Beyond the Transaction: How Meaningful Relationships Can Fuel Professional Success

Beyond the Transaction: How Meaningful Relationships Can Fuel Professional Success


Recently, I had a heartwarming reunion with an ex-colleague from Hong Kong in-person. It had been nearly a decade since we last met in person. We have been exchanging greetings almost every year on Christmas and new years, but this face-to-face encounter was special.

Then, I recalled that another ex-colleague had reached out a while ago asking me if I was interested in relocating to join his company in a senior role.

I left the USA in 2008, and met my ex-boss in 2017 in LA on a personal visit. What is quite interesting is that he drove to LA from San Diego because I was unable to travel to San Diego.

These instances got me thinking about the various connections I’ve made throughout my career.

Personal vs transactional relationships:

What I notice is that most of my interactions with people at work have been at a deeper, personal level, rather than at a transactional level.

In the professional world, relationships often fall into two categories: personal and transactional. Personal connections go beyond work tasks and into genuine interactions. These are the people who reach out because they genuinely think of you, not just when they need something. On the other hand, transactional relationships are more goal-oriented. People connect primarily to achieve specific objectives. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – after all, transactions involve an exchange. But what if one side consistently benefits more than the other?

Adam Grant Perspective:

Adam Grant, the famous organisational psychologist and author, recently posted an insightful distinction on LinkedIn:

“In transactional relationships, people only reach out when they want something from you. They use your connection to achieve their goals. In meaningful relationships, people get in touch when they think of you. Staying connected and being helpful are their goals.”

The imbalance:

When only one side is gaining significantly in a transaction, it can create a sense of imbalance and unfairness. Ugh! This is often not sustainable in the long term, as relationships – whether personal or professional – thrive on reciprocity and mutual benefit. 

If one party consistently gains at the expense of the other, it can lead to resentment and a breakdown of the relationship. I am sure they impact trust and collaboration. That answers a question about ‘what causes toxic workplace environments?” Isn’t it?

You possibly do not have to think hard about that someone who contacted you only when they needed something from you.

“Ah, Mr. X is calling. I’m sure he needs something from me. He never calls otherwise.”

Why genuine relationships matter more:

Over the years, I have built numerous meaningful relationships. Those relationships have proven useful sometimes, but my objective of building those relationships was not their usefulness, it was the human interaction and connection that I value.

When you build genuine relationships, you’re creating a network of support, trust, and goodwill. These bonds may not pay off immediately, but they often lead to unexpected opportunities down the road. My (ex)colleague reaching out after many years to offer a good role is an example of a sustained connection that outweighs the transactional interactions. Believe me, there were many others who I do not remember anymore, or would not like to remember. 🙂  

Look, while transactional relationships are a natural part of a workplace, it’s the meaningful relationships that often leave a lasting impact on our personal and professional lives. They provide a foundation for genuine connections that can lead to personal growth, career development, and a sense of fulfillment. Although, it is entirely up to you what you value more.

Therefore, it’s beneficial to develop relationships not just for immediate gains but for the long-term satisfaction and the meaningfulness they bring to our lives. Success in the workplace is not just about what we achieve, but also about the relationships we build along the way.  So, whether you’re connecting with an old colleague or making a new friend, focus on the meaningfulness. It’s these connections that enrich our journey and make work more fulfilling.


Why should I pay for mentoring? Well, you should.

Why should I pay for mentoring? Well, you should.

Dear Readers,

I hope this blog post finds you well. Today, I’d like to address a topic that has been a recurring discussion in my interactions with potential mentees – the concept of charging for mentorship sessions.

I think, and I believe that it’s important to shed light on this approach to mentorship, its underlying principles, and why I have chosen to charge for my mentoring services.

Read on.

Investment and Commitment:

One of the key reasons behind my decision to charge for mentoring sessions is the belief that individuals seeking mentorship should have “skin in the game.” 

We seldom value anything that we get for free. Look around, and you’ll notice that when you buy anything, you take care of that more than the thing which you got for free.

In other words, mentees should demonstrate their commitment to their personal and professional growth.

Paying for mentorship is a tangible way to express this commitment. It ensures that those who seek my guidance are genuinely dedicated to their own development. This commitment often leads to more productive and meaningful mentoring relationships.

Now, it truly depends on what and how you want to pay. Mentoring is not my business, but, I want to make sure that you respect my time and take real interest in your own interest.

Value Exchange:

Mentorship is a reciprocal relationship. While I am wholeheartedly committed to sharing my knowledge and expertise, I also recognize the value of my time and experience.

Charging for my mentoring services is a way to acknowledge this mutual exchange of value. It allows me to continue offering mentorship to those who truly appreciate and benefit from it. In other words, I don’t want time wasters or those who are willing to meet just for the sake of it.

I understand that some may have reservations about paying for mentorship. My goal is to help you achieve your goals, overcome challenges, and develop the skills necessary for success. And for that, you are the one who will have to prove that you are serious. What is there  simplest measure of that? Money!

My past experience:

There was this gentleman, who I met at a conference I was speaking at. He was really keen to meet over coffee and wanted to pick my brain (actually, I don’t like this term) about a challenge he was facing at work.

Seeing his persistence, I agreed to meet him. He suggested a cafe which was a bit far for me, but that seemed like a place in the middle. At the cafe, he casually asked me to go ahead and buy my own coffee. Not that he could not afford it. Of course, he got the suggestions that could solve his problem. So, I invested my time, my money, and my effort in exchange of feeling like being duped.

Now, I clarify in advance that my mentoring fee covers the cost of my time, expertise, and guidance.

If you are interested in pursuing mentorship with me and resonate with this approach, I would be delighted to work with you.

Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns, and we can discuss the details of how we can proceed.

Look, my intention is not solely to turn mentorship into a revenue stream because I don’t need to, but to foster productive and committed mentoring relationships. By charging for my services, I aim to ensure that both mentor and mentee are fully invested in the journey toward success.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and I look forward to the possibility of working together on your path to personal and professional growth.

Best regards,

Are You Making Career Transition Easier or Harder?

Are You Making Career Transition Easier or Harder?

In my 25+ years of career, I have made many transitions to different roles, jobs and industries. Career transition can be nerve wracking, but if done well, it can be very rewarding.

Here are a few tips on how to successfully transition your career.

1. Validate purpose

Check why you want to transition to a different <role, job or industry>

If you have good enough reasons, then move to the next step.

Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

Also, the grass is always greener on the other side.

2. Plan

A well though-out plan can reduce risks of unknown in a new career.

Add a timeline to your plan. A timeline can make your plan measurable and can give a direction to your goal.

Remember that plans are nothing, planning is everything.

3. Get a mentor

A good mentor can make your career journey smooth by sharing their experience and by exposing your blind spots.

They can drive, guide and inspire you.

A mentor can also help you stay afloat when stress and anxiety try to pull you down.

4. Get skilled

Read, study, learn!

Take classes, attend webinars, watch videos, listen to podcasts, read books,…

Do everything that enhances your skill level in your aspired career.

While you won’t become the best in short term, you’ll become really good.

5. Note your current skills

When changing careers, people worry that they don’t have skills.

We all have transferable skills. You may be great at networking or speaking, or writing or collaborating etc.

Employers need these skills in their staff. Add these to your resume.

6. Get experience (while in transition)

Here are some ideas:

– Do side projects/ freelancing

– Do pro-bono work for a friend

– Find an internship

– Offer free work to a start-up

– Join a crowdsourcing group

Add these to your resume.

All of these show that you’re passionate.

7. Network like hell

They say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”

Ideas for networking:

– Go to local industry events (meetups, conferences, exhibitions..)

– Attend online events

– Join online forums (must add value to those)

– Connect with experienced folks online

8. Be open and ask for help

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

What’s the worst that can happen? Someone would say no to you. That’s it!

Harry Potter book was rejected numerous times too.

Ask for entry level roles, internships or paid projects (depending on your situation).

9. Last, but not the least, be patient.

Changing career direction can take time. It’s a slow process.

Effort, perseverance and patience with good planning are the right ingredient for success.

How a Google Maps Review Got Me a Job Offer

How a Google Maps Review Got Me a Job Offer

I once received a job offer just because someone I vaguely knew read one of my restaurant reviews. Here’s what happened…

I was dropping off my son at school one morning and as usual, saying hello to other parents and teachers who I knew. Among those was a father whose son was in my son’s class. We started chatting and he said he spotted one of my restaurant reviews on Google Maps while planning for a dinner party. We both laughed, then segued into talking about our work. When he learned what I was doing, he asked, “Hey, I’m looking for someone to help me with this project. Are you interested?”

“Really?” I thought. That was an actual job offer. And how did I get it? Via a restaurant review. Neat!

I have few good habits and one of those habits is providing feedback. I like to provide useful and actionable feedback to people as well as to businesses where I can.

One way I give feedback is through reviews on Google Maps. Almost every time I visit a cafe or a restaurant, I leave a review. Because of this habit, I’ve got nearly 600 reviews on Google and over 2500 photos. Google says there are over 47 million views of my photos… though I have no idea what that actually means. I wish they’d pay me a cent for each view, or better yet, a dollar. 🙂

These reviews didn’t happen in a day or even a year. I’ve been writing reviews for nearly ten years. And I do it simply because I enjoy writing them.

This job offer was not the first time that my reviews rewarded me. I’ve had other opportunities before this one. Some were quite small, such as 2 TB of free space on Google Drive for free or tote bags… but some more substantial, like a chance to visit California.

However, this post is more about the lessons that we can learn from our experiences than a chance encounter with an acquaintance and a job offer. 

Here are the lessons that this experience taught me.

Consistency pays dividends. Sometimes you have to keep doing the same thing for years without any expectation of a reward. The growers of Chinese bamboo know that. For five years, they water and fertilize a plant and see nothing. After 5 years, the plant grows to 90 feet in five weeks. In my case, I was doing reviews consistently without expecting a reward.

Enjoy what you do. Again, doing what you enjoy can be rewarding. At the very least, it can bring a sense of satisfaction. For me, leaving online reviews for businesses is a stress buster and a hobby. I get excited when a business owner responds. 

Then, sharing pictures of something I cherish, like a good meal or a good experience at a theme park, feels good. I don’t think I would enjoy writing business reviews for the sake of it, and I’m sure I’d get super bored very quickly if that happens. So, do what you enjoy.

Let others know of your interests. I enjoy writing business reviews and I love telling people about it. Actually, I’ve been told that I come across like an excitable child when I share this hobby of mine with others. 

Any hobby worth talking about must be talked about. People like to know interesting things about others and love to share the interesting things they do. By sharing your interests, you build connections and grow your network. And a good network is rewarding in many ways.

Last, but not the least: 

Learn to give and receive feedback. I learned about the importance of feedback from Gerry Weinberg, the famous computer scientist and author. His book, “What did you say? Art of giving and receiving feedback” is fantastic.

Good feedback is always valuable. It is equally valuable to the giver as well as to the receiver. In fact, giving feedback is more difficult than receiving it, because it says a lot about the giver.

I hope the lessons I learned were somewhat useful for you too. Did you have any similar experience to share? Let me know as that would be great to hear. And please don’t hesitate to pass on any feedback or suggestions with me.

Three Agile and Scrum questions from a reader

Three Agile and Scrum questions from a reader

Delivering work using Agile practices can be tough because work environments vary and different organisations throw different kinds of challenges on us. I often receive questions from readers about agile delivery practices. What I have been observing for a while is that the questions mostly relate to dealing with people. As Jerry Weinberg said through his Second Law of Consulting, “No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem.”

This post answers some of the common questions that I recently received from one of my contacts. I have made some minor edits to make the questions generic. 

Coaching teams and organisations

Question 1. How should I as a Scrum master go about coaching the organisation about Agile. I come from a consulting background and coaching is usually limited to the Scrum team that I work for. Are there any techniques that can help me coach organisations or stakeholders?    

Answer: As a Scrum master, oftentimes you will only work with a couple of teams. Coaching one or two teams is easier, manageable and more convenient. However, there’s no optimum number of teams that a Scrum master can work with. Although it might appear useful that a Scrum master should only work with one team, a lot depends on the nature of the work the teams are doing, their maturity in terms of the agility, the complexity of the work, the structure, size and the culture of the organisation etc. 

One thing is sure that as a Scrum master, an organisation wouldn’t want you to be spread too thin. In his book Secrets of Consulting, Jerry Weinberg offered us his Law of Raspberry Jam, “The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.” And, as you may know, good jam has lumps. I think a thinner jam loses taste too. In our terms, that’d be losing focus or interest.

Now coming back to your question of coaching the organisation. It pays to confirm what someone means by coaching. People often confuse training and coaching. Let’s assume that they want you to coach the organisation on using Agile practices. How would you do that? Of course you will understand their context, the training and skill gaps, and possibly the problems they want to solve through coaching. Accordingly you will find the things that will offer you few quick wins and time to find a long term solution.

Techniques of coaching depend on who you’ll deal or work with. I often mix things to make them accessible and practical. For example, I’ve organised brown bag sessions, arranged team surveys to find out what they want to learn, scheduled coaching sessions with other Scrum events so that teams don’t use the sprint time for training, coached teams by organising team contests etc. My experience is that given sufficient notice, stakeholders enjoy taking part in contests or challenges.


Getting pushed back on Agile Delivery

Question: Many times I get to deal with Clients who have low agile maturity. Either at the team level, or at the stakeholder level. I get pushed back on Agile process delivery as this would disrupt their business. In such a scenario, I initially did an Agile/Scrum 101 training. Talked about my successful experiences from the past with successful Agile delivery. However, I still felt that the clients or teams were not convinced. How should I have approached this as SM differently to get the stakeholders or team to buy into Agile ways of working?

Answer: That’s a good question and many Scrum masters, Agile coaches and delivery managers experience similar challenges.

First thing that we should understand is that Agile itself is not the goal. Even though some organisations might say that they want to be Agile, their main objective is possibly to solve some other problem through applying Agile methods or the mindset.

What often seems to happen is that when given a responsibility, many Agilists blindly start applying frameworks, tools or methods. This results in pushback from teams as well as stakeholders. (You might want to watch this video about tools and frameworks). Agile is about change and we know that people don’t like change because change is hard. (But remember that change is not always resisted. Having new born babies brings a huge change in people’s life, but almost everyone enjoys that even though it turns their lives upside down, at least for a while.)

Your clients must have hired you for a specific reason or reasons. They wanted you to solve some problem for them. Understanding their problems, their context and what bothers them builds your own confidence in the problem solving process and also instills confidence in the client. Running Agile 101 is the easy part. Knowing whether that is required, is the hard part.

Old School Product Owner?

Question: I had a tough PO who needed all requirements into the project delivery roadmap. What would be the best way to convince a PO that we cannot have all the features in the product roadmap and can only accommodate a MVP approach ensuring we can only focus on features that can be developed in a given period of time.  

Answer: It appears to me that your PO was not trained in product ownership and was only carrying the PO label. You might want to show them this video from my talk at the Agile POs and BAs meetup. In this talk I explained what product ownership is and how the prioritisation works. I’ve heard that many people found it useful. 

Although things have slightly changed since Henrik Kniberg wrote about MVP, sometimes I still use the sketch that he created to explain the idea.

You may also want to make sure that the POs you work with get training in product ownership and understand that their job is not to manage people, but to work with them for frequent delivery of valuable outcomes. You can do that by building a trusted relationship with them. Think about getting into a social contract with them.

Side note: there is no single ‘best way’ for almost anything, but there are always many good ways. ‘Best’ expresses ‘the only way’, while there can be more than one way of achieving our goals.

So, these were my responses to the questions. What else would you add to these answers? Would you answer these questions in a different way or would you give a completely different answer? Let me know.

Tips for Job Seekers

Tips for Job Seekers

As a #JobSeeker, one of my mentees asked for help and I gave him few tips to deal with the current situation. I hope they are useful to others too.

1. Do some planning:
– what can you do to manage the situation in the short term
– what does the long term look like

2. Stay afloat:
– In the short term, find ways to generate some income (selling used things online still works.)

3. Take Action:
– Re-connect with those you know and build new connections. Others might be in the same shoes as you are. So, gently ask for help and follow up after some time.
– Apply for relevant jobs.
– Can you deliver an online or virtual training? Consider those options too.
– Make a list of things you are good at. Don’t judge yourself by saying, “I’m not good at anything.” Just make a list. Can you cook, sew, build, design, teach, sing, dance,..? Someone out there might need help in that.
– Stay up to date with your skill area.
-Negotiate your rent, utility rates and mortgage.
– Can you secure a government grant to start a business? Find out.

4. Stop worrying:
Yes, easier said than done, but let’s try that. Worrying takes energy away. Distract yourself from negative things. Do things that make you feel better.

Things will improve eventually. Stay positive.

Advice for Job seekers