The Closed Screen

Negativity that we undergo from time to time is like a Theatre Screen. It obstructs the show while preparations are on in the other side. If the viewer gets impatient or restless about the closed screen and leaves the theatre mid-way, then he will miss the joyous show ahead.

The internal mood during negativity can be very tumultuous. It might force us to do something impulsive, or stupid. In fact, few of my previous job shifts were the results of becoming impatient about seeing the closed stage screen. So, while we observe the negativity from inside as it floats around, we should stay clinging to our deep-seated faith that the screen will be lifted soon and the show will start.

I have been wooing a potentially a large volume customer for quite sometime. Finally, the time came for us to send our best prices. When I emailed him the rate, there was complete silence. Then I spoke to him over phone ; did not sound enthusiastic. We agreed to meet each other personally.

Prior to the quotation process, this particular customer had sampled his current product and wanted us to match or better that. The technical team had no practical point of view while submitting the product sample to the client. They took a very ideal view and submitted A-grade sample which, as expected, was approved by the customer. Our technical team, in its enthusiasm, exceeded the quality of sample submitted by the client. I infer that the customer’s sample may have been B-grade.

In our exuberance to impress, the market reality was ignored. We did not realize that the client is used to certain price level and the quality can be commensurately lower than our premium quality A-grade sample. It may also be possible that the VP must have influenced the QA manager to send A-grade sample to this client (despite knowing market conditions!) to sabotage my efforts.

When the customer saw our price, he was taken aback. It was too steep. As we being a new supplier and trying to get entry as a supplier into that large company, we did not do any favour to ourselves by quoting unreasonably high price, ignoring market realities.

My minutes of the meeting subsequent to my personal meeting with the customer triggered a dialogue process, which in itself a positive development.

I was aware that we do not have regular buyers for our B grade product. Infrequently, we are able to sell B grade at price far less than what indicated by this particular customer.

Now, the moot point is – should we re-sample the product or not? My answer was – no need. It was because that the customer himself will not use the product that we will be supplying and it will be distributed to various franchisee restaurants for consumption. I was proposing to ship a trial consignment of B grade only without informing them so. If the trial supply goes through smoothly, we can safely enter into annual contract with them.

The CEO as usual was non-committal and did not want to take any decisions himself. This was evident from his saying that he would be discussing with the factory guys when he visits there in about ten days from now.

Surprisingly, the tea-drinking director took sudden interest in this business. So he called me into his chamber, where as usual CEO was already sitting there. Inescapably, I was served with Black tea as usual. The director did not approve of my idea. He said that what I am proposing is not ethical. He felt that we should somehow make them to approve our B-grade sample and then go ahead with trial order. My practical approach had to give in to his holistic cum authoritative approach.

The Director’s and the CEO’s apparent apathy to diagnose the deeper ill – lack of business perspective by the factory team and its leaders – did disturb me a little. I chose to over-look that and concentrate on further process ahead.

I decided to go by what the Director told and started thinking ways to propose re-sampling of our product again by the customer. Do not know if their Vendor Management / QA Systems will permit this. CEO had asked B to re-do the costing of B-grade product and inform me. I think I would propose the revised quote with a provision to re-submit the samples. Let me see what their response will be.

Just staying in the process without expecting any one particular outcome is very soothing. It helps enormously to stay centred and to keep negativity at bay. Under present environment that I find myself in, it may be the only suitable way as the variables and actors are too many. Why to rush out hurriedly on seeing the closed screen or be under the spell of negativity? The wait for a glorious play to begin may not be long.

In the name of Respect

Mostly people start invariably from the bottom – except for a blessed few!  From my own experiences so far, I have seen and observed that the concept of respect keeps changing at various levels.

Twenty years back, I started working with an ice-cream brand. I used to address everyone “sir” – the immediate supervisor (who at the every opportunity will go out of office at any pretext to be with his brother to aid him in Auditing assignments), the drunkard Junior accounts executive (whom I later came to know as a school drop out), the Fatty Cashier (  who will keep on counting more than ten times even if it is Rs 300 that he is disbursing ) and an angry assistant production manager (who threw his weight around by shouting at everyone for no reason – Later, I came to know that GM production did not rate him highly and because of this, this assistant production manager was suffering from low self-esteem. His throwing weight around must have served him therapeutically).

The demonstration of too much respect helps one initially. When one starts without any working experience, there is no pre-conceived notion of superiority in one self. It is easy to get along with people at any level then, by demonstrating a lot of respect externally. As one grows in the career, some sort of expertise is acquired in whatever function one focuses on. By that time, one’s individual value systems decide how he shows his respect towards the senior and junior colleagues.

If one is a practical career-oriented person and an insecure one in heart, then he gives the superiors too much respect and over-does it to the point of embarrassment to others. One of my ex-colleagues (with whom I am still maintaining contact) went to the extent that he used to carry the GM Marketing’s personal luggage when he accompanied on any official tours. He is now a GM in a tea exports company. I feel sorry for the guys who would be working under him now. They must be carrying his weight – both figuratively and literally!

In some industries such as advertising, IT etc, I have heard that the environment is very informal. So the employees are encouraged to call any colleague on a first name basis, irrespective of the hierarchy. I have not had the opportunity of working is any such organizations, except on one occasion when I was working for a Foreign company. It was about ten years back. I had a few Indian colleagues working with me. We used to find it very difficult to address our Chairman plainly as Lee (His full name was Stanley Lee). My colleague and friend – Dhiraj Bansal – who is from Delhi – forgetfully addressed him as “Lee Saab” once. Mr. Lee said – “I don’t own a Saab, Dhiraj. I drive Mercedes”.

In my present organization, I see that all managers are called sir by everyone. I find this too strange considering that Indian corporate scene had undergone so much cultural change in the recent times.

Many times the garb of respect is worn when one is low on competency and confidence. The VP (who is almost 5 levels senior to me in hierarchy) always addresses me as Mr. Raman in his emails. Ditto while talking over phone also. I told him a few times that he can call me without adding Mr as prefix.  He replied – “I am always trained to give respect to all people who I work with”…..hmm….immediately after saying this, he called B for something – not as Mr., but on B’s first name. So VP has communicated something to me through this – “Do not expect me to be friendly with you, Mr. Raman.” So respect also acts as a tool of disdain – if one does not want to become informal and to keep colleagues at a distance.

B is little weirder. B communicates minimally with me, thereby not allowing me to know him clearly. However I do get glimpses to his “real” personality at times. Whenever I call him on phone for official matters, he starts the conversation with a predictable sentence – “Raman Saab, hukm kariye” which roughly means “Mr. Raman, I am at your command”. This sounds so shallow. Such phrases hide people’s real faces and intentions. No, actually they give out the signals which we can decode – “Please do not come close to me. Tell me only what you want me to do. I shall do it if it is convenient”.

Last time I spoke to B, the conversation started with the customary I am at your command. I asked if I could get an action plan for one of the projects which we were working on. He said I cannot get it, as the computer systems at the factory is down and is not expected to be in order for several hours. After I had put the receiver down, I immediately received an e-mail from B – a forward mail which he had sent to all his contacts (it seems that he had included me also in his mailing lists…..I am lucky!).  His forward mail contained the image of some saint whose Samadhi is located somewhere near Rishikesh. The mail instructed its recipients to forward the image to at least 8 people. I acted as if I am at B’s command and immediately forwarded the mail to 8 of my contacts.

The Rough Weather

I had had a minor tiff with Mala for some 2-3 days. Actually, the issue was very petty. The kids’ annual leave had started. So the family wanted to go to some hill station.

I would love to take them on a vacation, but getting my leave sanctioned is going to be next to impossible. So I have avoided the topic with Mala. One day, she started nagging about it so much that I lost my cool and shouted her back.She did not speak to me for two days. The silence was uneasy. It really made me very uncomfortable.

Things became normal only because we had a visitor from Chennai. My friend wanted to stay with us for a night, as he had to catch the early morning flight back the next day. The friend was received by Mala with her usual warmth and hospitality. The dust settled at the home front.

One morning, I got up grumpy. It was a Friday…oops…two more days of work before Sunday. The thought itself tired me. So I decided to take off, calling office sick (“Viral fever”). Viral fever usually lasts two-three days. So to make it look realistic, I decided to skip the office on Saturday also.

Absence from work is a sign – that the work is becoming unenjoyable. What was my reason for skipping work? Is it Laziness? Or avoiding the office or avoiding the superiors? I stopped searching for reasons. On Saturday evening, my elder daughter wanted to go to a Children’s movie. By the time the movie ended, my mood had become lightened.

On Monday, I resumed work. Surprisingly, no one asked me about my viral fever…strange….CEO did not call me throughout the day….very strange….is he avoiding me? Why should I start caring for the CEO now? Am I walking on the familiar path of insecurity? So decided not to contemplate about or to worry about why CEO did not call me. I must stay centered!

Few issues came up. VP was over active now. He started chasing me for new orders as the plant had nothing to produce in May. I only wish his approach was more positive. The VP’s email was instructing me that I should email “the Purchase Orders” of the clients for May production. It sounded strange. VP did not worry about zero support, very slow response, poor technical expertise and complete lack of team-spirit. But he wanted my POs for un-booked businesses very quickly. Great commitment!

I must confess the VP’s strange instruction made me nervous. So I decided to attack the unresolved customer leads. One issue was with a new customer.  Our team already had this particular customer’s buying specs. The Cartel as usual was in its elements and wanted to escape responsibility. So I was asked to get the product samples for us to match.The customer was acting pricey and did not give an answer to my repeated requests for having their product samples (which, I explained to him, would help us understand their product requirements clearly).

After reading VP’s mail, I became desperate. So called up this particular customer and pleaded with him passionately. He finally yielded and agreed to show the samples to us, on the condition that one of us should visit their factory and see the samples there itself. The ten days’ stalemate was broken with this. I informed the VP so.

VP was happy to get a chance like this, now that I worked hard to reach up to this stage. He sent a one-liner email – “We cannot depute any one to visit the customer’s factory. Please ask the customer to email us the product photographs”. I did not like this. After ten days, he has changed the goal post even further. I sent him the following reply – “Will try to get the photographs. We should remember that he is a potential customer and not a supplier or service provider to us”.

My reply angered the VP. He called me on phone and started blasting. I was keeping cool in the first half of the in-coherent conversation. The VP said that I should not write discourteous language to him. I asked him where was I impolite to him.

His raw anger towards me came out as unclear words, which I could not decipher. Adding to his anger was his poor English. Purposefully, I was speaking to him in English. The English language did not give the flexibility to him to show his anger fully. He was fumbling for apt words….at one point, he asked me a strange question in Anger – “are you a woman or what?” I failed to understand why this basic question has to suddenly feature in this angry exchange. It appeared that VP might have said this intentionally to provoke me to react strongly. Expressing one’s anger effectively is a fine-art and not many can do that to the maximum effect. I am not too sure of my skill in this area. So my response was more of a shocked response than of a true anger – “Shut up now…mind your language. Speak like a gentleman!”…He put down the phone with a bang…

Anger saps the life energy. I really did not want to fight. This fight was thrust upon me. I was trying to collect my calmness after having this unpleasant conversation.

The Intercom buzzed. CEO called me to his chamber. As expected, the VP had spoken to the CEO over phone in the meanwhile. CEO was calm throughout the conversation and patiently had listened to me out, which is a rarity. It did not matter to me whatever was his reaction. The CEO at the best can play only political games with the VP. VP is not going to mend his ways because of CEO. That’s for sure.

Is it changing?

Many times, we find it convenient to do or to move restlessly rather than contemplating. If one does not want to be responsible, one can just be on the move or go without any deep thought or questioning one’s action consciously. Thinking or contemplation involves assuming responsibility for the situation one finds himself in ; it is purely a voluntary internal process.

Habitual action without thinking is irresponsible. Action based on too much thinking may be defensive.  Action based on clear contemplation with the inner, loving awareness will be the right action. Conscious action is action based on loving awareness (…need to contemplate on what this loving awareness is!).  Isn’t it called conscious living?

The initial days in this organisation were spent wondering if it was right to join this company. Then I found myself in the thick of things. My inner-self prodded me to go about contacting as many customers as possible. The quality of initial leads that came in – made CEO and the Director to notice me. My sustained efforts have brought in more inquiries. This consistency has obliterated my self-doubt and diffidence.

As on date, no major deals have been struck though. But no one pushes me for that either. My seniors are happy about the efforts itself.

Let us return to three obstacles.

CEO still continues avoiding taking any decisions. This will imply – if I take decisions, he would not object. This also implies that the CEO will not be of support when the decision goes awry. As long as I am on the firing line, the CEO will not mind me taking decisions.

VP’s intransigency is becoming more and more irrelevant. It is obvious that his competency levels are far less than what he tries to project. Only the official position has given some authority to him. Some days back one of the Cartel Member – The finance manager- visited the office. From the interactions, I understood he too is allergic towards VP’s behaviour and personality. On a particular administrative matter, the VP seemed to have behaved in a very arrogant fashion with him. In this regard, the Cartel Member complained to the (tea-drinking) Director. The director seems to have re-assured the Finance Manager of his secured place in the organisation and also gave out the impression that VP is being kept under watch.

The CEO is repeatedly asking me about any potential candidate who can be head-hunted from the industry for filling the VP’s post. So all is not well with VP’s own position in the company.

The Cartel – 3rd obstacle – is slowly but surely responding better nowadays. The finance Manager’s visit to the office and the time spent with him have broken ice with him to some extent. These days, the Production Manager keeps calling me on phone and voluntarily discussing pending things. He of course keeps mentioning that the conversations are off the record; he would still want me to come through VP for any official requests. At least, the unofficial avenue of communication is open.  QA Manager is still indifferent. B hardly communicates with me.

The slow response is something I may have to live with for ever, I think. Both the Cartel and the VP are lethargic. They need to pushed, cajoled and pressurised to elicit responses. This is not my preferred way of working. I normally expect voluntary and prompt responses from the team members. If it is not happening, it is better to accept the reality and adapt.

So do the 3 obstacles still exist? It may exist, but I sense it has now become diluted in its form now. This could become possible only because of my constant efforts to bring in more and more business inquiries without getting frustrated over the lack of response or the desired results. So if one accepts the reality instead of resisting it and goes about acting based on deep inner thinking (or Loving Awareness – what is this? I really should try to answer this), the reality could be changed. Is it changing for me?

Time Management

8 hours and 30 minutes – that’s the duration I am required to spend in the office. I have always been curious to know how this duration is spent by all corporate executives on an average – how much percentage of real work, work related thinking, personal chores, reading news papers, browsing entertaining websites, following cricket scores, idle chat with colleagues, etc.,

Admission of not using the working time productively is something rare to come across. Usually the norm is to show off eloquently on shallow things that were accomplished during the day.

Many years ago, I had a colleague who was responsible for Insurance matters and I was sharing work place with him. Before leaving office for the day, he called his superior on intercom and said that he could not do much work that day as he was fully tied up on a circular for an increased demand of premium by a particular Insurance company. He further boastfully suggested to the superior that he was not very clear about the circular received and would like to discuss about it in detail. If he had to seek more clarity with his superior, he could have done on that day itself. May be, Wednesdays are more suitable for such discussions, because on the whole of Tuesday, he just read that particular letter once and filed it into one of his files as if it was insignificant. He was fully busy listening to radio commentary of India – Australia cricket match which India later won.

I had met some superiors who would pretend being busy just to avoid facing some issues. I had once received a big quality claim from one of the clients in Europe. The original email sent by the customer was copied to my superior also. So I was sure that he was aware of this development. When I was about to discuss on this claim, he said over the intercom that he is too busy now and any matter has to wait for the next day. The next day he summoned me briefly on some other subject. Before I could say anything of this quality claim, he said he has to rush for an urgent meeting with the banker and avoided discussing. Actually he went out for the meeting only after spending 3-4 hours in the office. In fact, I had even received copy of some mails which he sent to some other customers on not so important and not so serious issues, before him leaving for the important meeting.

I always wanted to understand the psychology behind this behaviour. Number one could be that it is an unpleasant development, so it can wait. Number two, the boss would have waited for me to respond first and be on the line of fire. After 2-3 days, he would come to this matter and will even call the customer hoping that my holding the fort for first 2-3 days would have cooled off the customer. While I would have been trying my best to avoid paying or lessening the quality claim amount, the boss would agree virtually for everything that the customer would be saying on the quality claim. Bosses are always Heroes.

The time management skills of the Cartel must be very interesting. This is reflected in their variety of excuses over my pressing for some replies or assistance or actions.

“was busy in a funeral last two days and so will reply you tomorrow” (The word “Funeral” made me go silent – usage of a small word to the fullest effect)

‘Costing will have to wait as I am expecting a client visiting us at 4.00 pm” (what will he do until 4.00 PM? That I did not ask)

“did you send the mail? No I did not receive it” (Their email client application seem to have been fitted with invisible sieves to filter out only my messages)

“I called you to tell you that Internet is not working….but I could never get your line” (Blame it on telecommunication company!)

“I am coming to head office on Thursday…let us discuss about it personally” (You will receive personal attention, never mind the time delays!)

More than others, I am more worried about myself losing cool when I hear the above creative excuses and do something drastic. So far, I could keep my emotions under check. Because I see a benefit in this– I will learn how to creatively invent reasons for not attending to things immediately. “See things can wait…who knows, they may sort out themselves without us doing anything?” I am becoming creative!

I have almost given up on CEO doing anything constructively to ease me from this cold-shoulder attitude from the factory team, on whom I depend a great deal to reply to my customers’ enquiries and questions. The moment I open this topic, he would go on a non-stop lecture about how I need to sharpen my inter-personal skills to get close to the Cartel. Wish he follows what he preaches so that his words can command obedience from the Cartel.