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?

What should a Compensation Reward for?

In today’s world given the premise that “People respond to incentives”, we in our personal and professional roles are goaled to achieve desired outcomes- of course, it has to do only with ‘Gain’ as a desired outcome. For instance, we want our kids to attain 99.99% in exams. We want our management team at office to focus only on “Outcomes”.

But then this is all so good under another premise “All humans are rationale in their decisions at all times.” Without overstating, this fact was ‘never’ true ever since it was premised in all of the key economic theories.

If a doctor performs an operation and the patient survives, this is weighted higher than if the patient dies. Extending the logic further, is doctor’s decision to follow a particular operation procedure driven by his past experience or based on the medical records presented to him?

It can safely be argued that any of the approach followed – experience or existing medical records- the outcome is unknown. This means the factor of ‘luck’ on whether the patient survives or dies is significant enough to ignore. So if a compensation structure premised purely on the ‘outcome’ of the patient surviving then the probability of Doctor earning a reward is 50%.

If the Doctor is assumed to be the rare individual who is ‘rational’ all the time, he will stick to the same process that is most appropriate whether this rewards him or not. If this is true,on the contrary, the probability of success is equally higher when a bad processes is followed. Hence, a compensation structure should also factor in a process of effective risk management. For e.g. an inappropriate compensation structure will not help reduce dependence on a single large customer.

Given the intricacies involved in fixing an appropriate compensation structure a due consideration to:

a. Absolute wealth of an employee- He is prone to take more risks since personally he has limited risks for failed outcomes.

b. Compensation relative to an average employee- It should be only to ‘differentiate’ optimally. It cannot be 200% more than what an average employee is currently earning. If this is the case then it points to the notion that shareholders believe in Super Hero who is in limited supply in industry.

Management Leasons from Photography

Photography is NOT synonymous to snapshooting (random clicks without a defined thought). ‘Management’ is as ‘generic’ a skill as clicking using a camera. But then the difference emerges when some key traits are exhibited in the effort.

A goal achieved or a perfect photo clicked, motivates and pushes us to review it in detail and then try repeating it. 

I have been into photography and have been trying to review what is in it for me to learn. Some of those learnings are listed below for benefit of all:

1.  Knowing center of interest- When setting out, a photographer is able to find its center of interest – what is it?; why is it so? In management this is defining objective and setting goal(s). Its not being futuristic. Its well within the scope of execution. It means finding relevant frame or pattern (photography) and objective (management) amidst chaos (photography) and piles of information (management).

2. Composition- Its about what to include? Its also about what to eliminate? A good composition gives balance to the picture but shows relation of subject to objects. When in management learning to priortize and selecting a team that works harmoniously for the goal.

3. Trends, patterns, lines, shapes- All these help framing and adding meaning to a picture. In management its about having diversity but which exhibits cohesiveness and a purpose. For instance good photographers avoid mixing circles with squares in their pictures. They actually add to chaos and weaken the composition. 

4. Timing- I learnt about ‘relaxed attentiveness’ in photography. You are not getting into details but still paying attention to all details. This helps a photographer to pre-empt a moment and hence master the timing. If its not, the same event rarely repeats.

In management we need to know that there is randomness despite all efforts, there are events that are beyond our control. Timing is what makes the difference to achievement of a goal.

5. Chance- In photography every great click is by ‘Chance’. Despite all efforts and adherence to rules, its finally a probability. Similarly we should continue to strive and success is still a matter of chance.