In this season of recorded conversations, leaked tapes and WikiLeaks, here is a sensational new disclosure. Some authorities have secretly recorded telephone and other conversations within a random sample of corporate offices across India. Their well-meaning objective is to learn how our country’s business executives have become so productive in the past few years, leading to such excellent growth in virtually all sectors of industry. We have obtained “exclusive” access to a few of these transcripts, and they give us an excellent overview of what corporate India really talks about.
Harish Bhat is chief operating officer—watches, Titan Industries Ltd. He regrets that he cannot take your telephone calls conveying feedback on this column, since Big Brother has ears everywhere.
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A large private company in Mumbai
Agenda: Discussion on new projects
Sheila : Hi, Harish. I need some urgent help. My boss wants me to highlight the ROI of this new potato chips project I am working on, by this evening. What is an ROI?
Harish : You’ve reached the right guy, Sheila. ROI can mean Rumours of Involvement, on some dangerous projects it can mean Risk of Implosion. Tell me, what is the scale of this project?
Sheila : Give me a break Harish, I don’t have a clue. But listen, can we discuss something a little more meaningful....did you hear what Karan Johar is reported to have said about Yana Gupta and the uproar it has provoked…
Harish : Yes I did…wasn’t it really distasteful and so mean…and do you know what Pamela did after…
Lesson 1: Meaningful “gossipy” conversations make employees happy, and happy employees, in turn, are very productive.
A medium-sized BPO
Agenda: Complaint about the canteen food
Unknown voice 1 (young female) : I want to complain about the food in our canteen.
Unknown voice 2 (middle-aged male): What’s wrong with our food? We have over 65 messages of appreciation from our employees.
Unknown voice 1 : Listen, don’t get defensive now. Our cook cannot think beyond rice and ‘rajma’. It’s disgusting; 400 of us think so.
Unknown voice 2: That’s not a fair comment. Just yesterday the cook discussed next week’s new lunch menu with me. You’ll be happy to hear it’s now rice, ‘rajma’ and a fresh tomato salad.
Unknown voice 1 : Thank you, Sir. That’s brilliant, I hope our canteen wins a Michelin Star.
Lesson 2: Productive employees bring quick closure to conversations which are going nowhere. Also, sarcasm is a highly productive emotion, since it yields great personal satisfaction.
A multinational headquarters in Mumbai
Agenda: Team meeting on the annual off-site
Jacqueline: This conference call is to decide the agenda for our annual business off-site retreat, under budget code “Seminar Expenses” fully approved by New York.
Ramnath : Hi, this is Ramnath from marketing. This year, I suggest we consider either the Maldives or Pattaya, unless we have budgets for the Caribbean, which would be great. The sea stimulates our thinking brilliantly.
Subramanyam : Subramanyam from the factory here. Let’s not forget that our theme for the year is single malts. I want to be very clear that none of us should even think of Indian liquor, except Old Monk, which is excellent.
Vandana : Listen guys, we have to find a way to keep the COO and the HR head completely out of this off-site. Any ideas on how we can manage that, apart from giving them a bout of food poisoning ?
Seth : Hi, I am Seth from finance. Can we talk for a moment about some of the business we plan to discuss at the retreat? I need to prepare all the data.
Several voices : Are you joking ?
LESSON 3: There are many interesting and joyful ways to make very productive use of the company’s vast financial resources, off-site or onsite.
Regional office of an Indian company
Agenda: Conversation about sales conferences and budgets
Mahinder (sales manager) : Mahinder from sales this side. I need money for an important conference of my distributors which begins tomorrow.
Ramasubramaniam (accounts department) : Do you have budget approvals for this conference ?
Mahinder : Give me the money, I will get all the approvals you want by next month. Also, let me remind you that I had a big budget surplus last year.
Ramasubramaniam : That’s not the way we work, we have accounting processes in place.
Mahinder : In that case, I will use my depreciation and furniture repair budgets to fund this conference. I have just sent you an email confirming this.
Lesson 4: Productive managers are at their most innovative when dealing with highly restrictive organizational processes such as budgetary controls.
A CEO’s lush corner office
Agenda: Setting up a performance review
Romit (CEO) : Shantharam, I would like to immediately review all the work being done in our banking vertical. This year’s performance appears to be a disaster, so bring in all the figures and analysis. We need to be ready for tomorrow’s board meeting.
Shantharam (head of banking vertical):I am on my way, Sir.
Shalini (CEO’s secretary, butting in) : Your house is on the line, Sir.
Female voice : Romit, listen to me carefully now. Have you bought whole wheat bread, cheese, ravioli and olive oil which I had asked for in the morning ? Don’t forget my parents are coming home for dinner at seven tonight, I hope you are already on your way back. Last year’s dinner was a disaster, and you know what happened.
Romit: Shalini, please inform Shantharam and his team that there has been a complete contingency and I need to leave right away. Tell them to complete the review themselves and to ensure that all notes for the board meeting are fully ready by tonight.
Lesson 5: Happy home, productive office. Unhappy home, no office. Amen.