“Integrated social media tools are becoming common in business processes”

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Andrew Gerrard (Head-Social Business, Like Minds) says social media is removing the boundaries of how employees function and how they represent their organisations.

Q1. These days, we see employers using social media tools to recruit potential candidates. Does it amount to invasion of privacy?
I don’t think so. Social media is just another channel that prospective employers can now use to establish whether the candidate is the right fit for the job and the organisation. Ultimately the decision to hire someone is the responsibility of the hiring manager and if they chose to use social media to help them do that then that is their prerogative. However, hiring managers need to take great care in placing too much emphasis on what they learn about a candidate from social media, as the information they learn, and the conclusions they reach, about the candidate may be misleading and potentially lead them into making the wrong hiring decision – whether it be to hire an individual or to not hire them. Candidates, on the other hand, need to be aware that employers may be using social media to research them and, as such, need to ensure that their social profiles are consistent and match with their career aspirations.

Q2. With the advent of social media, job aspirants have now more opportunities at their disposal. What advice do you have for these aspirants in managing their social media?
Be consistent across all your social channels. A candidate may use different tools and channels for different things, e.g. Facebook to connect with personal contacts, Twitter for real-time conversation, and LinkedIn to engage with business associates. But, these channels are not isolated, and in using them, a candidate needs to understand that they contribute to a single social graph that a prospective employer may see as a representation of the candidate. Therefore, candidates need to ensure that they are consistent in how they communicate across all their chosen social media channels.

In doing so, a candidate must also maintain an open and honest approach to what they say and do in social media. Any irregularities, inconsistencies, and at worst, untruths, are far more easily exposed through social media, and potential employers will take a negative attitude towards candidates that are unable to demonstrate integrity in their everyday life.

Q3. What are some of the latest social media trends doing rounds?
The rise of visual and rich-media tools to enable interactive social communications has established a trend that is leading to more graphical and video social content. This, in turn, has led to the rise of ‘sound-bite’ communications, where users are using these tools to generate quick and immediate social interactions. The advantage of this is that messages and information can be communicated much more quickly and effectively using graphics and other rich-media. The disadvantage is that more complex social media communications and interactions may be suppressed or missed completely as people quickly look for the next social interaction that interests them.

Research has yet to establish the consequences of how the explosive growth in using online social media is affecting our abilities as human beings to maintain our real-world social groups and relationships. There can be little doubt that social media represents a significant opportunity for developing new and far-reaching social relationships, but any cost of how this is affecting our society to function in real terms has yet to be realised.

Q4. There is a growing need for HR professionals to understand and engage in this brave new world of social media. How is it changing the way businesses function?
Right across the board of every business, social media is removing the boundaries of how employees function within their role, and how they represent their organisation. Where previously there were strict lines of communication upheld by rigid management structures and tight controls, social media enables everybody within an organisation to have a voice. This means every business needs to have an understanding of how social media can be used not only as a sales, marketing and services channel, communicating and engaging with stakeholders and interested parties directly on matters that are relevant to the business and its customers; but also how the entire workforce, partners, suppliers, customers, clients and wider markets, can be mobilised through the use of social media to take an interest and get involved in the future growth of the business.

Q5. Is there a need for social media policy or code?
Almost certainly. A responsible organisation will educate and nurture their entire workforce in how they use social media to communicate about their work and the wider business. In industries that are tightly controlled and regulated, such as financial services or healthcare, there will without doubt be a need for businesses to provide clear and unambiguous guidelines, policies and codes of conduct on how employees should behave when using social media with instruction on what they can say, and what they cannot. This may apply to guidance on how employees use their own personal social accounts as well. Although, this is a contentious area, employers have to be sure that the business is being represented in a responsible manner and is seen to be behaving in the correct way. This is especially true where legal boundaries are in place.

In businesses where no such restrictions apply there may be an attitude that it does not matter. However, in such cases, employees will still benefit hugely from having an employer provide them with guidelines on what they can and cannot do in social media. This will remove any potential for misunderstanding should an incident arise in the future. Further, the issuance of policies and guidelines will be seen by many employees as a mandate to go and use social media, so employers need to ensure that they are giving employees something which allows them to represent the business and its values properly and with a clear conscience.

Q6. How are companies integrating social media with internal business processes, and how does it increase the productivity of enterprise?
Integrated social tools are becoming increasingly important and common as a part of business processes. There may be some sectors within a business where social tools will have a negligible effect on how that part of the  business functions or operates, e.g. within a specific manufacturing process.

However, there can be little doubt now that by providing internal social networks and  tools that allow the workforce to collaborate on a much wider scale than previously possible, and that enable employees to engage and share their work directly with each other does lead to increased productivity, creative development and business innovation. Initially, and on a simplistic level, the implementation of an internal social network will provide the starting point for employees to engage with each other, learn more about their business, share ideas and work efforts, contribute and collaborate constructively on those efforts, and give people a sense that they are an important part of what they are doing.

The integration of social media across an entire business and its operations may be more complex for some, but will potentially lead to greater efficiencies in how the organization interacts with its customers, clients and markets, how it conducts research and learns about customer needs and wants, where the next major developments and trends are taking place that will affect its  business, and of course, how it can acquire, train and retain a skilled, knowledgeable, engaged, committed and satisfied workforce.

(First published in The Sunday Indian)


Who’s who: Profile of two Afghan Presidential candidates

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Afghanistan again has a tryst with history on June 14, 2014. The stage is set for the much-awaited runoff between two frontrunners, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. These elections will mark the watershed moment in the chequered history of this war-weary country. After sitting at the helm for 12 long, eventful years; President Hamid Karzai will finally step down and the highly fortified Presidential Palace will have a new high-profile occupant.

Here we profile the two candidates who will face off on June 14, in what has been described as the clash of titans and the ultimate political showdown.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah:

One of the strongest challengers in race for the 2014 elections, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is a powerful political figure in Afghanistan. He participated in the previous elections as well but had to beat a hasty retreat. This time, with his bête noire Hamid Karzai out of reckoning, he is fancying his chances to romp home victorious.

Born into a politico-religious family of Kabul in 1960, Mr. Abdullah had his primary education at Nadiria High School, and went on to study Ophthalmology at Kabul University. In 1983, he received his MD degree and joined as Resident Ophthalmologist at the Noor Eye Institute, Kabul.

In mid 1980s’, as the Soviet Union forces spread their web across the country, he joined the forces of resistance and played a pivotal role during those years. He worked as an Ophthalmologist at a hospital for Afghan refugees in Peshawar Pakistan and also served as the Director of Healthcare for the Resistance Front. After Mujahideen ousted Najibullah Ahmadzai’s government from Kabul, the eloquent Mr. Abdullah became the Spokesperson for the Defense Ministry of Afghanistan.

Politics ran in his blood, since his father served as Senator during King Mohammad Zahir regime. In December 2001, he was elevated to the coveted post of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the interim government led by Hamid Karzai. During the first tenure of Karzai as President, he reappointed Mr. Abdullah as Foreign Minister but unceremoniously axed him in 2006 to bring in Dr. Rangin Daftar Spanta. That did not go down well with Mr. Abdullah and he parted ways with President Karzai.

In the 2009 Presidential elections, Mr. Abdullah contested against President Karzai and it was projected as the clash of titans. But after the reports of fraud and bungling, a run-off election was announced; following which Mr. Abdullah withdrew himself from the race and accused the head of Independent Election Commission (IEC) Azizullah Ludin of rigging the elections to save Hamid Karzai from a defeat.

Abdullah is again in the race and this time his chances are strong. His first Vice-President is Engineer Mohammad Khan and his second Vice President is Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq.

In the first round, he topped the charts with 45 percent votes but failed to touch the magic figure of 50 percent votes, the absolute majority required to form the government. His chances are looking bright as many former candidates have endorsed his candidature.

Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai:

Born into an influential Afghan family in 1949, Dr. Ahmadzai spent his early days in Logar province. He had his primary and secondary education at Habibia High School, Kabul. He was exposed to politics since early days, as his father served the ruling dispensation in various senior capacities.

After finishing his secondary education, Dr. Ahmadzai went to Lebanon and enrolled at American University in Beirut, where he earned his first major degree in 1973. In 1974, he returned home to take up the teaching job at Kabul University, where he taught Kabul Studies and Anthropology. After three years, he went to Columbia University on a government scholarship to pursue Master’s in Anthropology.

During this time, pro-Soviet forces assumed power in his home country and he became politically more active. He stayed back in U.S. to complete his doctorate, following which he started teaching at University of California and John Hopkins University.

He joined World Bank in 1991 as an expert Anthropologist. After the Taliban regime was toppled in Afghanistan, he received an offer to be Special Advisor to UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Afghanistan. He returned back from the U.S. and played a key role in designing and implementing the Bonn Agreement. In the interim government, he served as Advisor to President Hamid Karzai and contributed to formation of Loya Jirga.

Dr. Ahmadzai has done tremendous work in the area of women’s rights and social justice, crisis and conflict resolution, empowering people in tribal societies, promoting and preserving the Afghan literature. He has also authored a book with Clare Lockhart Fixing Failed States: A Frame for Rebuilding a Fractured World, published in 2009, which talks about why past efforts have not worked to save failed states and offers a groundbreaking solution to the most pressing global issues.

In the last Presidential elections, Dr. Ahmadzai was tipped to be one of the leading candidates but he ended up with a meager 3 percent votes.

Abdul Rashid Dustom had backed President Karzai in the previous elections. In this election, he was likely to throw his weight behind Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, but due to some irreconcilable differences he took the other route and joined Dr. Ahmadzai’s camp.

In these elections, Dr. Ahmadzai is seen as a strong contender. He has appointed Abdul Rashid Dostum, leader of Junbish Islami, as first Vice Presidential candidate; and Sarwar Danish, former Higher Education Minister as his second Vice Presidential candidate.

Mr. Ahmadzai ended up behind Mr. Abdullah in the first round, with 33 percent votes, much less than expected by many of his supporters. In the second round, with most of his fellow Pashtun candidates out of race, he is likely to put up a better show.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)

Truth of India’s growth story

Syed Zafar Mehdi

India may boast of many hi-tech super specialty hospitals, but there are not even primary health centers in most parts of the country. The budget allocation for health is among the lowest in the world. A report in Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, said that most Indians shell out 78 per cent of their medical bills themselves. The only country worse off as far as private spending on health is concerned is Pakistan, where the figure is 82.5 per cent. The basic problem is infrastructure and support staff and great majority of the population is still deprived of basic healthcare.

In major policy circles across the world, India is being hailed as a great success story of globalization, a vibrant nation with growing financial and industrial clout, one of the main protagonists of new economy and new international policy, and a viable counter-weight to China’s sudden rise.

These ideas may not be entirely unfounded but they certainly obscure the extent to which old problems persist and are being dug deeper. It won’t be exaggeration to state that the palpable buzz about ‘Incredible India’ is based on many a myths that the cheerleaders of India’s growth story often overlook or ignore.

It might not please many Indians, but notwithstanding the substantial accomplishments made in various fields, India still has a long way to go before taking the mantle of a ‘superpower’ or even jump into the big league. As noted author and columnist Thomas Friedman once remarked, India is a six lane super highway, but full of potholes, cracked cement, and unfinished sidewalks.

Few years back, London-based independent think-tank Legatum Institute in its report concluded that India’s economy is growing rapidly and the country is likely to leapfrog into the league of economic superpowers by 2030. Since then, the global economic recession has led to dramatic developments across the world, posing serious challenges to emerging economies in particular. Though India has managed to stand its ground, but many serious challenges persist on many fronts.

Some ‘sponsored’ surveys and reports are painting the rosy picture of India, ignoring many realities that lie underneath the surface. As per the Grant Thornton Global Dynamism Index, India is the fifth best country in the world for dynamic growing businesses. The index is a reflection of the feasible environment it offers for expansion of businesses. Further, India’s economic confidence reached 68 per cent in August 2012, marking a surge of 8 points from previous months, according to ‘Ipsos Economic Pulse of the World’ survey. As per a study by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd (Deloitte), India is slated to be the second largest manufacturing country in the next five years, followed by Brazil. On the Ernst & Young’s (E&Y) renewable attractiveness index, India is perched at fourth position. On the solar index, India is ranked second and on the wind index, it is ranked third, as per the latest study by E&Y and UBM India Pvt Ltd.

What these surveys tell you is that India is a rising power and Goliath and everything about India is hunky-dory. What they don’t tell you is that most of Indian states are mired in world’s highest levels of poverty and some human development indicators are among the worst in the developing world. The hype about India as emerging global giant overlooks the simple fact that the growth is not inclusive and superficial to the extent that it is only on the surface and not getting penetrated deep enough to be sustainable and beneficial to all.

In modern India’s context, dualism juxtaposes the hi-tech boom areas with the vast tracts of economy that have barely been touched by post-91 economic reforms. In Indian society, small islands of excellence, prosperity and possibilities are surrounded by a sea of mediocrity, deprivation and discontent.

India may be a full-fledged capitalist country, a liberal economy and a rising money power, but there are people who still eat grass, sell their children, hawk their kidneys, and commit suicides out of desperation. For every million new entrants to India’s burgeoning middle class, there are tens of millions still trapped in grinding web of rural poverty, barely earning a dollar after a back-breaking labor. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2010 – a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), ranks India below countries such as Rwanda and Sudan, putting it in the “alarming levels of hunger” range. While the cheerleaders drumbeat about the overall growth, they don’t seem to care about the poorest of the poor.

Countries like China and Vietnam, like India, have shown sharp growth in GDP rates. But unlike India, they have also succeeded in bringing down the levels of poverty and hunger. The major reasons for that is lack of education, abysmal quality of work, rampant corruption, sloppy implementation of projects and schemes, lack of proactive action in policies and the unchecked population growth. Development models have only created islands of prosperity and oceans of deprivation.

Some 65 per cent of people in India live on agriculture, which accounts for around 18 per cent of GDP. The World Development Report in 2008 stated that one per cent growth in agriculture is twice more effective in reducing poverty than similar growth in the non-agricultural sector. But lately, the focus hs shifted from agriculture to IT and telecom sectors.

Gender inequality and malnutrition are highly correlated, and it is no surprise that Global Gender Gap Report 2010 ranked India 112th out of 134 nations worldwide for gender equality. It reminds me of the arithmetic sum we used to solve in school days. It was about a monkey who climbs two feet and slips down one foot in a minute, so in how many minutes will the monkey take to climb a 25 feet pole. India’s growth story looks very similar to this interesting monkey sum.

Leadership, execution and arrogance are some of the nagging problem areas. On leadership, Indians think too small and do not believe in setting big, ambitious goals. The execution and implementation of schemes and plans is pathetic. Arrogance is the most interesting element. For everything, they seem to have an answer. The problems that make this ‘hype’ questionable is the huge population that is yet to fully enjoy the fruits of growth, the challenges of food, energy and ecological security and capability of the institutions to facilitate this leveling of India’s economic landscape.

Education scenario is dismal. In the QS World University Rankings, Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities, India figures nowhere in the world’s top-100 universities. Besides, according to recent World Bank reports, while more than 95 per cent of children attend primary school, just 40 per cent of Indian adolescents attend secondary school (Grades 9-12). So, with the spotlight on India as the higher education hub, this news must come as a shock.

India may boast of many hi-tech super specialty hospitals, but there are not even primary health centers in most parts of the country. The budget allocation for health is among the lowest in the world. A report in Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, said that most Indians shell out 78 per cent of their medical bills themselves. The only country worse off as far as private spending on health is concerned is Pakistan, where the figure is 82.5 per cent. The basic problem is infrastructure and support staff and great majority of the population is still deprived of basic healthcare.

Corruption is a monster. The government machinery is taking the full advantage of its age-old drawbacks and pulling down the country in a big way. Corruption, sycophancy and nepotism are so deep rooted that honest research, innovations and their application is not possible. On one hand, they spend Rs. 70,000 crores on the CommonWealth Games to let the world know that the country has arrived on the big stage; on the other hand, they struggle to provide basic amenities to people living in remotest of villages, the Bharat that India lives in. It is difficult to hide the disparity between real and imagined India. The dichotomy is too ugly, but real. And, I did not even mention the civil liberties and human rights scenario, the tyranny against tribal people in the name of development and dams, discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities and the fierce battle on the ground. That is an entirely different debate for some other day.

(First published in Hindustan Times)