“Gamble worth taking”- 4 September 2012

The fellow was a pain in the neck for everyone. That he was a good-looking man with considerable experience did not come as any solace to anyone. On the contrary, he used his experience to shirk work, to shove workload smartly to colleagues, claim credit for the work done by others, remain absent at will and without informing office…! He was a bad employee and managers were all the time worried about in what mess he would land the office by his shenanigans. They tried to counsel him on their own initiative. Then they also sent him to counsellors, and even threatened him with negative consequences in job. Yet, the fellow remained a big problem, a terribly negative enigma.

It is at this juncture that the company had a brand new MBA as General Manager. Not only was the fellow young but he was also very sure of himself and felt that no problem was big enough for a solution. When Nimish, the new GM, came on board, he introduced himself to all and said, “Look fellows, together, we can solve all the problems. But the condition is that we should be together”. Everybody felt that he was talking a language that previous bosses did not speak. Yet, there was scepticism and some people made snide remarks and cut savage jokes about him trying to tackle Swastik, the problem-employee, and getting red-faced in the process.
But Nimish had other ideas. He read all the notes in Swastik’s HR file and also talked in details with other managers. Everything sounded negative. Nimish, then, made a silent resolve to sort out the problem once and for all — not by sacking Swastik, but by making him see reason by some “direct action”, as he called it. Yet, he gave no clue to anybody what direct action could be like. All guessed and gossiped and gulped spicy predictions about how the encounter between Nimish and Swastik would take place. Yet, General Manager Nimish did not react. He smiled and kept quiet.
And one Sunday, which was Swastik’s weekly holiday, Nimish rang the bell at Swastik’s door. Swastik was almost shocked to see the General Manager at his door. He welcomed the boss in and offered him a cup of tea. Then what followed was good enough for a story book.
Nimish came straight to the point. He said, “Sir, you are many years my senior, and so allow me to call you ‘Sir’. For the past few weeks after I took over, I studied all your documents and also talked to some people about you. Most had bad things to say about you. But I have come with no baggage of biases. I have an open mind. When I watched your work, I found that you have inculcated some bad habits, and I want you to change those. I am sure, beneath those bad work-habits, there is a good man. I am looking forward to working with him, the good man. Will you not give me that opportunity? If that happens, I am sure, life will change for you, too, for the better.”
Having said this calmly and without a trace of anger in his voice, Nimish waited patiently for Swastik to say something. For a long time, Swastik said nothing. He sat with his head down and shoulders drooping. Nimish did not stir. He waited. And then Swastik raised his head, and said, “Thank you, Sir.”
Even though there was no verbal assurance of good behaviour, Nimish rose and left.
What happened later was, again, a story-book thing. Swastik’s behaviour improved remarkably over the next few weeks.
Talking to his senior colleagues, Nimish, however, was cautious. He said, “Look fellows, this may be a deceptive goodness. So, let us not derive any conclusions at this time. Let us wait and watch. If he improves, well and good. If he does not, then the fellow will have to go.”
The point is simple. A good manager often takes a calculated risk, with readiness to accept the blame of failure, but also openness to reform. The risk is fifty-fifty, but a good manager takes it. For, frankly speaking, he has not many options in such cases. But when he takes that risk, chances are that his gamble might pay off. And that makes the gamble worth the name.

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