Trial By Fire

“You fools!” thundered the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Virtual Reality (VR) headset that he used whenever he had to thunder but did not have a real crowd of fools in front.

Spontaneous celebrations broke out across the country as soon as he had uttered these words. Youngsters engaged in arson and protests against the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces that has replaced traditional recruitment methods for non-officer cadres, stopped in mid-stride while trying to hurl a stone or brick at the police barricades. Throwing their projectiles on the ground, they moved forward and hugged the closest member of the police force and exchanged sweets that had magically materialized.

It is alleged that these spontaneous celebrations were instigated by coaching institutes that mattered to nobody even if they existed, as were the outbreaks of violence when the scheme was announced a few days back. Owners of coaching institutes that mattered to nobody even if they existed, were blamed for voicing their opinions on the scheme, in violation of that holiest of unwritten rules of democracies according to which an opinion, if at odds with the opinion of the government, tantamounts to being anti-national. Particularly when it is regarding a scheme that was introduced “without parliamentary approval or gazette notification” and “quashed the century-old army selection process and imposed impugned Agniveer-22 scheme in the country” as a petition filed in the Supreme Court seeking a review of the scheme says.

But try telling that to the protestors. And the celebrators.

“Do you know our Prime Minister has been ranked number one in the world on calling the people fools?” said one protestor to another, while biting off a piece of the ‘laddoo’ in his hand, and looking reverentially at the message on his phone that announced this new ‘fact.’

Of course, “You fools” is not something he said. What he did say was, “Some decisions and reforms might appear temporarily unpleasant but benefit the country in the long run.”

“Shame on you for not knowing this simple fact, you overgrown morons, especially for the reforms introduced by my government,” was also not said by the PM during this speech.

Corporate leaders, some of them bidding for large government projects, have handled their responsibility with aplomb. They have come out vocally in support of the scheme and said they will hire Agniveers, how the people taken in under this scheme will be known, on priority. Apart from the priority of hiring women and people with special needs and people from low-income backgrounds and people from rural areas and many others that they have announced from time to time. One feels for them. A corporate leader’s job is never finished.

When asked, “is that a commitment?” by a reporter, they said in unison, “Read our lips. As we said, there is a large potential for employment of youth in the corporate sector. If that is not a commitment, we don’t know what is.”

Leading universities of the country have been quick to respond and have started to rebrand their programmes. The Bachelor of Arts (BA) will henceforth be called the Agniveer BA. The Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) will henceforth be known as the Agniveer B.Com. Agniveer B.A. (Honours) and Agniveer B.Com. (Honours) programmes are in the offing. Master’s programmes are expected to follow suit.

Corporate leaders are licking their chops gleefully at the unexpected windfall the new scheme has brought for them in the form of talent. The Agniveer talent is proven to be better than the current talent available, since it is based on a government-in-power announced scheme and not tested anywhere, even in the form of a pilot scheme. What more could a software development company want if not a young person who can handle a machine -gun? What better resource could a bank ask for if not a young person who can do a hundred push-ups while whistling the tune of “Saare Jahan se achcha?”

These skills are so useful that no established corporation appears to have made an effort to either evaluate new hires on these skills during their existing recruitment processes or upskill them during the training phase. But, how could they? Their leaders do not have the smarts of either the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister to have suddenly decided on the new, well-thought-out programme, sidestepping parliament where questions could be raised, delaying well-intentioned schemes.

On top of the government-minted Agniveers, they will have access to Agniveers from many leading universities across the country. Graduates are delighted that their degrees, that were not considered job-worthy, and forced them into an expensive and almost equally job-unworthy MBA programmes, had become hot property overnight.

With great ideas, one really cannot say how far they can go. Agniveer B.Tech. from IIT Delhi anyone? Or, an Agniveer MBA from IIM Ahmedabad?

The CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces) like the Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will get the privilege of absorbing some of the 75% rejected, sorry, not absorbed in the armed forces, population of Agniveers. There will be an additional 10% quota for this group in addition to the quota they already have, since a developing, transparent, free, open, equal, merit-based, progressive, democratic society should keep building up its quotas of reservations for reasons other than economic disadvantage. Since the training required for handling civilian situations is identical to the training necessary for handling armed forces of enemy nations, the two have been kept separate all these years.

The scheme is of a transformational nature and will significantly boost the capability of the forces. Such schemes should not get bogged down in financial calculus. Hence, it is also expected to deliver savings in the form of reduced outlay for pensions of service-folks. Pensions to politicians are of course important for national security, even for truncated terms, and must, hence, continue, so that more transformational schemes can be introduced.

Chiefs of the three forces, were nowhere on the scene when the scheme was announced by bureaucrats, in an expansion of their roles, are being paraded in front of an incredulous public to sell it, a job so far done well by the National Security Advisor (NSA).

Like all schemes that meet with opposition, it appears that we have a brave PM to introduce such transformational change at the cost of political goodwill. With two colluding nuclear-armed states as adversaries and perhaps the longest unresolved borders, one hopes he is.


These are a few of my favourite…posts:

1. Important Jobs in the World

This is about the people who, seemingly, have become convinced about the importance of their regular jobs to the point where they almost feel they are doing a service to society, and how their jobs become a measure of their self-worth. Can be accessed on:

2. The Very Important Person – how to find him in Office

Most of us have seen this person in the office – strutting about as if he just landed from Krypton and has to save the world before he goes for lunch. Can be accessed on:

3. In the eyes of others

A tale of how people behave when they are under pressure to impress others. Some of my readers consider this to be the best-crafted tale on my blog. Can be accessed on:

I am posting a few of my old posts while I wait for the juices (creative ones) to start flowing. Many of my followers joined after the initial “corporate” phase when I started with writing seven to ten posts a month. I hope you will like these posts from the initial period of this blog.

These posts are not the most visited or liked ones. They are the ones which, in my view, convey what I was trying to convey, most faithfully. And, all of them are the outcome of my employment journey of over twenty years with large corporates. That is the theme the blog started with, which, over a period of time, has metamorphosed into a more current event oriented theme.


Corporate Resolutions

Seeing the ripples created by public figures coming out with their resolutions for the new year to much acclaim, large corporations, in time-honoured tradition, lost no time in copying a successful innovation and jumped in, with both eyes firmly shut, promising to make bigger, smarter resolutions. Sensitive to the needs of the marketplace and their employees, they promised to make these two constituencies the centre-piece of their respective resolutions.

Now, no self-respecting corporation can make an announcement of this magnitude without due deliberation. And due deliberation cannot be done in the stifling confines of an office. Large corporations, showing the way to the other, smaller ones, lost no time in arranging weeklong offsites to ponder over suitable resolutions for the year, though it was no longer new. The year we mean. In any case, when have such trifles dented the steely resolve of large corporations, especially when the resolutions are to be made at an offsite.

Companies with their head-offices in the cold north, yearning for sunny climes, booked offsites on beaches in the southern parts, the main criteria being that distance travelled should be the greatest and also that they could come back and complain about the hot and humid weather.

Great minds think alike they say. Companies with their head-offices in the sunny south, missing out on the bite of the cold and frosty north, booked offsites on mountain-tops and hillsides in the shivering north, the main criteria being that distance travelled should be the greatest and also that they could come back and crib about the bitter cold.

Many a reputation was made or marred during these week-long deliberations that were often heated and emotional, owing to the importance of the matter at hand. It often required introspection, an activity that most were totally clueless about. Many a searching question about past performance was asked and answered with a resolute “I don’t know”, regardless of who it was addressed to, putting an indelible seal of belongingness on the person answering and adding to the bonhomie that is an essential prerequisite to the success of a gruelling offsite.

Setting the ball rolling, a leading newspaper publishing company has resolved to reduce the news to less than 10% of the space available in the paper. In a joint declaration, the entire senior management has apologised to their readers and accepted responsibility for having permitted almost 20% of the space to news in the past year. In a further indication of the seriousness of their intent, they will only publish news with the clause “this was first reported in this paper three weeks back”, even if the news happened for the first time ever on that day. In yet another demonstration of their intent, they have also resolved to provide meaningless and sensationalistic interpretations to all the news published.

Their main competitor, upon hearing their resolution, has decided to shut shop. For many years they battled against gossip and pictures of celebrities, they battled against misreporting and sensationalisation of news, they battled against customer distaste for reading news, and lots more, in the interest of providing fair, impartial news to people. But this new onslaught, of creating newspapers almost without any news, has taken the wind out of their sails. They have no means of coping. “You cannot fight genius”, they have reasoned, and shut down.

Meanwhile, at another upscale resort at a nearby beach location, a leading bank gathered for their resolutions meeting, has been besieged by health issues. Not used to working a full day, unless punctuated by long lunches, leisurely coffee breaks, and deep-breathing while pontificating on the future of the financial system which never comes true, many senior staff gathered for the meeting have had breakdowns. Not known to buckle down in the face of adversity, they have stuck to the task and shifted their massage tables to the beachside so that the brainstorming sessions can continue uninterrupted. And, in a typically aggressive, though slightly unexpected move, they have resolved to fix one of their biggest issues of the past year. Under pressure for the escalating NPAs (non-performing assets, typically loans that do not get paid back), they have resolved that henceforth they will only lend money to people who don’t need it. As it requires an entirely new skill-set, they have also resolved to upend their entire management team and induct new people who will be able to identify borrowers who don’t need to borrow money. They hope that by so doing, NPAs will marginally reduce. The Central Bank has come out lauding their resolution.

The nation’s leading telco has resolved to take customer service to the next level through the introduction of a new VRU (Interactive Voice Response Unit) that does not even need the caller to listen to the automated command. When a person calls for service, he will be greeted by a command “Press any key to continue”. Naturally, the caller will press any key to continue. The next command will be “Press any key to continue”. At each pressing of “any key” the same command will be heard. Soon, the customer will not need to listen to the command to “press any key”. Development has been initiated, at great cost, on the software that will enable this facility.

A leading Call Centre, bogged down for years in the mediocrity of billing only 100% of the hours logged by agents, to the client, has resolved to break free of the pack and get out of the rut. They have resolved to ignore the voice of their conscience and bill the client at least 125% of the actual hours logged by their agents. The market has cheered. Their stock-price has gone through the roof.

A leading Life Insurance company, whose management team came to the offsite with high hopes, has struggled to make a resolution. All worthwhile things their company could do, like selling Life Insurance, have already been done. Many times over. Not willing to accept defeat, and not prepared to go back empty handed, they have finally agreed to resolve to keep spending money foolishly and keeping costs high so that employees can be constantly kept on their toes and frequently upbraided for the deteriorating financial situation of the company. Demonstrating steely intent and speed, even before departing from the offsite location, they have hired a leading consultant to run a workshop to teach employees how to spend money foolishly.

It is not that resolutions can only be made only by companies doing work. Even consulting companies were there, keeping tabs on every resolution being made and changing the language to make it their own. A leading management consulting company has come out with resolutions for each and every industry. But this company struggled to come up with a resolution for their own business. Last year they had pulled out all stops and given the slogan “the power of one” to the industry to help turn their businesses around from profits to losses. This year, after much analysis and presentations, they have finally resolved to recommend the addition of the word “global” to the name of their clients to help turn their businesses around.

In the eyes of others

In the late eighties, when I started working, in India, there were a handful of car models to choose from and very few cars. An air-conditioner (AC) in a car, though not unavailable, was a rarity. After all, a car was a means to an end. It served the purpose of transporting you from Point A to Point B. Its reason for existence was not to make you comfortable in an AC environment while transporting you, or to ensconce you in a cocoon while shutting out the external sounds, or to enable you to watch your favourite TV programme while travelling, as seems to be the case today. At that time, it was a big deal for a person to have a car with an AC.

One of my many early management lessons was from a senior colleague, who had a Sales job in the company and who believed that it was important to keep up appearances, who once told me “It does not matter that you don’t have an AC in your car. You should still drive with your windows rolled up. After all, you know that you don’t have an AC, but the guy outside your car does not. Hence, when someone outside sees you inside a car with the windows rolled up, he will naturally think that you are travelling in an AC car, and your position in his eyes will grow manifold.”

That lesson stayed with me. And I spent many joyful road-trips inside the car with windows rolled-up, feverishly wiping sweat off my brow and everywhere else my hand could reach, happy that my stock was rising in the eyes of the people outside the car who, of course, I did not know from Adam. Those joyful days of steadily rising in the eyes of the world came to an end as soon as I got a car with an AC.

A few years back, when Blackberry handsets had started becoming popular and one could do emails “on the go”, it was fascinating to watch senior people carry them around and keep peering into them or typing on them, especially when they were inside the elevator, or in a restaurant, or generally in a crowded place. It imbued them with an air of importance. At least they must have felt important. Of course, I could not afford one. 

On one of these occasions my early days lesson came back to me and I heard the prophetic words again “After all, you know that you don’t have an AC, but the guy outside your car does not” which morphed to “After all, you know that you don’t have a Blackberry handset but the guy receiving your mail does not. And I sent the next email from my PC with “sent from my Blackberry handset” as the last line.

Thereafter, whenever I sent an email from my PC, I made it a point to type at the bottom “sent from my Blackberry handset”. So much so that it became a part of my email signature. Not sure if anyone ever noticed that I sent emails only from my Blackberry handset. Certainly my stock would have risen with all the people who received my emails in those days and they would have placed me in the same category as the important people who need to respond to important emails only from their handset even if it after three days of receipt, especially when they are inside the elevator, or in a restaurant, or generally in a crowded place.  After flirting with the Apple iphone message for a short period, these days I am increasingly getting into the habit of typing “sent from my Windows Phone”, the one that I don’t have.

I am constantly window-shopping for newer and more expensive technologies and lifestyle rages that I will never buy. 

This stuff is addictive. I am hooked onto it.

When I am unable to accept an invite for golf I always text saying “Sorry cannot make it.  My Honma set will need to lie in the closet for another week.” Of course, if I accept an invite I send no such message because of the Honma set that I don’t have.

I have now even started writing “written by my limited edition Mont Blanc Meisterstuck fountain pen with an 18K hand-ground gold nib with a platinum inlay” on office documents which one needs to write on. Even where just a physical signature is required as proof of authorisation, I add “signed with my limited edition Mont Blanc Meisterstuck fountain pen with an 18K hand-ground gold nib with a platinum inlay” after every signature or initial. I did the same when I signed on the form I had to fill for renewing my Passport. My application got rejected. Seems like the government folks don’t get it.

Not only that, during meetings in office, whenever I speak or need to concur / differ, I make it a point to remind others who the concurrence has been given by. So, if the meeting organiser were to ask at the end of the meeting “do you agree?”, if I agree I would nod my head and immediately hoist a poster (prepared in advance) above my head that reads “this agreement has been given through a shake of the head that solved innumerable Calculus problems at MIT”. If I disagree verbally I would say “I disagree” and follow it up with “this disagreement has been voiced by the vocal chords that spoke out aloud at Oxford”.   

And it helps one aspire. For example, I am already planning my next email message line which will say “sent from my diamond encrusted Vertu handset”.

I feel great about what the external world may be thinking about me….

I hate travel

Manager, back in his office after a week on the road, to Team Members : Good to be back in office. Some respite from constant travel. I am sick of constantly having to rearrange my personal life on account of business requirements. Seems as if my life is spent in airport lounges more than home. And the hotel food really gets to me. I hate all that.

Team Members, in one voice : We know it must be difficult sir. But isn’t it exciting to visit new places ?

Manager : Yes it is, but you know me. I am happy between my home and my office. I will tell my Boss that I am not travelling for the next one year. If the company insists that I need to go because nobody else is qualified, I will resign and leave. After all, there is a limit to everything.

Team Members : You are so simple and straightforward, sir. How we wish we had these opportunities to travel.

Manager : Well, you know me guys ! Focussed only on work and family. Of course I understand your feelings. And, believe me, when the opportunity next arises, I will nominate one of you to travel and represent the company.

In the middle of the meeting the Senior Manager (the Manager’s Boss) drops in and says, “Oh, by the way, we have been invited to the Industry Conference in Las Vegas end of the month. It is for a week and the company will bear all expenses. We would like someone from this team to attend the conference on behalf of the company. I am leaving the choice to you guys. No specific qualification or knowledge is required as we are not anchoring any session. The participant would mainly need to listen to the speakers, make notes where appropriate, collect Business cards, and come back and debrief. We don’t mind if you want to take your spouse / partner along as long as you pay for it.

Team Members, in one Voice : Hurray. We love the company.

Before leaving, the Senior Manager to Manager : Send me the name of the person chosen to attend by end of day please. My secretary will make necessary arrangements.

After the Senior Manager leaves, the Manager turns back to his team and says : See, it never ends. Just when I thought I will have a few peaceful days at home comes this requirement. I will again have to pack my bags and go. Such is my life!!

For Your Own Good – Withdrawal of Transport Facility

Keeping your welfare in mind, the company has decided to withdraw the Transport facility of pick-up from home in the morning and drop back home in the evening that has so far been provided to all employees.

It has been noticed that obesity amongst employees is on the increase and has been causing intermittent health issues with a resultant impact on productivity.

Upon withdrawal of the Transport facility it is expected that employees will now have to walk to the nearest metro station, or stand in the sun and sweat while flagging down a Taxi, or drive to work. It is expected that these exertions will create a salutary impact on employee health. This will, at once, translate into less time off and improved productivity, allowing you to put yourself in a better position for taking on higher responsibilities when the time comes.

Not only that, lesser ailments means lesser strain on the nation’s medical infrastructure which, if you connect the dots, will indirectly benefit you through a lower requirement of tax contribution (there was an additional phrase after “tax contribution” in the original draft of the Circular but later deleted from the final version : “which is likely to happen only in the next generation”).

Hence, as you can see, we have only your welfare at heart in taking this decision. Not only are you more likely to get promoted, your tax contribution is also likely to come down. This has not been done either to reduce costs or increase the Bonus payout for the Directors because of improved profitability.

We are certain you will support the company’s policies, as you have always done in the past. As such, we have not wasted time in trying to get feedback, and instead have implemented it with immediate effect so that you can start reaping the benefits right away.

I maintain standards. In fact, two of them. I maintain “double standards”.

Scene 1 – Employee in office

The employee : “What ? Airconditioning in the office is down again? For as much as thirty minutes ?? It was down for as much as 45 minutes on one occasion only three months back. Who does the company think I am? I refuse to be taken for granted by the company. I refuse to do any work under these inhuman  conditions.”

The employee’s supervisor : “It is not such a big deal. They have assured me that it will be up and running in another 15 minutes. This is the first breakdown in over 3 months. It is a machine and requires occasional maintenance. Please get back to work now.”

The employee : “No way. You and other people in senior management are trying to fatten the margins by saving on electricity cost. But what about the conditions under which we have to work ? Have you ever thought about that ? Will you pay us for our sacrifice by sharing the better margins with us ?”

The employee then stomps out of the room, to return an hour after the AC has been restored. He claimed “nobody told him”.

Scene 2 – The employee returns home in the evening from a hard day at office

The employee’s 8 year old daughter : “Dad, it feels very hot now. When are we going to get an AC for our house ? It is difficult to do my homework in this heat.”

The employee : “You know darling how harmful ACs are for the environment. They produce fluorocarbons that damage the ozone layer. Besides, they are huge guzzlers of electricity which, again, the more we produce the more environmental damage we inflict. We are all making these little “adjustments” for the good of the environment. And, as you already know, working in a challenging environment  builds character. Now go and finish your homework.”