New year, new workplace

New year, new workplace
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First Published: Thu, Dec 20 2007. 11 49 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Dec 20 2007. 11 49 PM IST
Come next year, forget working out. First, let’s just get the working part right.
In this season of resolutions made, promptly followed by a season of resolutions broken, I think the Indian workplace is in such crisis that we actually all need to resolve—once and for all—to make 2008 the year of the liberated, balanced, empowered, integrated office.
It is easier than it sounds. And Indian managers especially have a daunting challenge ahead.
Consider the dire findings of a study Mint reported on Monday. Indian corporate leaders are far more “task-focused”, less “social” and “participative” than North Americans, according to a survey of 100 managers across India conducted by executive recruitment company Korn/Ferry International, in association with International Market Assessment (IMA) India.
Translation: Indian bosses need to get out of their offices more, get a little dirtier in the ditches alongside their workers, make clearer the mission of their companies and actually show the staff what a flat hierarchy means. And then they need to make sure middle management is doing the same.
Place that imperative against the backdrop of the hypergrowth so many companies are experiencing right now and getting in touch with our softer sides might seem either impossible or the easiest thing to put on hold.
Yet, our survival depends on it.
Cliché as it sounds, empowered workforces are the only way to spur innovation, creativity, new ideas—the stuff that keeps us all in business really. The problem in implementation thus far has been that human resources (HR) departments’ efforts tend to border on the gimmicky. Think of all those useless office worksites that result in sprained ankles from three-legged races or teetering on a wire suspended between two trees.
So, here’s a suggestion for Resolution No. 1: Stop trying to bond us with ropes and handkerchiefs. Leave the races and role-playing exercises to athletes and actors. Instead, retreats should be used to discuss mission and drive its importance home over and over again. Why do we do what we do? For whom are we doing what we are doing? If your employees don’t know the answer to these questions, no amount of agility on a tightrope is going to save them—or your company.
Resolution No. 2: Thank them for working. Feedback, or the lack of it, is often cited as the main reason people leave an employer. Indians suffer from no lack of bluntness (in this festive season, can we also spare the overweight employees asked to dress up like Santa?), but we are sparse in our praise and downright jealous when it comes to stellar performers. Force yourself to regularly see the good— and thank those responsible for it. The words of one worker this week are still ringing in my ears, “I am a simple, easy employee. If you tell me I did a good job, say, once every two weeks, it will make all the difference in my life.” Encourage bottom-to-top evaluations and ban HR jargon such as “360-degree performance measures”.
Resolution No. 3: Pay more than lip service to embrace diversity and family-friendly policies. If your office is currently under construction (these days, whose isn’t?), are you asking the designer to include space for a gym, crèche, a room to pump breast milk for new mothers, smoking lounges so the halls don’t stink? Do you offer paternity leave, too? Are you making the transition back to work easier for new parents, and making sure younger employees have role models who balance work, home and all that falls in between?
Resolution No. 4: Earn the respect you command. We are still far too obsessed with titles and pedigree. I always work harder for bosses who aren’t afraid to slog with me, whose actions implicitly mentor and warrant mimicking.
Resolution No. 5: Stop accepting the way it’s always been. The only way to be different is to, well, do things differently.
Lest you think I just lecture, here’s a glimpse into my workplace goals: In 2008, I will better manage up and down and around. I will pay more attention to star performers and hardest workers and not take them for granted. I will set specific tasks for the meetings I hold; I will show up better prepared for the meetings for which I am summoned. I will seek training or mentors to help me improve on weaknesses. I will take more time out with individual colleagues and family members to listen and learn. I will limit the nights I bring home my laptop—if I must use it, it will be preferably after my daughter has been read to and fallen asleep. I will have one day where I literally switch off, Facebook to BlackBerry.
On 2 January, when we all report back to the grind, I’m hoping to join many of you in starting anew to create new energy at work, unfurling passion beyond the paycheck. From our happiness to our country’s continued growth, much is at stake.
Your comments are welcome at widerangle@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Dec 20 2007. 11 49 PM IST