Email Efficiency

Last week after I got back from my vacation, the only thing I was dreading to get back to was my inbox. For the first time in 10 years, I had managed to stay away from my emails for the entire duration of my holidays. Well, 8 days really isn’t much to be proud off but it was a holiday nonetheless.

So here I was trying to contemplate how best do I tackle this problem on hand. I wasn’t overtly eager to power on my laptop. Wanted to be sure that when I do get to my emails, I must be 100% focused to ensure every email I must read, I must action and close out.

I did power up my machine as soon as I got to work but only started reading current emails. Few action items on them and I was done with it. Had a few meetings and, to be honest, they were nothing but excuses to further delay the inevitable. It was only late evening, when 90% of the office was empty, that I finally decided it was time.

It took me 4 hours uninterrupted to read, review and respond. And come to think of it, I took my time. But one blaring statistic stood out – I replied to ONLY 5% of the emails that I received during an entire week. Only 5% emails actually warranted a response. Now, I don’t count ‘OK’ or ‘Thanks’ as a response. So that got me thinking.

How efficient are we on emails? Or are we at all?

Emails have become the primary mode of formal communication at the workplace today. I really don’t need to get into detail about what kind of communication et al but my question is : Are we overdoing it? If only 5% of my emails needed my response, what about the remaining 95%? That gets me to my next question: Why was it sent to me then? And lastly to my most important point : how were these ‘useless’ emails affecting my productivity?

I hear stories about about how most highly productive (read: famous billionaires) people are very good at time management. They ensure there is a time of each task. And emails is one of them. But for us lesser mortals, who know nothing about time management, if an email hits your inbox, it needs to be dealt with right away. For if you don’t, then the cell phone starts ringing. And in a matter of minutes, it gets escalated. This is if you receive an email that requires your attention. But every once in a while, an email gets buried under a clutter of useless emails.

And this is where my question on productivity comes. Are we spending too much time sending and reading senseless emails? It took me 4 hours to go through one week’s emails, it took me about 30 min to compose and send my response. What about the 3.5 hours that I lost reading useless emails? How many such hours am I losing daily? And at the end of the day, I am left working late at work. Or working late at home after kids go to bed. Or working early in the morning before dawn.

It is a work culture to document anything and everything on email. I agree there are certain communications that absolutely need to be documented. What percentage of your work does that constitute? Differs with different people. I can safely say that it is about 20% for me. Rest 80% does not require any emails to be exchanged.

But force of habit, we send it anyway. By doing that, we are compromising on our productivity, our time and most importantly, our work-life balance.

I have vowed to better manage my email traffic. It starts with me.

Note to self: Stop sending useless emails.

A Decade of Working

As a 20-something, fresh out of B-school with a management degree in one hand and an offer letter in the other, who would have thought about the next 10 years? Honestly, not even the next 10 days. It was all about now. Live in the moment. Die by the moment.

But since the last couple of years, this milestone has been on my mind quite a bit. Not in a bad way but in a reflective manner. Last week, I completed 10 years at my job. Yes, a decade. An entire decade of working.

10 years is a very light word but a decade sounds a lot. Almost as long as a lifetime. And trust me, it feels like that too. Funny that is exactly how I felt when I completed 5 years!

I don’t remember too much about my first day at Oracle. I wish I had blogged about it back then. I remember it being a pleasant sunny day in Bangalore. There were 31 of us ‘new-bees’ who had joined one of the largest enterprise software companies in the world. That’s right. A select bunch of nobodies were now part of the big O. And none of us knew how to pronounce Oracle correctly!

I remember the induction being long and boring, but it kept us awake. Basic formalities and introductions followed by sessions from HR. And we had a welcome party in the evening. That was fun. Good way to unwind after a long day of power points. I don’t remember much about that night either.

The next few days were all about trainings, trainings and more trainings. Mock calls, role plays, sales pitches, listening in on sales calls, elevator pitches, attitude, swagger and the single biggest mantra of sales – close, close, close! A.B.C. Always Be Closing. It was all about visibility. Who heard you? Who sees you? Who saw through you! There was no room for complacency or hollowness. Either you had it in you or you did not. Period.

After a month of training, we finally got our postings. I was a BDC! Business Development Consultant. Yes, I know. Fancy job title of a new hire. My job was basically to find new business leads for Oracle. To reach out to potential customers, make the pitch and set them up for further followup with a sales rep. Sounds simple but trust me, I was terrified. All my training, management degree, projects and presentations on one side. A “live” customer on the other side was pretty much the end of the world. But I lived through it. Some good days. And some not so good. All in all, it did fine.

My first order was for a pharma company in CT. Now, ask me what I had for breakfast this morning, it may take me a while to recall. Chances are I won’t even recall. But ask me about my first order, my first WON deal for Oracle and I can tell you every single detail of that project. They say you never forget your first love. I say, you never “ever” forget your first order!

During my first year at Oracle, I went through severe highs and lows. Good thing was the lows came first. And then the highs. Eventually, I ended up getting nominated for a couple of sales awards that year. Sadly enough, I did not win. Getting nominated and recognized was good enough. But not for long. The following year, I bagged 5 more nominations and won 3 awards. I spend 2 years and 4 months with Oracle in Bangalore. During this time, I met some very good friends, worked under a manager who was less a manager and more a mentor. He taught me what I needed to know about selling. Not products. Not pricing. Not how to sell. But what is selling, really! Hand’s on. Sales is all about attitude and character. And this gentleman taught me what those words really mean.

And then it was time to find new pastures. I had lived in UAE all my life. My parents and family were still there so it was but natural for me to try and look for a job there. Nonetheless, God almighty was kind and I comfortably landed a position at the Oracle Dubai office. This time, it was direct sales. No more business development. This was in 2007.

And again, I remember everything about my first order as a sales guy in Dubai. This time it was a telco in Botswana (Africa). And what more, the pleasure of picking up that first sales comp. Absolute magic. And that’s where I spent the next 3 years of my life. Had 2 stellar years and my only bad year on record till date.

From the time I joined, roughly that was the time when Oracle had started acquiring companies to expand its footprint in the market. I was lucky enough to be part of 2 such projects where I was giving a brand new portfolio. First was when Siebel was acquired in 2006. And the next was in 2010 when Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems. This, my friends, was the turning phase. What I fondly refer to as ‘my true calling’.

Oracle has always been a software company. Always. But for the first time, it had ventured into hardware, where we started selling servers and storage machines. Real metal and iron. As luck would have it, things got going and I was offered a position to sell hardware for Oracle. It was only at this stage that I realised I was always a hardware guy.

The next 3 years were my best 3 years as a sales guy. Each year, I would exceed my target and raise the bar, and then exceed it again.

114%

145%

191%

Awards, promotions, commissions – it was all happening. I started managing a team. 6 guys started reporting into me. Now, I was no longer just a sales guy. I was running a team. My next challenge and the most enjoyable one, I must add. Running your own show is one thing. Looking at it from a team’s perspective is completely different.

Things went well and on the backdrop of all this, I got the best break of my career. I was assigned to manage and run Oracle’s Distribution business in Middle East and North Africa.

And that’s what I do for a living today.

From being a nervous newbie scared to pick the phone and talk to a customer, to running a multimillion dollar regional distribution show, I think it’s been one hell of a ride.

A ex-sales leader at Oracle said this a few years back and has stuck with me, always. He said,

“Sell with Passion. Sell with Skill. Sell with Integrity”

This has been my sales mantra over the years. Golden words, really. In the most simplistic manner, he said so much.

I remember thinking of setting short and long-term goals to better manage my career. To assign a target and exceed it. To compete with myself and beat me to hell. To raise the bar and then raise it some more. Never to stop when someone says “good job”. My mentor always said “you are as good as your last sale”. Stop at nothing.

And I did not. I am, and will always remain, a sales guy.

Nursery to KG1 and 7 years on the job

Yesterday I completed 7 years with Oracle. Often I wonder if I am limiting my career sticking to one organization for all of my early working years. Most of my mates from B-school have made atleast 2-3 moves, if not more. Some have changed 5 companies in the last 7 years. And here I am, still with the one I started with.

Well, I am getting what I want from here (career growth, learning, money etc) so haven’t seen any reason to move. So for now, I start yet another year with Oracle and just like I’ve been loyal to you, Mr. Oracle, I know you will be good to me as well.

Moving on, Ibrahim has now completed 1 whole month in KG1. We’ve moved him out of the nursery into a bigger school. Apparently, in UAE, a child can start school from 3 years onwards. So being eligible, we decided to get him enrolled into a school and get on with it. He has settled in quite well. Cried for a couple of days and been fine since. His highlight of the day is the school bus ride. That is what gets him going. And too add, my elder bro’s son also goes to the same school. All these factors have helped him settle down quite well. He wakes up at 6am on weekends and starts throwing a tantrum to go to school. Every night, he goes to bed happily when we tell him he has school tomorrow so needs to sleep early. It’s been a blessing in disguise. For all the trauma we went through for a month in his nursery, his stint at the school so far has been extraordinary. Feedback from his class teacher is excellent. Apparently, he’s already become a teacher’s pet. Hugs the attendants, gives them flying kisses, gives them goodbye kisses when leaving for home, shares his lunch etc. He hasn’t jelled too much with his classmates. But he’s getting there. Every other day, he comes home with a new name, a new friend. We’ve seen remarkable development in him. More confident. Bolder. Smarter. Speaking english words and small sentences. All in all, it has been satisfactory month.

Last week, I posted latest pics of Ibrahim on FB. We had gone to take passport size pics of him and he ended up giving some amazing poses. So much so that we made portraits of them and for a couple of pics, I blew them up into 12×14 portraits. All still on FB if you guys wanna take a look.

Eventful couple of months coming up. I hope I will be disciplined enough to update my blog regularly. Otherwise, it will all be on Facebook! Cheers.

May 31st

Knowingly or unknowingly, this day has become such a major crossroad for me. Year on year, every 31st May, I wake up with butterflies in my stomach. Always before my alarm rings. On several occasions, I have dreams leading up for this day. I dress up in my best to exude self-confidence. I try not to eat too much or too less. Strong coffee early in the morning and another shot later in the evening. I do a few stretches to keep the body and mind alert all day. Anything to get through this day.

For the last 6 years.

You guys must be wondering what is today?

For the initiated, today is last day of Oracle’s fiscal year.

And anyone who knows anything about sales, including only the spelling, will know that for any sales guy, last day of the financial year is more important than his death day.

All said and done, financial year ending is probably the most stressful time for any professional. Not just in sales. I definitely have pity of the finance dudes. You guys are more miserable on that day than anyone else.

Year on year, quarter on quarter, month on month, week on week, sales guys keep pegging for that target. I, for one, have only one tangible target each year. You guessed it. My sales target. My quota. My numbers. Nothing else has more importance than ‘the numbers’. Like my ex-boss once said, “You only don’t come to work if you are dead. Period”. Relevance? If you haven’t hit your numbers, you don’t come to work the following day, doesn’t matter if you’re dead or not.

I’ve had some exceptional years and some really forgetful ones. Infact only 1 forgetful one. This was last year. For 4 consecutive years, I hit my numbers irrespective of the team, products, timelines or target given to me. But last year was the worst. Regardless of whatever I did, I just could not get there. Infact I could not make it half way even. Strange but true. Yes, the recession, change in company policies etc did not help. But no excuse. I missed my numbers.

So I was doubly careful this time around. And add to that, new team, new products, new territory, new (read: higher) targets.

And thankfully, I did not have to come to work today thinking where my next deal is coming from. Or how I am gonna hit my numbers. That’s coz I already did that. Three weeks back.

But even then, 31st May still has a weird, eery, freaky feel to it. Not till the fat lady sings they say. Come midnight I will be singing. Will a fat man do?

This and that and that too

This is the longest, voluntarily or involuntarily, that I’ve ever been away from my blog. More than 2 months since I last posted. Credit totally has to go to work. Life, quite literally, had turned upside down. It all began on a seemingly boring Monday morning on 10th Jan. That’s the day Oracle decided to migrate its back-end supply chain, order management and quoting tools from the legacy systems to the new system. We were informed before hand. But no one saw this coming. And that’s when the havoc started.

And the sales guys were the worst hit. Every process in the book had changed and as we all know, change is not always easy to accept. A quote which used to take 2 hours to configure was now taking up to 2 weeks! Orders getting cancelled. Escalations all around. Nervous breakdowns. Suicidal tendencies. Threats. Sleepless nights. It was madness personified.

But all this till we ended the quarter. At midnight on 28th Feb, I finished with 115% of my quarter’s target. Despite all the challenges. Life was suddenly beautiful again. This was my first full quarter in my new role and it was absolutely essential that I get to my numbers. A lot was dependent on that.

So when work was taken care off, next on the plate was health. For many years, I have been neglecting a condition that they refer to as DNS (Deviated Nasal Septum). Basically what this means is that my nasal bone, which should have been like a straight “I” was actually a crooked “S”. That is the example the doc used to explain. Solution was a surgery to make it straight. They operate and cut out chucks of bone to open up the space. Apparently, I had a 90% blockage on one side and 50% on the other. Decided its time to take the leap and got my surgery scheduled in India on 15th March. It was a good 90 min procedure in an OT and had to spend 8-10 hours in the hospital. Was discharged by night. Bandages were off the following evening. Its been almost 2 weeks now and I am able to breathe like never before.

Got back from India on 21st Mar and was off to Johannesburg on 23rd. Did they ever tell you that long haul flights are not the best place to be, specially for someone with a busted nose? Well, lets not get into that.

So flew back on Friday night and was back in Dubai early Saturday morning. And here comes the other news. We’ve finally finalized a 5 BR villa in Dubai. With a big freaking lawn at the back, installation for a small pool in the corner, parking for 5 cars in the front and still have enough place to host a 20-20 game! Almost. And we’ll relocate this weekend. It was all done while I was away, either in India or South Africa. So the first thing I did after I land, was to go and check out the villa, at 7 am in the morning, after spending 8.5 hrs on an overnight flight! Yes, that’s how excited I was.

And you know whats the best part? My drive to work takes 7 min and from work takes 4.5 min. JACKPOT! I drove up and down that route 3 times to actually believe it. Well, I knew that when the house was finalized but still. Some things are too good to be true, no?

These are the good things. Do you want to know a really bad thing? My wife and Ibrahim are still in India. They are not with me. Were supposed to come back with me on the 21st. But since I was immediately gonna head for ZA, I asked them to stay back for a week. And a week has passed. Their stay got extended by another week. That really sucks. But then, it was unavoidable. So gotta suck it up.

All in all, its been a mixed last couple of months. But things have gotten better at work. So I have better expectations in the coming months. Some exciting things lined up but lets leave that for another post. For now, its good to be back.

New Job, Newer challenges, Newest birthday!

For the last 2 days, I have been trying to log onto WP but kept getting logged out. No clue why. Maybe WP was not too happy with the proxy settings at my new work place. But I guess like all other things in life, it came around.

So yes, back to the subject, I have changed my job. Technically, I am still working for the same company (Oracle Corporation) but in reality, it’s a different company (Sun Microsystems). Let me explain. Oracle has acquired 66 companies in the last 5 years, one of them being Sun Microsystems, which was one of its most strategic and largest acquisitions.

Oracle was primarily a software company. Our flagship product was the database. We also sold enterprise applications like ERP, CRM etc, middleware like application server, business intelligence, content management and identity management. Oracle is the clear market leader in all of the above software domains. With the acquisition of Sun, Oracle now even sells hardware (servers, storage, operating system, virtualization etc). This has been the talk of the IT world for the last 18 months. And everyone is waiting with baited breaths to see what Oracle does with Sun’s hardware business.

Well, the wait is over. Oracle is going head-on in competition with IBM, HP and Dell in this market. This is a very important time in Oracle’s history. We are venturing into a new line of business.

What’s in it for me? Well this is going to be a high-priority, high-stakes, high-visibility job. Every single eye is on Oracle to see if we fail or succeed in taking off with this $8 billion acquisition. I have joined a new team which was conceived a couple of months back. I am essentially responsible for all hardware sales in this region. But my focus area this time is going to be east and sub-Saharan Africa this time. Lots of challenges. Lots of traveling. Lots of excitement. I am thrilled.

My first assignment is to fly down to Johannesburg this week for a few round table strategy meetings. Flying out tomorrow afternoon and will be back on Saturday morning. Which means I will be spending most of my birthday tomorrow on an Emirates aircraft!

And that really sucks. I do have plans to celebrate with family tonight. May not get a chance to wish myself or do a customary birthday post tomorrow so all of you can rope in your wishes here or to my FB profile!

Cheers :) And thanks for the wishes, in advance! :)

Off to India

My, my! Has it ever happened to you that you were not able to post because there were far too many posts by fellow bloggers (because they’ve got this blog marathon syndrome and everyone’s going nuts posting!) and all your time was going in reading and commenting on those posts?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s just an observation. Infact I am not even talking about myself.

With that out of the way, let me get back to stuff.

I am traveling to India on Wednesday night for a long weekend. Back on Monday morning with my wife and kiddo. Finally they’re gonna be back. Finally this phase of forced bachelorhood will come to an end. I had planned a longer trip, atleast for a week, but work cut it short. Some major changes and reshuffling happening at work and I don’t wanna take chances.

A diaper-friend (someone I know from the time we wore diapers together) is getting married next week. I will be attending his reception. So planned this whirlwind trip around it. Really happy for him. About time he settled down.

I guess that’s it. Can’t think of anything else to add. More when I am back from India. Maybe some pics as well.

Cheers.