Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earful! : IPL Gate - Key Lessons

The latest scam to beak in India after the Satyam case, the IPL Gate will perhaps supercede Satyam in volume. To make sure you dont become the next Modi (Oops.. does Raju sounds better?), read on:

1. What goes up comes down: If you are flying in your private jet and looking down haughtily upon the rest of the cattle class travelers, beware. Your ex-co-passenger, now disgruntled at the thought of traveling cattle class, may inform the cops that you use ethanol instead of air fuel. What is more you don’t use power from the grid for your bathroom….

2.Technology killeth the human: Don’t indulge in key board lashing and virtual war. Be a man and fight your battles face to face. That way you can still tell people the rabid dog got you on the street last night, as you walk away wincing in pain holding the bandage around your jaw.

3.You Got e’m? Keep them: Bling is the new Sting! It is time to get the pastels out and leave behind any sign of flash, including the fake gold jewelry. If people as much a notice you, it’s a problem. Better hunt for a dowdy wig and a second hand Maruti 800. By the way, look around and you will see that beaded string jewelry has made a come back.

4.Network is equal to Net worth: As a corollary of point number 3, avoid meeting anyone who looks remotely well fed or well dressed. I would have suggested hanging around with the spiritual go-getters, had it not been for the Nithyananda episode. Your best bet could be the vegetable vendor or the 90 year old grandfather next door (On second thoughts, he might leave you behind an inheritance, so drop him from the list). At all costs avoid anyone worth giving a second glance.

5.Blood is thicker than water: Precisely why no amount of acidic talk will do any good. This is when one regrets not appreciating the foresight of the National Family Planning Commission’s messages of two rose and one bud and some bawdy copy scrawled on the back side of lorries. Relatives are a nuisance. More so when you want to go low key. Start looking for the anti-dote to Fevicol.

Now, where to put the real monies you ask? Buy gold out of the money and then bury it deep in your garden and let the dog poop on it. Or you could go the ancient way – build walls of gold and cover them up with high grade plaster (clue Amer Fort, Rajasthan).

Earful! : The Beginning

Did you think the Sania - Shoaib scandal (by now you should realise that everything spoken about for over 2 days in the news is a scandal) has some learnings? Do you think Shah Rukh Khan's "dancing nude" statement is not as simple as it appears?

You are right, because behind every scandal is another scandal!

That is what Earful! attempts to unearth and delightfully present to you in a manner that you will find very tempting and practical.

Topics that will be fodder for this section include but are not limited to
1. Political sagas
2. Celebrities
3. Entertainers of all sorts including cricketers and Bollywood.

In short, anything that is scandal-worthy is welcome!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Office-Office: Need to Know

(Picture Source: http://www.dilbert.com/)

Open the newspaper and the front page has a story with a photo of your boss. For a second you are elated (“the man is dead and so are my worries”) , but then reality dawns and a tinge of sadness fills you (“Had I completed the report, he would have died slightly happy”). Wait a second, what’s this – boss is not dead. He has moved firms!

Gosh! Why didn’t he tell you? (At least you could have had a peaceful night’s sleep and actaully looked forward to tomorrow). Because you did not need to know.

Wide eyed wonder works all the time on a presentation that she thinks is her original effort. But just like the good Samaritan of the movies who gets killed by the villain before intermission, she is rudely emailed a similar PPT and asked to re-work and submit this instead of her work. She has 30 minutes to do this. Worse still, she has no clue that what she is going to work on has been deemed “trash” by another team last quarter.

So why does she have to use this PPT and not her original work? She is not told as she does not “need to know”. Why was this PPT not shared earlier? No need to know. Where will this PPT be used? She will be told on need to know basis.

This is a phrase barely mentioned in any induction program – that all information sharing will happen on “Need to know basis”. Did I hear you muttering some thing about an RTI Act? Forget it, you are too educated for your own good. Corporate India hasn’t heard of it. If they have, then their reason for still withholding information is because they signed a confidentiality agreement (with whom remains a mystery).

So Super Boss doesn’t think you need to know that your service line has been nixed and that when you come to work tomorrow, you might have a new boss, a new seat, a new team, a new designation or all of these. (Additionally, you may also be given the challenging but empowering responsibility of shredding the paper from all the departments’ trash).

However, what is of paramount importance and therefore you “need to know” is that he always sips Earl Grey in between biting into two crispy pale brown Samosas. If you forget, you will promptly be reminded through 3 emails – One from The Butterfly (saying “Oh! What have you done!!!!!”), one from the ageing Super Star (saying “Good job. Hehehe. Ooops! what I meant was good show, but do keep the samosas hot next time…) and one from THE character himself (You aren’t emailed directly of course, but CCed on a mail addressed to the Butterfly saying “It is a pity our managers cannot organize for basic food. I wonder what clients must be remarking”).

How should we tackle this?

Don’t show up to work for a few weeks. All those who need to know will know. Follow this up with a disheveled appearance one day and tell your manager you don’t want to talk about anything. Remain morose throughout the day. Ask the manager for his/ her cell phone and pretend to make a few calls and then wail loudly shouting “You killed him. What more do you want from me?”. Then cut the phone and leave immediately….If this doesn’t do it, then your manager is an android.

As for Super Boss, send him an email saying “Govt. of India bans Earl Grey” followed by a fake news item on how Earl Grey has been named the next illegal substance and all those in possession will face 10 years RI…

The Butterfly will be quelled with “Please tally attached excel sheet. Due to paucity of resources, you will be doing this work for the next 1 month. Do not delegate.”

The Ageing Super star will get ucomfortable with “So when are you moving to firm?”.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Office-Office: Management by Instruction

(Picture Source: www.dilbert.com )

Ever noticed how slick the emails from your boss read. “Share marketing plan for next 6 months in the next 30 minutes.” No, don’t look through the inbox. This is the first time the vocabulary has ever been used.

“Submit report by 2 a.m.” That may just be a conservative estimate considering the monstrosity you may have to deal with. Rest assured the boss will get his sleep and not read the report until during presentation time.

The King of Slick emails is the one that The Butterfly sent the wide-eyed-wonder and non-conformist: “We (yes, she has multiple personality disorder) had a call today with the Super Boss and he wants to bring out a newsletter. Please brainstorm and share your ideas”.

There are two messages deeply embedded in this crisp email – “Call with Super Boss” and “Brainstorm and share your ideas”.

Let me illustrate the reactions of the two affected parties.

Case 1 – The wide-eyed wonder: Oh! Ok. But why does he want a newsletter? Let me brainstorm.

Case 2 – The non-conformist: You had the call. You storm your brain and give the idea. In any case leave me out of it? By the way I think you should tell Super Boss the ground reality and get it over with -- Newsletter or no we are f*****.

And just for kicks let us see how the Mustachioed Young man would have reacted to this

Case 3 - Interesting. The mail is addressed only to me (the others are only in CC). If I give two ideas, that will translate into two hours on the time sheet spent on this effort. Multiply that by four and I could bill myself for a whole day without doing any real work……..

Eventually all send responses:

Wide-eyed wonder: Maybe we should have some interesting links on the newsletter.

Non-Conformist: Half a page with 10 bullet points listing the possible contents adding “would appreciate a de-brief on the call and request to be included on the next call.”

Mustachioed Young Man: Request if you can send sample newsletter.

Who wins? The Mustachioed Young Man, without doubt. Years of having the same designation and seeing all his colleagues shoot ahead has taught him one thing: Management works by instruction.

When some one sends you an instruction to carry out, return the favor by sending them a bigger, more unachievable instruction. What’s more, generate employee delight by marking at least 4 people on the CC list. If nothing at least your reputation for kindness will spread through the organization. And if you get really lucky you may receive an email addressing you by name (which is a very big thing considering the sea of persons marked on CCs these days) that says: “Please Call now.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Office-Office: Hypocrisy

(Picture source: www.dilbert.com)

The first few months spent as a new corporate employee are very insightful.

You realize how full of B.S. the induction program was – except for the info on the cafeteria and loo breaks. (Hail companies that don’t have an induction program! You hit the shit immediately). You see your real position (or the lack of it) in the organization, when you compare yourself to the boss. The best way to illustrate this is through the experiences of the mustachioed young man (M) and the ageing super star (ASS). Of course, we will throw in our favorite character Super Boss too, wherever appropriate.

1. ASS comes to work at 8:00 am (official work hours being 9:30 am) and leaves at 3:00 pm citing “client meeting” reasons. M comes at 9:00 am and is not expected to leave.

2. ASS can delegate work to M, the vice versa will be short of harakiri.

3. ASS drinks tea brought in by a butler, curses its “inferior” quality but empties the cup. M has to shove his way to the cafĂ©. See several pairs of similarly tired eyes stare momentarily at him, grab the mild coffee and stand listlessly under the fan, only to realize the coffee is long over. Talk about taking a break!

4. ASS gives M files to review. M reviews them and makes recommendations. ASS shares recommendations without credit to M. When Super Boss shoots down a few recommendations, ASS remains silent. Post call, gives M a tongue lashing calling him a “useless joker” among other things and quietly asks for an explanation to the recommendations that got shot down. At the next meeting with the Board of Directors, Super Boss makes the same recommendations he shot down. ASS’ mouth is gaping like that of a gold fish. This is what you call reeking in hypocrisy.

5. M is asked to handle a client interaction. ASS pokes his nose into it and goofs up. Predictably ASS denies any involvement during a damage control Q&A session. M is severely reprimanded. A fortnight later ASS handles initiative and again goofs up. Media gleefully runs rampage adding spice to the story. No questions asked at office.

6. M and ASS go for an event together. ASS ends up entertaining some guests with tea and snacks. He leaves brusquely asking M if he can pay the bill. M, taken aback, does so, forgetting to collect the bill copy. Net result – M is poorer by Rs 1,250 as re-imbursements can be claimed only by “Senior level people”.

7. M is overworked and has started admitting that to himself and a few colleagues. ASS thrusts more work on him saying “he can do it!” (did I tell you ASS is a Nike Fan?). M tries to live up to the challenge, but fails. Fighting rage, ASS tells him “I will do it!” and asks him to leave the cabin. 30 minutes later ASS is frantically calling M asking him to how to change slides. Everyone knows who did it.

As for the mother of all hypocrisies, consider this – The HR chaps disappear after the induction program only to reappear when one has handed in one’s resignation. What’s worse, they hand one an exit interview questionnaire to complete with a section on “Rate your relations with the HR manager.”

Office-Office: Value Creation

(Picture Source: www.dilbert.com)

The First millennium (Period before 1000 AD) can be safely credited with following the “eye for an eye” philosophy. You kill one, I kill ten and vice versa in most cases. The second millennium is credited with propagating the “two cheeks are better than one” philosophy, thanks to Gandhiji’s fondness for trains.

This millennium’s undisputed contribution is the “Give me work and I will give you grief” attitude practiced diligently by the corporate human.

Sample this –

The non-conformist asks The butterfly for options to pursue a matter. The butterfly promptly responds – “Please brainstorm and give options”. (And you thought one couldn’t brainstorm solo. Hmpf!! Tsk! Tsk!).

Unfortunately, we consider ourselves an evolved breed and cannot stay happy with one idea. Sample these variants -

1. Give me work and I will give grief + Give me an inch and I will take a yard = Give me work and I will take a yard.

The wide eyed wonder requests for help regarding Matters A and B. The Butterfly diverts it to the Hungry Wolf who delegates it back to Wonder, who is now learning how to do the job. Outside Party too has been designated to work on A and B. On D-Day, Outside Party delivers the tasks, Hungry Wolf claims all credit and Wonder is left doing more work.

2. The Etc syndrome also known as “? Go Figure.”

The Non-Conformist emails some material to Super Boss for approval. Super Boss responds: “Please correct some of the words like money etc.” (!?) It doesn’t get vaguer than this. Rest assured one will have work for the rest of the day trudging through text.

3. The career development brainwash

When the non-conformist politely refuses to do backend task A, The Butterfly subjects her to a lecture on how “supporting the initiative” and “looking at the larger picture” will help in career development. Later Task A is delegated to the wide eyed Wonder who eventually believes her prospects have improved post the task completion. Task A was about proof reading some articles written by an ex-employee.

Collectively all this falls under the category of “Value Creation”, yet another corporate jargon. Where is the value, you ask? Let us leave that for the next millennium to discover.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Office-Office: Project Management

(Picture source: www.dilbert.com)

This much abused corporate jargon until recently was the bastion of those with a growing girth, balding pate or increasing myopia and gunning to become Super Bosses (or perhaps ageing star performers). Recent additions to this motley gang have been the Butterflies (solely introduced with the intention of maintaining the 33% reservation) and smart talkers, characterized by small body structure (including brains), loud mouth, agility of a banana stealing-langur and attention seeking syndrome.

Ever wondered why some one has to recommend one to a project management course? Because, those who do it suo moto don’t need to tell. Their work speaks for them.

The original suspects don’t have any time (Tsk! Tsk! Procrastinating again!) to apply project management, though opportunities galore. The growing girth perhaps makes it difficult to bend forward and see the computer screen full of tasks and the balding pate does affect the abilities of the grey cells.

The Butterflies – You suspect if they have understood anything of the subject. Your fears are confirmed when you see neatly typed notes on “Project Management” on their desktop. They continue to be hassled with numbers – be it evaluating a subordinate or making a plan.

The Smart Talkers –They are here because some one thought they might put the surplus energy to good use. Alas! What a mistake. This class of people loves to hear its own voice, they leave little time to hear what the instructor is saying. Since they are inherently good at running multiple thoughts in their heads, important subject matter often tends to escape attention. The result – you will see these people liberally using certain jargon from the course to attract attention in a social gathering. Sample this – “Oh the Likert scale is completely useless in my line of work. We believe in evolving our own model.” Or “Time management is some thing most opportunists are harping on to attract attention. We professionals don’t need it.”

How then do you teach such people project management? By aiming where it hurts the most – The pay packet. Every recorded lapse in work/ response leads to a certain number of points corresponding to penalty deducted from salary at source. Further, put an 8’x10’ photo of the employee in the office corridor. Keep adding black marks to his/ her face for every lapse recorded.....

Office-Office: Sloth

(Picture source: www.dilbert.com)

I am not talking about the bears in Dalal Street or the native Himalayan variety found in most zoos. I am talking about the corporate sub-culture.

Crudely defined as an invisible force (rather the absence of it) where no one does any meaningful work, sloth is best explained through the situation below:

Day T-15 (15 days before event): Non Conformist writes to The Butterfly: “What activities are we planning for publicizing T0, T+15 and T+30?”

Day T-7: Butterfly writes an email to everyone involved (yes, suddenly everyone is involved) post office hours on a Friday evening: “Please share suggestions on how to publicise event”.

Day T-4: Non-conformist sends communication plan to Butterfly asking feedback and action steps.

Day T-3: Butterfly replies “we should discuss this” without specifying time and date.

Day T-2: Super Boss responds: “we should do blah and blah”. Small problem – Blah and blah are not part of the plan.

Day T-1: Everybody waits for ACTION.

What happened? Sloth happened.

Sloth is identified by inaction, lack of meaningful communication (suitable excuses) and is notoriously prevalent upwards of the middle management levels. The more senior you are, the more slothful you become.

Business moves on speed. While deliberation helps, it cannot go on indefinitely. Results of sloth in the above case:

 The company doesn’t get the desired publicity.
 Non-conformist loses drive to work and his/ her perception of the Butterfly now touches -20 on the IQ scale.
 Every one gives lip sympathy (perhaps we should use other body parts for better impact) on what could have been done.

For the intelligentsia who feel this is not a result of sloth, but lack of planning, I have the next post - Project Management.