Zeroes & Emotions

You know how a zero, though itself equal to nothing, can make a number larger [or smaller] when applied the right way? Well, the same is true for emotions. By itself an emotion is nothing but a chaotic concoction of untamed force and aimless wandering, incapable of achieving anything worthwhile. But when its power is controlled by self-discipline and channelled by an unflinching determination towards a cause one thoroughly believes in, mountains can be moved.

The placement matters, a lot. Put your emotions behind your efforts, and you make progress. But, put them ahead of your dreams, and you get reduced to insignificance. After all, what good is a zero when placed before a number? Who cares about fractions? In fact, emotions are the forces that shape the world around us. When used for a negative idea, they create holocausts. When used, and collectively applied for freedom it leads to the fall of human misery and captivity. And they are not done making our history, they will shape our future as well; Through you. Take care. Emote some.


Death by Triangle

The appraisal season is almost over and most of us have received the results in our inboxes and paychecks by now. People who have been promoted or granted a reasonable raise this year might not agree but the rest [which means most of us] would concur that there’s something wrong with the traditional appraisal system followed by most MNCs in the service sector.

The system I am referring to is the one where your performance is appraised by your immediate supervisor by comparing the activities you did through the year to the objectives set by you at the beginning of the year. This appraisal is then laddered and moderated with other, similarly designated, employees of the organisation to make the judgement agnostic to your project or technology. The ratings thus obtained are then used to arrange the employees in a triangle, a sort of pyramid which puts the rare few achievers on the top and the larger set of underperforming employees at the bottom and the rest are crammed into the middle brackets in the order of their ratings.

The proponents of the system claim that it boosts productivity as it motivates the employees to compete. Without a ranking mechanism everybody would just bide their time and the company’s performance would come to a standstill. On the contrary, the system is not only principally incorrect, it also encourages practices which pull the organisation down. This system normally places a third or even lesser number of the employees in the top two rating brackets. In other words, every year, these organisations declare that two thirds, or a majority, of their employees are not good enough. So statistically speaking none of these companies are good enough, considering the performance levels of the people they employ. Customers, are you listening?

Why then are the employees rated as not-so-good retained? For two reasons: Firstly, most of these employees are actually pretty good and deliver as per the expectations. But then why are they ranked low? Well! Because, the simplest and honest [and disgusting to the core] answer is, someone has to be ranked low to maintain the triangle; limited seats on top. And secondly, the few who are genuinely non-performing are also important. Wait a minute!! Non-performers are important?! Yes!! The business of service is as much about quantity as it is about quality. The customers are charged for heads, not brains. So it doesn’t hurt carrying along a few laggards; the customers pay for them anyways.

But how do they manage to pull such atrocities in broad daylight? Well, this is where the wrong practices this system promotes come into picture. It is difficult to classify employees in multiple performance rating levels if the expectations from him are straightforward, objective and based purely on his performance in the work he has been assigned, the work he was actually hired for. SLAs, deadlines and escalations are easy to track and count. So, he is also assigned subjective goals like “value creation” and “people development”. Remember, it is impossible for an employee to do his job properly without implicitly creating value for the organization or developing the people around him, but those contributions cannot be pointed out. And the more tangible and countable acts of such kind are difficult to achieve because: 1. You are not assigned extra time to fulfill these goals. And hence, achieving them affects your routine work 2. You are not trained/equipped/interested enough. Some of us have taxing personal commitments which prevents us from “participating”. 3. Some of these tasks cannot be done on demand. You can’t write n papers or suggest some process improvement ideas every quarter; It happens when it happens.

This finally not only helps the managers to assign poor rankings to some employees who work hard and help the company earn customers, it also tricks these employees into believing that they deserve to be rated low, thus forcing them to either lose their confidence or gather a lot of stress and frustration, rendering the workplace significantly negative. But, the adoption of this system has an even worse result. Much like the evolution of species in nature, these practises have encouraged the growth of some specific type of employees who have adapted themselves to game the system. Every year, along with some really deserving candidates, these companies reward employees who have mastered one or more of these skills: 1. Feigning how difficult their work is, 2. Exaggerating the amount of work they are responsible for, 3. Not sharing knowledge with co-workers or 4. Doing everything other than the project work. This is the reason why you see some undeserving and incapable people around and at times even above you.

And that’s why, when I say “death by triangle”, I am not talking about rating related employee suicides or miserable employees, who are worse than living because they have lost their personal lives and other passions to a system which rates them incorrectly. I am talking about the eventual demise of the companies which are not acknowledging the problems of their appraisal system. But do we have a solution? Definitely. And it is drastically simple and effective. Firstly, follow a binary rating system, track only the parameters which directly govern the employee’s job description. This way at the end of the year the employee hears one of the two outcomes: 1. You’re doing your job well. Keep it up!! or 2. You’re not doing your job well enough. You got 2/3/n months to improve. Sack up!! And secondly, to promote value creation and development of people, recognize and reward all the other non-work related stuff, White papers, presentations, process improvement, participation in events, innovation, etc., on the spot. The employee who amazes you for making it so far and high on the corporate ladder, despite not possessing any employable skills whatsoever, will get easily weeded out with such a system.

How Not To Bring A Change

How do you feel when you witness the most resilient civil forces of your country doing something utterly stupid? What do you do when the people you trust, respect and look up to, prepare to give up their lives for an impractical whim? Do you forgive yourself for not standing by them because you know they are wrong? How do you cope with the frustration that piles up in your mind when they apply massive will and force for a selfless cause in a completely wrong direction?

Misguided Heroes?!

I have always been in awe of the key members of the India Against Corruption, from even before the movement started. They are the kind of people I would like to be led by. Smart, educated, motivated, selfless, patriotic, resourceful and stubborn; they are everything our leaders should be. So it hurts, unbearably, when I see them making an obvious mistake. A mistake? Boy, they are trying to rid the country of one of its many banes! Yes, I know their intention is honourable, but what is their plan to root out corruption? Reforms to the anti-corruption laws and institutions!! How so? By establishing a new, strong, efficient and autonomous investigative and judicial institution which is free of political influence, a sort of CBI on patriotic steroids!!

So, they want to create more laws and appoint more authorities to enforce those laws to ensure that the people of India behave. Well, that sounds reasonable, but only until you question why are the current laws and their enforcement agencies ineffective in culling corruption? This group of visionaries believes and wants us to believe that the laws are archaic and toothless, and the law enforcers are either corrupt themselves or are controlled by the politicians who have, to put it mildly, a conflict of interest with the delivery of justice (after all, who is interested in going to prison?). Now, they are correct in their causal analysis, but they could not be more wrong in suggesting that the solution they propose will work any better.

How can we be sure that the criminals will not find loopholes through the new laws? Or that the people who are selected for the enforcement will not be corrupt or, if not already, get corrupted with the new found power? What is the guarantee that this system will be more managed, efficient and responsive? Are we going to import the people who will be running the show? If we ourselves, the people of the Republic of India, are going to constitute the proposed Jan-Lokpal system, why does the IAC team think we’ll do it better this time around?

This conviction is a result of alienating the corrupt from the society and the governed from the government; a false perception that a handful of corrupt people are responsible; a simplistic view which projects that bribes are always asked for and never willingly or unwillingly offered. The government of India is a true representation of the people it rules. We are as immoral as every single politician sitting in the Parliament. Did the earth split open and spew these rascals one wretched day? No! They are from amongst us. A common Indian citizen does not hesitate to offer a petty bribe when the traffic constable stops him for an infraction; What makes the IAC brigade believe that the same man will blink twice before accepting a bribe if he holds a post of Authority?

Employing more law enforcement is not going to work until being corrupt is socially unacceptable. Do we marry our daughters to murderers? Then why do we marry them to Government officials with “extra” incomes. We don’t even pretend; bribing is not mentioned in hushed tones and whispers, it is flaunted. The problem with this nation is its moral bankruptcy. As I have said before, we Indians are integrally challenged. What we need is a grassroots program to weed out immorality. May be a five year plan focused on making sure every kid develops the senses [and balls] to stand up to his/her parents and question a corrupt act [be it rigging the electricity meter for minimal bills or driving on the wrong side to avoid going all the way to the next pass in the divider].

So, do we keep watching as they loot and plunder? Should the IAC team retire and go home? Is sitting and waiting for a moral renaissance the only option we have at our hands? No! The least we, the normal citizens, could do is adhere to a strict code of morality and teach our kids to follow, even at a cost. We can contribute more by asking our politicians and bureaucrats the same. The IAC has a huge list of tasks at hand. Use of RTI, Social Media and the power of like minded and motivated citizens to keep a check on the people in power. Spearheading NGOs which focus on corruption related injustice. Attacking preparators of major scams using the existing judicial processes. Working with children to uplift the moral index of this nation. Creating an environment of awareness of duties and intolerance to corruption.

This direction leads to a long way of perseverance and hard work, and that’s exactly how great nations are made. Not by walking down the road to arrive at a dead end of our own social values, and then marching on stubbornly and expecting the problems to yield, rather, by gradually and persistently laying the foundation for a new path that raises our standards above and beyond our handicaps.

Update [3rd of Aug, 2012]

The IAC team finally took a much awaited decision. This is the single most effective step the team could take to help the citizen bring a change. I never listed this as an option earlier, because the team has so far been vehemently opposed to any suggestions of having political ambitions. The country welcomes your decision. Please ignore people who think you’ve thrown away the cause, on the contrary, you have just picked it up. You can’t stand outside a system and change it, you have to enter and get your hands dirty to clean it up. All the very best!!