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“Of sharpening the axe”- 18 June 2013

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Friday, 28 June 2013 20:03

The company had garnered a great project after much convincing and canvassing. It would fetch crores of rupees on completion in about one year. All the project needed was a dynamic leader, and so the President appointed Pradeep Kumar to head the new project, by calling him off from another assignment. Pradeep Kumar was allowed to choose his team and prepare his own time-table for the implementation.

Thus began the work on the prestigious project.
However, instead of choosing people from anywhere in the company to make the special project team, Pradeep Kumar adopted an entirely different approach. The project was to be implemented by one particular division of the company. That division had all the manpower, and Pradeep Kumar decided to make use of the available team.
So far so good. But what happened next was something unexpected. For, all the new project chief did was to call a meeting of his colleagues and talk to them for one or even two hours. He did not utter a word about the project which the company treated as very critical and sensitive to its future growth. Meetings continued for weeks, without any discussion whatsoever about the new project.
The Board would enquire about the progress and Pradeep Kumar would smile and say, “Everything in step, Sir”
But slowly, as weeks turned into months, the Chairman started becoming uneasy. He talked about the project to a few other people who reported that nothing was happening. There was a distinct unease in the company. The project was important, and stakes high. Yet, Pradeep Kumar was patiently holding meetings with no discussion about the project.
Then one day, the Chairman called him. “Yes Pradeep, what is happening? Why are not you proceeding with the project? What is your problem?”
Pradeep Kumar realised that the Chairman had been fed with some distorted information. So, he chose to share with the boss a few details: “Sir, the project is very critical and needs a very careful handling. Technology is less important in this project. What will count most is how the team works. So, I am in the process of preparing the team for the project. Yes, you had allowed me to pick up my team from any corner of the company. So, I chose to get going with the men available in the division. Therefore, I am going ahead with the members, preparing their correct mindset.”
The boss was surprised, but still confused.
So, Pradeep Kumar said, “Sir, already two months have passed, and we have barely eight months for the execution of the project to its final stage. For the next one month, I am still going to continue with our meetings. Then I would take the plunge. All I would require is only four months to do the job well. So, please don’t worry”.
The boss worried himself sick, however. How can Pradeep complete the project in just four months after having wasted three-four months in meetings that do not even discuss the project details? -- he wondered.
Yet, he was a wise old man and chose to watch. For, in Pradeep Kumar’s approach, he saw seeds of great leadership. So, he opted to wait rather than jump to wrong conclusions.
In a few more days, Pradeep requested the boss to attend his morning meeting. The boss came. All stood up and said “Good Morning, Sir”. And then Pradeep Kumar stood up and spoke, for the first time, about the project -- all details, well planned schedule of work, and gave each member a specific assignment. He also explained the reporting system -- who will report to which boss etc.
Then came a round of responses from each member of the team. All spoke in precise language, and felt proud that they were given the responsibility. Each one also asked for one day to think about the details of individual assignment and then explain respective lines of action the next day.
In the meeting the next, the Chairman found everybody fully ready to accept the assignment. All details were in perfect order. Obviously, Pradeep Kumar had done well to prepare the team for the assignment.
Rest is history -- of a great project executed with clock-like precision, in much shorter time and much lesser cost.
“What is the secret of all this, Pradeep””, the boss asked when he invited all Board members and senior staff for celebration. Pradeep Kumar was simple in response: “Sir, I know one reality. With the help of an axe, we can fell a tree in just one hour. But that axe must be sharp enough, and that sharpening of the axe takes seven hours. Through the first three months, I was only sharpening the axe.”
The people present there took some time to emerge from a stunned silence and start clapping.

This story has much to tell about project execution and team work.

“Employee recognitions”- 4 June 2013

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Friday, 28 June 2013 20:01

A friend Maitree who works in a multi- national company and lives abroad had a surprise call from her parents one day from India. They sounded very happy and excited after so long. She had never heard so much enthusiasm in their voices as they spoke to her about the reason for their call. Her mother and surprisingly her father were choking with pride as they told her about the letter that they had received from her office abroad. The company she worked for sent a mail by post to her parents in India without her knowledge of course, thanking her parents for giving them a wonderful gift in the form of their daughter. The letter stated how happy and grateful they were to them for raising such a lovely daughter and giving her the best of work values and good human nature. The letter went on singing praises about their daughter and expressing gratitude to them. Her parents really felt blessed and all their miseries of their young girl staying abroad vanished. That was such a thoughtful recognition from the company.

Most employees would love to receive recognitions and rewards. The rewards need not be always monetary and material gifts. Many companies would recognise their employees with variety of rewards programme such as gifts, retail vouchers, holiday packages etc. Increments, bonus which is expected is always much awaited by people but there ought to be surprise recognitions coming their way once in a while. Appreciation such as the above mentioned are equally effective if not more than material rewards.

A few persons would work only for job satisfaction and enhancement of creativity. Their main focus would be on self improvement and development. Such types would be eternally intrinsically motivated and would not look for rewards. Their source of inspiration lies deep within their heart and soul as they main goal in life would be self actualisation and nothing more. They are aware that once accomplished the material rewards will flow naturally and one does not have to fight for it really. They would search for organisations that would provide them the platform for such an action. They would search out companies that give their employees such opportunities for growth and development. They would aim for excellence alone as nothing else matters in life. Such evolved persons are certainly few in numbers who have clarity of goals and intrinsic motivation to achieve them. For such persons appreciation and rewards are important but not the final goal of work.


Mayank was in a great hurry to make it big. He had big dreams of being the richest Indian one day, owning many cars and having a huge palace to stay. He wanted to make it big by hook or crook as he said. He has many areas of interest which were as varied as chalk and cheese. He had a lot of goal confusion and no clarity of mind. He had enthusiasm but it all sounded misdirected. He had already changed many jobs as he found fault with all of them. He felt they did not recognise his talent and therefore did not promote him. He was frustrated and depressed with his progress. His mind was actually focused on the long term gains and material success but he had no work goal for which he was passionate about. He was only passionate about ‘money’.  As a result he was not reaching anywhere at all. For, he was distracted and was chasing mental illusions. People such as Mayank do not make it big as they do not know what they want from life. Money does not come by asking for it from your employer or by praying to God. Money does not come by being focused on it. Neither do rewards and recognitions.

“Simple message, simple method”- 21 May 2013

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Friday, 24 May 2013 11:00


The reputation of the new boss preceded her. In her previous job, she had worked out near-miracles, they said. She was a no-nonsense person who did not like to smile, some others reported. She is strict, she is a stickler for time, she does not mix with colleagues, she does not use a driver --- all this gossip went on for weeks before the new boss arrived. Simple workers felt somewhat uncertain about what would happen to them in the new set up under a new boss. Manipulators started making plans to ‘befriend’ the new boss. All in all, the atmosphere was agog with rumours and loose talk.
And then came the day when the new boss was to arrive. At sharp 9 in the morning, a small car was seen entering the premises. In the porch, a couple of Company Directors and a few senior managers stood to welcome the new boss. The Chairman waited for her in his spacious chamber. The small car headed straight to the parking lot, stopped, and stepped out a woman from the driver’s seat. With a small bag in her hand, the woman looked around, and headed to the administrative building, as if she knew the roadmap correctly.
Everybody was aghast. They had expected a big car coming straight to the main porch. That did not happen. The woman came near the porch, looked up, saw so many people waiting for her, smiled at all of them, and started walking to the Chairman’s chamber.
Not knowing what to do, all the people stood in the foyer. A few minutes later, the small crowd melted and everybody resumed work.
For several hours, that is, up to lunch break, the new boss was in discussion with the Chairman who also called in a few others for small chunks of time. The first day of the new boss had begun without any pomp and show and event.
The second day, the new boss called for a general meeting. As all gathered, the new boss arrived with the Chairman. The Chairman asked her to address the staff, and the woman stood up. She was very neatly but very simply dressed. There was a faint smile on her face, almost assuring all that she was an approachable person. And she began: “Friends, thank you very much. I spent yesterday in some small matters, and now I begin with this meeting where I am going to outline what I expect. I will take only ten minutes, after which we all will return to our workstations.” What followed was a ten-minute statement of her intent and her methods. The boss was to the point but not curt. She was smiling all the time, but did not give an impression of looseness. Her plan was simple. And for the next one month, the whole organisation was to work on only one point: extreme discipline and neatness in everything that would be transacted under the roof. “Be neat in everything you do- Your dress and address, your workstations and your correspondence. And let us stick to time. Ten means not 10:05. Do everything neatly, and we have made the grade,” the new boss said as she called off the meeting.
The Chairman looked very pleased.
What followed in the first month in the organisation was simply far beyond everybody’s expectation and imagination. The whole place started looking new. For, every file was always in place. Everybody was always seated in at the workstation. The lunch hour also never got extended. Nobody came late, and everybody left at sharp 6 p.m. The only person who stayed on was the new boss, and that too for exactly one hour. After 7 p.m., the whole building would be closed. For, even the Chairman would leave before that.
One month later, the boss called another general meeting. “Ten minutes again,” she said. She thanked everybody for full cooperation in what she called neatness drive. She appreciated many contributions coming voluntarily from staff to make things better. And then came a proud announcement by Chairman. He said, “Fellows, just in one month, our neatness drive has recorded an improved productivity as well as production, by well over 25%. This is great, and we must keep it up.”
The meeting was over.
And then came a coffee session at which the boss met everybody. She was warm, and welcoming. And nobody even remembered the loose talk about how the boss was going to be.
This highlights how much better work can be achieved by simple measures without being unnecessarily strict about the manner and method of work. It has many other messages too.


“Personal connect, a secret of good communication”- 30 April 2013

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Friday, 24 May 2013 10:58


The company launched two major internal projects simultaneously. Upon the success of both those projects depended the success of a major initiative to be unleashed about a year later. Two young managers, Arup and Mandaar, were put in charge of one project each. Both were smart, young men with MBA from good B-schools. Both had shown promise in their work and enjoyed good reputation with the management. But one project headed by Arup did very well, while Mandaar’s project dragged on somehow, so much so that the management had to look into the causes of its failure and ask a senior manager to take over. Both the projects offered a sharp contrast of leadership style.
Arup believed completely in democratic functioning. He did not take any single decision all by himself. Whenever he wanted to make a decision, he took into confidence his senior colleagues and asked for their suggestions. Any junior, too, could approach Arup and make suggestions, which Arup was prompt in picking up if they were good.
This process seemed to take a long time, and Arup’s project proceeded at an easy pace. Some seniors in the company complained to Arup, but the young man only smiled and ignored their opinion. He seemed sure that whatever he was doing was right.
In Mandaar’s project, things were different. Mandaar was a good person, but believed in keeping things to himself. He never opened his heart out to his colleagues, and never talked to them in detail. He spoke only some words, and his meetings often ended in just a few minutes. At the end of each meeting, Mandaar’s colleagues were left in a state of confusion since nothing was made clear to them about the task at hand. Mandaar was quick in making decision and very fast in execution. People often felt impressed at the speed at which Mandaar executed.
Yet, Mandaar’s project did not do well, while Arup’s project proved to be qualitatively far better. The management was pleased with Arup’s project and included it in the proposed initiative, while they asked a very senior executive to mend matters for Mandaar.
The CEO was a woman of much substance. She formed a committee of three of her directors to examine the reasons of success of one project and failure of the other. What the committee found was very revealing from the point of view of management.
In Arup’s project, colleagues felt that they led the project, since they were invited to take part in decision-making process. They felt energised all the time because their opinions mattered. So, whenever any bad moments came during the execution process, everybody felt responsible and worked more diligently than ever to ensure that things go on the right lines.
In sharp contrast, in Mandaar’s team, colleagues often felt left out in a lurch without much clue as to what needed to be done at which moment. In times of crunch, all pointed fingers to Mandaar who found himself irritated because none of his colleagues took initiative.
Mandaar did not realise that he had bred a non-functional work culture in which nobody felt an integral part of the team. Here, internal communication had become dysfunctional, and personal connect was missing.
In Arup’s project, the picture was different and far more positive. There, all felt responsible for the success of the project, and worked hard to ensure it. Here, everybody felt linked to one another and enjoyed full communication. Due to Arup’s style, personal connect of the team members was complete and such teams never fail.
Such stories abound in workplace. The leaders who are able to establish personal connect with their team members succeed. Those who cannot achieve that have a problem at hand.
Yet, this wisdom -- of complete communication through personal connect -- is never insisted upon by most managements. It is one area in Indian business arena that needs a careful attention of top management.


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