In an organization, the word of the boss is final. A boss’ action or gesture can have employees rushing to follow, sometimes without giving it a moment’s thought. Here are a few bosses who’ve suffered the consequences of misinterpretation and learnt lessons that have helped them to never again underestimate the power of clear communication.
•Leeway to latecomers
At a company meeting, I said the company hates deducting the pay of employees who report late to work. I also said heads of department (HoDs) had been vested with the authority to waive this deduction on a case-to-case basis, where people were unable to come to office on time due to circumstances beyond their control. For weeks after this announcement, people were sending requests to their HoDs with regard to late arrivals. On being asked, they would tell the HoDs that the CEO of the company had stated that HoDs would be waiving off all late arrivals (there were no other reasons given in their request). When HoDs brought this to my notice, I then sent a circular explaining in detail the circumstances under which salaries would not be deducted.
—Vivek Mehra, MD and CEO, Sage Publications, New Delhi
Moral of the story: Whenever you make changes in company rules, spell out the exceptional circumstances under which these changes would be applicable
A HoD at Kale Consultants, who had spent a large part of his work life in the US, relocated back home. He found that in India, colleagues walk into the boss’ room for almost every issue. So he put up a note in capital letters on the door of his cabin which read, “Do Not Enter Without Prior Appointment”. This was in keeping with what he was used to in the US, where no one entered the chief’s/boss’/head’s room without an appointment. But this is not how things work in India.
His team members took the note to be an order and would not go to him for any issue. In monthly reviews, other teams spoke of the problems with regard to response and delivery of the team whose HoD had this note pinned on his door.
I had to intervene and tell him he needed to communicate to his team the issues for which they needed to take an appointment, and which issues needed to be dealt with immediately as against detailed discussions. On realizing the “unintended effect” of his actions, the HoD immediately had a meeting with his line managers and clarified that the note was only intended to enable structured communications/meetings. There was an obvious work culture mismatch and a lack of understanding of existing work procedures.
—Rahul Kulkarni, head-human resources, Kale Consultants, solutions provider to the airline and travel industry, Mumbai
Moral of the story:Be careful not to appear unapproachable to your immediate team
Getting colleagues to communicate
Town hall meetings are conducted every month to have updates related to process, business expansions, policies, etc. Also, talks are given by our executives during their visits to Bangalore. These meetings are conducted in two batches on one day of every month; there is information flow, top down. We found that many a times people do not respond when the person on the mike asks: “Any questions?” We rephrased that with, “Let’s have some questions from you all”. That did not yield much either.
We came up with a plan to encourage questions by announcing: “There will be a reward for anyone who asks a question.” Some caught on to that and we had many questions. Looks like some really waited for that announcement and the volley of questions that followed was numerous—all for a reward for asking questions!
—Sameer Dhanrajani, Bangalore-based country head of Fidelity National Financial India (FNFI), a back-office operations centre of FNF
Moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of a reward
We take pride in making our work environment friendly: We are very flexible on time, really don’t fret or fume so much on requests to work from home, etc. Also, we wear anything we want to work. About three months ago, I walked in on a Monday morning wearing “distressed” jeans. I think this was a first because others at work who wore jeans did not wear the distressed variety.
I also did a little silly thing by talking about it and telling folks how for years I had felt so stifled and stuck up wearing formal clothes, etc., and this was “liberation” day.
What I did not realize was that I had just opened a can of worms. Over the next few weeks, employees began appearing in the weirdest of distressed jeans—some with deep gashes that exposed thighs, and some cut so precariously that it seemed the garment would just drop to the floor.
I think a small gesture of feeling good had turned the office into a nightmarish exhibition of torn clothes. The situation returned to normal soon when I began looking quizzically at the really weird garments. Thank God some of the people took the hint and reverted to their “not-so-stressed” jeans.
—Alok Kejriwal, Mumbai-based CEO and co-founder, Games2win, an online games business
Moral of the story:While it is okay to allow semi-formal outfits at work, remember that it is ultimately a corporate environment
Illustrations by Jayachandran/Mint
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