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15 June 2012

On First Impressions.....

"I don't think first impressions matter much. I think that you can know a person only after multiple interactions with him." my son commented as I was driving him to the school today.
"Why do you say this?" my curiosity was aroused.
"There is this boy in our class, Harsheel. When he first came to the class, we all thought he was very quite and reserved. But now, after 2 weeks, we find that he is the naughtiest kid in the class." he responded.
I got into the parent mode....
"Considering the relationship on a long-term, probably you will get multiple opportunities to change the first impression of people. However, it may happen that sometimes the first impression is the only chance you will get of communicating yourself to others. If you goof up in the first impression,  you will be lucky if you get a chance at a second or third impression. To that extent, first impression is important." I told.
"Let me cite two instances from my experience where first impression was drastically different from the later impressions. In one of them I was the victim (if you could use the word) and in other case I was the perpetrator." I continued.
"Ujwal Joshi was one of the consultants assigned to a project that I was managing. Thru the initial phase of the project, Ujwal had major attitude problems. He had all the required knowledge to take over the leadership of the project, but he continuously underperformed in the project and worst of all, he had attitude problems."
"Over my years of experience, I have come to know that it is better to communicate the attitude issues up the organization as soon as possible. I immediately informed Ujwal's manager and had Ujwal removed from the project"
"Just before removing Ujwal from the project, I had a heart-to-heart discussion with Ujwal. I told him that while I appreciated his knowledge, his attitude issues meant that the knowledge was not useful for my project."
I looked to my son if he was following my narrative. While he pretended to be not interested, I could see that he was rapt in attention.
"Almost immediately after I got Ujwal removed from the project I had a major crisis in the project and I was forced to get Ujwal back into my project. You can understand that I was quite apprehensive about bringing him back in my project, but I had no options", I continued.
"However to my great surprise, the new version of Ujwal turned out to be exactly opposite of the earlier version. He took initiative, ensured that the he was available to the team to resolve any challenges and was able to deliver some high quality work in the project. He always had the talent, but now his talent was focused on supporting the customer."
"Later he told me that my one-on-one talk with him helped him to change his perspective and understand where he was going wrong. He understood that he was performing one level below his capability, whereas he should be performing one level above his capability." I progressed.
"Ujwal was lucky to have got a second chance to demonstrate his capability. Normally in an organization, one does not get such second chances. Imagine if he hadn't got the second chance. Both me and the organization would have carried the perception that Ujwal had attitude problems."
"That is the reason why the first impression is so important."
End of story no. 1
The story no.2 starts in 1998. I was working in SAIL Durgapur and had taken study leave to do an MBA in Finance from Kolkata University from 1995 to 1997. After my graduation, I went back to Durgapur and rejoined my original department. Soon I had a discussion with my AGM. This was a new person. My previous boss had moved on with a promotion.
My new boss asked me what I wanted to do.
"Since I have completed my MBA, my career goal is to move into Finance area", I told him, "But as long as I am working in your department, I will put in my 100%."
Somehow, he did not 'hear' my 100% part. He focussed only on the part about my career goal being to move to Finance. 
He did not say anything at that time.
A few days later I was in my morning shift which start from 6.00 AM. Normally, in a morning shift, by about 7.00 AM, we would have completed our main coordination activities. So, on that day, at 7.30 AM we were all (morning shift staff) sitting in our control room and I was reading the morning papers when my boss walked in.
As soon as he saw me reading the paper, he shouted at me in a loud voice, "Ramaswamy, this is not a library. If you  are not interested in working in this department, you can leave. But I won't allow you to misuse this department"
It was so totally unanticipated outburst. I just put the paper down and said 'I am sorry' and left the room.
A few months later, our department organized a 'Power Engineers Seminar' for SAIL executives at Durgapur. The seminar consisted of Power Engineers and Senior Executives from various plants under SAIL. This was a prestigious seminar and I was made in Charge of the organizing committee.
I put in a lot of effort and the seminar was quite a success.
After the seminar was over, my boss called me up and told, "Ramaswamy, you have to improve your communication skills. When you told me that you will put in your 100% I did not believe you.  But now, after seeing you organize this seminar, I can see what you meant. You should have communicated in a more smooth manner."
I did not know what to say. As he mentioned, his first impression of me was wrong, but I got the opportunity to rectify his perception.
Normally, in life you do not get such second chances. And that is why first impression is very important.
End of story no. two.

Appreciation paradox....

I was thinking...
Yes, contrary to what you think, I do think sometimes.
For example, just now, I was thinking about the 'appreciation paradox'. I was wondering if we follow double standards when it comes to appreciating a good job.
A 'Caste system of appreciations', if you see what I mean.
For example....
Just now I landed in Bangalore airport from Mumbai by a domestic airline.
The captain, Mr.Vijay Jose, did a very professional job. His communication over the in-craft mike was clear, crisp and complete. The landing was very smooth, one did not feel any jerks (Ok, a few minor jerks), I loved it.
And finally, as one was disembarking, there was Captain Jose, all pleasant, wishing all a good day.
A complete package, as it were.
Regular readers of my blog (Where are you hiding?) know that I have a thing or two to say about appreciating a good work. I like appreciating a good work when I see one.
Here was a good work with a capital G. I appreciated the Captain and told him that he did a very good job and a great landing and that I enjoyed flying in his aircraft.
The captain was happy.
I was happy because I made him happy.
All hanky dory, if you see what I mean.
All would have been fine, if it were not for my 'Analytical self'. It had a question or two for my 'Appreciating self'
"Why did you appreciate him?" asked my Anaself.
"I appreciated him because he did a good job. The whole flight was very enjoyable and he did a very professional job", replied my Appreself.
"But that is his job. His job is to fly the aircraft professionally, so why should you appreciate him for doing his job?" persisted my Anaself.
"If you see someone doing a good job, you should appreciate. That will encourage him to repeat the good work and this in turn will increase the stock of good work in the world. That is good for all of us", my Apprself replied, a little pompously, I thought.
"I think that you appreciated the pilot because of two reasons. One, you are in awe of airline pilots. When you sit in the aircraft you are tensed up and your appreciating the pilot on safe landing is only an expression of relief that you are feeling. Another reason for your appreciating an airline pilot is that you feel self-important and want to show off that you are a great air traveller. Either way, your appreciating the pilot is for your personal reasons and not because you appreciate the job of the pilot. After all, he has done his job. Good job? Yes, but his job neverthless." boy, was my Anaself being ruthlessly honest?
"I am not sure if I agree with you", replied my Apprself, trifle doubtfully.
"Well, in the last one month, how many times have you appreciated your driver for driving you safely to office and back home? I am sure he is doing a good job." questioned my Anaself.
My Apprself was quick to reply, "Well, today morning I gifted him Rs.500 (USD 10) for his good driving. That is an appreciation, right?"
Anaself conceded the point but pressed on. "You had a haircut today? Did you appreciate the barber for the good work? Everyday, your wife gets up in the morning and keeps food ready for you to take to the office. How many times have you appreciated her? How about your son? How many times in the past year that you have appreciated him?..." Questions were coming in torrents.
"Let us look at it another way." continued my Anaself, "In the last month how many times have you found fault with your wife's cooking? How many times have you got irritated with your son for things he did not do? How many times have you found faults with people?" Anaself piled on the misery.
"My point is not that you should not appreciate the airline pilot. You should do if you think he has done a good job. But keep in mind that you should appreciate good work whenever you see one. In a drive of 30 kilometers, your driver would have made one mistake, but would have made 10 good steps that helped you reach office safely and quickly. So you appreciate that also. Appreciating the airline pilot for a good flight but not appreciating your car driver for a good drive is double standards." Anaself finished his monologue.
Anaself had made a strong case...

14 June 2012

My packet of blades....

I am one of those guys who invariably put the blades in my cabin baggage during air travel and have them flicked by the security staff at the airport gate during the security check.
And, on top of it, I love my packet of blades....
So, this time when I was travelling to Mumbai, I was very careful to keep my blades in my check in baggage.
I reached the airport late. I rushed to the airline desk to check-in my suitcase.
My check-in bag is one of those bags of 'Indeterminate sizes'. Based on the whim and fancy of the airline desk staff, it could also be mistaken for a cabin baggage. 
Since I was late at the desk, the staff at the counter considered my bag as a cabin bag.
So the bag went thru the security and as expected, the hawk eyes of the security staff noticed my packet of blades and removed it....
Poor me....
I consoled myself that at least I will not have to wait at the destination airport to claim my baggage, I can exit the airport faster, I thought.
So bladeless I reached the Aircraft. The guy at the aircraft entrance perceived my bag as big for the cabin.
So he put the bag on the hold.
I lost my precious packet of blade
I had to wait at the destination airport to claim my check - in bag...
Murphy, thou art so cruel.....