Saturday, 29 September 2012

Back to the Basics

Dear Fellow HRDians

I had originally planned to write more on the thread of my initial post. In the meanwhile I felt that it would be worthwhile  to share an article I had  written for the intranet  in  my company. It is relevant and connected to  what we have discussed so far- So here goes....

                                               Back to Basics

Today, we are living in a world of stiff competition. There is a mad rush to reach the finishing line any which way.In line with the western thought, the feeling in the industrial circles in our country also, is that "individual' is the savior and 'individualism' is the panacea for everything.The term 'team work' is merely good to parrot and pay lip sympathy to.As a result, although everyone claims to work as a team for beating the competition,they have no qualms about tripping a teammate or company mate  in order  to be that star performer who scored the goal.
In our haste we tend to look for short cuts and disrespect the basics. Quality for example can be a casualty in the number game. The basics which include respect for a fellow human being, may seem old fashioned.Yet there are some things like politeness, integrity and respect which can never go out of fashion. Extending these attributes to actual behavior on the ground could mean the following:-

1) Listening to a colleague patiently without interrupting him or her

Meetings are meant to know and let know- to understand and provide opportunity to others to understand the  subject discussed, so that collective inputs and various points of view are available before taking decisions. However when discussion is used for up man ship and not to appreciate different points of view, it gets disruptive.People become cautious in expressing opinions- "Why take the risk of being ridiculed?The one with a bigger lung power or dismissive nature gets his/her  way most of the time" Different ideas with various choices do not emerge in such situations.The real picture is rarely revealed, leading to wrong solutions to issues.

2) Criticizing in private and praising in public

When you criticize someone, the immediate tendency of that person would be to defend himself /herself rather than constructively apply his mind in resolving the problem.It happened to me.... Many years ago as a younger man, I was attending a training program.The facilitator was showing a video on the employees of Suzuki, Japan at work. The video showed them taking just ten minutes break during which time they quickly have a smoke,visit the rest room,chat with colleagues, complete other miscellaneous matters and stand in attention in front of their machine two minutes before the whistle for resumption of work.The company does not have a security department and does not believe in it as it completely  trusts its employees.

The video also showed employees and their families going on weekend holidays organized by their company.All employees from the chairman to the last person stand and do exercises together at the beginning of the shift.

As I watched the video I was totally impressed, bowled over and was in a state of wonder that there could be such wonderful alignment between employees and their company.As the lights came on  the words that spontaneously escaped my lips were " It sounds almost like a fairy tale." The facilitator was taken aback. She had taken me to be one of the positive enthusiastic participants.She viewed my remark as negative and questioning the very truthfulness of the video.

 Although my words had come from a place of appreciation and wonder the facilitator was upset and she labelled me a skeptic and negative person before the whole class.I was in a daze and felt publicly humiliated.

At that time one of the participants shared his  experience with a Japanese firm.He was working in the purchase department. While  making payment to the Japanese supplier for goods received, the department inadvertently overpaid by about two Lakhs of rupees.However while they were worrying about how to deal with the matter, they received a letter from the company within a week's time pointing out the overpayment and enclosing a cheque for the said sum.

Although a very good live example was being given  in support of the remarkable work ethics outlined in the video, I was hardly paying attention. When the facilitator asked "Now what do you have to say? ", I could hardly respond and the colleague had to repeat the story all over again.The point I am making is that if we focus more on the criticism rather than correcting and eliciting appropriate behavior from the other person, we are bound to encounter defensive employees.Constructive feedback in private can get you better results.

3)   Team Working
In the eastern way of life the focus has always been common good and collective welfare, whether it is in the context of a family, organization or community at large.Individual desires and aspirations are held to be subservient  to the overall good of the organization.The western philosophy, on the other hand has always upheld the supremacy of the individual. Susan.M.Heathfield,HR Guide  says "In America our institutions such as schools, our family structures and our pass times emphasize winning,being the best and coming out on top.Workers are rarely raised in environments that emphasize true team work and collaboration."

Thus ,unlike under the ancient Gurukul system in India, where the student waited in anticipation and learned as and when the teacher felt he was ready for it,today in line with western education our schools & colleges treat the students as customers who are to be satisfied.The onus is on the teacher to keep his customer happy- teach him when he is in the mood for it, make things entertaining & interesting while he takes a puff on his cigarette.

The products that come out of such a process are bound to be naturally inclined to selfishness & gratification of individual needs rather than team needs. You cannot plant apple seeds and expect to get oranges.The problem with too much individualism is that one tends to be intolerant of others' views and getting one's way takes priority over the the interests of the organization.In cricketing parlance, scoring your individual century is more important than the team winning.

Getting back to the basics would mean inculcating, reinforcing and rewarding team behaviour. People tend to take seriously only those activities that are recognized and rewarded.As for example, if we talk a lot about team working but when it comes to compensation & career growth, individual contribution is appreciated, less and less people would be interested in team working.The performance management system should emphasize and place value on team work and obtain a 360 degree feedback on team qualities exhibited. Important stories  and folklore involving team working needs to be told and passed on to future generations in the company.Frequent discussions on the  advantages of team working  are to be organized....  "Remember the time body shop department worked as a single unit and achieved scrap reduction by 20% ? "

Back to the basics also means respecting the individual.Roy.J.Blitzer and Jacquie Reynolds in their book "Find the Bathrooms First" says "No one can continue to function well for very long in an environment that erodes his or her self esteem." New management initiatives and process improvement techniques become relevant and ready for implementation only if the soil is fertile and healthy with the basics fully in place.

The said soil will have hues like politeness,respect,integrity, empathy and compassion which blend to give the heady mix like the beautiful multicolored soil of kanyakumari,India. Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher  has said " I have three precious things that I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness, the second frugality and the third is humility. Be gentle and you can be bold, be frugal and you can be liberal, avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader of men"

The 'Back to Basics' mantra can never go wrong because it is in line with the natural and eternal law of life.If basics are in place success cannot be far behind both in our professional and personal endeavors.

Happiness and peace. Rest in my next.


  1. Teamwork is a wonderful concept.
    Corporates and managers promote teamwork when work is to be done.
    Once the work is done, the same corporates / managers forget about teamwork.
    It becomes all the more prominent especially during the appraisal season.
    Suddenly, the very same entities switch to the "individualism" mode.
    The true essence of teamwork can be fulfilled only if both work and reward are based on teamwork.
    If the objectives of a team are to be effectively achieved, teamwork is the key.
    It involves the coordinated effort of the diverse skills of each and every member.
    Sometimes, a specific team member may have to assist another to achieve the team's goals.
    Finally, when it comes to rewarding individuals, the consideration should largely be based on the achievement of the team.
    However, what happens in most organizations is, when it comes to getting the work done, preach teamwork, and when it comes to rewards punish individuals.
    It is on this contradiction that "teamwork" as a concept becomes suspect.

  2. 'My Mind', you couldn't have put it better - yes we all agree in public that teamwork is the key.Yet in present times there is somehow a distrust of compensating a team rather than the individual.Perhaps it is the fear that if not compensated individually, employees may become complacent and generate below par work.

    This is more to do with our perception these days rather than a fact.When we have so many procedures in place for recruiting the best candidates, why is that they are held to be not good enough later and only one or two of a batch recruited are held to be the stars on whom the future of the company depends.Perhaps what we need to do is change those procedures of recruitment so that we have team people meaning they get along with other, are less egoistic and compliment each other.

    I agree with you completely. If Sachin scores a century, Virat Kohli 80 but the rest of the team score single digits totaling 15 runs, it would add up to 195 runs. Onthe other hand if six players of the team scored just 60 runs each, it would add up to 360 runs.

    A Team working with a focus (vision,mission and corporate values ensure this) is any day better than individual brilliance of one or two persons.The Belbin model also talks about different persons complimenting each other. It is only in our Indian cinema that the hero is not only a good looking but a wonderful fighter, singer and scholar all rolled into one. Instead of searching for those one or two persons, corporates would do well to look for mates in each team who compliment each other.

    Thank you 'My Mind' for sharing your profound thoughts.I am sure that a flutter has been caused the minds of many others by your words and they would share their views & feelings on the subject.

    Warm Regards