Fixing responsibility

Superboss was in a pensive mood. The company’s annual conference was fast approaching, and our zone had done nothing that could boost his image there. And thus there was little hope of an upgrade for him this year too. Superboss had climbed the ladder of success real fast in his initial years, but his career had been stagnating since then. The entire office was obviously at fault. A meeting was called to vent ire on the staff, though ostensibly the meeting was for ‘monthly review of pending projects’.

Supercharged Superboss began with generalizations. “Discipline is something that makes or breaks organizations, and I have been expecting the highest standards from all of you. There is no scope of any laxity, and I will not tolerate any under my command.” And continued thus for the next few minutes, before coming to the crux.

“The targets, too modest to begin with, have not been met. No new ideas are being projected and public relations are at an abysmal low. What do you expect me to show at the Annuals? Everyone will suffer due to the non-performance and irresponsibility of a few,” he declared.

Superboss believes whatever is good for his career is good for the organization and good for all of us. So if Superboss was to suffer by not being considered for an upgrade, by his logic, everyone would suffer. That did not worry us unduly. But the next bit, that he was going to narrow down the list of perceived culprits from ‘all’ to a ‘few’ was interesting.

“All the department heads may make their presentations and you yourselves can judge how poorly we are faring,” he said bitterly, sat back and looked towards the first victim.

The old warhorses were expecting this. It did not take them long to make their presentations. Some even went to the sadistic extent of highlighting the shortcomings and failures.

After the presentations, Superboss began with a renewed sense of grievance and went on berating everyone for the next hour. Our attention was riveted only for the reason that we expected a hit-list to be released. However, it turned out to be a futile wait. By the time the meeting was over, it was clear, everyone was at fault and to the maximum extent possible. There was no redeeming silver lining on the clouds.

Nothing concrete came out of the exercise, and we walked out like spectators on the first evening of a cricket Test match – with little hope that anything would happen in the days to come.

Mr A went back to his unfinished game of Solitaire when he reached his chamber. “Boss,” I asked, “is the scenario as bleak as it sounds,” I asked worried, for loyalty towards the company, and especially our zone, ranks high in my priorities.

“No,” he said thoughtfully, “Superboss is not likely to be ditched at the Annuals.”

Did he also equate the fortunes of the company with the career of Superboss? “I mean for the company,” I persisted.

“Were you not listening? The zone is doing fine,” he said.

“But no new projects, targets not met…”

He looked up, as he had finished his game. “Targets have to be unrealistically high because one never knows how much one can achieve in a year. Also, bosses do not like gloating employees who perform above targets. It plants ideas in their heads, and soon they start looking for ‘greener pastures’,” he said.

“So why is Superboss so worried,” I asked.

“Special upgrades go to special performances, and the zone does not have any to show,” he said without elaborating. Mr A never trusted anyone enough to talk loose about his bosses, and therefore desisted from mentioning that apart from ‘playing’ the top boss, Superboss contributes little. I said so bluntly.

Mr A gave me thoughtful look. Perhaps he was worried that he had chosen a wrong junior to mentor. Slowly he explained, “Bosses are not meant to ‘contribute’. They manage, not ‘do’ things. They are rewarded or punished for the performances of their subordinates.”

“That means they are dependent on the subordinates,” I said.

“Of course they are,” he agreed.

“Then how come they dominate and are not blackmailed?” I asked confused.

“That is technically the subject matter of the field of study called management. Suffice to say, if you know the art of taking work out of subordinates and can get credit out of their work, you are a successful manager,” he said, a little cynically I felt.

I thought of all the legendary managers I had read about, and did not agree with his world view. “Good managers can make a lot of difference, by bringing in new ideas, as motivators, as troubleshooters…”

“How much less motivated did you feel when the Superboss was on three month study leave?” Mr A asked, for the first time getting into the delicate territory of utility of the top boss. “And apart from the myths that you read in management books or ‘ authorized biographies’ of hot-shots, how many new ideas have actually originated from the top bosses anywhere? My boy, the creative phase in the life is long over before one becomes a top boss,” he concluded with what he thought was a convincing argument.

Superboss went and came back from the Annual. The targets, though underachieved, had been made stiffer. We were told by Superboss himself, that we all were put under ‘watch’ by the headquarters. Regular appraisals of the department heads would be sent to the HQ every quarter from now on, he announced, adding that this was to be expected. We had asked for it and got what we deserved, he said.

Later, a satisfied Mr A translated the message of the HQ for me. “HQ is ok with our zone – Superboss has been asked to buck up and show better results, nothing more. Sending our appraisals to HQ is a bogey – an old and failed management trick of driving some fear into us. HQ is hardly aware of the existence of anyone except the Superboss.”

“And what would have happened if HQ had been annoyed?” I asked, curious.

“Ah then,” he said, thoughtfully, “We would be having a series of review meetings, cancellation of leaves and longer working hours.”

I was happy that the Annual had gone ok for our zone. I do not like series of review meetings and just hate longer working hours. For the next financial at least, we were safe. Boss went back to another game of Solitaire, and I slipped off for bit of gossip with the chaps from the HR.

 

***

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About Abhishek

I will let the blog speak for itself...or, at times, for me. View all posts by Abhishek

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