Carrot & Stick

Since time immemorial, I can imagine, there has been a need to motivate people into the “right” behavior.

The first crime ever committed was probably soon after the first settlement was settled and somebody stole a goat from their neighbour.  This resulted in a verdict of “Thou shalt return the goat to thy neighbour; thine goat shall then be cooked for all”.

Punishment was probably easy to implement.  It produced results, was flexible, was (almost) costless and allowed for control of masses within limits of the available technology and philosophy.  However, it must have soon been realized that something was needed to prevent the crimes from occuring in the first place.  Also, there was something needed to make people do good; not just stop them from doing bad.  And this was a gap in the punishment theory.

Bang!  Religion was invented.  Punishment, already invented was included by default.  However, rewards for good behaviour were also included.  This allowed people not only to encourage good behaviour, but also define the parameters of that good behaviour.  Means were very limited though; the rewards could not be distributed freely.  The solution was to provide these rewards in the afterlife (or next life).  This meant no accountability and no feedback.  The required faith also ensured that any gaps in the theory could not be questioned.  A brilliant solution to the motivation problem!

Fast forward to the corporate environment.  The situation does seem to be similar here.  Punishment is easier to implement, easier to execute and requires a lower level of imagination and ability from the managers in-charge.  Loss of employment has always been a credible threat (and remains so today despite the changes in the competitive and HR landscape).

But, how does one motivate good behavior?  This is pretty much a requirement for any organization, not only to thrive, but just to survive in today’s world.  Tools similar to religion were used; lifelong employment, retirement benefits, etc.  This provided the returns on a perennial basis and enabled ‘faith’ and trust in the organization as well as employee.  As the landscape became more competitive, organizations decided they could not afford the largesse.  Individuals also found it more lucrative to sell oneself to the highest bidder in the market.  The lifetime contract was buried once and for all.

So, the conundrum becomes quite accute for the managers of today.  Motivation has become a very complicated field.  Gone are the days when motivation was limited to monetary gains and job security.  Employees as well as organizations concentrate on non-monetary methods.  Also, the expectation of the employees are keeping up with general social trends (they are the same people, are they not!) and demanding instant gratification – and that is if they are not demanding things as incentives before they perform.  Today, the concept of an annual bonus may not make sense due to this.  Even the annual appraisal is being shelved in some brave organizations in favor of a more continuous process.

What is one to do?  In order to succeed themselves, managers (ably led/supported by HR departments), need to break the mold and do things that were unthinkable a few years ago. We need to make the benefits more short term, more flexible (based on the need of the individual). We need to make them more realistic and of real use to our staff. Only then will they give 110% (defined as more that we demand). These are active thoughts in new gen companies such as Google, but for the vast majority of the corporate landscape, the answer continues to be “this will not work for us?”.

Then, the question is what will? Until we redefine the “Carrot” and continue to adjust to the needs to today, we will not be able to get the newer generations to continue working for us. It will take us, the 9-to-whatevers, to open up our imaginations, our biases, our assumptions to really make the worker of today feel Welcome!

Bluntness & Motivation

I have been going through a confidence crisis recently (not what you think though).  I have been trying to think why people are not confident in doing what they need to do.  The thought had reached a crisis level.

Yesterday, I came across a simple and direct article (completely unrelated to the topic) on bluntness (by Kate Nasser) which got me thinking tangentially yet again.  The article included a point on bluntness being different from diplomatic honesty.

Bluntness is considered a bad thing due to the connotation of the message not being given in the right spirit.  The basic assumption, though, is that the message being given is a negative message.  My thought raced to what if the message is positive?  Will being blunt become a pleasant experience then?

The mind then reverted to the confidence issue.  One of the elements of confidence is positive feedback for your actions.  Negative feedback is useful for correcting incorrect actions, but re-enforcing and motivating positive actions is critical to the act of confidence building – ask (almost) any parent.

We are often “blunt” or “diplomatically honest” when the results are not upto our expectations (what we perceive as incorrect actions).  We are quick to remind people about appropriate customer service (as customers), appropriate performance (as managers), appropriate xyz (as abc), etc.  We love it and feel like we are contributing to society as a whole.

What do we do when things happen correctly?  When we get a coffee at the right temperature?  When the travel department books the right flight?  When the resource at our disposal writes the correct piece of code?  Well that is just as expected!  The lack of negative feedback should clearly indicate our satisfaction?  Introspection time!  We all typically feel the need for a little bit more than that.

I am not suggesting that we lower our standards; that we should start giving people accolades for showing up to work.  Going beyond expectations should stay exactly where it is and the rewards should remain tough to get.  However, we should adjust our attitude to the “met expectation” rating.  There should be something in it for people who are able to achieve that.  A “thank you”, “that is exactly what I was looking for”, “this is appropriate” and myriad such examples could go a long way…

A long way to what?  To building the confidence of the person this was said to.  Of ensuring that they understand that they met your expectations and relieving them of the need to be body language readers to do so.  I am proposing that we stop making the lack of negativity represent positivity.

Thinking about my own behavior, do I do this?  Yes!  Consistently?  No!  Often enough? Not sure, but no harm in trying!  From today, I pledge to be more complimentary and verbal than I have been before.  I pledge to be more “blunt”.  9-to-whatevers: your views?

Reactions To The Mumbai Blasts…

Like a lot of people, I was a helpless observer of the events unfolding in Mumbai last night.  There was a drive to contribute accompanied by a distinct inability to do so.  In the end, I became part of the masses watching this unfold on media and trying to ensure that friends and family were OK.

Friends and family…  Would first like to pass on my condolences to all who were directly impacted by this.  Loss of life or health is not replaceable with any post-facto actions.

I would also like to pass on some of my observations.  What surprised me was that these observations have large support from the sources that I was able to observe – comments on TV, digital media or print media – the general public comments.


A lot of panic was generated yesterday.  Panic was related to a general feeling of deja vu, and the experiences of the city and country from the pre-decessors.  The panic was exacerbated by the actions of the media.  What did impress me though was the calm and methodical approach taken by the people in charge.  Regular, clear, concise communication with no pre-analysis announcements – the biggest difference that I was able to note.


Seemed to do a better job than I remember ever before.  They were much better at communication, but in the scenes that I could see, the hawaldar on the ground was still confused.  Preparedness, organization and ability to respond quickly seems to still need work. Inability to clear and secure the sites quickly also bothered me.


The behaviour of the media did not surprise me.  That to me was strange given that what I saw I categorized as deplorable. There has been a lot of criticism of this in previous incidents; likewise in this one, but not sure what would motivate our dear TV news channels to change.

  • The TV news channels were running in a loop – showing the same things with an amazing frequency.
  • They kept people extremely up to date on any official announcements regarding casualty numbers and the ilk
  • They were relentless in pursuing eyewitnesses; 1 channel even interviewed a person who had run away from the scene without seeing anything
  • The images were graphic, in a lot of cases not even blurred. People were being encouraged to send more images in
  • In getting this information, neither the TV crews or the other people at the sites worried about trampling all over the evidence
  • There was no information on the state of traffic, trains, buses, etc so that people could find their way home
  • There was no information on blood donation that I noticed – either encouraging or directing donors
  • There was no direction on what people were supposed to do

There seemed to be a focus on satisfying the voyeuristic desires of people sitting at home (like me); not to pass on helpful information to people caught-up in the mess and needing help

 Digital Media

 I have not been a user of twitter until recently. What I have heard about it’s past contributions is one of the reasons I am there now.  The tweeps were what really made the day here. What I saw:

  • People publishing phone numbers in public advertising assistance [food/shelter/medical help/etc]
  • People publishing routes that they are taking so that stranded people could get assistance
  • People responding to cries for help appropriately and providing solutions
  • People willing to give blood and other people directing them where to go
  • Somebody got the bright idea of consolidating the information so that it would be easily trackable and usable
  • Latest information on traffic, trains, buses, taxis and what not – actually useful to people
  • Other kinds of information was available – who to attack, how other countries would respond, etc.  However, there were an equal number of people asking them to hold-off until the emergency had been dealt with.

The brilliant behaviour of the people and the usefulness of the adopted platform to the cause is something that should be remembered in this hour of pain.  To whatever degree, these actions did alleviate some of the pain that would have been present otherwise.

 What I observed was interviewees on the TV, people on twitter and people I have had conversations with having similar sentiments. I am sure with a little bit of change we can do better next time.  For there to be no next time is the best, but that would require a lot of change.

What I learnt and what the 9-to-whatevers can take away is that resources available are not the only thing that drive results.  TV channels and the like have many more resources and better organization than any loosely built collection of individuals.  Yet, this collection provided a significantly higher benefit last night using the meagre resources.  Differences in motivation? drive? desire? leadership? ? ? You tell me…


A link detailing some of the activities that helped.

What is Customer Service?

There are multiple aspects of customer service; and they are not necessarily aligned.

So, here goes a recent conversation I had…

Ring, ring…
Me: Hello!
Oper: I am calling from xyz mobile company. Can I speak to Axxxx
Me: Nobody by that name here
Oper: Is this 9xxxxxxxxx?
Me: Yes, but the name is Aviral
Oper: Please go to the store at location x and submit your documents
Me: I did that 2 days ago. Can you please get this fixed?
Oper: Sir! This is a welcome call. I cannot do that. Please take your documents to location x
Me: (in my mind) What are you welcoming me to – bad customer service?

Unfortunately, experiences such as this are not limited to Telecom companies. In the city that I call home, customer service often takes a back seat. This is true in stores, restaurants, and even in the professional organizations.

This led me to question why we put up with it. I did an (extremely) unscientific survey and came up with the following observations:

  1. People tend to pay more attention to what they receive than how they receive it
  2. People tend to avoid thinking about what they will do when/if something goes wrong

This led me to thinking about the various facets of customer service. My thoughts, incomplete on hindsight, identified customer service as what I got from people – sales, queries, complaints and the ilk. I was completely ignoring the initial quality of the product as an element of customer service.

I now agree that the best customer service is one where one never needs after sales support. However, this is not realistic and companies need to cater for the other parts also. This is especially true for places with forced interaction such as restaurants – food quality is necessary but not sufficient.

So, the unanswered questions in my mind:

  1. What is the right balance as far as the definition of customer service goes?
  2. What are the drivers for organizations to achieve this balance?
  3. As consumers, how much and how can we impact these drivers to get the right balance necessary for us?

For us 9-to-whatevers, the question translates into how much we think about the customer vs. the product as we perform our duties…

Emerging Young Leadership…

As you can probably see from my posts, watching emerging young leadership is something I tend to do.  A friend of mine recently sent me a welcome speech from freshmen coming into a high-school given by his son.  This is a kid that I have known since 10 years ago, but have not met in the last 5 years.  This window into his outlook in life and his ability to express it are something that drove me to publish this.  Please enjoy this considering that this is from a precocious 17-year old.

Good evening and welcome to the families and students of the Class of 2015. Let me first start by personally congratulating you on being accepted into the Bergen County Academies; you should all be very proud of what you have accomplished. My name is Michael Macalintal, and I am a senior in the Academy for Medical Science Technology and the President of the Senior Class.

Now, my job here tonight is to preach some words of wisdom, tips on how to “survive” the next four years of your life. Don’t get me wrong, at any high school you’re going to need to know some survival tips. But remember, you’re at BCA, and we’re not like any other high school.

See, the thing you have to know about this school is that it’s a place of opportunity, where you have the chance to discover yourself, and pave your own road for others to follow. It’s a school where you will find students preparing a scene for their theatre class, finishing projects two minutes before class starts, burying their heads in SAT books, experimenting on stem cells, and singing songs with guitars by their lockers. BCA is a place where respect isn’t born from being the most popular, or having a face like Brad Pitt; it comes from having the drive and motivation to be the very best that you can be. It is not the buildings or the classes that make our school special; it is students. The students are the ones that breathe life into this school; they are the artists.

From the moment I first entered school as a freshman, a blank canvas fell in front of my feet and a paintbrush with bottles of paint were thrust into my hands. I realized then that I had to paint. Throughout each year, I worked tirelessly, combining different brushstrokes with obscene colors and figures, giving it my all to portray the perfect picture of what high school was for me. Every experience that I went through—whether it was playing and singing in a band, or running for student council, or studying late at night for a huge test—each one was painted on that canvas. Look at me now; I am an artist putting the final details on his masterpiece, ready to frame it for the world to see, and to pass that blank canvas along to the next generation of artists to come. I could have chosen to be an imitation and go the same way that every other student has before me. I could’ve chosen to be like DaVinci, and paint a portrait of a beautiful woman and go on to impact the world in all its art forms, from science and engineering, to music and innovation. Yet, I chose to make my own creation, and produce my own painting. That’s what BCA has allowed me to do. In the past four years, I have grown into a person that sees the world as a place with no limitations, only possibilities for a better tomorrow.

This, my dear friends, is the challenge that I bring to you. For the next four years, you are the new artists that have been chosen to make an impact on this world. You will be the ones to forge your own piece of art. As I said before, you can choose to be Van Gogh, and paint a starry night. You can be Picasso, and paint a boy with a pipe. Or, you can be bold, and mix yellow and brown or black with green to create odd colors that suit your taste. You can choose to not be delicate with your paintbrush and instead use your hands to create your work. At this place of wonder and awe, you can create whatever piece of art you want, you just have to be willing to do so. So I say to you, Class of 2015, paint. Paint your dreams and ambitions onto that canvas and take advantage of anything and everything that piques your interest. Take a class on Middle Eastern Policy or learn how to act; learn the laws of business or use stem cells to find a correlation between hard-boiled eggs and the common cold.  Just be sure that whatever you choose to accomplish in high school, you put your full effort into it, and know that at the end of it all, you made the most of your four years here and are ready to show off your work of genius for all to see. Because if you want to make it here, you really do need to know only three things: Keep an open mind, an open heart, and always, expect the unexpected; because sometimes, life has a funny way of pointing us in the right direction. Watch as your own little canvas transforms itself into something more beautiful and original than anything you ever would’ve conceived. For even if blue and red make purple, who’s to say that the colors stop there? The colors never end, and neither do the opportunities.  Thank you very much, congratulations, and good luck to you, the Bergen County Academies Class of 2015.

I am quite proud of him!

So, for the 9-to-whatevers, have the courage to express what is in your heart…

We all have a share…

The last week and a half has been a very exciting time to be an Indian.  Even if you did not care about cricket at the beginning of that period, you tended to get caught up in the fever by last Saturday.  The Indian victory has done wonders for our psyche. [And severe damage for the psyche of the teams for the next 6 world cups, but that is a different story for a different time.]

I, as usual, was looking at some unusual aspects of the progression.  We had a wonderful team with some wonderful players who had been tagged to win by some wonderfully knowledgeable people.  This team did wonderfully.  For the first time in my long memory, I saw:

  • An Indian team lived up to it’s expectations
  • It exceeded expectations in that it lived up to it’s expectations despite the extreme amount of pressure that we, as the general Indian public and media, made sure they knew about
  • They did it in style
    • They beat the 3-time reigning champions
    • Then they beat the arch-rivals who were performing superbly
    • And then the icing on the cake.  Beating several odds to win the final – you know the facts

So, all very interesting, very applaudable, etc, etc.  So what did I find interesting about it?

Well, if you did talk to other people (wow!), the victory seemed to have little to do with the 11 on the field and everything to do with everything that everybody was doing off it!  Superstitions reigned galore and consistency was paramount.

  • I am aware that dressing room staff is not allowed to move an inch if something good is happening on the field.  However, dressing room etiquette seemed to stretch to every living room in the country.  I know of one guy not allowed to sit in the entire Australia match by his wife, because the moment he entered the house and sat down, a wicket fell…
  • One of my favorite comments during planning for the India-Pakistan match – “Wow!  India’s victory will have nothing to do with the 11 on the field, but will be due to the specific place you setup the projector and sat drinking beer while watching the Australia game” when the plan was going to be replicated exactly.
  • I know of several people who needed to find the support staff to ensure the clothes they wore got cleaned in time for the next game
  • I actually know of somebody who constantly bet against India and lost money so that India would win!  I should have taken the other side…

While not against superstition or the safety aspects of above actions, what I was surprised about was the extent of this in the professional community in this country – across cities and across professions.  It was a revelation to observe the extent to which people are willing to take accountability for results completely out of their sphere of influence [some may like to question the extent of this available at work…]

Well, due to the above, I would like to request the BCCI and Dhoni, in particular, to consider the contribution of a significant percentage of the 1.2 Billion [and others outside the country] to their victory and ensure that the spoils are not limited to 15+ support staff.

So, what are us 9-to-whatevers to take away from this?  Not much – this is a passion post.  But, the passion in us does seem to run deep.  If we are able to connect and feel responsible for something so out of our control, can we be made to feel the same for things closer to home? Hmm…