which at the end was all about who is in control of the company (the management or the trade union), they are now showing some remarkable business results. They now have the capacity to supply to all the electricity needs of the whole of Karachi in peak hours, with 60% of Karachi not encountering any scheduled load shedding, and to the other 40% KESC implements load shedding as a measure for people to stop stealing electricity and to start paying their bills.

Corruption was rampant within KESC. Most of us living in Karachi have been confronted with this. In order to address this issue, KESC needed to go beyond their ordinary measures. And they did, with gusto. As part of their initiative to solve the problem they set up an in-house legal court where employees who were accused of professional misconduct and corruption were charged within 24 hours, an investigation was done within 48 hours and a final verdict was given within 4 days of the charges coming to the fray. To manage this, they have appointed a panel of 14 legal experts and investigators who conduct the required due diligence headed by a senior manager (who on a weekly basis reports to the leadership team).

The results were mind blowing. Over the last 15 months, 1460 people have been fired in KESC on corruption charges. From directors to blue collar workers, at all levels, employees were being held accountable for their actions. At first, they handled 200 investigations per week, by now it has come down to 5 – 6 a week.

Can you imagine firing over a thousand people on ethical grounds? Draconian measures you might say and Asir would certainly agree with you, but according to him they were absolutely necessary! As a customer of KESC I totally comply.

Have you ever come across misconduct in your organization? What corruption have you witnessed in the workplace?

– Paul Keijzer

Accountability: A Leadership Test

I have found that for leaders, including many CEO’s, holding people accountable is their Achilles heel. They feel uncomfortable and shy away from confronting employees about their behaviors. They procrastinate instead of getting to the (sometimes difficult) conversation.

The consequences of not taking any action are significant. At an individual level, people are allowed to continue their bad behavior, assuming it is appropriate conduct. At a team level, the attitudes of other team members plummet as they see coworkers getting away with misconduct. At the leadership level it disintegrates the respect and authority leaders wield over their team. Finally, at an organizational level: companies that do not hold their employees liable for their actions tend to deliver mediocre results.

So if it is this important, what stops us from holding people accountable? One of the main reasons is that we are simply afraid of doing it. The moment you think of having a conversation with an employee about his behavior, that little nagging voice in your head pops up saying that maybe this whole situation is not that bad. We find excuses – I don’t want to create a tense atmosphere, I don’t want to spoil any relationships with my employees and mainly, I don’t want to create a scene!

My advice to all leaders who find this difficult is… stop being a WUSS! Handling emotions and being out of your comfort zone is part of the job title. Holding people accountable is the key to delivering desired results. Don’t forget that it is your reputation on the line.

Here are a couple of tips on how to go about it:

1. Focus more on behaviors and less on measurables:
It is much easier to call an employee out for not delivering against his targets, milestones, deadlines and / or budgets. However, often it is already too late. It is better to point out their specific negative behaviors, as this drives their actions and their actions drive their results.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate:
Holding people accountable is 80% communication and 20% discipline. Explain the consequence of their behavior and show them how to solve the issue. There is less room for any future misunderstandings when having an open conversation.

3. Ask questions:
Ask your employees what is happening and why. Ask them to identify what they think is the issue and what steps they feel are necessary in resolving the matter.

4. Remember what it is all about!
Just when that little voice in your head starts talking, remember that this is the greatest contribution you can make to yourself, the individual, the rest of your team and the organization. Push the voice aside and take action.

It does not have to be a conversation about blame and misplaced anger. Instead, trying to resolve issues through open and honest communication will turn out to be more productive than simply ignoring the matter or taking any drastic measures without talking things through.

– Paul Keijzer

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Death by Conference

I have not been to a conference in quite some time and I must admit… I hate them.
They don’t add any value and the only thing you get out of it, is that you are able to reconnect with colleagues you haven’t seen for a while.

The standard conference flow goes like this:

  • An opening.
  • A Key Note speech by a speaker whose foremost reason for being up on the podium is that he is the event sponsor.
  • A speech by a person who has never attended a ‘how do I engage my audience’ workshop.
  • A quick snack break, or network session as it is called these days. This break creates the highest level of energy during the whole event. (Time to pass out business cards!)
  • A panel discussion with the so-called experts, facilitated by someone who has no clue how to integrate the topic or challenge the panelists. (No clue…)
  • A lunch hour. (The highlight of the event!)
  • Back to the conference hall for more speeches! By this time half the audience has left because they have met all the people they wanted to meet. (The other half are probably sleepy after a heavy lunch.)
  • A lackluster tea, as participants have nothing to talk about anymore.
  • A final panel round… (by this point you have been there for what feels like an eternity.)
  • And to round it all off – “Thank You’s” for the sponsors and conference shields for the speakers, majority of whom have left, except for the few panelist who were placed in the concluding panel. (Lucky guys!)

Sounds familiar? I have yet to meet someone who has come back from such a conference with fresh ideas on how to improve their job or a newfound passion and motivation to move their organization forward.

What I don’t understand is, why organizers have not been able to come up with a better, more engaging and exciting format. A program that stimulates learning, sharing of experiences and engage people on topics that they care about.

I would love to hear your ideas on conference and/or workshop design elements that engage the audience.

– Paul Keijzer

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