Sisyphic Condition

Our relationship to work hinges on motivation. The motivation defined in terms of recognition for the effort. When we are not recognized for our effort, we are de-motivated and inefficiency creeps into our work life. We do have tools to motivate the experienced working at higher echelons in the organizations but the

The expectation of being recognized holds true, across all hierarchies, in an organization. I was interacting with a Chartered Accountant working with a large Company for last 8 years. His salary had grown 15% y-o-y and awarded one promotion as well. But he had decided to move-on and was keen to look for a change. “I have nothing new at my job there- same set of people, same work, nothing new. I did contribute to an idea of cost reduction, and that was implemented. But, this was a few years back.”, he said in response to one of my questions. He suffered from Sisyphus condition.

In another context, I asked my young colleagues, with work experience not exceeding a couple of years, to share their expectations from their employer and most mentioned ‘appreciation’ as a key criterion. Most of them perform monotonous jobs where critique for failure is more probable than an occasional pat on the back. They too suffer from Sisyphus condition.

The word ‘Sisyphus condition’ emerges from the name of a king named Sisyphus in Greek mythology who was punished to carry a heavy boulder up a steep hill only to roll it back the moment it reached the top and keep repeating till he died. In modern world, Sisyphus condition is used for tasks that can be labelled as laborious and futile. Why do we end-up having jobs that are at best tasks? This has something to do with the way we create jobs and define roles.

WYSIATI- All about perceptions

“What You See Is All There Is” abbreviated by Daniel Kahneman as “WYSIATI” in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”.

Biases of various kinds are known to impact our ability to be rational in decision-making. I have an experience to share where perceptions turned out to be more real than facts themselves. The key learning is that perceptions reflect what we believe in and ‘belief’ is what we are programmed to value more.

My colleague and I were part of a sales meeting. He was a salesperson and I represented as a CFO. His version of feedback about the meeting with customer, “The meeting was good and we did an excellent job explaining and outlining our execution plan once we get the project.”

“Are we getting the project?” CEO was focused on specifics only. He was used to the rhetoric of salesmen for decades now. “We are most likely to get it.” My colleague reconfirmed when CEO said, “You seem to be confident.”

CEO had cross verified the claim of my colleague talking to the customer directly. He blamed my colleague of misrepresenting the facts. The customer believed that the presentation lacked creativity and out-of-box thinking on marketing plan. I was also called to share my version. I uttered, “the customer seems to build a strong negotiation platform and hence probed us to share more insights on marketing plan while talking of budget constraints.”

My CEO asked, “Did customer mention the budget?”. I said, “He did not.”

Quoting Koen Smets, “The pernicious nature of WYSIATI is precisely that we don’t reason. This old riddle illustrates how easily we jump to conclusions: a father and his son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital. Just as he is about to go under the knife, the surgeon exclaims, “I can’t operate — that boy is my son!” How can this be?

Approaching employment

We have moved on from Taylorism but still take refuge under it. When are we going to stop behaving as employees? When are we going to start taking our jobs as being self-employed?

The world of business and relations has moved on. When are we going to stop taking refuge in labor laws and irrational emotions?

There are so many notable differences in mannerisms, at work, of ones born in 1990s vs the ones before. But taking refuge or being defensive seems to be an attribute so common.

If this does not change ASAP, we are all in serious trouble- employers and employees. The best solution for employer-employee relation is to behave as businessmen in this world.

Art of executing well

Actions measured/rated for ‘Outcomes’ are at best tasks. This was my underlying thought in response to my wife’s query on how can kids deal with stress during exams. In my personal life, I am known to be fixated in my thoughts, deliberative and contemplative. This is what my spouse thinks about me and she is right.

When I introspected further, I realised that I am an ‘outcome’ focused as well. For instance, brushing and taking a bath is a task for me. Diving further, into my contemplative-mind, I could relate how exercising is a task for me and hence easily built into my daily routine. Over the years, writing a few sentences in my personal diary is also a task.

Anything that does not need much forethought is a task for me. Quite rightly, Daniel Kahneman talks about ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’. We can be productive if most of our decisions shift to ‘System 1’ of our brains. Daniel lists quick/fast as a trait of using System 1.

Last week, my boss was upset when his marketing executive replied that she was working on social media strategy. He was upset with the use of ‘strategy’. He would have been delighted if she instead, shared the list of tasks she completed. My approach at work is same. When the purpose is clear, there cannot be anything else to think except to execute well, using ‘System 1 and making it happen.

Next steps with Data Visualization skills

I have been spending a lot of time watching videos and Ted talks on ‘data visualization’.
The constraint of not trying anything new – except a few mountains with sun shining above and a stream flowing from within the mountains towards plains; max a boat could be added with a few birds in flight- in ‘drawing’ as a subject in my childhood reflects on my poor visualization skills. 

I was getting carried away by a thought- if I have a good data visualization software, I can do a great job at visualization. This was true till today morning when after watching a Ted talk on data visualization, I decided to instead focus on data sets that I intend to collect and then try understanding it better. Representing them using a software comes later.

So start with I intend to capture the word count of my blog posts since 2006. And then may be use of some positive or negative adjectives. 

Now, I believe having a story to share and share it sooner.

‘Free’ @Work

Busy like a bee’, I was trying my best to find solutions to problems that if implemented well could have resulted in a measurable impact.
I am talking about my last decade at work. I was drawing comfort from being busy. Somewhere in the whole process of execution missed the ‘output’. An output that is measurable, significant and will last forever.

I realized that I was busy because I was doing so many different things at the same time. I was swinging between tasks of interviewing, financial management, reporting and replying to random calls from my boss. I was missing the focus on what I should be doing and what I should not. Given the quantum and diverse nature of tasks, there was very little I could delegate.

Then a realization crept in. I was taking comfort in accomplishing tasks, including very tactical ones that demanded more time. Could I consider delegation some with focus limited to following up on progress? Could I be a little better at prioritizing the ones that created a direct and significant impact?

Then I got acquainted to ‘prioritization’. Okay I was at least able to decide what to do first among the routine checklist of some 20-25 tasks. I had by now, in five years, filled more than six regular notes diaries at work. I was using more than one in a year although each one had more than 365 blank pages.

Then gradually, I had a sense of withdrawal from the whole process of writing and executing. I could see colleagues moving across office space casually, sipping coffee, talking, long walks post lunch, etc. I was having a feeling of an assistant to all who came to me for advice, direction and decision. IUnclear sentence was reminding them or following-up (“uskaMore…(“USA kyaKya’sKya hua?,More…human? , ussMore…uses koMore…know waiseMore…wise he karMore…Karl raheMore…rather ho?,ho?ho, wo time se karMore…Karl lena?)Lena?)

Tools like workspace, workchat orTools like workspace, work chat or Trello were not at disposal. I wondered if they could help. I wondered if I was planning to delegate and forget. Am I trying to draw comfort from the fact that the task has been assigned and now a trail of record of same on online tools suffices my stance?

I am realizing that attention span is equally important when it comes to execution of a task or a strategy. Prioritization alone does not help.

So when I decide to be ‘free’ at work, it’s for the sake of focusing and prioritizing with up most attention span. Not for long walks post lunch or chats with colleagues who serve no purpose.

Finding a match

Just before being unemployed for four months last year, I was primarily involved in hiring the middle and top management. The Job was assigned as an additional responsibility courtesy having known and understood the business needs and culture for 5 years then. 

Multiple iterations were involved in defining the job and recruitment consultants were assigned the task of shortlisting. Sample profiles being circulated amongst the members of the hiring committee. Timelines were defined. Someone had put across a JD as well.

 But by the time the first few shortlists were called for the interview, the JD was long forgotten. What remained in memory was few words describing the JD i.e. may be just the job title. For e.g. CFO with manufacturing experience.
Later, when I was myself a potential recruit, the experience still did not change. I applied for a job descriptions that seemed utopian, roles that only a super human or God would qualify for.

Hiring is not easy. It’s like a match-making for courtship. If it lasts, it will not for meeting the expectations but adjusting to the needs and priorities that evolve with passage of time. Learning this trait costs time and money. If successful it would still be a random event.

A research published in HBR outlines the top skills that professionals intend to possess. People management skills were rated far lower then technical skills that robots are likely to replace soon. With quants in hands of robots, the world will be simple again – we would need humans who come together for tasks that no robot may perform for centuries together. 

So coming back on criticality of JD, it is important to:

A. Define a JD that is realistic

B. Not forgotten when transitioning into the hiring process

C. Spread the process over a few months atleast in case of senior recruits

D. Keep JD realistic. Re-confirm whether the requirements being listed can be defined as skills. If not, then please keep them out of the JD.