Category Archives: Experience

Mistakes of Juniors

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This week has been unique in that two of my juniors have managed to make mistakes on two consecutive days.

First it was Lucky. Actually we had to get 2 books printed on an urgent basis. So we made the specs and scope of work for inviting bids from advertising agencies. She prepared a draft note based on our discussions and mailed it to me for checking. She also sent draft letter that was to be sent to agencies after this note was approved. I read the note and found that she had got the two books confused and jumbled up the specs. I corrected the specs and asked her to make same changes in the letter. She got the approvals and sent the mail. Next day when all the sealed bids had been received from agencies, she said one agency guy had called and pointed out the error in specs, as she was telling him something different on phone. She was very hassled, so I told her to calm down and we will see what can be done. I thought over it for few minutes and decided to tell to our boss and ask for her directions. Now I could have gone alone and put the entire blame on her, but I did not do that. I took her along and told boss that there was a mistake and explained the thing to her. She understood did not make too fuss about it and asked us to invite fresh bids. We did so and the issue was resolved. Since Finance was also involved in initial bids, I called up finance guy and said- Lucky had sent mail by mistake and this was how we were tackling. He said ok. Though Lucky sits in front of me and she was not listening. I felt bad in taking her name in front of finance. I had not taken her name in front of our boss. Secondly, I was apprehensive she might have heard in the open hall, so I wanted to come out clear, and said to her- I told finance ur name., though I did not tell ur name to boss. She said-why not sir, when I have made a mistake. Then I realized that I had broken the unwritten code of good conduct by bragging about it. I felt ashamed.

Today, Bob made a blunder. A few thousands calendars had been printed. Bob had supervised the job and today someone pointed out that there was a mistake, so the whole cost was wasted. Bob came to me and told. I kept cool and asked him at what stage the mistake had occurred. He said from the beginning. Bychance boss was not in office and was in a meeting. We asked the printer if the calendars could be salvaged, he said not really. I don’t know why but I was not very perturbed. I told him to remain calm, we will tell boss. It so happened that till late evening boss was in a meeting. So we decided we will tell later. Because if boss comes to know from some other source, she will not like that. And I had learnt from an earlier boss Jim that give negative news to boss first, positive news can wait.

Now I was in fix as there was not much fault of mine. Bob had seen the proofs, sent the okays, checked the final version. I had even asked him if he wanted any help, he said confidently no it’s all in control. Knowing myself, if i go to boss with him, I will end up becoming equally guilty if not more for the fault due to my modesty and definition of leadership. I do not want to be seen as ditching my juniors when they are in trouble. I don’t want to be seen as saying-he made the mistake. He is the culprit, let us hang him. I would rather say-we made the mistake. Boss will automatically believe what I say and consider me equally guilty.

But if I ask Bob to go to boss alone, he will feel deserted and secondly he may say anything to save himself. But that way burden of proving his innocence will be on him. Then I won’t jump and claim role in the mistake. Besides, I always encourage my juniors to go to boss and take responsibility. So they have to go when they make mistakes also.

FInally I have decided that we will go together and I will be cautious in jumping to grab the blame. If boss asks why you did not check- I will tell the truth that I asked him all is well and if my help is required, and bob said no all is well. Besides if every time I save them by sharing the blame equally, they will not get the lesson and become casual. Bob had earlier also made a mistake and he did not learn the lesson since I protected him.

Let us see what boss says.

If the issue does not become too complex, I am also taking it as a learning experience. Since I will have to face many such situations in future. Delegating jobs to my juniors and trusting them. They will make mistakes and I will have to face the brunt. Let us see how Tina tackles this.

BTW, an aside, I told Tom about his profile of activator, and he was not very happy with my assessment and told me so. He though profile fitted Jim and not him.

 

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Management styles

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For last one week I have been closely working with a person on finalization of our company’s annual report. Now this person has verbal diarrhoea and can’t stay mum for long. But he does talk sense most of the time, though his own names invariably crops up in each incident he describes. So coming to the point he discussed a lot about our seniors and our CEOs.

First he shared his views about my ex-boss, let us name him Shawn for this blog. So he commented how Shawn had mostly done liaisoning work all his life and knows only sucking up and buttering up. With people like him in CEO coterie, you can understand the value of these people and the working style of CEO. He guessed how Shawn would behave in tricky situations, and to my utter surprize, he was right. Actually I have a love-hate relationship with Shawn. He did a lot for making my work count and getting me visibility and expsoure, he even ensured I get a coveted award, but he did a lot of bad things with me also. He asked me to draft a charge-sheet that was intended to be issued to me (it did not happen luckily), he blamed me for things I did not do, he expects me to do his errands even now, he expects me to risk my relations with present boss, let us name her Hale. Now even I start doubting Shawn’s intentions of helping me, I at times think SHawn must be having some hidden selfish motive in doing that for me.

Okay, now to Hale, this guy described Hale also pretty well. He said- SHe might have taken 30 days to judge each of the team member and her future action would have been guided by that. If she feels you can be relied upon, you talk sense, then she will value your opinion. Because she has risen through the ranks, has done hard-core marketing, she understands constraints and timelines. She won’t expect you to do unreasonable. And this guy was right about her.

Then he shared his experience with another CEO. This CEO always asked these guys to do what they felt right. So in a case, when the controlling Ministry expected this guy to commit to an unrealistic deadline, this guy politely declined. The CEO had instructed them to always be polite and dignified in conveying their problems. The issue was escalated to CEO level, but CEO backed him up and the job was done in real-time. Basically this guy wanted to prove how back-up from top motivates you to do more.

While talking about another CEO, he said- Once I had gone with a file to him. CEO wanted to check if a particular point discussed with my senior had been included. Then he talked over phone to my senior, who assured it has been included. So CEO signed. Our guy, to impress CEO, tried to find the para, but could not. CEO said-no worries, I have signed. Our guy came out, found the para and went inside again. Now the CEO told him- There was no need of this. When your boss has assured it has been included, I believe him. I am not supposed to get into these things. And I trust you people, you won’t cheat me. In future, keep this in mind. Then onwards our guy always checked notes 2-3 times before getting sign, knowing that CEO relied on him.

For annual report, we also had to work with two other guys from a third department, This guy explained how these two guys had a tuning between them as team members. They covered each other’s faults and never fought with each other, to impress boss. He related one incident also as to how the mistake was hushed up and rectified at junior level, without going to CFO level. I nodded to him, but thought to myself that this was at the cost of organisation. Their camaraderie was for their selfish motives, not for company’s interest. But I kept mum. 

These two guys also shared their view on management style. They had a bitter experience with a third CEO. Actually I was trying to understand the concept of hedging from them. This reminded them of a past incident. A group of them was monitoring the currency fluctuations over a period of time, and recommended a particular time when the deal should be frozen to benefit from favourable exchange rate. Luckily their prediction was right. They were happy and thinking that management will appreciate their work, What happened instead was that the CEO called for all such dealings in last two months and asked them why these deals were not done in this manner. Such is the management in our company.

Okay, back to the first talkative guy. He was discussing about a past CEO, and I told him how CEO’s anger and tantrums were good for company as most people in public sector responded to fear. But this guy gave a logical argument, and I had to agree. He said the CEO behaved this way with everyone, it would have been better if he could assess who asked for the lecture and who did not. Besides, after some time everybody got used to his anger and ignored it or laughed at it. This percolated down to all levels and resulted in demotivation at all levels.

Then we also discussed how TAs and others reach at director level and start having unrealistic expectations and talk nonsense. 

He talked a lot more, but rest some other day.

Critical feedback dialogue

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Lucky (The female junior, early 30s)- Sir, what happened to that job we discussed last week. How do we do it?

Sunny (the male boss, early 40s) – I remember telling you clearly that estimate had to be taken from agency and an approval note made.

Lucky- (in a plain tone) I don’t remember.

Sunny- (getting irritated)- Well, I remember exactly, and you even said- one agency is charging reasonably, so we can get it done from that agency.

Lucky- (same tone) I don’t remember

Sunny- (with fuse blown, but in a clenched-teeth voice)- I remember 500 % that I told you, it is a separate thing that both of us forgot after that and the job was not done, but this was discussed.

Lucky- Sir, what happened, I wanted to ask you…..

Sunny- Let us not get into that in the morning, we will discuss later.

Later in the evening, Sunny calls Lucky and asks diplomatically- yes you were saying something in the morning.

Lucky- Sir, for last one week, you have been behaving differently , so I wanted to ask you what happened?

Sunny- Okay, first things first. About today morning incident, you know I hate lairs, and when someone directly or indirectly implies that I am a liar, you can imagine my problem. So when you said in the morning- I don’t remember, you were implying that I am lying, so I did not like that. This you have done once or twice in the past too, but I did not say anything. But when you did it again today, I lost control.

Lucky maintained deliberate, intelligent silence  and let Sunny finish, she just kept nodding.

Sunny then added- As for last week’s changes, let me start from the beginning.

See, as a team leader, I feel that I go out of the way to give visibility, exposure and opportunities to my juniors. Sometimes I feel that it is at my own cost, but I still do it. Secondly, I have told you earlier that my funda is clear, if one of us can do a job, I will not insist on both of us wasting our time on that. So you or me will do that. So I always try to create a positive work environment. Lastly, I asked during your appraisal this year, are there things you don’t like about me, and asked this again 2-3 times, you did not say anything, So I presumed that you are okay with my working and management style. And since I went out of the way to create a good team culture, I expected you to reciprocate that by being a good team member.

Lucky- And yes I always tried that. As for feedback about you, when you did my appraisal, I had worked with you for 2 months only so I could not tell much. But what happened last week, that changed your behaviour, which was confusing to me.?

Sunny- (Realising that her logic about 2 months working is solid, went to next topic) Well, you see, it is really good that you asked. Otherwise I was thinking that I had made a wrong image about you. After last thursday, I had stopped giving any agency work to you, and to show my anger, I was doing all agency related work myself. But when you did not react, I was puzzled. I would not have tried to have shown my anger this way to other guys. I did it to you, because I thought you were a thinking person, well-read, and you would notice the difference. So when you did not say a word, and acted normal, I was confused as to how do I manage such a team member. Because your non-reaction could mean only two things.

One, I was wrong about your emotional quotient, and you were plain Jane,a dumbo, who could not notice the difference in my behaviour, or

Two, you notice but you did not bother about my mood, anger, or reaction.

In either case, it was problematic for me. So I was confused how to handle you as a manager.

But by asking now, you have solved part of the problem.

Lucky- No, I noticed it Monday only, and in the evening I asked my mom also, and she said wait for sometime, you will get to know, but when it continued on Tuesday, Wednesday also, I was like what the hell. I did not want to ask as I was afraid it might make you more angry.

Sunny- Okay, so last Thursday, both of us knew, next three days were off-days, and we might have to work on all three days. I asked you given a choice, which days you would like to come, and you replied very curtly- If I have to come, I don’t mind what days?

That made me very angry. Here was I, a senior, who could have dumped the whole three days on you, willing to share the load, and offering you first choice. I was being generous and a good boss in my mind. And what do I get in return, an attitude and almost disobedience.

Then you said, you had to go home urgently, and I said-use official car for going. You were hesitant, but I insisted saying that we invest our holidays and all, so we deserve this much. You said okay.

I did tell you, that come what may, do try to come back, which I thought to myself, was a bit harsh, but I did tell you later that you could avoid coming if situation demands.

Aniways, you went and took a lift from another person, sms’ed me. I was okay with that. But then I went to agency and sms’ed you to use official car if you decide to come back to office. You sent back sms 2 hours later- I have taken a taxi and I have come back.

That really pissed me off, so I decided then and there not to call you on next 3 days.

On Monday also, my anger did not subside, I did not want to make an issue of it, knowing that my anger will go away in 2 weeks, so I decided that I will do all agency-related work and keep mum. This I thought will convey my anger to you. I wanted to convey two things to you.

One, I am self-sufficient and can do the work on my own, if required. If I ask you to do the work, it’s because I want the whole team to work together.

Two, If I end up doing work on weekends, I can jolly well do the work on weekdays too.

Lucky- Sir, I did not mean to hurt you, my anger was directed at the other departments who were working slowly and spoiling our weekends. Though I get it that my words did not convey this. As for car, while going home, I got a lift, and since I had already taken a taxi from home for the personal work I had, and I had to pay him aniways, so I came back by taxi.

But you could have told all this to me on Monday, you know how these things disturb me.

Sunny- No but it was intentional and I wanted you to realise how angry I was.

Lucky- I get that, but now you owe me a coffee, and please please in future do tell me if I say something wrong.

Sunny- Okay, deal.

(This is a real conversation I had with my junior this week. Thought to write in a dialogue form to make it interesting reading)

What say??

Experience

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As is said, experience comes from failure, and failure comes from experience.

But there is no denying that experience is valuable. One learns a lot with time.

But the extent of learning depends upon the frame of mind. If one observes things and people keenly with a positive frame of mind, learning is better. However if one considers every job as a burden, and is always in rush to finish the job at hand in a negative frame of mind, the learning will definitely be limited.

Then there is a level of general knowledge and subject knowledge, which determines how much and what one can learn. All other factors being same, two individuals with different knowledge levels will have different kind of experiential learning.

As I have mentioned in one of my earlier post about Daniel Goleman and emotional intelligence, intuition is nothing but expertise coupled with presence of mind. So experience can take many shapes and forms.

There can be honing of people skills or emotional intelligence. This will happen with those who take more interest in people either because the job demands or their inclination. For example, people in HR or Sales for that matter need to gain experience of this kind, else they will not attain heights of success.

Domain expertise is another kind of experience that comes with time. For example, in Finance, PR and other niche areas, after a few years, it’s all been there, done that kind of scenario. Such experience enables people to visualise possible scenarios in every situation. They will know what can go wrong in a particular situation. Of course they can not predict the future, but they can minimise the risk factors using their experience.

And if I may say so, experience can make people optimists/positive or pessimists/negative, depending upon their outlook. After going through a crisis, one person can decide to celebrate the success and look forward to newer challenges, whereas another person can curse his luck for being trapped in such a crisis and attribute success to luck. Latter kind of person will try to avoid facing such crisis situations in future.

I have seen experience making people sweeter or bitter, clearly an outcome of their filters and goggles. A simple analogy can explain this. Say, a heavy drinker has two sons.  It may so happen that one of them follows the footsteps of his father and becomes a heavy drinker like him. Another hates his father’s addiction having seen his pitiable condition, and pledges to never drink in his life. In this case, all conditions were same, but one son emulated and the other son did just the reverse, depending upon how they perceived their father’s actions.

I have friends and family members who are so rigid that you would never find them accepting their mistake. They think they are always right, and even if they realise they might be wrong, they behave as smart asses and try to fool others.  Such people will have very limited learning from any life experiences, because their minds are closed to experiential learning. On the other hand, there are people who keep on reading, discussing, observing and are always in learning mode. Such people learn a lot from all kinds of experiences.

Even in my team, I have seen a range of learners. When I pointed out mistake of one person, she did not take it positively. She even bitched about it to other colleagues, which I came to know. From then on I have stopped sharing whatever I know at least, and it is entirely her loss. So by her adamant behaviour she is losing out on experience that I could have shared with her. On the other hand, another colleague was more than receptive when I pointed out few errors. She pointedly asked me to let her know in future also, if some improvements are possible. So clearly she will gain more experience from me, at least to the extent of my limited knowledge.

Another factor that helps of hinders the learning experience is sincerity of the person at work. 1-2 of my team members take ages to complete a job, are not meticulous and are careless. So anytime I have a choice, I avoid giving them new assignments, because I can delegate the work, but responsibility and accountability is mine. So I would rather get the job done by a sincere, careful and methodical person. So careless person, even if he has inclination to learn and improve, will lose out on experience gathering.

That was my experience speaking, what is yours?