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For success, think small

For success, think small
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First Published: Thu, Sep 16 2010. 09 33 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Sep 16 2010. 09 33 PM IST
Have you been keeping track of all those exciting new developments in the world of technology lately? Of course you have. You don’t have a choice. Somebody surely tweeted a Facebook status to your LinkedIn page using Google Buzz with a hyperlink to a liveblog of the Apple livestream. And then poked you with a Foursquare.
Indeed, the very essence of the technology journalism business, it appears, is breathless overreaction:
Twitter redesign restores world peace. Koreas reunite, Israel and Palestine plan joint friendship invasion of Egypt, redundant United Nations turns into Starbucks. “We were caught by surprise,” said Ban Ki-moon, “but now we have many varieties of biscotti.” Click here for exclusive biscotti slideshow.
OK. Maybe I am exaggerating a little bit here. But you get the drift.
We’ve begun to tom-tom the most mundane things as events of life-changing magnitude. Personally I am convinced most media outfits have stock headlines waiting to be used at the drop of a hat:
Is [fill in the blanks] the next [fill in the blanks]?
If you are a [fill in the blanks] this is why you should be really afraid of [fill in the blanks]!
Government gives clean chit to [fill in the blanks] on spectrum controversy.
But then something occurred to me. Isn’t this exactly the way many people operate at the workplace as well?
They thrive on small but frequent achievements that are carefully over-blown to satisfy bosses. Surely you have a few of these sly operators in your office?
Every few weeks they send out a mass email announcing the completion of a project of breathtaking complexity and impact. The emails are expertly worded. Sample:
Dear All. It gives me great pleasure to say that my international business division has achieved a breakthrough in our scalable globalization efforts! For the first time in the industry we have been able to integrate state-of-the-art office automation technology with our signature multi-location, multi-lingual offshoring model. It is a big achievement for a company of our size and I would like to thank everyone for the help they have extended.
Thanks to this all employees, starting tomorrow, can freely take photocopies of documents in any of 32 languages from the Xerox machine in the corridor. In the next quarter we are aiming for a further 18 languages thereby making us the country’s...
Et cetera et cetera.
These champs are depending on a couple of human tendencies. First most people are too busy to read beyond the first few lines of such emails. They’ll skim briefly and quickly send a courtesy “Well done!” email.
Second, most bosses like to encourage any constructive action at all. So what if the email really doesn’t make any sense? At least someone in the office is doing something. Might as well appreciate them profusely, appraise them generously and reward them strictly as per industry standard.
The clever ones even manage to populate their appraisal forms with several such pseudo-deliverables. This way when sales go down or cash flow tanks in one quarter, they can smartly “achieve” one of these and sustain their cubicle-brand-equity in the firm.
But opportunism and competitiveness are not all. There could be other reasons for this micro-goal trend.
Like the pressure to report financials on a quarterly basis. This means you need to have frequent internal review meetings. And any MBA knows that you don’t go into a review meeting with a slide that says:
Q2 Sales team report: Nothing particularly important happened since our last meeting. Thanks. Questions?
This forces one into reporting something or the other. Preferably positive.
Perhaps the simple human desire for a sense of achievement also comes into play. Most people, even some PWD engineers, like to achieve. It is something ingrained into us from our early years when frustrated parents give us Five Star chocolate if we refrain from using the VCR as a urinal.
A few years later, when we start working in offices, we still retain some of that need for instant appreciation.
I am thankful, however, that this has not been a human trait for many years. In the past, history tells us, mankind was all about big, hairy, audacious goals. Inventing the wheel, circumnavigating the globe, discovering the zero, overthrowing a superpower and so on.
Thank God, our forefathers didn’t get caught up in the pseudo-deliverable chicanery that plagues us today.
Just imagine.
“Give me blood, and I will give you a brainstorming session where we will scope out a three-phase plan for acquiring freedom.”
“I have a dream. That I will incorporate into a white paper due next week on my blog.”
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. As soon as we complete our market research.”
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at cubiclenama@livemint.com
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama
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First Published: Thu, Sep 16 2010. 09 33 PM IST