Friday, April 24, 2015

Words of Importance - Team-Player

This word (Phrase?) 'Team-player' is actually one of the well-meaning words in the management lexicon. It was originally intended to denote a person like a soccer player who, instead of passing the ball to a team-mate ideally positioned to score the goal, tries to do it himself in order to get the glory. You know the sort I mean. The chap who can count all the warts on your idea - even if he has to invent them himself - merely because he does not want you to get the credit. And if, perchance, your idea is chosen for implementation, ensures that he does everything to sabotage it so that he can have the pleasure of saying, "I told you so" to your manager afterwards.

So far, so good. The problem, though, is that the word is so ambiguous, so delightfully malleable that it is a wonder that it ever gets used properly, since it offers such boundless opportunities for misuse. I mean, it is not like you can put an employee on some scale and get a result like 93.7% Team Player. (Though, I am sure, the Internet will throw up some online quiz which will do exactly that in the course of eight easy questions). Nor can you say exactly how many errors happened in decisions or in implementation, thanks to the fact that someone decided to sit out the game OR sabotaged it from within. (If you tried, you would end up being asked why you did not stop it WHEN it was happening instead of moaning about it afterwards).

Judgment call - that is what they call it. Which, in personal interactions, ends up being more a roll-call of likes and dislikes. Of course, in addition, it does offer you a more palatable way of saying things.

Like, when you are on a 'downsizing' exercise, it is better to tell the guy, "You know. You are not a very good Team-Player. So, we had to let you go." Since, in human interactions, almost no person is  fully confident of his capabilities, it is a cinch that THAT guy may well feel that you are right, even if he verbally opposes the judgment. Just try telling him, "I had to pick ten people to let go and I closed my eyes and stuck the pin ten times in the employee roster. Bad luck to you." You will get sued.

On more mundane days, you still have this issue of giving raises within a limited budget. So, how do you explain why the guy in front of you is getting the minimum possible when it is not easily identifiable on the basis of technical performance? Can you tell him, "I have a low budget and, of the lot, I thought you were the guy least likely to complain if your raise was low"? Just say that and he will belie his reputation as the guy least likely to complain. So, obviously, he is not such a great team-player after all, while the others would be snapped up by KKR, if you would only allow them.

There are other - even more important, perhaps - instances where it can come of use. In interviews, where you have to select your wife's uncle's cousin's son over the others; in promotions, where you want the guy, who is impressed by your scintillating genius, over the others who dare think that even you can make mistakes sometimes; instances like that. The absolute delight of this term is that the respect, nay, veneration that it is given matches its ambiguity.

Of course, you are team-player enough to ensure that you do not use this 'Not a good team-player' argument against someone who is demonstrably very good at it. Sometimes that is the ONLY thing he may be good at and, thus, the one thing he is absolutely certain about. Rara avis such people but still...it may be your cursed bad luck to run into one of them.

I have only one request for you. IF you are delighted by the ambiguity of this term, please do not invite me to play in your team!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Panchatantra with a twist : The Turtle and the swans

It was a drought year and the water in the pond was disappearing. Two swans, Sankat and Vikat, were worried about their friend - the turtle, Kambugriva - who lived in the pond. The turtle suggested that the two of them could hold opposite ends of a stick, while he held on to the middle of it with his mouth, and ferry him to safety. The swans agreed and the plan was carried out. When they were flying, people saw the sight and commended the cleverness of the birds. The turtle opened his mouth to respond to them, fell to the ground and was killed by the people.

* * *
So, you thought that it was all about keeping your mouth shut, when speech is dangerous? That's because you do not know the real story.

"Look, bro! There is a turtle in that drying pond. If we capture that, my cook can make a delightful dish of it."

"Listen! The turtle is saying something to those swans."

"Get a stick and you two hold opposite ends of it. I will hold on to the middle with my mouth and you can carry me to safety."

"Hey Bro! Let us rush in before the swans carry the turtle away."

By the time the duo reach the pond, the birds had started flying.

"Let's follow them in the jeep, bro! I have an idea."

"What?"

"Remember Ravi? That idea for the ad campaign for the new deodorant?"

"Yeah! He screwed himself up royally, didn't he? The boss was telling HIS boss how he always knew that Soumya was a great talent, and she had proved herself with the idea for the campaign when Ravi pipes up and says that it was HIS idea."

"It WAS his idea. BUT the idiot should have known that telling it then would screw him up with the boss. YET, he could not keep quiet."

"Yeah, but why are you telling this now?"

"Some people cannot keep quiet when someone else is given the credit for their ideas. Even if it kills them."

"So...? Ah! I get what you mean."

The two of them yelled loudly, "Ah! How clever of the birds to have thought up this idea to save the turtle."

The turtle could not bear to see the birds praised for what was, after all, HIS idea. Even if they were helping him. He opened his mouth to say that it was HIS genius; fell to the earth and ended up becoming turtle stew by the night.

Yes, getting due credit can be real hazardous!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Words of Importance - Downsizing

The importance of jargon, in any science or social science, is normally to serve as a shorthand for concepts that would consume too many words to put across. In the nature of things, jargon also comes in handy to make things palatable - nay, scientific, logical and even inevitable - when saying it in common words could raise a storm of protest and vilification. As far as I know, there is no area of human endeavor that mostly uses jargon for the latter purpose - or, merely, to make things sound more important than they really are - as management.

If one were to start hunting for jargon of this sort, one need not go far beyond 'down-sizing' for an example. The simplest set of words for 'down-sizing' would be 'chucking out employees' and, you will certainly agree, that the latter does not sound very palatable, leave alone half as important. The HR guy, who is handed out the job, would probably feel like the public hangman if he had to say that he was 'chucking out employees'. Why, his family may hold their noses and step aside when he came by. On the other hand, he can say that he is busy with 'down-sizing' and everyone will be proud of how he is contributing to the company's efficiency.

What, then of the top management? Could they really say, "We made a mistake in assessing our employee requirement and every mistake has to be paid for. So, now, you will have to pay for our mistakes"? Easier by far to say, "In the interests of more efficient performance, we are down-sizing the company." Even better if you can pay a chunk of the scarce money that you have to get a management consultant to say so. It is always easier when you get an outsider for a hangman.

What, then, if the top management has changed and NOW they are 'down-sizing'? Well, really, you are pretty naive if you expect this lot of guys to say, "My incentive depends on improving the performance of this company. It is easier for me to do it by reducing the salary bill, than by increasing the scale of performance of the company to utilize its employees optimally." Naturally, 'down-sizing' comes in handy, indeed.

Then, of course, if someone takes this company over, he is not likely to say, "The other guys made the mistake of over-staffing this place. Why should I carry the can for it?" You guessed it - downsizing.

This word, though, is one of the few that has got caught in the political correctness thing that plagues a lot of words. It has acquired such unsavory connotations that people have had to invent a more politically correct term for it - "Right-sizing". Like all those politically correct terms, it is only the bottle that is new. The wine is the same old, same old.

Some time soon, someone is going to catch on to the fact that saying "Right-sizing" would automatically mean that the organization was 'wrong-sized' before and THAT would directly mean that the management was wrong - not a very palatable thing if it is the same management doing the 'right-sizing'. Soon, they will be inventing another term for it.

Or, have they already?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Panchatantra with a twist - The Blue Jackal

A jackal, Chandaraka, driven to seek food in a town by hunger is chased by a group of mongrels and hides in a vat of blue dye and ends up getting dyed blue. Later, when he returns to the jungle, he finds all the animals - including the large predators like lions, tigers, panthers and wolves - fleeing from him in fear, since they had never encountered a blue jackal. Seizing the opportunity, he claims to be a special creation of God sent down to rule them. He is duly accepted as King and appoints various animals to various posts. He banishes all the jackals from the jungle. One day, a distant pack of jackals start howling and Chandaraka joins the howling. Recognizing that he was but a jackal and not a special creation of God, the other animals pounce on him and tear him to pieces.

* * *
Actually, you know what, there is an inside story to this tale. Or did you really think that a jackal, no matter how blue it was dyed, could think on the spot and make use of its color to become the King of the Jungle? This is how it really happened.

Chandaraka poked his head out of the vat and peered around fearfully. The mongrels were gone. Before they could come back, he jumped out of the vat and raced out of town. The jungle lay invitingly in front of him but...

"Hey! You look kind of different. What are you?"

Chandaraka turned in a flash to see a human clad in what they called a three-piece suit. Considering that it was forty degrees celsius in the shade, there was only one species of human who would walk around in such hot apparel - and it was most certainly not hunters. And that thing hanging in front - tie, humans called it. They must be ashamed of having lost their tails and were trying to do it artificially, but why hang it in front, instead of back and lower where it belonged, Chandaraka had never understood.

Feeling less fearful than he had felt with the mongrels, Chandaraka turned to the human who he was sure was some sort of management chap.

"I am just a jackal. I jumped into a vat of dye and now I am this color. The mongrels chased me out of town and, now, I am sure that I will by torn to pieces by the animals of the jungle. You know how it is - we beasts do not tolerate anything different. Can you suggest a way to remove this dye?"

"Are you mad? Here you have a Unique Selling proposition (USP) and you want to get rid of it?"

"I don't have any Un..Uni...whatever. I only have this useless dye on me."

"THAT shows you have no sense of marketing. It does not matter if it is useless. All we have to do is to use it to create Brand Equity for yourself."

"Bra..Brand what?"

"Look! What is the issue, here? You are blue and look like no animal ever seen in the Jungle, right?"

"Y..yes!" said Chandaraka doubtfully, not knowing where this was leading.

"Well...instead of thinking of it as a flaw, think of it as a unique attribute."

"AND I will be uniquely dead", said Chandaraka, showing a dash of humor.

"Stop being pessimistic. All you have to do is to make it SEEM special. How would it be if...hmmm...ah! You can just claim that God made you specially this way and sent you down."

"Uh! Sent me down for what?"

"For the salvation of beast-kind, maybe? No...no...that sort of thing sells only with humans. Sometimes I think that THAT is the sixth sense we guys keep talking about...say, why not to rule the jungle?"

"Uh! You will just get me slaughtered by the lion"

"Hush! You are too pessimistic. You just do not know the advantage of adding the word SPECIAL to anything that is unique to a product...huh...person...uh...beast. We marketing guys have made people believe that someone who wears the right clothes is fit to run a company, so why cannot a jackal dyed blue rule the jungle?"

"And sold yourself, too, on the idea, going by how you dress" thought Chandaraka. "No wonder the human race is going to pot, if they are really being run by clothes dummies"

Aloud he said, "What if the beasts do not think like humans?"

"What have you got to lose? You will only get slaughtered, then. But that is what will happen if you try nothing."

THAT was convincing logic. Chandaraka started trotting to the jungle, when the management chap gave some parting advice.

"Don't ever let on that you are only a jackal. Nothing kills the magic of the USP faster than it being considered ordinary."

AND you know the success of the marketing strategy. Alas, that Chandaraka failed to remember the parting advice and destroyed his USP by displaying his ordinariness.