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Case Study: The Piece Don’t Fit

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Bashir looked up, exhausted after his tenuous rock climb. Suyash stood by the rope cot, arms on his hips, looking anxious. Bashir was breathing very heavily, holding the side of the cot. Then he put up his hand to assuage Suyash, and between laboured breaths he said, “Stupid, not your fault… I am asthmatic… forgot to tell them about it.”

Suyash was frightened, and between severe abuses he let Bashir know that once his breath was back, he was going to kill him. “Is this something to forget, idiot!? You could have let go and dropped 20 feet, 40 feet! I don’t even know how high we are!”

Bashir (as Suyash rummaged through Bashir’s backpack to get his Asthalin): Okay, I did not forget. I thought I could do it….

Suyash (handing him the asthma spacer): Look, at the end of the day, this is just a stupid job and these are just stupid make-believe games they design so they can believe they are training us! Life is for much more. To give up a good life for an organisation is by far the dumbest move you could make. I seriously think you must see a psychiatrist, and not a pulmonologist.

Chetana, who had come after Suyash yelled for her to bring Bashir’s backpack, said, “We haven’t found anything more gripping than the adrenalin of work. We all need a passion. Then there will be sense, a purpose.

As sweat streamed down Bashir’s face, Suyash fanned him hard with a newspaper.
To recap, four teams from MCG were undergoing a team-building skills programme at Khandala. This was Team B, which was in the midst of the rock-climbing event. Suyash looked at the rock summit and saw that two others had taken position and a third was being urged up the rocky terrain. All was normal; everyone assumed Bashir was fine. As far as they knew, he was merely frightened.

As Chetana and Suyash managed Bashir, Tripti announced the winners of the second event. Suyash’s team was second last. They had lost marks in the qualitative assessment.

After lunch, Tripti distributed the brief for the next event: “Morro Group’s Health Equipment Division has been unhappy with the quality of sales staff it has been getting. Vittal Morro, the chairman, squarely blames the quality of the interview process and has asked the teams to review and make it robust.”

Each team collected under different trees and got into discussion. Team B — Suyash’s team, in their blue team shirts — too spread out a rug and sat to discuss the topic. They allocated each one either an HR or a sales or a marketing divisional role before the discussion began. 

Abhir (marketing): Marketing and sales (and not HR) should do the initial screening of CVs.  Because HR can never have the feel for the field and the market. They will end up focussing on ‘presentable’ and ‘can speak English’ kind of attributes, which don’t finally help.

Bashir (sales): Why should there be a doubt over HR’s qualification? They have the JDs (job description), which is adequate.

Chetana (marketing): I would go for a joint screening. Both functions have a skill to bring to the screening process and the eventual hiring.

Shayl (from HR): Nahin yaar... joint screening does not achieve anything apart from making a point. It will take too long and everyone will be impatient by the end. HR does not only screen a candidate through the CV, they also call up, speak to the candidate, get a feel, etc. They call only those people for interview about whom they feel good.

Apurva (marketing): I agree; joint screening is not required. CVs are to be screened against the JD. Either HR does that or we do. No need for both to join hands here. Let’s discuss who does the telephonic screening. I place importance on this.
(HR): Let’s handle each aspect of the interview separately. Let us first agree on who does primary CV screening. I think HR should do this and I feel they will be happy to. But if you sales guys think you would like to do it instead, then you are welcome.

Ganesh (sales): The way to resolve this is to perhaps make a list of pros and cons of having the screening done by HR or us.

And so they threw suggestions around, some funny, some wild, some preposterous... Discussions followed. Finally, a consensus was reached: HR will screen the CVs, which will then be vetted by sales, and then HR will do the telephonic screening.

Abhir: Everyone in agreement? Can we put this up as SOP (standard operating procedure)?

C’mon, let’s sign. It has taken us over an hour! Tripti, is it feeding time yet at the zoo? (Much laughter)

Suyash (thoughtful): All this talk of CV screening is just detail. Examine the real issue... Why are we getting “not-so-good” candidates? Because there are not many in this field. The few who are there are with the leaders. Health equipment is not a big industry in India yet, so we end up taking what we get. And we get people with no experience or capability! People selling thermometers pretend to have sold a heart-lung machine! Why don’t we turn this around and propose a plan to take on four management trainees every year in Health and groom them for our business, or develop sales staff from our Hospitals business?
Chetana: I think you are changing the brief itself. We’ve been told to examine the interview process, the screening process, not strategy.

Suyash: But it is futile, because you are screening dead wood.  Why do you think it is hypothetical? It’s real. We know our Health Equipment division has terrible sales people...

: Yaar, what is this? Then you could have said so right in the beginning, na? We have spent over an hour discussing! Why did you wait till we concluded?

Suyash: Well, I am telling you now!
  *   *   * 
Tripti watched as everyone piled their plates with mountains of food. The last event had ended in a serious argument with Apurva telling Suyash that he was a disruptive element.

She watched the team behaviours now. Three of the guys stayed with Apurva, the girls stood together whispering, Ganesh stood between Suyash and Apurva unable to belong anywhere... Suyash was busy listening to the chef who was narrating how he had once made dahi vada using bread and no one had suspected!

Tripti stood behind Suyash where she could overhear his conversation. There was no strain in his demeanour, he was enjoying the chef’s banter and, well, Suyash came across as a keen cook himself.

Tripti: How are we doing, Suyash?

Suyash: Pretty good actually. (Spreading arms wide) Ready to embrace all rocks, beginning with the boss! (Both laugh)

Tripti: Yeah, this is how most bosses are seen. Talking of rocks, did you enjoy the rock-climbing exercise this morning?

Suyash: Yes. But I do think we could have done better had we switched to dark room. More mind-work; less physical work — which is not creativity really.

Tripti: But most people opted for rock climbing...

Suyash (laughs): Like infants, inhibited by the unknown, the dark...  They should be used to it by now, considering they are kept in the dark every year during appraisal!

Tripti(laughs): But since a majority opted for rock climbing, I guess the team could not have decided on dark room, no?

Suyash: I could’ve convinced them.
: Instead why did you not decide to do a good job of rock climbing?
Suyash: Why spend time on a non-productive thing?

But Suyash, the issues you raised during the exercise were not seen as productive. Instances have been cited as to why your team lost out, and those mainly list your contribution, qualitatively.

Suyash: That is the whole problem, you misunderstand the issue. The low marks were not because of what I said, but because of what others said in response to what I said. See? Tell me honestly,  if others had responded positively, if my boss had responded with delight, would not the assessor be favourably inclined towards me? I see the low rating as an indictment for the response of others! The assessor has assessed me not for myself, but in relation to others. But then that is how life is, no? You have to have value for the world. Your assessor has interpreted my comments as communication breakdown. It is a perception problem.

Tripti: So you are saying the assessors had a perception problem?

No. What I am saying is that if I were the assessor, I would have seen the perspective of the seeming ‘dissenter’ as well. Maybe he was trying to tell them something good.  After all, who is to say that another perspective does not exist!

Tripti: At one point of time you said, “It’s not easy, we are losing time.’’ Yet, when Bashir wanted to be pulled up, you said he should try more. Isn’t that a contradiction in your approach?

: I never said he is taking long or anything about time.

Yes, you did.

: I think, I always talked of more effort on the climber’s part because this is about learning. 
Tripti (patiently): Suyash, you mentioned time. The other assessor and I have noted it down.

Suyash (nonchalantly): Well, I may have used the word but the emphasis was not on ‘time’ but learning, which I think my team and the team leader did not realise when I brought it up. Had they done so, the exercise objective would have been met.

Tripti: How about looking at it from this angle — if the discussion is on what to do, then we can debate/discuss all we want. But if a decision has been made, a certain path accepted, then all your effort, all your talk, should be directed towards ‘how to help’ instead of  ‘what is wrong here’. Wasn’t that what happened during the interview screening event too?
Suyash: Ma’am, have you seen a flock of sheep? (Tripti nods.) They all move in the same direction, but that doesn’t make them a successful team.

Tripti: There is a difference, Suyash.  That is not how it happened in your team. Here, discussions happened, and then a decision was taken. Then a concerted and motivated effort was expected from all team members to move in the chosen direction.

Suyash: I see very well what’s wrong and what’s right. Why pretend all is good and just support because it is expected? If something is wrong, it must be placed on the table.

Tripti: But why not give opportunity a chance? Rock climbing was a success after all. Except you and Bashir, no one needed help either to climb or to pull another team member.
Suyash: I needed help as I have a sprained ankle. Else I would not have needed help. (Suyash’s ankle reveals a crepe bandage.)

Tripti: So you corroborate my point — but for your sprained ankle the event was a hit. It went off well. Nobody needed help and you too needed that help owing to a physical pain. Hence, why not put all effort in getting something right than move in a different direction?

Suyash: Ma’am, you have to understand it is not about ‘direction’, it is about expressing an opinion... which I stand by.
Tripti: Tell me, in this entire exercise, what would you have done more constructively to make it a greater success for yourself and others?

Suyash: I think I contributed well. I encouraged Bashir to give more than I felt he was giving. Despite my sprain I have been an active participant.

Tripti: I am glad you feel positively. Your team was good and I particularly liked your take on yesterday’s Interview Process event... Good thinking!

As Tripti walked towards the dining tent, Apurva (the team’s boss) caught up with her. “Chatting with Suyash?”

(ignoring his question): What do you think of the sessions so far?

Apurva: Quite good... not bad.

Tripti: Quite good, or not bad?

Apurva: It was disruptive....

Tripti: In what way?

Apurva: Isn’t there a methodology for you to ensure that the process is in place and a player cannot change it? I mean Suyash destroyed the spirit of Event Three.

Tripti: These are team interactions. In everyday life, too, Suyash would have said what he said here. Then would someone be there to manage the ‘disruption’? No, na? You simply have to treat it all like an everyday event. If we doctor it, the results of the evaluations will not be dependable.

Apurva: Well, so what is your diagnosis based on these ‘authentic’ results? What do you make of this situation? I am more interested in knowing how to make this fellow more productive in real life. I don’t really care what he does in a training camp!

Tripti: It is common for people to think of training camps as magic sessions where undesirable becomes desirable and unproductive becomes productive. What we endeavour
here, however, is to allow people to cast off their stiff professional personas and venture within to recover their real selves...

Apurva: Don’t get me wrong. I sent these chaps here at the cost of work so that when they are back, I get better results... and better people.

So let’s understand, I am looking for solutions. Specially Suyash... if we can’t shape him to the organisation’s needs, we will need to ship him out... 

Tripti: You know people go through 12 years of schooling and even

B-school and come out writing ‘loose’ where they should write ‘lose’. Then again, this 2-day workshop wasn’t  intended to redesign people but to help them work together despite differences, so they team better at work.

I will be the wrong person to advice you on Suyash....

Apurva: Then? I must talk to Shireesh?

Tripti: Talking to Suyash will be a better idea, if you ask me!  

To be continued

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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 01-07-2013)