Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Fuck! Why did I take this job?

My eyes were already weary.  I was sifting through website after website looking for data that does not exist. It never existed. That is why I was looking for it. My professor told us once that if you find enough data on a market, you wouldn’t want to be in it. Back then we thought that was one smart thing to say. Now I think he must have been joking all long.

They had sold themselves well during placement presentations; so well that I knew this was what I would want to do. Besides, they were paying. In times like these, you never think twice about something that paid and kept you in an air conditioned office all day. They told us they supported key business decision making efforts of Fortune 100 companies. “..We do it each day (never told the night part). We put together the information that I-banks want. We put together strategic stuff that companies like Merck or Oracle need. You will do it for us. Just imagine the stuff that consultants do. It will be a great learning.”

I was sold at “we do it”…

On day one, I was thinking about those brave hearts that let this pass and chose those sugary cola makers for something substantially lower. By now they would be sweaty, tired and jaded accompanying those rickety trucks that delivered soda pop to every tiny kiosk in the city. You cannot learn distribution sitting in air-conditioned comfort. Now the joke was on me. I could not do it anymore. My eyes hurt. My mind was numb. The cafeteria coffee had more sugar than caffeine and my hands shook. The guy next to me did not help much as he kept killing the keyboard of his computer.  He sat so close that I could smell the Wills Navy Cut fumes off his darkened lips. Everybody sat this way. The tiny air conditioning ducts strained hard to circulate C02, ciggie fumes, curry burps, garlic farts and cheap aftershave out of this environment.  The jungle boy sat a few metres away from me watching me intently. He was my supervisor, a yokel from Pentapadu, Andhra Pradesh with some Podunk MBA.  He was supervising us because he never left the firm. His unflinching loyalty and dedication to sweatshop policing earned him a little promotion that put him directly above us. He knew the place and process like the back of his grubby fat hands. He was himself fat, shabby and sweaty.  They told me he never slept and worked 17 hours a day. Those dark circles around his eyes made him look like Idi Amin and to help the matter, he never smiled. The creases on his forehead were etched. He was as ubiquitous to the place as the worn out furniture.

I got up to take a little walk and release the aching tension that built up in my legs. Besides, I wanted to walk away from Jungle Boy’s stare as I could not find any data on the French chewing gum market. It would have been exciting to think of researching chewing gum market of France back in college. Now I did not care. Probably the French did not chew gum. Probably they just choked on cheese. But Jungle Boy was never convinced. So I kept my relentless search going on. I must have turned every page in the internet except porn sites which could not be accessed on the office server. Probably the French hid their market data in porn sites. I wondered if Jungle Boy ever watched porn.  He would still not smile I guess.

I must be thinking loud or he read people’s minds but Jungle Boy walked right behind me.

“Did you complete the report then?”

“Not yet. I’m doing it” I hissed quickly trying to keep my mouth open for as less time as possible.

“Why don’t you do some real work then?” he retorted. I knew this was coming. “Start calling people in France. Do some real research”.

Nobody liked to make calls. But jungle boy was known to kill people by making them call. If there was anything worse than calling pot-bellied traders in old business districts to sell insurance, it was calling faceless strangers in foreign lands begging for information. One, they never understood what you asked. Two, they never have any information. Three, they do not get anything out of it anyway. But jungle boy still insisted. To make matters worse, he sat next to me now. I tried a last line.

“I cannot speak French”.

“Speak English.”

“What if he or she does not speak English?”

“Ask him or her to connect you to someone who speaks English”

“And how will I ask that in French?”

“Ask in English”

“What if the person who speaks English does not have the right information?”

His eyes started to dig mine out of their sockets. He picked the phone and looked at the screen having the number and dialled. Good…the boy is going to show me how to make a call. I could hear the beeps and swishes and finally the ring tone. Suddenly, he thrust the handset to my face

“Speak. Be polite. And smile”

Before I knew, I was listening to some woman saying “Bon Jour, XXXX , Puis-je vous aider?”

“hmmf…err..um..ewf..h..ello”

“Oui?”

I collected myself…”Good morning…err..afternoon (looking at my watch)…err..morning (realising the time zone difference)”

“Oui?”

Jungle Boy thrust a piece of badly crumpled paper into my hands. It had the standard prescribed script for making an opening statement about our company and my purpose for calling. We used it for everyone… Chinese chowmein associations, Mexican mustard unions, Bulgarian bra manufacturers and Argentina alfalfa cooperatives…everyone. So I read it…word to word, line to line, exactly as it was written while jungle boy observed. He knew every word in it by heart. I could not cheat him. You never cheat jungle boy. He will bite your tongue off.

“Quoi?”

. I read it again. Word to word, line to line even as jungle boy gestures “SMILE”

“ce que vous voulez?”

Right.

“Parlez vous English?” I ask and bite my tongue as the boy raises his eyebrow quizzically at my French. That is the only French I know. Hope the boy understands that.

“Quoi?”

Finally a few more quois later, someone speaks English.

“What do you want”, a gruff impatient voice.

I recite the script without looking at the paper.

“Click”

I look at my tormentor for whatever I could get…poison darts, cuss words or some sympathies for a change.

“Try again. You were not smiling.”

Fuck! Why did I take this job!

(with some  inspiration from Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker)

Power words – I

A power breakfast is a meeting of influential people to conduct business while eating breakfast. It is made to sound something like an elite class thing. The dhobi and watchman of my building do that everyday…eat breakfast together and conduct business. They are influential as they carry the neighborhood gossip and can pull a few strings to get things done. A power tie is one that has a striking colour, pattern and style that makes the wearer stand out or grab eyeballs. Then there is this power nap thing that is a short sleep meant to kill drowsiness. Phrases that are prefixed with the word power amuse me. The word adds weight to anything. Creates a sense of importance. In a sense, they render anything else as mediocre.

n the past few days, I was making a mental note of some corporate jargon being thrown around at my workplace. Words and phrases I would term as ‘power words’. These are utterances that separate you from the usual chaff.  Words that imply your command and control over matters and words that qualify you as a ‘power executive’.  Everyone seem to be catching up with these. I am no exception although I do not like to ‘jargonate’ everything . Presented here is the jargon of my workplace. They are in no specific order. Add yours to the list:

ASAP: I find it funny when they actually pronounce it like a word (A-sap). But it sounds more friendly, trendy and slick than ‘as early as possible’. Only bosses use this to magnify their own sense of importance (including me) over their subordinates, ” Need this asap. Just put everything else on hold”

Buy-In: A trendy sexy phrase I would say. A single word to define agreement, participation, commitment or approval. Buy in means your commitment to the success of something whose failure means your backside is as much on the line.

Basically: Now, basically everybody uses this prop word because someone before them used it and it caught on. It is a disease that germinated in those Tier 2 and 3 B schools where everybody tackled the common problem of communication skills. The word is supposedly used to introduce a simplified explanation containing only the most essential point. In real life, it is hardly used that way. It is mostly a meaningless filler to buy time to think up more things to say. Mostly used by people who have no clue about making an effective start to a sentence. They are dogged by self doubt and insecurity.  This is not typical corporate jargon but a lot of people use it to start a sentence more so because it just clung on to them. Best avoided!

“Sort of…”:   We all love to hear ourselves sound American without having the slightest idea that we are nowhere near being American with phrases like “sort of”. Pronounced as “sod off”, it conveys a picture with no detail and is a useful phrase to use when you are not sure about something and yet wish to reply to a query.

Recall value: No idea why are they using this ad world phrase but sounds uber when used, especially with a sophisticated gesticulation of the hand to aid the visualization.

Sign off:  Approval sounds too pubic sector I guess but sign off also means that the boss or senior honcho blesses your initiative and it is your baby now. Implementation teams use it a lot (probably to highlight their own exclusivity from the rank and file structures that operations teams bear)

Put together:   Not exactly a corporate phrase but when your boss calls you at night and asks you to “put together a few slides ASAP” on something he wants to present in the morning, you cannot escape the feeling of being fobbed off. A more sophsiticated phrase for the word “make”. Also conveys a boss’ apparent lack of idea on how something can be done and so pushes it down to someone to figure it out.

Solutioning: Ah yes…effective corporate communication depends on verbing the noun.  Heard my boss use this the other day. Don’t know if the other person was impressed but I was. It is uber cool to pull out fresh verbed nouns to power push an otherwise mundane thing. So testing becomes solutioning.

Disconnect: It works the other way too. Noun the verb. I first heard this word in 2004 just a few days after I joined this company. It was a kind of a power enclave one afternoon led by the hyper enthusiastic CEO and his team of young managers. The enclave was meant to “tackle operational roadblocks and generate fresh ideas”. I was the new one in and hence invited to witness the ‘method to the madness’ and ingrain the ‘work culture’. There was this super cool Tamil ‘enthu cutlet’ with a super cool American accent who spoke all things cool. I could not make a dick out of what he spoke all afternoon but picked up this neat little word that means lack of coordination. “Disconnect between implementation and operations can be addressed with a templated solution….” Ho hum!

Process Mapping: A phrase for non technical people to sound impressive and knowledgeable about processes. Again implementation teams use this to display their apparent control over elements. In reality, it is a silly exercise of using elaborate icons and diagrams to depict a process on a powerpoint slide, something a reasonably good engineer just creates in his mind.

Documentation: It used to be ‘paperwork’ before. But new word covers everything that paperwork covers and also anything that gives people like me an opportunity to show our usefeulness by wasting time typing out things on MS Word and converting it into a pdf document.

Reports: Again a trendy, efficient word. No I am not talking about meaningless MIS. That is not trendy. But reports here mean people reporting to you. “How many direct reports do you have” would mean how many people are directly reporting to you. As I stated earlier, it is equally trendy to noun the verb.

Key Learnings/takeways:  From womb to tomb, man is always learning. Any exercise always has key learnings. Even boring workshops on people management or knowledge management. Every failure has a lesson and is a learning. Also if anyone with a white skin says anything and as long as he or she is on the customer side, there is always a key learning or we would create some and impress the hell out of them whites by bulleting the key learnings. Takeaways is more trendy. Useful stuff from a generally boring event, speech or workshop. ‘Basically’, nobody cares but we always close events by bulleting key learnings from it to acklnowledge the usefulness of the event.

I guess these will do for Session 1. More to come

Getting all chocolatey

For two weeks now, my life was all chocolaty…at work. My team of researchers and I have been doing in depth study of chocolate markets (those reading my Facebook status messages would get the idea).   I read quite a few facts about it everytime I looked up an online chocolate resource. Like, dark chocolates are increasingly becoming the preferred confection in Europe, Asia and Australia. Or that Holland processes 40% of all cocoa produced in the world. The annual per capita consumption of chocolate in Switzerland is 12kg compared to 4kg in Holland and just 400 grams in India!

The Aztecs did not have a Van Houten press to separate cocoa butter from chocolate. Nor did they have the sugars. Instead they brewed their own cocoa drink with spices and peppers! They believed that cocoa  was an aphrodisiac and their king Montezuma always had some before entering his harem. What they did not know was that apart from the flavanoids and anti oxidants, chocolate also had opiods (also found in opium). Opiods dull any pain and generate a feeling of well being in the mind. Combined with phenylethylamine, sugars and caffeine present in chocolate , they increase blood circulation, increase heart beat and refresh the mind – the net effect is the same fuzzy wuzzy feeling of being in love.

The exposue to chocolate market was already doing some ‘chemical ka locha’ in my mind. So I decided to taste my own 400 grams worth – preferably dark chocolate that seemed to be capturing every connoisseur’s imagination these days.  I bought some on my way home from office and deposited it in my refrigerator and later promptly forgot about it. This morning I took out the big bar of Cadbury Bournville Dark Chocolate along with a can of Diet Pepsi. There wasn’t much to do on a Sunday morning except TV and emails as I munched on the bar and sipped the cola. A little later as i was watching TV my train of thoughts led to the conversation I had with my little nephew the previous day as we watched Spiderman on TV at my brother’s home. I felt like calling him and speaking to him. The train of thoughts led me to the memories of my pet and its puppies and how I played with them. I felt like going back in time and cuddling them all over again. It was then I realised that the chocolate was doing its work. Probably the caffeine in the Pepsi added to the rush of warm fuzzy wuzzies I was experiencing. The whole thing lasted a few minutes before I was back to listless channel surfing. So it works!

Chocolate may have long been associated with feminine romanticism but men are equally vulnerable to the feel good thing. Imagine how Montezuma would have felt when he saw his favourite queen in the harem! Dark chocolate is therefore a great way to beat depression. Psychiatrists should be prescribing it as a diet. You should have one before you meet your boss each morning. Probably it is the economic meltdown that is increasing the consumption of dark chocolate than its exclusivity. People are seeking a release from the gloom of these depressing times. But I never get this. With 12 Kg per capita annual consumption, why are the Swiss still a grumpy lot?

Of All The Bard’s Men…

We in the K-World do not deal with technologies or engineering abilities. We do not build, invent, design, devise or create. We get things done in the strictest sense of this silly simple first line explanation of the word “management”.  We do not hire ‘talent’ in the strictest sense  even though we pass around the term more than anyone else in power meetings. We hire people. We train them. Anyone who speaks English, provides a text book definition of net profit margin, has a neat excuse for the gap year in his resume and wears decent togs to work.  KPOs are some of the most people centric and people intense industries. People see, process and deliver. People are the machines of this Machine…not computers.

People management is therefore a major part of any manager’s daily chore. They call it ‘people skills’ (we are a jargon Disneyland, mind you) or more simple inter-personal skills (go figure!). It is a psycho thing that took off somewhere from that Parent–Adult-Child States thing that Eric Berne so fondly postulated. We are supposed to be experts at it. The whole thing is about how you manage the mickies that afflict your subordinates that make them jump ship. They suddenly feel like a human being in a crowded, stuffy city bus on a hot day. We should always be reading their minds, act ‘proactively’ (yeah this is what always denies us managers the raise and promo!) to address their insecurities and turn them back into the machines they were. Matrix Relapsed! It could be the silly job that they suddenly realise they are doing. It could be their classmates who are earning bigger paychecks doing considerably lesser elsewhere. It is mostly the night shifts that suddenly after 5 months seem unfair, inhuman and taxing. It could be the next door team that gets paid a wee bit more. It could even be the poor computers they were fobbed off with, stuffy little room they sit in, ratty team mates or even the colour schema of the decor (blue is not exactly cheering me!)

So job satisfaction is one big issue or so it seems. End of the day it is all about “Show me the Money!” like Cuba Gooding Jr in Jerry Maguire, but they rather prefer to call it something else. “I see no growth in this role.” Or, I work hard but hardly recognized”. The last remark is a major excuse; one that is always directed at you the manager and everything that supercedes you. Anything that you Mr. Manager do or not do will be held against you. My boss always measured my “people’s skills” rather critically. It always seemed I never encouraged anyone. That crafty Soviet Politburo styled thing called “skip-level meetings” that are a part of this set up always came out with my shortcomings as a boss.  My boss meets the team and keeps me out of it. later in the appraisals – “So, when was the last time you said ‘Good job. Keep it up?’ to your subord?” It is a different matter that I had never done this to my dog. He never fetched the ball anyway. But I am expected to pat the backs, ruffle the fur and say “Good Boy!” to the little puppies under me every time they fetch the ball – do a good deed. Well I had more long term methods and less puppy love tricks to show my appreciation. I preferred to provide recognition through more responsibility supported by more power and independence. Fair deal, except you are supposed to be Hitler II without the “Thank you for the great work” cards.

I always had this feeling that Shakespeare was a great psychoanalyst. From Lear and Prospero to Shylock and Othello, his characters had it all. They were intense and fleshed out with passion by the bard. Take Julius Caesar as a study. The Senate was made up of ambitious men. They found Caesar standing between them and their ambition. Fuelled by envy they used the excuse of Caesar turning into an undisputable autocrat emperor to kill him. They led everyone to believe that they were doing it to restore the Republic. Mark Antony was deliberately kept away from Rome so that Caesar is bereft of his power and judgment. His popular speech upon returning to Rome is manipulative enough to provoke the minds of the plebs and turn them against the Senators. I heard it a hundred times in high school oratory competitions where everyone safely put their bets in this speech as a means to see themselves through the event (into which they were forced) and get back to their bleeding Irodov problems in General Physics. But the following lines are of significance here:

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones;

So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus

Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Caesar answered it.

The good managers who take the fall due to their people management skills are like Caesar. They are put into the soup with the responsibility of service levels. They have to do with whatever talent is provided to them to get things done. They have to groom talent, manage timelines, maintain quality standards, ensure process control, deal with attrition, excuses, poor inputs, knowledge management…whoa time out! Somewhere in this, they fail to read the minds and play the parent adult child game. The subords are not ambitious like the senators. But much like them, they need a reason to vent their feelings. The real reason could be anything from incompetence to immaturity. It could be a genuine rant that they cannot articulate. It could be a mid career crisis, insecurity, monotony or a nasty peer’s seemingly innocent gossip about the state of affairs or even a case of envy. They cannot push it down. So they push it up. To the manager and all that supercedes him. The good manager is where the buck starts and stops. The good he has done goes underground. What remains is Hitler II. Appraisal time and the team managers come out dry cleaned. And grievously hath Caesar answered it.

It was when I went a level upwards and had managers under me that I realized the rules of the game I never saw before. My immediate subordinates were team managers now and took the shit . They understand what it means to be a boss and hence have better rapport with me than what their subords have with them. But I can always expect them to wake up like Neo any day and realize that someone above is treating them like a Duracell. The rise up the level also meant that I had a ringside view of the team vs. team lead. I had a personal sneak preview into each of their compulsions. I had an equal measure of both. I could now see the need for recognition, the thank you cards and all that little gestures that mattered to the masses. I also had a good understanding of what the poor team leads went through. But the trick was in balancing both. Having faced my boss complaining about my people’s skills, I did my best not to do a biased people skill measurement. After all we are not psychoanalysts. Eric Berne the psychiatrist who created transactional analysis had undergone two bitter divorces. So much for his whole parent adult child crap, he could not deal with two women! I use other methods but will not discuss it here. I leave it here for each of you to figure it out if you are in the same situation as I.

If you are a team leader, read Shakespeare. All the bard’s men have something to tell you. If you are planning to kick your manager’s posterior:

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love him once, not without cause:

What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?

O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason! Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

And I must pause till it come back to me.