Tag Archives: boss

So you think you cannot live without mobile? Think again…

You can live without your mobile phone. Yes, believe me you can. Don’t look at me like that – remember till about ten to twelve years back that none of us had a mobile, and we are doing ok, thank you. But now every Tom, Dick and his dog has a mobile, and feels incomplete without it.

Consider these facts:

  • The one thing people want to have if marooned on a desert island, is a mobile. Earlier it was a member of the opposite gender (remember The Blue Lagoon? Now, if there would be a remake it would be called ‘Girl and a Mobile’ or a ‘Boy and a Mobile’.)
  • More people in India are having mobile phones in their homes than running water or toilets. (I do not know how a mobile phone can substitute for these essentials, but it is true, I am not making this up.)

I have multiple grouse against the mobile phone, and shall systematically list them now for your kind consideration. Put your phone on the silent mode, and please pay attention – it may save your life.

It rings at the most inappropriate times. I have seen a bridegroom (and not just in a commercial) taking a call in the middle of his marriage ceremony. I did not ask him later, out of shyness, what happened during the wedding night, but I am sure his cell records would show that he hardly slept.

It will ring while you are driving, and persistently. How does it figure out that you are on the wheel, beats me. And it is easy to say that one must not take a call while driving, or that you should park your car on the side and then take the call. What with traffic these days, there is no ‘side’ to park on, even if you assume that the other drivers would let you change the lanes.

I think I need not list the awkward moments when the phone rang in my life – it would be too revealing and embarrassing – but I just wish to draw your attention to the nuisance value of the gadget. (Some people that I know might have to list out the moments in their lives when it is not ringing. My dear friend Senthil, the poor TV Newsman is one of them.)

The most serious concern I have against it is that it has made me a twenty four hour slave to the office. The regime of the bosses used to end at 5.30 pm sharp, in the good old days (or any other time schedule that you followed). But now, there are no excuses for not being available 27×7. Woe betides the junior whose phone gets discharged or is on the silent mode, ever.

The sad part in the whole affair is that it has ended the reign of the Free Will. It has ended the concept of choice, of individual opinion. There is no question that you will have to have a mobile phone, and that when it rings, you will HAVE to receive the call.

The medium, they say, is the message. Mobile phone is so possessive that the wives seem liberal and freedom-loving compared to them. You can spend hours on it, speaking to a friend, but imagine what happens when this same friend drops in. You make him sit in the drawing room, with a cup of tea, and are to the balcony, taking on the phone! Luckily, the friend does not mind, for he too is on the call.

You are led to believe that the phone will save you when you are in trouble. Totally untrue. Suppose you are stuck under a rubble just after an earthquake. Believe me, the phone will be out of the reach. Or even if it is with you, the networks will be down. Why? Simply because of the mobile towers – they would have fallen with the buildings, you silly thing!

In fact the mobiles are leading to serious accidents and fatalities almost daily. Drinking and driving was safer than being on a phone while driving, but we all do it. We daily read of the cases of people being run over by TRAINS, because the people crossing the rail tracks were too busy on their phones. (I hope this happens just in India – but here it does.) And we have not begun speaking about the health hazard from the radiations – the mobile industry sees to it that no clear opinion is formed about the matter. With the increasing number of incidents of cancer in society in the recent years, I would not be surprised if the culprit is the high exposure to mobile radiations.

I do not know how the mobile phone is aiding in building up relationships, but I suspect lot are being broken due to them. Cell phone records (both in the mobile set and with the cell company) are deadly, and not only to the criminals and the crooks.

Give a mobile to a child – and watch the graph of his grades go down like a ski slope. Do not give the child his mobile, and watch your popularity go down on the same slope. Just try to extract a teenage girl from the grip of this beast, and put her onto something useful like, reading a book, maybe, and you will realize that the days when parents were the king are long past.

Now it is only the brave hearts, the adventurous and the rebels – people like neo-hippies – who can dare to experience the pure living and high thinking life without the mobile, who can breathe in the fresh air, consciously and knowingly and who can look at the sunrise and the sunsets at the beaches. They can even dance and get drenched in the rains and not worrying about their phone. The blasted thing leaves you with no choice but to believe in God, or with the hope that there will be a day when some newer technology would kill this beast.

 

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Fiscal responsibility

 

The mood of Superboss was somber. In grave tones, befitting a memorial service, he announced that the HQ has sent a missive that expenditure is spiraling in our zone, and that the matter had assumed serious proportions. He had, he said, called the meeting all the senior staff to get to the bottom of the problem, and to find remedies for the same. “We have to send an explanation, immediately, along with measures that we will now put in place to check the ‘uncontrolled and unjustified’ spending. And these are not my words.”

There were glum faces and a total silence in the room following this announcement. It was not that anyone was remorseful or felt guilty – none present felt that he was related to, or was the cause of, the present crisis in any manner possible. Finally, it was the finance manager, the bespectacled old Mr Fred, who spoke.

“Our accounts do not show any alarming increase in spending. What with increasing costs…” Mr Fred began, but was snubbed instantly by Supeboss.

“It is not normal to have any increase at a time when the company is undertaking austerity measures. I should have been kept informed of any lapses on financial discipline. Why was all this happening behind my back,” asked Superboss.

That stumped Mr Fred, and rightly so. For one, there was nothing very unusual, by way of spending, that had taken place in the current year. Fred had also kept Superboss informed of every expenditure, not only by getting prior approvals, but also by briefing him at regular intervals. Therefore the charge of working behind his back was something that was not easy to respond to, short of bluntly pointing out that Superboss was lying. This step was probably premature, and a little drastic, and so Fred kept quiet.

His silence was however taken as an admission of guilt. Another round of lecture by Superboss, this time directed against Fred, ensued. This too however failed to resolve the two issues at hand – identifying the problem areas and finding solutions. Having been blamed on totally unjustified grounds, Fred seemed to throw in the towel, and it was evident from his demeanor that he was not likely to offer anything concrete to the discussion. Superboss next fixed his glare at Admin, the ‘big spender’ of the office.

The fact that Admin had not marshaled his facts and was unprepared, made his task of responding to a suspicious glare all the more difficult, and as a safe bet, he decided to mumble. This strategy usually works, but has the unavoidable side-effect of making Superboss froth at the mouth.

Musical chairs continued, but with little solid result, until it was the turn of masterly Mr A, my boss, to speak.

“While it is true that we must have a clear grip over what we are spending and especially at a time when the company is grappling with a minor crisis, a crisis that is not threatening per se, but which is serious nevertheless,” began Mr A in his inimitable style, and clearly had the audience enthralled.

Much later, he came to what we may call ‘the operative part’ – “Therefore we must set up a committee to look comprehensively into all the expenditure that we have incurred. This committee should also identify the solutions and report to Superboss without any further loss of time.”

This satisfied everyone, and the focus shifted to the composition of the committee. Fred and Admin obviously had to be a part of it, but it took some effort on part of Superboss to make Mr A agree to be a part of it. Finally, though it was a committee of equals, Superboss directed Mr A specifically to submit the report to him within a week.

By sheer stroke of luck, I got the opportunity to attend one of the meetings of this committee next week. The assistant who was taking the minutes suddenly fell ill – though some people doubted this excuse and were uncharitable enough to suggest that the cricket match in the city was the likely cause of his absence. Whatever may have been the cause of his nonattendance, the sudden vacuum, so abhorred by the bosses, was sought to be filled by a willing subordinate. I was curious to know what was going on in the committee, and readily agreed to take notes.

Right at the start of the meeting that day, I understood that Mr A was playing the role of a friend, philosopher and judge wile Admin and Fred were doing the heavy duty file work under his watchful patronage.

“Now that we have ruled out the possibility of any changes in salary and perks of managers and staff, and the committed expenditure on maintenance, we move to some purchases that were not routine,” Fred said, head buried deep into his files.

“We bought an expensive golf cart, and related equipment for our club-house. We actually do not use the cart as we don’t have a golf course of our own and as it is only Superboss and Mr X who play golf in our office. Some Gym equipment and the large LCD TV that we have ordered can similarly be looked into – again because our club house is underutilized,” declared Fred.

Mr A smiled and shook his head. “These would be false savings, as these are necessary acquisitions for the image of the company. Imagine how it would look if the CEO came to the city and wanted to invite some other CEO to our club-house, and if they wanted to have a round of golf or something. We must focus on recurring expenditure,” Mr A said. It did sound to me a little far-fetched that the CEO would invite some other CEO in our Zone, but I gave full credit to the foresightedness of Mr A to think of such a possibility. Mind boggles at the thought of us not having a golf cart in the event of CEO wanting to…….

The next item brought up for discussion by Fred was the proposed trip of Superboss to Europe for a Conference on Social Responsibility and Green Initiative. Fred put up a facile argument that the conference is not central to what we do, and that it would not add to our performance, and also that we would save much if we cancelled the trip.

But Mr A would have none of it. “It is not a recurring expenditure,” he began, but I thought that was not entirely true – Superboss’ trips being so frequent. “The trip has the sanction of the HQ and is a part of image building for the company at an international level. We must not be penny wise pound foolish, as the saying goes.”

“I think we can also not reduce the number of parties that we are throwing for the agents in five star hotels,” said Fred, finally getting in tune with the principles that were governing Mr A. “I really do not know where to look to make a saving,” lamented Fred, looking towards Admin for inspiration.

“Don’t ask me,” said Admin, “Besides the maintenance, I deal in petty expenditures.”

“Like?” asked Mr A, interested.

“Like paper cups, like catering for office meetings, like stationary, like transport,” replied Admin, annoyed. It was not clear whether he was miffed at having to deal with small expenditures or was irritated that the meeting was wasting its time on mere trifles.

“Take care of your pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves,” said Mr A. Proverbs and homilies are his strong point. It did sound a little contradictory coming right after penny wise etcetera, but Mr A persisted and Admin went into details of sums spent on a hundred different items of daily use in the office. To my untrained ears, everything sounded in order, but you cannot fool Mr A.

“Aha,” he exclaimed with satisfaction, sounding a little like Hercule Poirot. I remember a line of Poirot in Murder on Orient Express that goes something like this –“Only by interrogating the other passengers could I hope to see the light, but when I began to question them, the light, as Macbeth would have said, thickened.” For Mr A, the light was thickening.

“There has been an abnormal increase in the expenditure on paper for photocopy machine in our office,” Mr A said darkly, finally having got to the root of the malaise.

Admin and Fred were slow to pick up the clue, waffled about the fact that the actual amount spend on stationary was very small, and continued to act dumb like Dr Watson. Mr A had to explain quite in a manner that Sherlock Holmes used to do in his time – “These are tendencies that have a habit of getting out of hand if not curbed at the start. I don’t know about you, but I will write strongly about this in my report.” With iron in his tone, Mr A had made it clear that he would not allow any hanky-panky while he was in charge, and said that his report would call a spade a spade. No quarters would be given, he added, when the matter was of fiscal responsibility. However high or mighty one maybe, they should not expect leniency from Mr A. He said he did not worry about his job – he would remain true to his conscience.

It was a stirring speech, and had a sobering effect on potential dissenters. The report was later prepared and presented by Mr A to Superboss, who immediately took a liking to it. Strict remedial measures, as recommended in the report, were issued to all departments. A system of regularly monitoring the usage of paper in photocopiers was set up. Senior managers were to be held personally responsible for any lapse. The report was forwarded to the HQ that same week.

The report seemed to have satisfied the HQ for we did not hear from them regarding excessive expenditure. It satisfied Superboss, who included portions of it at the Conference on Social Responsibility and Green Initiative at Geneva, and impressed the Europeans. I am told that he got a standing ovation and a number of queries by CEOs of a number of multi-national corporations. And it definitely satisfied Mr A, who said that the most important thing was that he had not compromised with his principles.

***


The meeting

- Illustration by Tintin

 

Once in a while CEO visits our zone and holds a meeting with the staff. The preparation for this meeting begins from the day the date of the visit is announced – sometimes up to six months in advance. During this period of preparation, everyone is expected to focus solely on the task of making it a success. Superboss normally kick-starts the preparation with….yes, you got it, a meeting.

The inaugural preparation meeting did not have an auspicious start. A few department heads came late as they were busy attending to some important clients. The air-conditioner stopped working and a mechanic had to be called to check the wiring. And, as if this was not enough, tea was served lukewarm and in cups that Superboss took an instant dislike of.

Superboss began on a somber note. “If this is how we are going to hold the CEO’s meeting I may as well fire the whole bunch of you and resign. No use getting humiliated in presence of the top brass and then get fired.”

Dude came running and glared at the caterer. Admin glared at Techie, who in turn ‘shhh-shhed’ the mechanic. The mechanic, who was pulling a red colored wire jutting out of the wall, paused. Mr A shook his head sadly at the display of such monumental inefficiency. Admin hung his head in shame, for he is notionally responsible for anything that goes wrong – infrastructure-wise.

Superboss was not to be placated with this display of grief. He demanded to be informed immediately of all the steps that had been taken so far – beginning with a report from Admin.

Admin, and in fact all of us, had expected the preparations to gather momentum slowly, starting with opening statement of intent by Superboss. A short-circuited start threw Admin off, and he faltered. “Umm..err..” he said.

Since I was deputed to take the minutes of that meeting, I can recount the proceedings of the meeting with a fair degree of accuracy. After another round of generalized observations by Superboss regarding the overall competence of the departmental heads, we finally got down to the main agenda of the meeting thus:

“This meeting hall is in shambles,” Superboss said. “It has to be renovated – new blinds, carpets and sofa-covers. I want the samples to be brought to me today. All wiring works have to be completed by this weekend.” He glared at the mechanic, who had a feeling that he was not wanted. He also glared at Admin, who also had the same feeling.

Admin coughed and tried to introduce an element of prudence in the proceedings – “The covers are new, maybe dry-cleaning them…”

But Superboss would have none of it. “Samples today,” he said curtly and continued. “Mr X will supervise preparation of all folders and documents that are to be placed in the meeting, and also the presentation. Show me the presentation on Monday. Do not repeat last year’s.”

It has been our tradition to repeat the standard presentation, made ages ago by some junior (we have forgotten name of the author of the masterpiece), in all the meetings. Where would he get material for a new presentation, Mr X thought, and it showed on his face.

“All computers and projectors are to be in working order. I do not want the repeat of last year,” he said, looking ferociously at Techie. Techie thought it prudent not to remind the boss that the CD brought by the CEO on that occasion, the one that had failed to work, was later discovered to be a blank. He nodded humbly.

“Mr A will supervise the catering,” Superboss announced. It was the domain of Admin, and this was a major shift in traditions.

Mr A did not have a good feel about this. He avoided jobs as a policy – important or otherwise. He knew jobs were trouble, and never worth the effort. Admin, on the other hand, had mixed feelings. He disliked catering and was glad to be rid of it, but he also disliked so public a demotion.

Superboss assigned other tasks to relevant persons, called for more suggestions, finally gave his concluding remarks, and ended the meeting by asking me to circulate the minutes with clearly assigned action points.

When I reached the office of Mr A, I found him waiting for me. “David,” he said, “let’s finalize the minutes.” I said I was yet to make it. He thought over it and said that we might as well prepare it together and finish the job.

The document that came out of the hard work put in by Mr A shows the truth behind the old adage – ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. In the paragraph titled Catering was written the following text – “Selection of caterer and finalization of menu – Mr A. Overall coordination, manpower deployment, supervision – Admin.” This masterstroke had a potential to sow seeds of bad blood, but Mr A took the calculated risk. “Admin might object,” I pointed out. Mr A was however sure of his move – “He cannot. He cannot just wash his hands off important administrative functions,” he said.

Whatever misgivings Admin may have had about the minutes, he did not protest. Although I sensed a distinct hostility in my dealings with him in the next few months, the matter of was never raised by him.

The preparations began in right earnest. Mr X drafted a lot of juniors in his team to prepare a new presentation. In a review meeting to finalize the power-point, Mr X showed us a 45-slide comprehensive presentation, in which it was difficult to decide whether the slides were worse or the presentation of them. Each slide had a different colour pattern, lots of text and many had music and video links. Techie had a hard time making the computer perform all the tasks simultaneously, and Superboss gave his frank opinion about Techie and his department.

Civil engineering work in the meeting hall started in full swing, and it looked that a miracle was needed to get the work finished in time. The look of the meeting hall, where all the review meetings took place, kept Superboss in a foul mood during this period. The silver lining on an otherwise clouded horizon was the activities of Mr A. He started with a proposal of sixty item heavy-weight menu that impressed Superboss. If approved in toto, it had the potential of causing financial ruin for our office, and this was pointed out by Admin. Reluctantly, and after much resistance, Superboss and Mr A agreed to pruning of the menu, but they did not compromise on hiring a particularly costly caterer.

It would be difficult to recount the details of the D-day. Suffice to say nothing unexpected happened. CEO is a cheerful roly-poly man, who appreciated the snacks and even asked to be introduced to the caterer for a private function. During the presentation he was mostly busy on his mobile phone, and was overheard telling his wife that he would shop for her later in the day. The fact that music did not start during the presentation on two occasions, was hardly noticed. The recently redone meeting hall looked simple yet elegant, and the taste of Superboss was appreciated by one and all.

“Remember David,” Mr A told me later, sharing his wisdom, “the key to hosting a successful meeting is having a well thought out agenda. One must anticipate, and have alternative plans for everything. And in no case, must one panic.”

I will surely not remember these wise words later in my life, but when confronted with tough times, I would ask myself – “What would Mr A have done in this situation?” And I knew that by answering this question, I would be able to manage.

 

***


Flying off the tangent – A tactical maneuver

It pays not to be logical. I have found this dictum to be helpful, most of the time. But my boss, who we shall be calling Mr A, has mastered the art of being so phenomenally illogical, that it is a treat to be in a meeting with him.

Only yesterday, when the Super-boss and his committee of sycophants had really cornered the boss, after having hounded him for hours, and were scenting blood, he came up with the following gem.

The scene – Committee room. Temperature – Quite high. Characters – four hound-like bullies, frothing at the mouth, one calm sheep (boss) and one alarmed lamb (me).

(The committee is into the fourth hour in its deliberations on improving the performance of our branch)

“Super Boss: (waving hands, eyes rolling, voice high pitch) It is amazing that not a single instruction of the headquarter has been followed, not a single target met and yet there is no emergency plan in place. What sort of a place is this?

Mr A: (In soft conspiratorial tones) Naming no names, it’s clear who we have to deal with. (pause)

Super Boss: What was that?

Mr A: Not here. We have to be ahead.

Super Boss: What do you mean?

Mr A: Mosquito nets, table tennis, political scenario. The works.

Super Boss: Are we talking about the same thing?

Mr A: Of course not!!

Super Boss: (trying to get over a sense of utter confusion, and trying to bring the conversation back on track) Do you have any plans for redeeming yourself even now?

Mr A: Of course sir. Definitely. Without a doubt. (and looking towards me with an exaggerated calmness) David….”

Bringing the attention to me at this juncture was not in the best of taste, and was certainly most uncalled for. I was now supposed to cull some sense out of the discussion. Rounding it all to something sensible, as it were. All eyes on me, I could only stammer, make a fool of myself and surrender. Mr A had once again succeeded in sabotaging any attempt to make meaning out of an official work.

Sometimes such tactics do require sacrifices of juniors, but that should not be held against these masterpieces.

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