“Step into their shoes” With Rachna Nath

Step into their shoes: Read your email from the receiver’s perspective. How will you feel if you receive the same email that you are composing for your employee. Does it come about strongly? Does it feel like the author is demeaning you? Does it feel like the author is trying to blame you or does it […]

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Step into their shoes: Read your email from the receiver’s perspective. How will you feel if you receive the same email that you are composing for your employee. Does it come about strongly? Does it feel like the author is demeaning you? Does it feel like the author is trying to blame you or does it feel like the author is giving you constructive criticism and pointing out your mistakes because they care about you.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachna Nath.

Rachna Nath is an internationally and nationally recognized innovator who is also an NASA Solar System Ambassador, entrepreneur, grant writer, STEM enthusiast and a passionate educator. She has two masters degrees, won the Global Innovation Award from TURNITIN 2019, received the Honorable Mention for the Presidential Innovation Award for Environment Educators in the United States and also two Excite Awards from Lemelson-MIT foundation to mention a few. She has also been invited to join the “Imaginary College” as an honorary member (Center for Science and Imagination) at ASU along with world renowned elite Philosophers like Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Vandana Singh and many more.

She works with young entrepreneurs (as young as 10 years) to make their dreams come true by working with the community partners and helping patent their ideas. She has 3 patent pending from such students in various prototypes from Anti-VOC scent bags to heat stress monitoring devices.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Istarted my career in US as a cafeteria cashier at St Luke’s Medical Hospital in 2004. I was cleaning tables and floors during the cafeteria close time and packing dinner for the patients and cashiering while it was open to the public. After that I got a job as an adjunct faculty at Mesa Community College in Mesa Arizona, continued to teach for another 10 years before I joined ASU for a PhD degree. But as luck would have it, I was unsuccessful in completing my PhD degree due to my PI moving out of US. It crushed me, as I had come back to school after 14 years of my first masters but I got up and started teaching at a high school. I never dreamt of becoming a high school teacher but slowly I realized that I can give these students so much more through my expertise that it became my passion. Now after three years of teaching high school, I mentor 7 clubs, have received accolades nationally and internationally and also have applied for companies through my students who are minor but have an ambition to change this world. I am in a happy place.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My company stands out because 95% of the company is run by 14 to 16 year olds. These groups of amazing students have learnt very early in life about the prospects of opening their minds to resources beyond their textbooks, volunteering and extracurricular activities. They have brought their passions to reality by learning about patent searches, researching, innovating and then establishing a company. They are learning about entrepreneurship as early as 10 to 14 year olds. This is s mind shift from doing science projects at schools and something we have to encourage.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

A very important part of the company building was learning how to do the right things at the right time. We had applied or a 10K grant from Lemelson-MIT foundation, to bring an innovative idea for a real world problem but after a lot of work, we did not end up getting the grant. However, we did not stop there and ended up getting a 50k grant instead from Healthy Urban Environments (HUE) through Arizona State University and now are working on collecting data to use the wearable tech that detects heat stress for a wider audience and platform. Whatever happens is always for the best.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This company has shareholders that are minors (High School students), so one day when we went to pitch our idea to the Director of Chandler Innovations Diana White, the students were waiting in the waiting room that has chairs with wheels on them and the students were rolling and spinning themselves across the room. All of a sudden the Director came in and she started laughing looking at her future Business partners.

I guess the lesson that was learnt was that you are allowed to be who you are and straight forwardness and being yourself is a virtue that is appreciated by many venture capitalist and angel investors.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

In order to be a good boss you need authority, discipline, integrity, freedom of speech and the most important of all, humility. You need to trust the people you hire to do their job. They are the masters in their fields, so just because you hold a higher office does not give you the right to demean them or humiliate them.

A healthy atmosphere is utmost important in community building. A community that rises above gender, skincolor and racism and gives all of them equal rights is bound to succeed and raise above all disparity and burnout.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership for me means standing up for your people. Protecting them and vouching for them whenever they need it. Feeling proud about them and recognizing them in every way possible.

To give due credibility to your employees for a job well done or acknowledging them in public media and otherwise is very important.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Stress is common in a workplace but a lot can be done about it.

  1. Improve lighting in work place
  2. Introducing more natural greenery in the office space like plants
  3. Have sound of raindrops or water foundation nearby
  4. Having a mindfulness room to practice SKY technique twice a day . SKY technique is also called Sudarshan Kriya Yoga.

By using SKY techniques we can mediate the blood flow to the brain by increasing the rhythmicity of our breathing. When we take time to exhale, we are calming ourselves down as our fight or flight response slows down. This is highly beneficial to us, especially during this pandemic. People are highly stressed during the Covid situation and we need to keep ourselves calm by whatever means possible. I do it regularly at my workplace.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

I operate two kinds of businesses, one is a dance school where I teach Indian Classical Dance (Odissi) to students as young as 6 years old and the other is an entrepreneurship with high school children. Both of them are unique in their own way and both of them needs different skills to keep them going but in all these years I have seen that if we have a growth mindset, the ideals I have to follow are same in both.

What I have learnt from experience is that if you put responsibility on these young minds, they start to develop self confidence and start doing their best. They also thrive well under healthy competition and learnt from each other through positive feedback.

Discipline in a must but a hug and a few kind words of appreciation goes a long way to create an atmosphere of trust, confidence, cooperation and the most rewarding of all resilience to take a negative feedback in a positive way and learn from it.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

The biggest fear we have in ourselves is the “fear of failure”. Since our childhood we have been taught to compete, win games, get “A’s” and don’t ask questions to your elders but just follow their lead. Hence, nowadays in presence of social media when every small achievement is being celebrated with pomp and gaiety, failures are causing a mindset of being unacceptable in society. This is increasing stress, anxiety, restlessness and defiance.

To be able to give honest and direct feedback is extremely essential as

  1. it develops trust between employees and employer.
  2. Its encourages communication
  3. Feedback increases motivation to thrive for the better. Continuous monitoring f the work through feedbacks is a path to success.
  4. Because of feedback, the performance of an individual increases many fold. The employee understands the expectations of the employer and gets better with time.
  5. The more engage the employer is with the employee and gives honest and direct feedback ,the relationship develops trust which is a core quality to thrive in any business. It facilitates growth in both personal and professional life.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Few suggestions for a honest feedback that I employee are as follows

  1. Always start with praise. In my business with parents and students, the parents have to feel comfortable with me to listen their child’s drawbacks. Getting them in your side is the best way to tackle them. I have had several instances where parents become extremely receptive when it comes in a good tone
  2. Be clear and precise: Being precise and clear of the problem is another way to cut out all jargon and more confusion. I got sucked into the meaning of irrelevant words once and it was a disaster for me. Wish I had been clear and precise in the email with unnecessary details
  3. Don’t copy (CC) people, except when extremely necessary: A conversation should be between the boss and the employee or a parent and a teacher. From my experience, the issue escalates pretty fast when the receiver sees multiple people copied and feel threatened. Keep it simple and manageable
  4. Stay away from using offensive words: you should never use offensive words. Workplace culture should be maintained even if it is remote.Empathy towards each other goes a long way.
  5. Step into their shoes: Read your email from the receiver’s perspective. How will you feel if you receive the same email that you are composing for your employee. Does it come about strongly? Does it feel like the author is demeaning you? Does it feel like the author is trying to blame you or does it feel like the author is giving you constructive criticism and pointing out your mistakes because they care about you.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

The best way to give constructive feedback over email is to not sound mechanical and bring a personal touch to it. For example always start with a praise of the employees work, then address the problem with effective, short phrases like “ correct this”, “Provide grammatical feedback” etc and end with a positive note saying “ Hope to see the edits soon as you always do. You are so good at it”

This might sound childish but you get the work done and also avoid being scrutinized under the magnifying glass. This has worked wonders for me with my colleagues and also in my businesses.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

The best time to give feedbacks for me is always as soon as possible. This avoids confusion and stress and also helps in effective completion of the job in hand.

For my dance students, it’s always immediately. The music is paused and they are asked to redo their steps again. In case of my other business, immediate feedback helps save previous time and energy in brainstorming potential clients, marketing strategies and also business models from my high schoolers.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

A great boss is one who understands the vibes of their employees and act accordingly. He/ she should never lose control of the situation and act efficiently to dispense any tension.

One group of my high school students were working together on a patentable inventions and everyone had a different role to play but a group member did not feel that the other group member was being effective enough. They started complaining and fighting with one another, so I pulled the whole group in and had a heart to heart about the expectations and the commitment towards the product and how this is a potential life changer for them as early as 9th graders. After a little bit of deliberation, all of them kept their frustrations aside and started working together again.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement that I want to create is called DRIPBL (Dream Research Innovate Project Based Learning). I am a researcher and a scientist with the gift of working with school students and I want to use that gift and make a DRIPBL movement to reach out to far corners of the globe. I want to make students realize their potential early in life (as early as 10 years), so that they can give back to the community by solving real world problems using DRIPBL.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be present in the now. Don’t forget to duck the curveballs but also don’t miss your chance to hit a sixer, when you can.” (After my dad, who is a Cricketer)

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachna-nath-1st-1535a72b/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rachna.nath.9

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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