Once again we start this week’s intrepid investigation of the Indian workplace with an interesting letter from an imploring reader. Names have been changed for the sake of privacy:
Dear Mr. Vadukut,
I am a frequent reader of your column and often pass on your erroneous advice to my subordinates who have no option, but to listen and implement immediately, because they are powered by my intellect and driven by labour market arbitrage.
As you may know I have recently retired as the chairman of my company and now wish to spend time at home in peace and contentment.
Unfortunately the fellows in my office still think that they can call me whenever they wish and ask me for inputs or advice. This morning one fellow called and asked me “Where, sir, do you keep your large stapler? Accounts needs urgently.”
How can I rebuff their requests without appearing rude or uncaring? I don’t mind occasionally sharing some intellect. But this constant hectoring is driving me insane. You frequently help readers with avoiding some or even all work.
Can you help me reclaim my peace?
Abey Kuruvilla (fake name)
One of the great tragedies of the modern workplace is the need to constantly validate our existence. This is especially so in the current sluggish economic environment where there are HR fellows roaming around the office like vultures, looking for stragglers they can pick off quietly. This will lead to manpower costs savings, which can then be used to hire new people, who can then be fired to show manpower costs savings, and so on and so forth in an eternal game of People Ponzi.
Also Read | Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns
In an ideal world we would all work when there was work to be done. And go home and chill when there wasn’t. But this is a dream, meant for campus recruitment presentations only.
In reality people are forced into making presentations, summoning meetings, organizing workshops and launching projects just to exude the appearance of constant occupation.
This gives rise to a tremendous amount of unnecessary labour. Even people who have no need to scramble, like Kuruvilla above, are driven nuts by other less secure chaps bombarding them with nonsense.
Do not lose hope. In fact there are several simple ways of preventing other people at work wasting your time with existence-justifying schemes.
But they are all governed by a set of simple work-avoiding rules I have distilled over the years. Today I will share five with you. But please don’t tell everybody and crimp my style.
Rule 1: Writing things down makes them go away.
Rule 2: Don’t let enthusiasm come in the way of common sense.
Rule 3: Use technology to get fewer things done slower.
Rule 4: Foresee problems. Make them appear faster.
Rule 5: Try throwing a meeting at it.
Let me briefly explain them.
The first rule means that you should never start anything based on a verbal discussion. Tell people to send you email or write proposals of their ideas. If ideas sound bad when talked about, they stink when written about. And typing is way harder than talking.
If any ideas still make it through, ask for clarifications:
“Ravi, thanks for your email. Interesting idea. But can you explain the following three complicated financial concepts in a short note: inflation, RBI governor, Barack Obama. Thanks.”
Moving on, the second rule means that you should never take on something based on the sheer enthusiasm of the proposer. Learn to discourage.
For example, Ravi suggests an exciting way of collecting sales data using cloud computing. Appreciate fully and then tell them to do a sample implementation in one of the smaller regions, such as Port Blair. Refuse to allocate travel budget due to economy.
Rule three is best implemented along with rule one. Tell them you never got the email with the presentation, or that the attachment is too big for your BlackBerry, or that ‘it is still downloading’. Keep doing this till they either give up, or are forced to summarize everything into one paragraph. This will kill bad projects, or at least scale your participation down substantially.
The next rule is most crucial if you have impulsive superiors who come up with 15 new projects every day. These guys usually don’t think of budget constraints or manpower shortages till weeks later when you’ve already slogged your service entrance off. Instead, bring up things like costs, manpower and other future hurdles as early as possible.
“Sir, it is a masterstroke of strategy sir. We can increase market share by 7.3% with only an upfront investment of between Rs300 and Rs5,000 crore depending on which party is in power…”
I don’t need to explain the final rule. The United Nations is a living model of how to slow work by throwing people at it.
The key is to schedule meetings but not attend them. Don’t say “go ahead, I’ll join you later” because nobody believes that. Instead be there on time, but leave in a hurry 10 minutes later because of a “crisis email right here on my Berry”.
I hope you and Kuruvilla have a relaxing weekend and a manageable week.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at email@example.com