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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oh! They're looking!

                     Let us consider a small situation in an examination hall. There was a student who has sitting there, writing his exam ever so slowly. He had no intentions of picking up his speed or making his presentation neat, because he had made up his mind that marks won’t do any difference to the way he felt about himself. Now, his faculty for the concerned subject walks into the room ever so slowly. She glances in various directions and finally has her eye set on this student and walks towards him. All of a sudden, things have changed for this student, and he starts writing down the answers furiously. He even makes an attempt to make his answers neat and just as she walks near, he borrows a scale from a nearby table and draws the margin for his subsequent sheets.

While this is a commonplace activity for many students out there, the organization management principle involved here is what is famously known as the ‘Hawthorne effect’. Hawthorne effect, commonly known as the observer effect, is a form of reactivity where subjects improve or modify aspects of their behavior, which is being experimentally measured, in response to the fact that they are being studied.


Here we will understand the history behind this effect and will reason the coinage of this term. It was coined in the year 1950 by Henry A. Landsberger when analyzing old experiments from 1924-32 at the Hawthorne Works at Chicago. It had commissioned a study to see if its workers would become more productive in higher or lower levels of light. The workers' productivity seemed to improve when changes were made and slumped when the study was concluded. It was suggested that the productivity gain occurred due to the impact of the motivational effect on the workers as a result of the interest being shown in them.
Later research into the Hawthorne effect has suggested that the original results may have been overstated. In 2009, researchers at the University of Chicago reanalyzed the original data and found that other factors also played a role in productivity and that the effect originally described was weak at best.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A valuable lesson on communication

A couple of weeks ago, when we were all waiting eagerly to get started with our Monday morning classes, Dr. Mandi walked in. After his initial exchange of pleasantries with the class, he took out from his bag, a collection of 27 different cubes of 9 colors. While we all were thinking on the lines of a ‘Rubix cube’ challenge, he challenged us to arrange the cubes in such a manner that no face of the larger cube thus formed, would have any repetitive color among it. In a more clear manner, it meant that each color should occur once and only once in each and every face of the larger cube.

With every challenge there is the initial enthusiasm. We all started having our own tries at the assignment without a bit of planning or coordination. One or two of us, even boldly ventured out to take it as a challenge and try it in front of the class. Mr. Mandi ridiculed us for having an unorganized approach of doing it and took an opportunity to show the class how it was to be done.

Following this, he challenged us to make a demonstration video of the activity, so that anyone watching the video could understand how the task could be accomplished in a simple manner. The catch was this: There had to be 2 volunteers; one who would talk about what is being done; and the other who would actually perform the process of arriving at the answer. It is anyone’s guess as to whose hand would’ve shot up to the air first. Yes, me and my friend volunteered to do it and I’d let you people have a look at what unfolded after we did.

As all of you have already seen, it was a very valuable lesson for us on how one should convey a message across the virtual medium. The systematic manner in which our professor conveyed the methodology left us ashamed at the job that we had done. This was followed by another team’s attempt and then we were asked to present the same in our vernacular in order to maximize the reach of the video. Overall, it was an enlightening experience where we could hone our communication and marketing skills which go hand in hand with organizational efficiency.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Taking a trip down the NITIE lane

 Going back to our places of education is always quite an experience. While I haven’t paid a visit to my engineering college, I can relate to this feeling from the visits that I have had to my 2 schools. This part here, is to appreciate that experience of the gentlemen that I am going to be talking about. After all, this is one of the very few days when time seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

  It all started with a single mail. We were told that we would be given a guest lecture by two of our alumni on the subsequent Saturday. While our initial reactions were of irritation at the prospect of our weekend getting disturbed, we came around to the idea eventually. In fact, we were all buzzing with enthusiasm when Dr. Mandi walked in with a neat looking gentleman and gestured us to take our seats. We had our first look at Mr. Nikhil, who I understand is a Manager at KPMG Consulting, and immediately our ears were attentive to what he was starting to say. He started out with the question of why the lot of us were present at NITIE at that moment of time. A lot of commonly heard answers in MBA schools came forth and some were even specific to the forte of NITIE. Nothing untoward came about and the general consensus was that everyone was there to get a good job. The question shifted to entrepreneurship and this was where the fun started. People were asked about whether they wanted to become entrepreneurs and if so, why. A lot of answers like freedom, satisfaction, money, power, accountability, passion were thrown around and everyone seemed to agree with what the other person had to say. Mr. Nikhil went on to dissect this information and assured us that after a couple of years, even a manager’s job will be as challenging as what an entrepreneur looks for. The takeaway for us, was this: ‘Don’t become an entrepreneur for the wrong reasons. Not because you have a bad boss, not because you have tight working hours and not because you hate your job. Become one for the right reason and you will have the stomach to take everything that it throws at you.’
Having said that, he moved on to his presentation. I, personally, was interested in knowing what he had in his presentation because the title slide said this: ‘What they don’t teach you at’. While the place of concern needs not an explicit mention, the point of interest was what other things we could learn. It started with an interesting slide with two cartoons representing two students standing on the two sides of an emblem which read ‘Mastishk’. We heard this term throughout the event and for those who’re wondering what it is: It is a Business simulation event that is part of Prerana, the management fest of NITIE. It was during his talk about this that his friend and co-founder of Mastishk, Hemanth, walked in to join us. He started off with two questions: 1) what is the NITIE sarovar? 2)  What is called the ladder of success? It was quite clear that he was a bundle of energy and there was an obvious difference and an inherent completeness in the way the two of them went about the activity. Testimony to this, is the fact that ‘Mastishk’ was their brain-child in their second year and they went against a lot of flak together and succeeded in making it a reality. It was during this phase of explanation that I realized the importance of the gift of time that has been endowed to us as NITIE students. It was quite clear that how we used that time could figure out what we eventually become.
The importance of taking such activities up, was stressed enough by Hemanth and Nikhil. Both of them mentioned that their final interviews were centered around what they had done as organizers and creators of Mastishk. We were initially intrigued by the validity of this. Hemanth came on to answer our unraised questions: we face a lot of decision making dilemmas that we would in a corporate organization, in a committee like Mastishk. Nikhil was quick to come up with the example of choosing between two employees for a promotion and relating it to selecting a fellow student for a role in a committee.  We were shown the original business model of Mastishk and it was awe inspiring to hear the creators talk about their creation. Given here is the website of Mastishk and a small video on the concept of online b-school events.

There were a lot of subtle takeaways for us. Some were about the importance of winning the confidence of our subordinates. Some was about the importance of spending time on knowing stuff. We were told about the concept of ‘Google before you gargle’ and reminded about the importance of using the internet in the right manner. We were told to keep the NITIE flag flying high and the importance of taking the value out of what the professors had to give even though some of their ideas might seem irrational at that point in time. Nikhil suggested some movies and inspirational books to read and it just reminded me how much I missed reading and convinced me to make it a point to read atleast one book a month. The final slide had the best message of all:
‘Be Inquisitive and Enthusiastic throughout. This will result in Creativity. Then comes Competence. But without Consistency, even competence cannot result in Credibility’

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Building towers and being ‘SMART’ about it!

Ask a 10 year old kid, what a goal is? Do you see him shaking his head? No? I am sure you hear him mention some generic words about mission, vision etcetera? In fact, I would wager 10 bucks that that would be the answer most of the grown-ups would give as well. I had an interesting class last week, where we were explained the concepts of these goals with a practical example. And how did we spice it up? We made it ‘IPL’ style where students were asked to bid on specific tower companies. Let us not get carried away by the fun part though. The important thing here is to understand how to set a goal. Clearly, that is the first thing a lot of people do. Without knowing how to do so, that is.

When the word SMART was used along with ‘goal’ I scratched my head in confusion. I did not have to be in an MBA class to know that a goal should be smart. But my confusion was short lived as I came to know that SMART actually was an acronym. Let us look at each of the individual letters and its corresponding expansion.

S – Specific:
                      ‘To generalize is to be an idiot’ - William Blake

This stresses the need for being specific while setting goals. A problem with a lot of goals is that they are extremely generic. Making a goal specific makes it more clear and unambiguous. The next question is how to make a goal specific.  A specific goal, would answer the 5 W questions:    What: What do I want to accomplish?
    Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.
    Who: Who is involved?
    Where: Identify a location.
    Which: Identify requirements and constraints. 

In our tower building exercise, we were asked to give out a plan for our tower company and it was very obvious that our goals had to be specific. In such a case, a specific goal like 'I want to build a tower of 50 blocks in this particular location by a person named X with red bricks in order to impress people' is much more likely succeed than a generic goal like ‘I want to earn money’.

M- Measurable:

               "What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated."

                    U.S Federal judge, John E Jones sure knew what he was talking about, when he said this, about the importance of measurement. A goal definitely has to be measurable because unless the destination is not measurable, the progress can never be measured and improved upon. Measuring progress is supposed to help a team stay on track, reach its target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs it on to continued effort required to reach the ultimate goal.
A measurable goal will usually answer questions such as:
·         How much?
·         How many?
·         How will I know when it is accomplished?
 In the tower building exercise, imagine how a goal like ‘I want to build tall towers’ would have sounded like! If, on the other hand, the goal is to build a tower 50 blocks high, the team would clearly be able to judge its progress and also judge how far it has to go.

A- Achievable:

                        The importance of a goal being achievable and attainable can’t be stressed enough. The policy of ‘Aim for the skies, you will atleast reach the clouds’ won’t work well with goal setting. This does not mean that the goal should be so easily achievable that the teams need not stretch them. An Achievable goal can be thought of as one which motivates the team and still doesn’t demotivate them by being daunting.
An attainable goal will usually answer the question:

  •  How: How can the goal be accomplished?
In the exercise, the goal which was deemed achievable was one which was consistent with the previous achievements in the same exercise in spite of being challenging. 

R- Relevant:

                             There was a funny example that I came across while looking up the importance of relevance in goal setting. Consider this: “Make 50 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by 2:00pm”. This goal definitely satisfies all the previous criteria for goal setting. But relevance comes into the picture when we pause to look at who has set this goal. Would this be relevant for a sportsperson? Relevance is extremely important for determining where the goal attainment would take the organization. The goal should be relevant in the context of the organization’s goals. Only if that is the case would the employees be motivated for achieving it. It is relevance that makes a goal worthwhile.

In the exercise, a goal of ‘Having the floor clean’ would not have been relevant.

T- Time bound:

                               The fifth criterion stresses the importance of grounding goals within a time frame, giving them a target date. A commitment to a deadline helps a team focus their efforts on completion of the goal on or before the due date. This part of the SMART goal criteria is intended to prevent goals from being overtaken by the day-to-day crises that invariably arise in an organization. A time-bound goal is intended to establish a sense of urgency.

A time-bound goal will usually answer the question:
     What can I do six months from now?
     What can I do six weeks from now?
     What can I do today?

Even our goals in the tower building activity required that we complete the activity within 20 minutes. Removing the concept of time from goals makes them lose their value.  

Only ‘Three monks’ and yet so many lessons!

As part of a learning activity, I was asked to watch this animation movie, ‘Three monks’ the other day. I was taken aback by how something so simple, could convey so much meaning. A Chinese feature film shot in the aftermath of the fall of the notorious ‘Gang of four’ in 1976, it is a movie which has a subtle and yet strong message. The lack of dialogues makes it an ideal candidate for anyone regardless of their vernacular. It also has animations which children would appreciate making it an ideal lesson for children at a very young age.
To give a brief idea about the plot of the film, it is based on the ancient Chinese proverb "One monk will shoulder two buckets of water, two monks will share the load, but add a third and no one will want to fetch water”. A young monk lives a simple life in a temple on top of a hill. He has one daily task of hauling two buckets of water up the hill. He tries to share the job with another monk, but the carry pole is only long enough for one bucket. The arrival of a third monk prompts everyone to expect that someone else will take on the chore. Consequently, no one fetches water though everybody is thirsty. At night, a rat comes to scrounge and then knocks the candle-holder  leading to a devastating fire in the temple. The three monks finally unite together and make a concerted effort to put out the fire. Since then they understand the old saying "unity is strength" and begin to live a harmonious life. The temple never lacks water again.
Now that I have talked enough about the movie, let me dive right into what I could interpret from it. Each of the point mentioned here would first talk about the implication that I derived and also how I have faced it in my life.

From Craftsman to a team:
It was really refreshing to see the first monk worshiping the deity with so much vigor and zeal. But it is quite obvious that after a couple of days, he finds it monotonous and lacks the motivation to do anything. This is very much the case with a lot of craftsmen who are all alone in their battles against life and regardless of how good they are at their job, their perspective is minimized which results in the lack of a vision in what they’re doing. But it is quite clear that when the team is established, the monks get a common purpose and end up rejoicing what they are doing. While I have not really had any craftsmanship experience, I have often found that forming a team helps in enjoying the little things more and also gives a second perspective to what we do. This can come in handy, while facing any problem or while trying to scale up into a larger magnitude.

The need for a standard:
There is a single incident in the movie where when the first two monks are measuring the stick with their hands, the find differences in the resultant measurement. It was then that the first monk got the idea of using a scale. While the importance of this in the movie was not emphasized much, I’d like to say this: Our lives have become so much simpler because of the existence of standard units of measurement. Imagine weighing vegetables and computers through nothing but our hands!

Every team has a problem, and there is a definite solution.
“People who are winning at working don't ignore the problems they encounter.” 
While this was said by some intelligent gentleman who knew what he was talking about, I think all of us can relate to this. In the movie, even though we see that none of the monks are evil (there are actually instances of each of them showing kindness to a living thing), they end up having problems and misunderstandings when they start working together. And what next? They find the solutions which make their life much easier. Differences in personalities of people always results in the initial friction but this is the place where the manager needs to utilize his expertise in order to make them work together on a problem and give the team a chance to click. In fact, this is a direct application of the Pygmalion effect that we saw in the previous post. I,  personally, have been in a lot of situations where there were initial frictions in the teams that I worked for, but eventually the chemistry kicked in and everything becomes normal and in fact, better.

Three is greater than one.
In fact any positive integer other than one itself, is. We see this depicted in the movie through the final scene where each of the three monks’ life is made easier through the arrangement of the pulley and bucket setup. It is this principle which drives organizations to scale up and it is this very principle which makes companies better than a craftsman.
While there can be many more interpretations of this movie, I would like my readers to throw in their perspectives as comments.
After all what are we, if not a TEAM?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The power of expectations

Let us look at the life of two students who are of the same mental capacity and who happen to be in the same classroom. Consider the first of the two, A: A is a very bright child, his powers of understanding are exemplary and he gels well with almost everyone he comes across. In a nutshell, A is a people’s person who is as talented as they come. Now let us consider the other student, B: B is an equally bright child but one significant difference is that he comes across as a little bit eccentric. B takes some time liking people and it is for this reason that B has comparatively lesser number of friends.

Now let us look at an incident which happened in the beginning of an academic year. The section’s new mathematics teacher has just had an introduction session for the children and she is just about to begin the class. She instantly identifies the two strong personalities that exist in the classroom in the form of A and B. While A impresses her naturally, she finds B’s attitude a bit lethargic and forms a prejudice against him that he is not sincere. Her initial classes give form to this perception. She makes it apparent that she expects a lot out of A with statements like, ‘There is my class’ brightest kid’; ‘A 99% means you are not making justice to what you have’; On the other hand, she blatantly criticizes B because of her preconceived notions. B’s confidence gets shattered and even his initial attempts at participation become void and he succumbs into his mental cocoon and stops participating in the class. When the results arrive, it is of no surprise to anyone that A becomes the topper. Only a trained eye could’ve found out that an equally talented child was struggling in the bottom few ranks of the class because of no actions of his own.

  This case, is a classic example of Pygmalion effect and its less popular corollary, the Golem effect. Pygmalion effect is first described in Ovid’s narrative poem Metamorphoses, in which Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. A more modern embodiment of this is the play ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw. It is the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation that is placed upon people, the better they perform. The corollary of this is the ‘Golem’ effect which implies that lower expectations from a person result in poorer performance. Both are forms of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and in this regard, people will internalize their positive labels and those with positive labels succeed accordingly. These can be put to use in a lot of organizations wherein a manager’s expectation from an employee makes him much more enthusiastic and has a positive effect on his morale and performance. It is my personal understanding that Pygmalion effect gives a personal touch to the relationship between the manager and employee and it shows the employee that the manager cares for his growth and rates him very highly. This will, in a way, eliminate the alienation that people feel with a lot of their organizations.