Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What sets apart a great performer from a good one?

(Inspired by Rash’s article on Innovation at Kern)

I often get into discussions with my colleagues about what makes a good performer great. What are the characteristics that set apart one from the other? And, here I’m only referring to the intrinsic qualities and characteristics. I know there are loads of other external factors; but when working in a small high-performing innovation-driven company, the intrinsic factors play a critical role.

To begin with, I believe passion is the single most important thing that drives a great performer. Working without passion is working like a robot – mechanically. So what’s wrong with that? Nothing yet everything! Nothing because if you work like a robot, you deliver what is expected of you – you work optimally. And why everything because you “only” deliver as “expected” you are not motivated to exceed expectations. Since you are not passionate about your work, if any other variable goes wrong in your system, you collapse. If conditions change, you need to be re-programmed to change your orientation – essentially you depend heavily on instructions or external help to make things happen. You are not self-driven.

So why is this a problem? Well, from a philosophical standpoint this is a problem because you are not in charge of your life – you let life control you. From a practical standpoint, if you are not self-motivated, you do not grow. You stagnate. You grow only if a godfather or a guru takes charge of your life. But again, in absence of self-motivation, it’s your godfather or guru who grows by growing you - not you!

Another hallmark of a great performer is the urge to know the big picture. You have a choice. Either you are content just laying bricks as directed or you are curious to know the layout much before you lay the bricks. In case of the former, you do not care whether you are laying bricks for the bedroom, bathroom, apartment, amphitheatre, bridge or a stadium. You just stick to what you are told – lay bricks as per the blue print.

There is nothing wrong with this. You lay bricks day in and day out and master it. You do it for 2 years, 5 years, 10 years… what next? You become a great bricklayer and its perfectly fine if you are happy doing it. But in the bigger scheme of things, you are just a good performer. You cannot become a great performer because your focus is too narrow. You do not have bigger understanding of things. After 3-5 years of bricklaying, you must know what are blueprints, how are they designed, how does bricklaying change with change in the master blueprint. You need to be curious about how your brick laying makes a difference to the final outcome of the project. Only if you know the big picture, will you be motivated to think, dream, innovate, and ultimately be a great performer.

Friday, November 07, 2008

ICICI's Internet Banking - All Pain No Gain

I know there is lot venom spewed about ICICI Bank's services, and I too have sympathized on occasions about the painful process of Internet security. But I realized the degree of pain only after I went through the process myself. I seriously wonder if I would be half as pained if my account was hacked into. :)

1. Suddenly, we receive a mandate that we need to pay taxes only online - no checks accepted (seems like the Internet banking guys have formed a cartel. Have held guns to our heads and want us to file taxes only online.) So here you have a paradoxical situation - we want to pay taxes but can't unless you have your e-banking enabled. So you pay taxes, pay a penalty because payment is delayed while you wait to enable your e-banking account, finally pay online, and pay fees for paying online by using e-banking. Wish we could create such compelling business models for our business!!

2. Now is the trick part. Only one director cannot authorize the online payment. This is because some 400 years back when we opened our a/c with ICICI bank and had small revenues, we had authorized 2 directors to authenticate payouts more than 50K. Now, 400 years later, almost every payout exceeds 50K but we still need to authenticate each and every payout. Well, you'd ask why can’t we change the authentication process? Glad you did not ask, I could punish you by asking an ICICI agent to explain the procedure that begins with submission of residence proof, employment proof (doesn't matter if you are the owner!), PAN, driving license, DOB certificate, you kids' birth certificate, your wife's credit card statement, your maid's salary slip... and all things imaginable! Doesn't matter if you are an old customer, doesn't matter if you have been transacting with them for donkeys years, doesn't matter if they have all conceivable information about you.

3. Now that we are conned into using the e-banking facility, we need to have a password as well. Please note that because ICICI is a "safe" bank, they want us to change the passwords every 15 days. These passwords have to be completely new, should be alphanumeric, and at least 8 digit long. Well, only Shakuntala Devi can remember such passwords!! Naturally, I lost steam after changing my password after the fourth fortnight and gave up! Consequently, my e-banking rights were withdrawn.

4. Ok! Finally, I have to go back to enable my e-bank accounts. After going through the agony of a 30-minute painful verification process over telephone with a robot-like call center executive, I was told that my email id has been verified and I can apply for my e-banking password online. I was told that I'd receive an email confirmation in 2 days. Thankfully, after a week and with serious follows by our office manager, I was told that my email is authenticated.

5. Then begins the most frustrating part. I go to the bank website and select Corporate banking. Then, I go to the option called "reset password". I go through the steps as directed. But nothing happens! Why? Because, Internet security is important, they trust paper communication. So, I need to fax them a signed request to reset the password. Having done that, I receive an email the next day confirming that my password is reset.

(Btw, see the image above, I have to enter a Passcode but there is no information about what this is!)

6. What do you expect when you receive a message that your password is reset? Like all gullible fools I understand that I have a new password now so I can conduct my online transaction. But hold on... that's not to be. The sinister message reads:

Please note that since you have got the transaction access so to get the requested password activated please fax a request for activation mentioning your Corporate ID, user Id, Account No. and the request ID to the fax no (022) 67574557 or email the scanned copy to Request needs to be signed by the user.

I seriously wonder who designed the authentication process! If you have sent me a password, obviously I don't want it to hatch eggs or file them away as FDs. I intend to use it. So, why fax you another written request for this? Anyways, the entire exercise started pre-Diwali and thanks to ICICI's safe banking habits, I'm still struggling to log on to my Internet banking account!