Tuesday 26 June 2018

Consumers vs. Social Media What and when to rant on Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor, LinkedIn!

Picture courtesy - Huffpost

I think in the ever-evolving, overly technocratic yet exceedingly humanized world, the best thing that happened to us was, undoubtedly, the birth of Internet in the early 90s. It shrunk the world, blurred the boundaries and brought everything closer home.

The second best thing to have happened to the increasingly consumerized world was the advent of Social Media about a little more than a decade later. With the appearance of Facebook, we all became kings and queens of our personal fiefdoms. With Twitter, our levels of temptation went right back to the level that began it all at the Garden of Eden. With little thought or concern, we are gnawingly biting into the apple (pun intended) in our hand. And with WhatsApp, we have the perspicacity and penchant to drive our noses in every business – ours or others – wherever a two inch and a quarter apparatus will wedge in.

I have two visions when I think of Social Media vis-à-vis us. In the hands of wise common folk, thought leaders, opinion makers, influencers it is all good and hopefully sane. However, when we hit the realm of the unwise and not so prudent, mature and stable, I feel the beatific and wondrous social media in our hands is like a big bunch of bananas in the hands of a monkey – too much of a good thing that will do terrible things to our tummy. 

The other vision I increasingly get, seeing all the temper, rage, tantrum, ego, power play flash across the various forums is that of a monkey with a wrench. If the monkey is trained and composed, he will get some good work done. If not, then he will simply play dangerously with the wrench chucking it high up in the air, catching it sometimes but mostly having it land perilously on his crown to much pain and discomfort.

And that pretty much surmises how a lot of us mishandle social media. Of particular concern is our mismanagement of this wonderful tool in relation to our equation with brands and the purveyors of those brands.

Picture courtesy - Google Images

I hail from the hospitality industry – an industry that is of the people, by the people and for the people like no other. With the emergence of platforms such as TripAdvisor, the guests - as consumers are traditionally called – are taking to the medium with a vengeance. 

A Facebook friend, Sanjay Austa runs a lovely resorty cottage called Meena Bagh in Shimla, which he lovingly built brick by brick and opened a year and a half back. It is a rather beautiful place that transports you to the La La Land. Recently, a Delhi family of nine, together with their ill-mannered and badly behaved brood stayed at the Cottage, running amuck and trashing the place in unimaginably deplorable ways. 

They even decided to walk away with some knick-knacks and ornamental items from the Cottage. Now, I am no stranger to such guest behaviour. Once while with The Imperial, we were regaled about an East European guest who stuffed his suitcases with bespoke, expensive cut glass and crystal vases and bowls from his suite on his departure. 

The Housekeeping obviously found out, tip-toed around the issue, alarmed the Duty Manager who alerted and enlisted the support of the Senior Management at hand. The guest was confronted as courteously as possible given the situation and requested to check out without decamping with the loot. The guest, who had been caught red-handed, in turn, mumbled something incoherent to escape the embarrassing event and beat a hasty retreat. Social media had not quite set in then.

Going back to the Meena Bagh story, when confronted, the “leading” lady kept dangling the INR 45000 price tag attached to their two-night stay for everything – from stealing stuff from the property to intimidating the caretaker and other gentle hill staff to damaging the place that has been carefully maintained. 

Because an exposé of sorts had happened on the ground (and the staff had enough proof to support their complaint and claim), the lady of the pack felt humiliated and disrespected and initially refused to pay up. Upon insistence from the Manager, the bills were settled but the lady found her ego so badly bruised that she decided to take out her ire on social media. She wrote a scathing review on that holy grail-ish review aggregator TripAdvisor!  

The Owner of the cottage felt that he and his hill home had been wronged and decided to call out the guest and her false review. Austa steeled himself up, given that he is in the business of hospitality, but responded to the review point by point describing in detail just how rapaciously his cottage had been ruined, also letting the guest know that pictures had been taken to chronicle exactly what they had done. And he countered, with wit and a sense of repartee, on the same public platform leaving no scope for conjecture and shady comebacks.

I spoke to Sanjay about dealing with such guests from hell and about the role of Social Media in this. To the first, he said he was saddened to see that some guests were using social media as a terror tactic. ‘If you do not let us be or if you do not offer us a discount or if you do not meet our unrealistic demand, then we will give you a bad rating or write an unfavourable review,’ seems to be the threat loomed out. Thankfully brands and brand owners are wisening up to this and ill-intentioned customers will not be able to engage in this dirty trick, for long.

The other laudable thing that came out in this incident was that TripAdvisor weighed both sides of the story and decided to bring down the negative review since it lacked authenticity and only stemmed out of a personal grouse.


Because we can easily air our opinions on Social Media, because we can approach just that right person sitting in the headquarters without much effort unlike earlier times, because we can shoot and upload videos and photos to be viewed by the world at large, because we get our fragile egos easily battered and can set out with so much ease to seek revenge using Twitter or TripAdvisor or Zomato to ruin painstakingly built reputations, we, as customers, are losing a sense of fairness and balance. Remember that monkey with the wrench! Many times he gets it right and employs the wrench effectively but several other times, he ends up either hurting others or getting a bump on his own head.

No brand worth its salt and backing of a strong brand reputation built on customer trust and gained over years of existence will want to destroy it by offering bad products and shoddy service. Yes, glitches happen. Sometimes more than what should be permissible. Yet no brand – be it a can of Cola, or a shoemaker or a safety pin company, a hotel, a swish eating out place, heck even a local Dhaba, a pharma firm, Country’s leading Atta maker, a Toilet Roll manufacturer or any other product manufacturer or service provider – will want to dish out faulty products and poor service. 

For companies it means a double loss – first in manufacturing or in service delivery, then in the ad spends and marketing budgets – if they get the main crux wrong and platter out the wrong deal to the customer.

With Social Media becoming the new age Consumer Courts, but much more efficient and timely and consumer-centric than what the CC’s ever were, the brands hang by a thin thread lest they be crucified on YouTube or roasted on Twitter.

Sometimes issues get kicked up into a huge storm and attract a large number of eyeballs and reactions. Remember the case of Mr. Katyal vs. Indigo Airlines that happened towards the end of last year? 

Here’s that episode - https://www.dailyo.in/voices/indigo-airlines-assault-civil-aviation-hospitality-industry-service-providers/story/1/20488.html

The flyer felt affronted upon being corrected by a lowly staff member, put others and his own self in jeopardy by being careless on the tarmac, slapped and shoved the Airline staff only to get pinned down by the ill-trained handlers, told them to FO and then went on to divide the society along the class lines.

We all sat on the judgment in our Social Media gravatars, pronouncing punishments, seeking for heads to roll, tsk-tsking about what the world had come to be. Some of us, in class affinity with Katyal, felt we could be next to face such rowdy ruthless treatment by an Airline, despite no fault of ours. After all, we from certain strata of society have the privilege of throwing an expletive on those below us or treating them as s*** and getting away with our ways because you know, as the saying goes in Delhi and large parts of North India, “Do you know who I am?”

Only a really tiny percentage of sensible, educated people who couldn’t care less about TRPs and a populist vote spoke about how wrong Katyal was in standing close to a Plane’s wing and in throwing a tantrum on the tarmac – something that could have brought in grave tragedy which is what the unfortunately boorish staff was more maniacal about, to begin with.

Eventually, after the identified slacker and instigator from the Airline staff was terminated and the Indigo honcho gave an apology, the dust settled over our Social media universe and peace returned to our personal worlds till the time we were ready for the next virtual battle.

Another Hotel friend tells me how guests threaten to write a bad review on Social Media to wangle a discount or an additional service or even a complimentary stay. There are Zomato stories of low ratings to get a free pizza or a meal comped off. Earlier the customer was considered king, but with the opportunity of being seen and heard on social media, he is threatening to be Emperor Royal, demanding his word to be the last.

Having said that, Social media and its role in offering redressal is a boon in cases of App-based businesses that run on and through social media. Hotel and restaurant booking sites, transportation companies like Ola and Uber come to mind.

Still, success is not easy to beget. The resident enfant terrible cum niece uses the two cab services for her daily commute to work and comes back with strangely harrowing tales of how unresponsive, careless and untrained the Ola or Uber support hubs or Twitter handle managers or backhand Navigating teams are. They will stubbornly not respond to even genuine complaints, if they do come back then it is with the standard, silly, scripted response that may have no bearing to the complaint and when they do offer a quick fix, it is so ludicrously paltry and inconsequentially unapologetic that it puts off the customer even more.

But given all the parameters, Social media is still one hell of a great tool to draw attention to issues and causes and get a solution for them. Swapan Seth, an owner of an Advertising Agency was exasperated with Urban Ladder – the online Furniture company. He unsubscribed himself unsuccessfully about 17 times from their mailing list but the plight of spamming continued. He then took to Twitter to send an acerbic message, in English and in Swahili to drive the sarcasm home, asking them to get their act together. He got a response almost immediately promising him action.

In another case, a friend has sought out help with Hitachi’s poor service and mashed up job, by putting up her grievance on Facebook. Help in terms of advice, contact names and numbers are pouring in from real and virtual pals.

A journalist friend opined that with consumers running to the Social media to complain in a free-wheeling manner – both in the right and wrong instances – it would cause a lot of public-shaming for the brands. Professional Outfits such as ReviewPro are offering tutorials to companies on how to handle negative reviews and productively manage their online ratings and reputation. And rightly so!

Yet, in a laughably landmark episode in 2014, the Blackpool, UK based Broadway Hotel charged Tony and Jan Jenkinson, a TripAdvisor reviewing couple from Cumbria £100 as fine for the bad review. Apparently, the hotel had a printed policy on the matter, which it flashed to the guests as a diktat. While the fine was later refunded, I think, a precedent, however preposterous it may sound now, has been set. 

Read more about the Blackpool case here - https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/19/tripadvisor-couple-bad-hotel-review-charged-blackpool-broadway

In another example, and as a nightmare to what ReviewPro exhorts, Paul Chatwin, the owner of Royal Clarence Hotel in Burnham-on-Sea, a 3 star establishment in Somerset, has taken to responding to each bad review on TripAdvisor with his characteristically hilarious rude replies. In a surprise move, the guests who like his hotel – and it is a higher percentage than those who do not – commend his honesty and find it an appreciable trait. Still, as a brand owner doing a Chatwin on your detractors is only for the brave hearts who can take it on the chin each time. But I would not recommend it at all as a normal practice.

Read about Paul Chatwin’s rude replies here - https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/frustrated-hotel-owner-hits-back-11628576

Social media excesses of a consumer cannot be dealt with in a similar manner. At least one party must be more mature, meditated, calm and collected, and judicious in its approach. And more often than not, that must be the brand and the brand owner.

Himmat Anand, the Founder of the handpicked jewel-like Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels, puts it very succinctly when he says, “What we see happening today is only the beginning of the use / misuse of social media. Traditional platforms like TripAdvisor will have to change their model soon or face extinction because every traveller considers himself/herself an expert and unlike earlier, has multiple platforms to express his appreciation or frustration. The good thing is that with an explosion of posts and opinions, memory is short. What a guest writes today is forgotten tomorrow. So unless a hotel messes up day after day, I doubt that the occasional negative post has any major impact on brand positioning.” 

Picture courtesy - Pinterest

While majoring in Psychology, we were taught how Power, Leadership and Control were the three bases on which every kind of human behaviour rested and sprung from. With Social media platforms available to us to voice out, put our asked for or unsolicited opinion on, rant at large; we feel a sense of unmitigated power and unhinged control over things that affect us or even those that are of no concern but we must still jump in with our two cents. Somewhere down the line, we are losing the grip on equivalence and justness.

But you know what; we are painting a Dirty Picture for ourselves. As not just consumer of brands but of society at large, we are messing it up in real and on Social media.

The most recent incident involving Film Actor Anushka Sharma and Indian Cricketer Virat Kohli shaming an affluent bloke travelling in a luxury sedan yet shamelessly littering the Mumbai streets is a sharp case in point. To add insult to injury, the unrepentant, brazen fella calls the star and the cricketer ugly names when pulled up publicly for his uncouth act. He then, even more outrageously, goes out to play an uglier match on the Social media.

The Anushka Sharma and the Littering Lout Social Media Wrangle - https://scroll.in/video/882950/mumbai-man-who-littered-versus-anushka-sharma-who-shamed-him-its-a-feud-now-watch

And that is us today, in a nutshell. The war is on. Go check your Social media feeds! 

SOURCE – DAILY O - https://www.dailyo.in/voices/worst-review-ever-on-social-media-hotels-whatsapp/story/1/25109.html


Thursday 7 June 2018

Association of Emerging Leaders’ Dialogues (AELD) appoints L. Aruna Dhir as its Board Member!

New Delhi: Australia registered Commonwealth Body, the Association of Emerging Leaders' Dialogues (AELD) has appointed L. Aruna Dhir to its Board. Aruna is the second Indian representative and the only woman leader to be appointed as a Board Member from India.

The Association of Emerging Leaders Dialogues (AELD) is the peak coordinating body for Commonwealth Study Conferences (CSC) and Emerging Leaders’ Dialogues (ELD) internationally. It is a legal entity under Australian legislation and is accredited by the Commonwealth Secretariat, London. HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, is the Founder and Patron of CSC, which he and a small group of other UK dignitaries founded in 1956. Today, AELD has HRH Princess Royal, Princess Anne as its international President.

The Association of Emerging Leaders Dialogues, via CSCs and ELDs, exposes 'leaders and influencers of tomorrow' to economic, social, political, environmental, educational and leadership initiatives through conferences and learning experiences with global stalwarts and an “in field” intellectually challenging study tour of a range of countries and communities.

The AELD is a forum for sharing ideas and achievements. It is aimed at future leaders, drawn from the sectors of business, government, trade unions, education, military and community service bodies including NGO’s, who are assessed as being most likely to assume positions of senior-level leadership and influence within their countries.

L. Aruna Dhir is a national-poll winning Corporate Communications Specialist & PR Strategist and an internationally-recognized Writer. Currently, Aruna is a Feature Writer and Columnist for some of the world’s top-ranked Hospitality publications, viz. ehotelier.com, HospitalityNet.org, 4Hoteliers.com and Bizcatalyst360.com.

Her industry writings are used as references in case studies and hotel schools. Aruna runs an exclusive channel on Bizcatalyst 360 called “Hospitality Matters” based on her hospitality industry watch, insights and commentary.

As a career PR Practioner and Hotelier, Aruna has been at the forefront of Australia-India New Horizons, Australia's largest country promotion and has been associated with legendary hotels such as The Oberoi, The Imperial and Hyatt Regency. Aruna, as part of the core Change Agent Team, helped relaunch The Imperial as one of the finest hotels in Asia and the World. Her brand management portfolio has also included launching Djinns - India's first ever multi-concept Night Club at Hyatt Regency, reviving old and launching new restaurants, unveiling the Oberoi Vilases and leading media strategy for Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Australian Foreign Minister, Australian Education Minister and a clutch of Australian celebrities from different walks of life introducing their work to India and cementing Australia-India business and cultural ties.

As an industry expert and All-India level PR Topper, Aruna has launched brands, developed training modules, created standardization dockets on business communication and written manuals. L. Aruna Dhir is a Life Member of the Public Relations Society of India.

Aruna has worked on Radio and Indian Television and has been India's first and only Creative Writer with the Indian Greetings Cards giant, ARCHIES G&G Ltd.

L. Aruna Dhir has represented India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the aegis of Rotary International and has also participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia and chaired by HRH Princess Anne.

In her official and personal capacity L. Aruna Dhir has and continues to work on several social awareness projects – People for Animals, Earthquake Relief, National Blind Association, PETA, WSPA, Change.org, Friendicoes to name a few.

L. Aruna Dhir looks forward to bringing together her unique and eclectic professional background to actualize AELD's mandate in the Subcontinent with the vision to pave the path for a productive, inclusive and meaningful leadership of tomorrow.


For more information –

Please write to – arunadhir@hotmail.com

And Visit - http://csc-alumni.org/


This Press Release has appeared on -

Hospitality Net - https://www.hospitalitynet.org/appointment/79016255.html

Bizcatalyst360 - https://www.bizcatalyst360.com/great-leadership-always-rises-to-the-top/

eHotelier - https://insights.ehotelier.com/people/2018/06/14/l-aruna-dhir-appointed-board-member-association-emerging-leaders-dialogues/

HOSPMG - https://www.hospmg.com/blog/2018/6/14/5t6whae63p1drg6x3uqwswun0ca2fh-5r3z9?rq=L.%20Aruna%20Dhir

Sunday 3 June 2018


Thursday 22 March 2018

The Extraordinary Life of an Extraordinary Leader!

I am very delighted and humbled to share my interview with Eileen Bild - the illustrious Life Coach and Creator of "Core Thinking for High Achievers."

Eileen has interviewed me for her 'Step into their Shoes' Success Interviews Series that appears on Bizcatalyst 360, one of the finest platforms globally for knowledge sharing and thought leadership.

The interview follows - 

In my interview with L. Aruna Dhir, I find a unique person of integrity, wisdom, and strength that goes beyond the norm. Her perseverance through hardships and a determination to be the best version of herself has lead L.  Aruna Dhir down a path that has raised her to the top of her profession. It is apparent that her mindset about herself and life has been integral in the unfolding of her success as a writer, mentor, communications expert, hotelier, and leader. When you read this article, you will be inspired by the choices she has made giving her the opportunities to achieve the milestones set as a child.

L. Aruna Dhir shares her passion for writing and how she followed the golden nuggets set before her, taking each stepping stone with grace and empowerment for maximizing her performance. I hope you enjoy reading about the journey one may take, with unforeseen potential, guiding you up a road of trials, tribulations, joys, and happiness.

1. You have quite an extensive and varied background in education, public relations,
writing, marketing and communications. Share with me how they have all culminated together to assist you in becoming who you are today as a consultant, author, and hospitality & features writer.

I began my career as a Freelance Journalist and Correspondent for a Regional Newspaper, focusing on social, contemporary, developmental issues. This began while I was studying for my Post Graduation and Masters in Philosophy, helping me to consolidate the time at hand and channelize it into the professional arena while still acquiring my educational degrees.

My penchant for writing began at a very early age, as early as Eight or Nine when I wrote my first poem. While in Middle School, my essays always stood apart so much that my English Teacher – Ms. Hemalini Masih - loaned me one of the most comprehensive biographies on English poets from Alexander Pope to WB Yeats. The Red cloth bound Hardcover turned out to be a cornerstone book for me, nudging my spirit and my core towards writing, with leaves from the lives of famous poets as the guiding gauge.

From the beginning, I had eclectic interests, from animals to nature, gardening to geography, socio-anthropology to psychology and Public Relations. This, perhaps, paved the way for me to chart a course in different genres of writing from features to poetry to business writing and then the several tributaries within the realm of business writing itself.

The other two shaping chisels that helped me assimilate, integrate and contribute knowledge-based thought leadership have been - firstly, an innate “pursuit of excellence” that I have doggedly followed and secondly, the “benchmarked, best places” I have had the privilege to work in, that allowed blossoming of talent, creative freedom and an opportunity to present innovative thought and strategy amalgamated with the larger brand ethos.

Then, there has been this discernible DNA to learn, create and pass on that has always egged me to ideate, build and proffer knowledge and expertise amongst teams, peers and protégés; first as an award-winning Manager and then as a globally read Writer. 

2. You are considered one of the finest and highly followed international Hospitality writerswith columns running in best ranked global hospitality publications ehotelier, Hospitality Net, Bizcatalyst 360, 4hoteliers, CFO Connect. Where does your writing inspiration come from and how do the connections impact you as a leader?

The inspiration truly comes from the eagerness to create a webbed world of knowledge sharing, outstanding merit, a bank of thought and experience-based treasure that is available to many in an environment of intellectual brilliance.

It is a two-way street. The more you share your knowledge, the more you learn via interactions of the highest caliber and with intersections of highly experienced thoughts and comments.

Who is really a Leader? It is someone who pursues excellence in work, perpetuates acuity, inspires and inculcates talent, encourages merit and allows for a suitably fertile ground for growth and creativity to blossom in an equalitarian environment.

As people, who may have reached a certain station in our levels of expertness, we owe it to others to build such a healthy, mindful and mentally enhancing milieu.

3. When you were young, what did you want to be when you became an adult? Has yourcareer path aligned with this vision you had as a child? Looking back, do you feel your intentions set at an early age have impacted who you have become?

Even as a child, my favourite pastimes were reading and writing; far more than games and other forms of entertainment. Then; as a young adult, my choice for moonlighting and summer jobs was working with Regional Newspapers and becoming the City Correspondent for National Magazines.

From being a Keats fan to a Wordsworth acolyte and then becoming an ardent disciple of Sun Tzu, Freud, Jung, Maslow and Adler to following the writing styles of Bach, Kafka, Hemingway, Kotler and Carlzon; the realization came fast and quick that I wanted to be able to coach, mentor and guide through the influence and impact of the written word.

After the initial toddler temptations with toy needles and stethoscope and the games around playing Doctor, I began to understand my fascination with words and the interest in people – their mind, their intellect, their behaviour and the uniqueness we as a people bring to the world. Hence, it indeed was a natural veering towards first Psychology, then Public Relations and finally Hospitality – the quintessential business which is of the people, by the people and for the people.

So, it is safe to say that I always wanted to be a Writer and wished to create a professional playfield where I could create, communicate, share, stimulate and encourage insight and produce know-how that can have a lasting value.

4. Business communication is key for success. Please share what you believe are the top qualitiesof communication every business should be practicing. Why are they so important?

Communications is the single most important key to your Brand positioning, Brand awareness, Brand recognition and Brand association.

Whatever you may do – from providing medical care to creating an aspirational lifestyle; whatever you may wish to sell from air travel to Z-plus security, it must be communicated to your target audience. That is what Business Communications is all about - building and cementing relationships with your clientele and strategizing to deliver your Company message to them in the best possible and relatable ways.

When in doubt about how to devise the most effective communication capsules, always remember to adhere to the 7 Cs of Communication – Be Clear, Concise, Concrete, Correct, Coherent, Complete and Courteous. With this simple maxim, you can never go wrong in ensuring maximum reach, frequency and penetration of your messages to the target audience.

With the advent of new Communication channels that are easily searchable, play round the clock and have the propensity for information to be dug out of the archives with just a mere click, it becomes imperative that the Communications professional and all the other Company spokespeople are cautious, clear, honest, conscientious and with a global outlook in the way they communicate, not only professionally but also personally. 

If Communication has the power to build a brand and keep it on top of the mind recall level, it also has the proclivity to break the brand and create reverse value in the minds of the publics.

The best Communications Strategy for any Company would involve the following essential aspects – It bears value for the Brand and its products, carries the promise of service delivery, is coherent and customer-engaging, reliable and realistic and is delivered in a timely fashion.

5. You have been a Cultural Ambassador under the aegis of Rotary International. Tell memore about this prestigious position.

In the summer of 2001, I was selected as a delegate under the prestigious Group Study Exchange (GSE) Program of Rotary International. The role entailed representing India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the aegis of Rotary International.

We travelled through the designated regions of Washington DC and the State of Maryland and interacted with industry leaders, City Opinion makers, State Decision makers, experts, trade professionals and luminaries in their respective fields to introduce the philosophy and essence of India as a Country of huge global significance. The Fellowship was also about learning the American business, professional and personal best practices and community initiatives and to exchange ideas on business, social, cultural, educational and youth engagements between the two countries. 

And in 2003, I participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia that was chaired by Princess Anne. The theme of this Conference was ‘People first in the global community.’ It put the individual in the center of the flux of globalization and endeavoured to understand the relationship and integration between the citizen and the community, corporation and nation-state the citizen exists and thrives in.

Both these international experiences have been defining interfaces in shaping thought and helping me to become a more aware, compassionate and significantly contributing Global Citizen.

As of November 2017, I have been inducted as a Board Member into AELD – the Association of Emerging Leaders Dialogues, a Commonwealth Forum for sharing ideas and achievement and presided over by HRH Princess Royal, Princess Anne.

6. What has been some of your most valuable struggles as you have worked your way towardsthe success you have achieved. How have they inspired you to be the best version of yourself?

The most potent struggle that I have faced has been at a personal level. From growing up in a much feted and fawned upon environment as a daughter of a very senior Government Official to falling into a life of anonymity and dejection when my father passed away when I was only Nine, the contrast of the two existences was sharp, rude, harsh, strongly impressionable and with lasting lessons. As we all know, in our primarily patriarchal society, a fatherless world for a child is rugged and unrelenting. 

I had to learn fast to gather all the strewn up bits – psychological, physical, emotional, social – around me and learn to create my own identity in such a manner that I could manage to stand above and outside the crowd. At that age, it was not only an ambitious exercise but one that allowed for survival and brought in the aspect of a social standing.

The second struggle has been the aspect of reaching milestones after milestones in the absence of any Godfather or Benefactor. But growing and developing on one’s own steam brings in satisfaction of the highest order – one that is matchless and has a level of permanence to it.

From being India’s first–ever Creative Writer for the Indian greeting cards giant – ARCHIES Greetings and Gifts Ltd. and coming out with several series of cards sold by my byline – an unprecedented feat that has not been repeated since to being voted as one of the finest Hospitality PR professionals nationally to finally gaining a following of readers for one’s industry writings – the fact that it was effort based and not via external push or endorsement gives one the eternal hope that one can not only dream and aspire but also endeavour to attain.

The third struggle was woven around the battle one had to fight with one’s own self. I had to overcome my own shyness, introversion, fear and insecurities to come out on top of whatever I began to dabble in – whether it was working in the very public and visual mediums of radio and television, or combating my own low confidence levels to try and become a good public speaker and to push myself from being a wallflower and a desk warrior to go out in the open and win my own race in the very glamorous, very ‘in-the-public-eye,’ very exposure-laden industry of Five Star hotels.

The fourth significant struggle came via the opportunity to work in diversified industries – from Social Expressions to Journalism to Education to Diplomatic to Hospitality to finally Writing.  When you work in different industries, you must be prepared to unlearn, learn and relearn; which no doubt is a magnificent teacher but one that brings with it a huge amount of challenges. But if you allow the seed of “excellence” to germinate and grow and if you stoke the fire of “being the best in what you do” then success begins to walk by your side despite the struggles and trials and tribulations. 

7. Tell me three power thoughts you feel have been instrumental in the strength of yourachievements, leading to all the various projects you are involved in, the columns you write for and the high-profile positions you hold. 

Be Discernible

These three definitely have been the personal motivators.

Dream Big. Dream beyond one’s Zone. Dream outside one’s comfort level.

Define one’s personality as distinctive in one’s profession. Define one’s genre that helps stand you apart. Define your style. Define your personal statement. Define your personal mission and Vision.

Finally, cut off from the cookie-cutter conveyor belt and be discernible. Be Different. Present a body of work that is distinct and singularly special. Be distinguishable. 

8. What is your favorite quote?

In fact, I have two. And they are –

“Lives of great men all remind us
  We can make our lives sublime,
  And, departing, leave behind us
  Footprints on the sands of time.”

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“The heights by great men
Reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

9. For anyone reading this interview, please share what you believe sets you apart,
giving you the ability to reach a level of success enabling you to be a leader, mentor and highly respected professional.

To be hopefully individualistic, keep myself motivated and not lose sight of my intended targets for life, I have devised a set of two formulae – there is a “G” formula and then there is an “E” formula.

“G” formula comprises of Gratitude, Goals and Gumption.

The foremost thing that I wish to bear in mind is Gratitude. In almost all my endeavours I resolve that I must “pay it back” and “pay it forward.”

None of us grow up as islands. Neither do we gain, learn and attain while being in a world of one. In our personal voyage, we gather so much obligation and debt along the way – of the world, of our family, of our teachers, of our mentors, even of our detractors and critics and finally of the Almighty. Hence, it becomes imperative to pay back to the world and the Universe what we have so richly reaped from it.

Also, having achieved a certain position, having gathered a bank of knowledge, having accumulated experience of meaningful value, it becomes our moral commitment to pay it forward to those who are our co-travellers in this journey of life.

The second thing is Goals. There are milestones to be crossed, destinations to be reached; flags to be posted on personal Summits that one has garnered ambition for.

The third is Gumption and Grit. One just has to be courageous in the face of all adversity. One must persevere and be consistent in one’s efforts. One must foster a zeal within that is both zestful and full of enthusiasm a zillion times over. That is what keeps you going and prods you on to carve a unique passage through this incarnation. 

The “E” formula helps me define and differentiate my enterprise. I see it as a five-point credo and aim to infuse the following five integral aspects into any work that I take on, be it a project, an assignment or a piece of writing –

Exciting – it should stimulate interest in the reader/end user.

Engaging – it must inculcate participation and free-flowing exchange of ideas.

Exceptional – it should offer a unique value and must be of high merit.

Empowering – it should equip the reader/end user with knowledge, insight and acumen.

Enlightening – it must have a vision, it must impart wisdom, it must bear a “Wow” factor and encourage excellence. 

10. We all have a story and your journey has been blessed with many extraordinary experiences. Along the way, you have gained some wisdom regarding choices, mindset, communication and public relations. What words of wisdom would you like to pass along to inspire others to believe in themselves and reach their highest potential? 

As a keen observer of people from different walks of life and their behaviour, I have come to the conclusion that success is not only the life-force of an Identity but that it is also subjective. 

While each of us may dance to a different music, beat our own course on a virgin path, look at possibilities with our unique pair of eyes and give distinct shapes to our professional destiny moulding the clay of nous and effort in our separate ways; the bottom line for measuring success remains universally the same. You ought to be the best in what you do, deliver to the best of your ability and strive for greater excellence at all times; it is then that you are truly successful. 

The most important quality to be successful remains the age-old one of hard work. If you need to get somewhere you will have to burn the midnight oil to get there. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes. 

The second quality would be persistence, perseverance and a consistent internal push. We would not have had light bulbs or telephones or planes or the revolutionizing concepts of relativity and 
Archimedes principle, to cite a few examples, had it not been for the never-say-die spirit of these zealous, determined folk.

The third most important quality is, undoubtedly, passion. That definitely is the main driver in your path to success. If you don’t let that little light within you extinguish or quell the inner voice that pushes you on and if you keep the fire in your belly alive and stoked then it is the passion that does it for you. It is the passion that keeps you motivated in the face of flak, failure or fear.

Fervour, ardour, enthusiasm, craze, drive - call it by any name but it is the passion that is your undying spirit which keeps your dreams alive and brings you a step closer to your coveted calling.

It is important to maintain a slick intellect, razor-sharp mind and well-oiled mental faculties; regardless of the stressful environment we work in and the exigencies we face day in and day out. In fact, application of intelligence, astuteness, quick-wittedness and mental alacrity differentiate the tough from the beaten, the winners from losers.

Also, develop an affinity with the three Cs of attitude – 

Be Confident in yourself and in all that your qualifications and experience have richly treasured up in you. Be confident to learn, change and adapt. 

Be Courageous. Hone your courage to meet biggest challenges, toughest professional terrains and the harshest of winds that may blow against you.

Be Compassionate. It is imperative to see things from the other’s point of view, treat them kindly and be empathetic in team-work; the last being the prerequisite to ensure that the ship sails smoothly in the same direction with no parts of it divided or torn apart by strife and discordance.

Finally, always strive to be a Professional in whatever you do! And here’s how I would define a Professional – Be a mentor, be positive, make mistakes and learn from them, make no compromises, always deliver, always take charge, be a perpetual learner, be a visionary and always see the Big Picture!

Web link - https://www.bizcatalyst360.com/the-extraordinary-life-of-an-extraordinary-leader/

Monday 12 March 2018

The Shiva Slaps!

Since I am a Shivaite, I call these the Shiva slaps.

They happen a lot with me. Each time I let the two-horned, arrow-tailed, spear-holding monster linger on my left shoulder for a somewhat long time, I get whacked by Lord Shiva in His strange ways with a simple, subliminal message that puts me back on track.

2017 was a good year for my writing work. I was productive, prolific and wrote with flourish and proclivity. The Writer's Block remained at bay and I wrote all kinds of things - business writing, poetry, blogs and fed regularly into some of my manuscripts. I wrote at all times with ease, whether it was the dead of the night or wee hours of the morning or the middle of the day.

But 2018 began on a somewhat slow note. I was low and downbeat, given to low energy, feeble enthusiasm and weak will.

And then I get a string of those Shiva slaps delivered across my right on a single day.

First, Andy Alpine, a LinkedIn connection, invited me to write for his rather nice website - https://boomersbucketlisttravel.com/

And then Qrius (previously The Indian Economist) sent me the following note.

To say the least, I am impressed with Qrius and their line up of writers. I am also chuffed about the fact that they syndicate to World Economic Forum and Harvard Economics Review.

Yes, I will be writing for both!

And then there has been AELD (The Association of Emerging Leaders' Dialogues) extending their hand and inducting me on their Board.

A US-based Life Coach interviews me for her series of interviews of global professional leaders and calls mine an 'Extraordinary Life of a Leader.'

One of the highest ranked hospitality e-magazines offers me to design their PR Course.

The Shiva slaps keep coming, making it difficult for me to find excuses for shirking my work and not putting in my one hundred percent.

Lord Shiva will just not allow that in my case, it seems!

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Thursday 8 March 2018

The luxury and the agony of working from Home!

For years, I held a demanding hotel job that saw me clock in time from 8 AM to 10 PM on most days. If I left office at 7 PM, I would have my Boss joke that I was taking a half day.

Then, one day I got onto the other side of the fence and became my own Boss. 

As full-time hoteliers, we go through a grueling schedule. But now, as a full-time Hospitality Industry Watcher and Writer, I feel that my schedule is no less grinding. 

The only difference is that a part of my home turf is also my office space. Is that an easy peasy work life or do we still walk the tightrope? Let’s take a look.

Just the other day, I got off from late night binge television viewing, shut off the Idiot Box and walked over to the designated area, switched on the PC and began working at 4 o’clock in the morning.

There are days when still donned in my PJs, I will work through the night, and wrap up work at say about eight in the morning, only to sneak under the sheets and sleep till midday.

I can take a day off on Wednesday or any other day of my choice, right in the middle of the week. Or, to finish some steep deadlines, I may have to push myself to work long, stretched hours over the weekend.

My daily commute to work entails, walking from one area of the house to another with a mug of coffee in hand. Welcome to the pleasures and privileges of working from SOHO (Small Office, Home Office)!

But not everything is a walk around the park, smelling roses and sniffing the hot brew to stimulate the already relaxed senses!

Working from home brings its own bandwagon of battles. There are a trillion dragons to slay when you are your own boss. 

You need to keep yourself in the reckoning in face of old and new competition, you have to run at double speed just to stay stable in the same place, and you have to learn to wade smoothly and calmly through the choppy waters of insecure and uncertain finances (with no security blanket of a guaranteed monthly paycheck) just to keep your ship afloat!

So, is it easy or tough to work from home?

It is an extremely tough decision to decide to leave one's place in the corporate matrix and go on one's own. A lot of things are at stake - your position on the corporate ladder, your movement up on the ladder to get closer to the Corner Office, the perquisites that come with your position and the host of privileges.

Also, there is the two-pronged matter of the financials. As most people who have bitten the bait of being their own bosses will tell you, one must be very open to the eventuality that you will be earning far less than when you worked for a Company. There are no bonuses, travel or entertainment allowances, HRA, Mediclaim and the like.

The second part is that when you decide to go on your own, you will have to make the initial investment for setting up a Home Office, complete with a tiny staff, should your work demand so.

When you are working with a Corporate, your designation there, plus the profile of the Company makes it easier for you to establish stronger business relationships and wider networks. 

When you decide to work from home, you need to start all over again and build that network from ground zero.

In this ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, world,’ you will soon realize that a clutch of erstwhile business “friends” or “great contacts” were actually closer to the brand you represented than you and will let you know their leaning fast enough.

On the flip side, you have the opportunity to deliver more, pack so much more in your day. You also have the advantage of not being pulled into office politics and shenanigans and pointless meetings, therefore you can keep a positive and more productive milieu around yourself.

Working from home, if you do not mind a smaller pay packet (until the time your work has begun generating a steady income), brings in the best work-life balance. From small kids to pet children to aging parents, you get to be hands-on for them much more than if you worked for somebody else. 

Also, since you work from home and save the time on commuting and can carry on the work in a limitless way into the wee hours or turnaround your schedule to say, even start a work day at 3 AM when the pressures build up; you have a lot more time on your hands to follow your other passions and pursuits bringing in greater pleasure and satisfaction to your life. 

There are, however, some basics that you must keep in mind while working from home!

a). Earmark a sacrosanct area that draws a boundary for your workspace - it could be one section of the house or an offsite area that you visit every day or even a part of your room replete with your desk and all the necessary paraphernalia.

b). Draw up a timeline on how you want to intertwine your house responsibilities with your professional work. Since you work from home, the lines are bound to get blurred and it is up to you to demarcate and set internal checks.

c). While you have the luxury of working even in your night clothes, but it makes sense to take the trouble of dressing and showing up at your desk. It helps channelize your mindset, keeping it more professional and less lackadaisical.

d). When you work from home and get into the seamless time zone, remind yourself to adhere to a schedule, do not eat at your desk, do not shortchange your exercise regimen, do not cut down on your outside meetings as and when your work demands.

e). Invest in things/technology that will help you deliver in the most efficient manner. Do not scrounge on that.

f). Work out a good Profit Protection Plan to ensure healthier returns.

g) Do not compromise on your work ethics or your expectation of your own self. Sound self-esteem plays a big part in binding your Brand value.

h). Do not let prospective clients ride roughshod over you, disregard your experience and expertise and try to get away by paying you little or not paying you at all. 

When you don't have a Corporate Umbrella over you, many people think they are doing a favour by giving an assignment or project to a self-employed person. 

Follow the following simple tips to make your SOHO decision a Success!

a). When you begin working from home, do not treat it as an extension of a hobby. Accord it the same respect and value you would to a Corporate job.

b). Plan ahead for a revenue model. It is a JOB that you are professionally trained for and are engaged in. It must pay your bills.

c). Working from home brings in the biggest facet of Flexi hours, but you must learn to bring a sense of decorum and discipline. Stick to a schedule, start your work day early, minimize interference from extraneous factors including family members.

d). Endeavour to deliver your 100% each day. Without the nudges of HR or team competition or Appraisals, it is all up to you now to ensure that you do not drop the ball of optimal deliverability and quality of work.

e). Put enough thought into Brand Identity aspects - make sure that your business card, brochure, letterheads, website etc. represent your Brand Philosophy in the best way possible.

f). Build up on your equity by doing a great job for existing clients so that they would become your reference with ease and willingness.

If you too work from a Home Office, do share your tips and trials for minimizing setbacks and compounding gains!

Meanwhile, the clock on the computer reads 4:06 AM. I am calling it a day, after a productive night of some research work, some light reading and one important feature piece finished off to satisfaction.


Picture Courtesy - Google Images / Pottery Barn / Decoist.

Friday 9 February 2018

Compliments are key to team productivity and talent retention!

There is this nice, feel-good video that has gone viral on social media. It shows Chris Ulmer, a young teacher at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida – a School for Special Children, beckoning his wards one by one every morning. The teacher says to the first boy, “You’re an amazing student. I love having you in my class. I think everyone in here loves you.” And to the second, “You’re funny. You’re athletic. You’re a great soccer player. You’re very smart. You’ve been doing a great job reading.” And so on, one after another to every special boy in his class before sending them off with a high five.

Chris opines that this simple practice helps shape his students’ world view turning them into better human beings. “If they have a mean, jaded teacher, they will think the world is mean and jaded. But if a teacher displays love, harmony and peace, that will become their norm. After a few weeks of this practice, my students started complementing one another consistently. They praise each other for accomplishments as if it was their own,” Chris shares in his video.

You can see the body language of each student change from the time Ulmer calls for them to the moment he High Fives the little tots.

And therein lays a master class in management best practice and one of the finest strategies for talent retention. Sincere words of praise from people of authority – Super bosses, direct reporting, team leads, managers and people of significance – Top management, mentors, industry bigwigs, even prominent peers, are known to have a lasting impression on the recipient.

Several studies have shown that many a times, well-deserved compliments that are truly and well-delivered by the management – conveying acknowledgement of good work, recognition of the value the employee brings and appreciation of his talent – rate higher than even salary and job perks. Moreover, using a public platform or a larger audience to express admiration of a great worker and his admirable output creates stronger bonds, reinforces mutual trust and respect, motivates other team members and instills a higher drive in the recipient.

Compliments and acknowledgements can take varied forms

They can be verbal pats on the back in official forums; they can be written affirmation on those formal appraisals; they can also be very visible endorsements of your special talent put up as showpieces for all to see and emulate from.

I was in a closed door once with my General Manager, the Company CFO and the irrepressible Mr. Oberoi, owner of the eponymously named chain of hotels, easily considered one of the finest in the world. We were discussing PR budgets, decision-making autonomy, our media engagements and some hairy issues when Mr. O’s eyes rested on the latest issue of Chronicle, the hotel newsletter. He quizzed me about how much we spent on it and right away got on the hotline to another hotel GM in his chain. Without batting an eyelid, he told the gent how ‘our’ Chronicle was the finest in the chain and produced at a lower cost too. Of course, our GM’s chest swelled with pride but Mr. O won a lifelong fan in me and an employee who would be a brand ambassador of his fine company whether she continued working for him or not. To this day I remain an Oberoi loyalist.

Compliments or recognition must be genuine and sincere

If they are not, then it is just meaningless fluff that gets blown away easily without having the desired effect. And it should not always be premeditated, practiced and pro forma. Truthful, honest praise comes straight from the heart and is an instant reaction to a job that has been done well and beyond the brief.

During Australia India New Horizons 1996-97, Australia’s biggest country promotion thus far, I was on the media team of Alexander Downer, the then Hon’ble Foreign Minister of Australia. At one of the national press conferences held at FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), the Minister was very pleased with the success of the press meet and the huge number of press folk from prominent media that had gathered there.

At the end of the conference, the Minister turned towards Gai Brodtmann, the Counsellor Public Affairs, who was my immediate boss and also the Head of PR & Publicity at the Australian High Commission in India, to congratulate her for one of the best media interfaces he had ever experienced.

Gai, true to her form and character, got up, turned towards me and told the Minister that she “had nothing to do with it. That it was all my hard work;” in full attendance of the Australian and Indian Government officials and the Mission staff.

With that profound gesture, my mentor-for-life, left behind some indelible management lessons for me and all others who were present – lessons in leadership, being secure in one’s own role and position, being proud of one’s team, giving credit where it is due at the right time in the right forum, best techniques in employee motivation and instilling the highest form of accountability in her team mates.

Compliments need not be direct

Sometimes, a fine word let out by your significant others at work that travels back to you is the finest and most promising music that you need to hear to put your best foot forward at all times.

I was meeting a journalist friend for lunch and during the course of our conversation she recounted that she had met my boss at an art exhibition the previous Sunday and how they got talking about me and how he had such great things to say about the kind of work I did. The fact that I remember the conversation to this day and that what the boss had to say about me still motivates me even when I have had several experiences under my belt since, shows the importance one can attach to such wonderfully inspiring feedback. Fair words of commendation not only serve to be great pick-ups when you are feeling low, but also always serve to maintain your confidence in yourself.

Compliments need not always be verbalized

Often times, actions do speak louder than words and leave a stronger mark. I had just joined this hotel as part of the Change Agent team with the mandate to turnaround and present the hotel with a completely new brand image and positioning. Before I joined the place, the owner and the VP & GM had contracted all PR, communications, publicity and advertising work to two agencies – a PR & image  consultancy and an advertising agency. In my introductory briefing session, Pierre Jochem, the VP & GM (who I call my second mentor) thought aloud, “We will keep the agencies for three months. That should allow you enough time to warm up and begin earnest work on the PR roadmap.”

We had a catching up meeting on the fourth day in his lovely, glass-walled, mezzanine floor corner office. Monsieur Jochem, carrying the Guest Services Directory mock-up I had given to him for his review, was happy to note the media coverage that had started to happen (with luck on my side one had got the hotel covered every single day of those first four days). And this is what he uttered to me, “You seem to have achieved what these folks had collectively done in three months. I guess we will just terminate their contracts and let them go. I think this way you will get more work done.”

Yes, this decision went into his report to the owners. After the initial sense of high and euphoria it brought in a higher sense of responsibility in me. Such trust and conviction must always be proved right.

Compliments are the vocal and visible endorsement of an employee’s good performance that is laudable and to be encouraged

Such validation of commendable work ensures that the employee continues to feel motivated, accountable and responsible. He/she becomes more result-oriented and holds a stronger level of ownership for his role and responsibility; endeavouring to maximize the wins and diminish the fails towards his/her goals achievement.

Compliments are, indeed, one of the finest strategies for retaining good talent

Sincere commendation inspires and also helps reshape average work into stellar feats. Use it often, but judiciously. Compliment your team profusely at every given opportunity but with sincerity and deservingly!

So how have compliments helped you perform better and exceed targets? Tell me in your comments.


Picture courtesy - Google Images