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The Freedom To Be

Tag Archives: Difficult

 

To

The HR Director Sir,

Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd

Head Office,

95, Kamla Mills Compound,

Mumbai, Maharshtra

India

 

From

Dattaram Waghmare

Procurement Manager,

Jefferson Spice Extracts Plant

Khopoli Industrial Estate

Khopoli, Maharashtra

India


Dear Respected HR Director Sir,

Myself Dattaram Waghmare, Manager of Procurement at the Khopoli plant.  You may not remember me Sir, but I know you as everyone else does at our Plant. When you visited the plant with the Managing Director three months back you came to my cabin (third cabin from the left of the water cooler on the first floor of the administrative building) and shook my hand with a broad smile. It was a proud moment for me Sir, that you visited my small humble cabin. Hope you remember me now (I was wearing my favourite blue checks half sleeve shirt in honour of your visit). Even if you do not, I would not blame you Sir, since you visited so many cabins that day and met so many managers and workers, that it would be difficult to keep all of us in your important mind.

The reason I am taking my freedom to write this letter to you and eat your precious time, is because of what you said to me that day.

You said:

“Dattaram if you ever have any problem do not hesitate to get in touch with me. We appreciate the work you are doing and the Company believes in taking care of it’s loyal employees.” 

Thank you Sir.

Listening to you say those words made me feel high all day, that day. (When I have few drinks with my co-managers sometimes in the evenings after work, they say “Dattaram you have become high”. I do not know why they say high, when I am still on ground, but the feeling was same to same…intoxicating) This high boosted my morale and made me feel motivated to deliver my best for the Company, as I have been delivering for the past twenty years.

Apologies for getting into by-lane Sir and eating more of your precious time, let me come straight to the point, of why I am writing this letter to your esteemed self. I now have a problem. And since you said that I can share any of my problem with you, I am taking my freedom to do that with this letter.

I do not know how to start…or where to start…because it is a complex problem….like all problems this problem also has a story behind it…

Even though it had been troubling me for some time, I first noticed the problem (clearly) when I got a 360 degree report from my senior, Mr Sharma, the Plant Manager two months back. He called me to his cabin, which is much bigger than mine and made me sit on the soft black leather chair. (I wish HR could distribute those chairs to all managers… for that I will write another time)

Mr Sharma said to me:

“Dattaram here is your 360 degree report. Please go through it. We will discuss this next week. There is also a Leadership Training program next month where you will be coached on the feedback in this report by expert coaches.”

As I went through the 52 page report Sir in my cabin later, I felt lost, confused and heavy (in the head) as I was filled with so much information that I could not make sense of it. And that is when it struck me Sir, the problem, clearly.

You see Sir, in the report my good self has been divided into five categories, and each category has further five divisions. The categories are “Leading Myself”, “Leading Others”, “Leading Business”, “Leading For Growth” and “Leading ….” (I do not remember what the fifth leading is about). I have been rated by my senior manager, my peers, my direct reports on different points such as:

“Do I inspire and grow talent.”

“Do I possess entrepreneur spirit”

“Do I take my team along”

“Do I have strategic outlook”

So on and so forth….

For each of these statement I have been given marks by different people from 1 to 5 (just like it was in my school report), but the problem here is that I do not know who has given me what marks and why has he given me those marks. You see Sir the report says that it wishes to protect the confidentiality of the people giving me marks.

At the end of the report there are written remarks, from people I work with, such as:

“Dattaram is good with technical skills, but requires to focus on developing strategic outlook.”

“Dattaram needs to focus on follow-up and bring more passion to meeting his deadlines”

“Dattaram has to bring greater innovation to the procurement process and get work done from his team, rather than do it himself.”

Now when I read this report I ask my good self.

“Dattaram what do all these marks and statements mean? Who has given what marks and why? Who is writing what and why?” “What it means to be innovative, strategic or getting work from my team?”

As I ponder on all these questions Sir I get lost, confused and heavy (in the head).

So I decide to keep the 360 degree report in my last drawer of my desk, where I keep all such reports that I cannot understand what to do. As I open my drawer I see that it is already full of reports and there is no place for the 52 page 360 degree report. So decide to take out these reports and see what are these reports that have eaten up all the space in my last most drawer. As I arranged them in a pile, one on top of the other, they seemed like a mountain of data about myself. And I feel I am struggling to climb this mountain of reports.

“Your (meaning My) Temperament – August 2007

“FIRO B – May 2008”

“DISC Profiling – June 2009”

“Asessment Center Report – Sep 2010”

“Six Dimension EQ – April 2011”

“Situational Leadership – Oct 2011”

“MBTI, Step 1, Step 2, – Jan 2012”

“Jefferson Spice Extracts Global Value Based Leadership Report – Mar 2012”

These are some of the reports Sir, since I joined the procurement department as manager in 2007.  Prior to that, I was working as a deputy in supply chain and I have got more reports for that designation, that are now lying at my home in the beautiful company quarters. Looking at these reports I deeply think, how much our esteemed American-Indian Company has taken the trouble of developing me into a leader and bettering my work relationship with my colleagues. Please convey my regards to Mr. Jefferson and his family in America and also tell Mr. Jefferson that I try my best to follow his family values of “Innovation, Quality, Entrepreneurship, Ethics and Accountability”.

But coming back to these reports Sir.

“I do not understand them.”

Please forgive me to say this, but keeping in mind our Company value of ethics, I am taking freedom to be honest. These reports are full of scales, alphabets and description, very much like the 360 degree report. They highlight my strengths and weaknesses, some makes sense, some does not, some I agree and some I do not agree. But my question to you Respected Sir, with utmost humility, since you are expert in the field of Human Resources management is:

“What do I do with this mountain of information?”

You see Sir when I was born (sorry for going into flashback suddenly) my grandmother Parvati Waghmare (God bless her soul), got the village priest to draw my horoscope. You see Sir I come from a small village called Nandangaon, 20 kilometres from Satara, a district in Maharashtra. In our village Sir, there is a custom to draw the horoscope of the child as soon as he is born, just as it is in most of India. (I am sure your esteemed self must be having a horoscope too, with very bright stars, which you consult from time to time) Like you know Sir, a horoscope tells in detail about a person’s personality, his qualities, skills, behaviour, likes and dislikes. Not only that, it also tells how much he will study, when he will get married and what work he will do. Also, how much money he will make. And mind you Sir, all this is very scientific based on the planetary positions at the time of a person’s birth.  A lot of these predictions have come true Sir for me, in my life. How else can a poor farmer’s son work as procurement manager in the esteemed company of Mr Jefferson. All of this is written and cannot be changed.

Please do not misunderstand Sir. I am not a fatalist. No, No, No. Not at all. I am firm believer of hard work. I have practised hard work all my life. I would never have survived without it. But I am a practical man. You see Sir,

“I am what I am.”

After reading so much of this analysis of my good self, I feel like the “dead rat” being seen under a microscope in the science laboratory of my college in Satara. There are so many alphabets, labels and numbers given to my attitude and behaviour that I feel lost, confused and heavy (in the head).

If you ask me Sir, I still feel like I the same Dattaram Waghmare who joined the Company as a trainee supervisor in 1992. I was sincere, hardworking and believed in good relations with colleagues. I still feel the same. But lately, in the past few years, after undergoing so many tests, assessments and trainings I feel that it is not good enough to be “me” for the work I do. For every role now, there are detailed qualities to develop. There is a special name to it too. That word I find difficult to pronounce. Let me try. They call it the “Comp-e-ten-cy Framework”. And HR, as your good self would know tries it’s best to fit us or develop in us those comp-e-ten-cies that are best suited for our job. This is a new trend Sir, just like this Facebook craze on the internet. (My teenage daughter Priya is all the time on Facebook) So just like Facebook on internet there is this “comp-e-ten-cy framework” trend in Companies.  (Just between you and me Sir, I feel this “comp-e-ten-cy business” is a scheme started by some cunning HR person in partnership with a cunning trainer to fool people into thinking that they are getting developed, so that people take HR seriously and the trainer can make some money)

You see Sir, there are number of competencies prescribed for my job.

  1. Innovation
  2. Strategic Thinking
  3. Team Development
  4. Leadership
  5. Quality
  6. Communication
  7. Execution.

Sir, when I think of all these “comp-e-ten-cies”, I feel lost, confused and heavy (in the head). I do not know what to do. I am simple man Sir and I do my work, have good relations with everyone and try to go back home to my wife and children on time. (You see my wife gets very upset if I come late). These words, ratings and “comp-e-ten-cies” confuse me. Just like sometimes I feel during training programs.

Yes Sir, and that is the second part of my problem.

The problem is that the Company is making so much efforts to “develop” my thinking, my relating, my leadership so that I can give my best performance to the Company. And it is doing all this through testing and training me. But I am now beginning to wonder

“Is all this testing and training to develop my good self a waste of time and money?”

And when I say this Sir, please do not misunderstand me. I am aware of the good intentions of HR for the Company and its employees. I am sharing this with you because I get a feeling that the pure hearted and trusting HR department of our ethical Jefferson Company is getting fooled by consultants and trainers, who charge the Company good money for creating reports and training programs that do not make any difference in the long run.

You see Sir, I have also attended many training programs over the years.

“Coaching for Excellence – Aug 2007”

“Leading For Change – Jan 2008”

“Joy At Workplace – Dec 2008”

“Appreciating Self and Others – Mar 2009”

“Learning From Nature, Outbound Training – June 2010

“Building Teams That Work – March 2011”

“Learning Through Case Studies – October 2011”

“Building Learning Organizations – Jan 2012”

“Out of Bound, Outbound Training – June 2012”

As I write to you Sir, I see at all the group photos on my desk for these training programs and some are pinned on my soft board. It brings back fond memories Sir. Of the games we played, the good places we visited, the hotels we stayed in, the food we ate (some were in five-star hotels, being a poor farmers son, I almost fainted when I saw the quantity of rich type of food available) and the new friends I made from people of other departments.

The formats of all the trainings were more or less the same. Activity, game, group talking, trainer talking, inspirational video, case study, profile testing (Sir I sincerely feel if, HR or any trainer does another profile testing of my good self, I will throw up and become violently sick!), feedback, group discussion, evening party.

I have enjoyed all these trainings and felt filled up with learning and motivation at the end of each of them. Most of my colleagues have felt the same way. And we all have given good feedback in the training forms we fill at the end of the training as you would have noticed. There are few people who believe that these trainings do not make any difference and they are there just to have a good time. I did not believe them Sir. You see Sir, there are always some rotten apples in a basket of good apples, as there is saying in English language. But the problem that I am facing now is that I am beginning to start believing in what these “rotten apples” are saying.

I am beginning to question and wonder what difference have these training programs have made to me, to my relationship or to my work, in the long run. And after some very, very hard thinking I have come to firm conclusion Sir.

“It has not changed anything.”

I continue to be who I am. And my colleagues continue to be who they are. And our working relations (good or bad) is as it always was. And even if something has changed, I do not think it has changed because of testing and training.

You see Sir the impact of each training does not last for more than two days (sometimes lesser). Just like watching the movie of Mr Salman Khan. Youngsters start behaving like Salman Bhai after watching his movies like Dabang and Wanted, but you see Sir the effect does not last very long and very soon they start  behaving in the manner that their horoscope tells them to.

When I used to be young in college at Satara, I used  be a big fan of Sri Amitabh Bachanji. (I still am Sir and our entire family is keenly awaiting the next episode of Kaun Banega Crorepati. I am sure you must be seeing it with your family too.) I went to see this movie Deewar. In the movie Sri Amitabh Bachanji plays angry young man, like in all his movies. But this one had big impact on me. I felt angry at The System for making me poor. For having to work so hard to get even decent education. And for having to collect so much money to marry my sisters. The System, was the villain. And Vijay (Sri Bachanji’s name in the movie) fought The System. Just as I was a victim of The System.

After the movie I felt Vijay’s character had entered into my body. And I joined the college students union to fight The System. But it did not last very long. When the Principal called me to his office and said he would expel me from college for creating a nuisance. I thought of my poor farmer father, my aging mother, the unmarried sisters at home and I started crying. All I wanted was to earn a decent degree and get a secure job so I could get my sisters married and release my mother’s jewellery mortgaged with the village landlord. I did not want to fight The System. I just wanted not to be poor. I wanted money to buy back my village land, a house, take care of my family, get married and live happily. As I am doing now.

Training programs are like that. They make you believe some fancy notion of yourself and you start believing it for a while. But the effect does not last long. It is like filling a balloon with air. It starts bobbing and jumping in the air. But after two days the air comes out and the balloon is back to its original state. Unless someone pricks the balloon and burst the temporary high energy.

I know Sir, you must now be wondering:

“Dattaram I am understanding what you are saying, but what do you want me to do?”

 I understand your impatience Sir and once again apologies for eating your precious time. But I will request your kind patience just for little time more.

You see Sir I share, everything with my wife. (Just as I am sure you do with your wife) She is only tenth standard failed and she comes from small village near mine. (You should come to our house on Sunday and taste the chicken curry she makes, it is a truly Godly and a holy eating experience) One Sunday, I shared with Lakshmi (that is her name and it is also the name of the Goddess of wealth in Hindu tradition. She has lived up to her name Sir, after marriage I have never been short of money, I have enough Sir for a man of my background and you see Sir, I am a practical man), yes, yes I am coming to the point Sir.

I shared with Lakshmi this confused, lost and heavy (in the head feeling) Actually, she noticed even before I shared, and I told her about this 360 degree report that I could not understand. Let me reproduce to you our conversation, so that I do not miss anything. Original conversation was in Marathi, which I have translated in English for your esteemed self.

Lakhsmi: “What is the matter? You seem lost these days?”

My Good Self: “There is a report I cannot understand.”

Lakshmi: “What report?”

My Good Self: “A report where my senior, colleagues and juniors have said something about me.”

Lakshmi: “What have they said about you?”

My Good Self: “That is what I cannot understand. It is all in scales, graphs, percentages, ratings. And what they have written is general. I do not even know who has written what and why he has written it?”

Lakhsmi: “Have they not written their names against what they have said?”

My Good Self:  “No. Because their identity has to be protected?”

Lakhmi: “Why?”

My Good Self: “Because…..that is the way it is, as per the report.”

Lakshmi: “Why?”

My Good Self: <silent>

Lakshmi: “So you are saying, that to tell each other something at work, you do it through a report that you cannot understand?  And none of you writes his name after what he is saying?”

My Good Self: <Head nodding> (Indian way of saying yes)

Lakshmi: (stirring the chicken curry) “Why don’t you simply talk to each other?”

That is when it hit me Sir. Like a sudden FLASH of Lightning!

“Why don’t we simply talk to each other!”

After all Sir we work for the same esteemed Jefferson Company. And we all are in the Company to meet our needs by meeting the Company’s needs. We know each other well. Then why do we not talk to each other.

We can talk about what we feel about our work, about our policies, about our leadership, about what we think and feel about each other, about our differences, about our strengths, about other departments, about EVERYTHING! And all this talking can help us work effectively, with greater motivation and team work.

What I have noticed Sir, is that we never seem to have conversations that matter. We waste so much time and energy in maintaining appearances? In generating reports and doing trainings that do not bring any meaningful long-term change? And most importantly Sir I feel we have complicated everything, simply because we wish to appear knowledgeable and learned.

Most conversations are about what does not matter. Most conversations never touch the core of the issue. Come to think of it the most important and honest conversations happen over a cigarette or a cutting chai (or even in the bathroom), in unguarded moments, not in the conference or the board room.

I am now wondering how to get these bathroom conversations into the board room?

I feel when we can talk freely among ourselves then we will not need reports, tests and trainings to complicate matters.

I am not sure though if people will talk so easily. Will they trust each other? Or will we start fighting like little children? Or will it be, like some people say “Opening a Pandora’s Box”. (I wonder who Mr. Pandora is and why do people keep opening his box, without his permission?)

I do not know for sure Sir. But what I am certain of Sir, is that these reports and trainings are eating our Company’s valuable time and energy and not delivering anything worthwhile.

What we need Sir perhaps is someone like the wise old man in our village. Whenever people had a problem in our village, they would go to him. He would get both parties to talk to each other, sometimes more than two parties. Everyone got a chance to share what they wanted, everyone got a chance to hear what the others had to say and invariably when people were honest with each other, they found their own solutions. There was no need for any politics and manipulation.

What we need Sir, perhaps is not consultant and trainers, but a wise old man (like the one in my village) who can encourage people to talk and share and find their own solutions. Simply, without all this complexity. They even have a term for this Sir. I checked with Mr. Sharma and also saw it in the dictionary.

It is called facilitate.

We need someone who can facilitate meaningful conversations among us. Like that old man, never taking any sides, of the richer or the poorer, of the powerful or the weak. That is why we trusted him. He simply let people talk to each other. And he shared his views whenever needed. And let me tell you Sir, the views of the old man were very valuable indeed. For he could see what neither of us could see. Since we were so close to the situation. He saw from the outside and having learnt from life’s experience, he also saw from inside of us. And what he had to offer was truly valuable.

I do not know Sir, where we can find such a old man, for old men are not produced in MBA colleges. Neither are all old men wise.

What I do know, is that we need someone (young or old) who can facilitate honest conversations among us. Someone who we can trust, like the old man in our village. And who can work with our company for a long enough time. I feel just as every family has a family doctor, every company must have such a old man.

I believe Sir, if we really search we will surely find. There is a saying in Hindi Sir “If you try hard enough you can find God”

My apologies once again for eating your time with this long letter. But I do feel it is in the best interest of our esteemed Company to invest our valuable resources of time and money wisely, in these hard times. And as you know there is a saying in English:

 “A stitch in time, saves nine.”

Even though I am not quite sure of what it exactly means Sir, it just feels right to use it now. Finally I am left with a question that has been playing on my mind for these past few days. It keeps revolving in my head and I do not have any answer. I would like to share it with you Dear Respected HR Director Sir and I am hoping you will be able to offer me some wisdom from the vast ocean of your knowledge. Sir the question is:

“Why is it so difficult to be simple?”

I await your response to the question and my letter with great anticipation.

Please forgive any mistakes of my good self, while writing this letter to your esteemed self.

I remain your faithful employee of Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd.

Dattaram Waghmare

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