Monday, December 10, 2012

Good Work Culture but a Bad Work Place

Many organizations claim to have "good work culture". And in this context "good work culture" represents one or more of the following  elements:
  • Top management propagates open door policy and is seemingly accessible to others without taking prior appointment from the executive secretary
  • Top management or the CEO has an email id like or to which employees can freely send suggestions and concerns
  • Team members are encouraged to walk to their manager, without any prior appointment, to discuss their concerns
  • Teams go out on outings, picnics, lunches, team building etc. which are assumed to strengthen relations of managers to team members and team members to team members in an informal setting
  • There are events like annual day, annual night, sports day, open house, family day, annual meet, annual picnic, etc. where employees can interact with top management in an informal environment
  • Top management conducts monthly open houses, all hands meeting, town hall meeting, etc. where organizational updates are shared with the rank and the file
  • The organization has a set of core values (six to eight generally) and a code of conduct (consisting of eight to twelve points generally) which all employees are expected to imbibe and practice
  • The organization claims to provide career growth opportunities through lateral movement, promotions, cross training, new assignments, etc.
  • The organization claims to have employee friendly policies like work from home, family bereavement leave, flexible working hours, self service portals. etc.
Unfortunately, in many organizations the above elements become a means to camouflage the intrinsic structural weaknesses in the organizational strategy, structure and culture. Such organizations with apparently "good work culture"could be a "bad work place". And in this context "bad work place" represents one or more of the following  elements:
  • Top management is seemingly accessible but the all powerful executive secretary cannot be bypassed. Not only that the top management gives an impression of all talk and rarely walk.
  • Top management or the CEO email ids are not attended to many times and when attended to end up sounding over-sincere but in the end justifying why the suggestions and concerns cannot be taken up
  • Team members are encouraged to walk to their manager but the managers are mostly busy in first getting their concerns addressed in the hustle and bustle of organizational dynamics
  • Teams go out on outings, picnics, lunches, team building etc. where team members enjoy the day off, have a nice lunch and indulge in a lot of irrelevant, trivial talk
  • There are events like annual day, annual night, sports day, open house, family day, annual meet, annual picnic, etc. where employees do interact with top management but must always keep the guards on
  • Top management conducts monthly open houses, all hands meeting, town hall meeting, etc. where organizational updates are shared but in a very ritualistic manner
  • The organization's core values and code of conduct are enforced amongst employees through a corporate mandate but actions of top management are at times exempt from those
  • The organization effects lateral movement through management force (manager may disagree but is forced to take a member in the team) and promotions are tenure-based rather than role-based
  • The organization claims to have employee friendly policies but the approvals and oversight on such policies are such that employees avoid using them

Unpleasant Workplace Situations

Happiness in life depends upon what happens to one in the home, at the workplace and elsewhere. One key point to be noted is that the control and influence one generally has on the home matters is reasonably high, on the workplace matters is moderate to less and elsewhere is very less.

It is an important characteristic of the modern society that one's identity and social status has a lot to do with one's standing in the workplace. For example, the Prime Minister of a country is a Prime Minister every second of his or her term and hence enjoys all the privileges that comes with the workplace position, both material and social. Similarly, an IT Support professional has a certain social status because of his being an IT Support professional. Friends may refer to the IT Support professional as "he is the network guy" or "he fixes IT systems".

The control and influence one has on the workplace matters and the fact that one's identity and social status has a lot to do with one's standing in the workplace implies that happiness in life depends a lot upon what happens to one at the workplace.

Unpleasant situations happen at every workplace and to almost everyone in their careers not once but many many times. Here are some unpleasant situations one experiences in the workplace, especially in the corporate setup:
  • One is not at all copied on an important email
  • One is not copied on an important email and receives it as a forward from someone else
  • One is not copied on an important email and receives it as a forward from someone else who might be in the reporting chain of the recipient but adds only as much value as a post-redirect does
  • One is the head of a function for all practical purposes in actual practice but is not invited to inter-functional meetings as someone else is the function head on the papers
  • One as the function head "in actual practice" holds all accountability for failures but has to share the successes with the "on the papers' function head
  • One is not invited to an important meeting and the "on the papers' function head represents the "in actual practice" function head
  • One as the head of a support function is given clear indication by the marketing head that"sales and marketing" is all that matters as they bring money (revenues, clients)
  • One is not proactively informed by a team member regarding the progress of an assigned task unless asked about the same
  • One gets to know from a team member only at the last moment that a certain critical task will be delayed
  • One is not informed by a team member about him or her being on leave 
  • One has a team member who doesn't communicate the stakeholders who might be waiting upon him or her regarding possible delay in completion of certain tasks leading to avoidable escalations

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

This Way… or Another (A Poem)

Which path shall one head for?
Should one head this way… or another?

On the journey towards the destination
Everyone encounters this question
Which path shall one head for?
Should one head this way or… another?

Thoughts of home as you reach the unknown earth
Bring the familiar feeling in the heart,
That the known clouds though left behind
Are just hiding somewhere for you to find

Memories lingering in your mind-scape
Search for old things in the new landscape
To make you feel at home
As you find many new things are actually known

You are on your way to a new territory
Leaving behind a life full of merry
Determined to find another home
In a land far away from your own

Waiting to start another journey
And ask yourself the same question again
Which path shall you head for?
Should you head this way… or the other?

The Beckoning Beacon (A Poem)

The beacon on the horizon faraway
Ignites feelings of runaway

Reaching there seems tough
With the weather seemingly so violent and rough

Holding tightly to hope
Mustering all inner strength to cope

The unbroken spirit is still alive
To see the days with eyes wide

It is going to be bright soon
If not sun let it be just the moon

Light though dull and dark
Will surely be enough to make the mark

Carrying the longing in the heart
Waiting for just one sight of earth

The days seem to be slow
Like rain turning into snow

The beacon from the distance is beckoning
Seems to say, “it’s you I am challenging!”

Will you arrive at the destination
Doesn’t appear to be anyway a question

Would you be able to arrive with your spirit unbroken
Is really the only million-dollar question

The beacon seems to challenge again
Prove that you are a real man!

Make a wish, offer a pray
Though the weather is all dark and gray

You will make it to the destination with unbroken spirit
Arriving with heart full of spirit

Holler at the beacon with all might
I will be there, yes that’s right!

So here I come
The beckoning beacon

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Buying a New Car

Buying a new car is a good exercise to test one's decision making skills. Especially these days when the choices are really too many. If one is in India like me one has multiple models (Ford Fiesta Classic, SX4, Santro Xing, etc.) with multiple versions (LXI, VXI, ZXI, etc.) from dozens of car manufacturers (Maruti Suzuki, Ford, Hyundai, etc.) to choose from. And then due to the increase in prices of petrol in the recent months CNG and diesel cars have suddenly become very popular amongst car buyers.

Suggested Steps for Buying a New Car

So how should one go about buying a car? I am going to narrate my experience and opinion on a suggested approach to decide and buy a car.

It must be remembered that no decision is best and the selected decision should be optimal in a given situation. And most importantly an optimal decision at a given point in time may not remain so afterwards.

So here's a step-wise approach to buy a car. These steps need not be followed in a perfect linear fashion and not only that some of them may need to be iterated more than once.

Step 1 - Check Affordability and Requirements
  • Determine, as the first thing, the affordability which depends on one's financial position. Do consider both the one time purchase cost and the recurring cost for fuel, service, repairs, etc.
  • Determine the requirements based on factors like one's typical monthly running, ratio of highway versus city driving, social standing, lifestyle, ego drive, etc.
  • Decide based on the above whether one would want to buy a petrol, a diesel or a CNG powered car and also whether one would want to buy a hatchback or a sedan or an SUV. In the end however budget is everything and might constrain one's choice to only a hatchback or the low-end version of an entry segment sedan.
  • Decide, in case one already has a car, whether one would want to exchange the old car for a brand new car or buy another one (this has direct impact on the budget).
I had an old hatchback car which I wanted to exchange for a new sedan. After having driven the hatchback for 7 years I wanted to move up so as to say. Also financially I was in a position to afford a sedan. In addition I wanted to buy a car with good ground clearance (a must for the potholed and poorly maintained roads). Based on my driving requirements I realized a petrol powered car would suit me fine.

Step 2 - Check Budget Availability
  • Figure out the initial budget. A range has to be good to go like 6 to 8 lacs or 15 to 20 lacs. 
  • Fine-tune the initial budget based on how much one is willing to spend, down payment amount and loan requirements. 
  • Search on the Internet to find out if any schemes or discounts that are being offered during that period.
  • Do consider the approximate exchange cost (in case one is wishing to sell the old car and buy a new one) as well to arrive at the maximum amount one can stretch the budget to. 
    • One can use the niche websites on cars and automobiles that provide information on approximate exchange cost based on the year of manufacturing of your old car, kilometers driven, condition, accidents and insurance claims history, etc. 
    • For getting the URLs of these websites Google for something like "Buy Car India" or "India Car" or anything that you think appropriate.
I did not want to take loan. I also did not want to pay more than a certain amount in cash (x1). Based on research I could gather information on schemes/discounts on offer (x2) and the fair exchange value of  my old car (let's call it x3). So I could come up with my initial budget, B = x1 - x2.+ x3

Step 3 - Check Car Options
  • Do research into the cars that will fit the affordability and budget parameters.
    • You can use the niche websites to search for cars in the range you have selected.
  • Keep in mind that the cost shown in most websites is the 'ex-showroom price' and the 'on road cost' will be typically 8% to 12% higher. This is for the RTO registration, insurance, dealer handling charges, extended warranty, etc.
Based on searching some of the niche websites I zeroed down upon sedans whose 'on road cost' was within B. I narrowed down to diesel versions of three cars - C1, C2 and C3.
Step 4 - Visit Car Showrooms
  • Visit the car showrooms in person and discuss with the salespersons there. In the visits gather information on 'on road cost' and its detailed break-up for the car models one is interested in. Again one can use the Internet to search for addresses of car showrooms near to you.
  • Take a test drive to get a feel of driving the car of choice. Do ask all any questions that come to your mind while doing te test drive. Typical questions are "how to open the bonnet?", "how to use the wipers?", "how to adjust the seats?", etc.
  • Do inquire about any scheme that may be going on like cash discounts, free accessories, free fuel coupons, etc. Other than ex-showroom price and RTO registration cost everything else can be negotiated.
  • Find out whether there is any exchange and/or loyalty bonus being offered. If you are considering buying another car from the manufacturer of your old car loyalty bonus may be offered. And in case you want to sell your old car for a brand new car exchange bonus may be offered. For availing exchange bonus you need not go with the manufacturer of your old car.
I visited many car showrooms and other than the discussions and information gathering made sure to take the test drive.

Step 5 - Bite the Bullet - Decide which Car to Buy
  • Consider various factors like affordability, requirements, etc. and arrive at a decision
  • Do consult any friends or family memebers
  • Visit the showrooms for next round of discussion and negotiation. Do ask for a better deal or some discounts, etc.
  • Agree on the payment amount and other terms and conditions like number of days for car delivery
  • Make the token payment and book the car.
I made the final decision based on affordability, requirements, etc.and discussion with some acquaintances, friends and family. For me family's concurrence and affordability was very very important.

Step 6 -  Arrange the Finances and Make the Payment
  • Arrange the payment amount
  • Make the payment to the car dealer
  • Get a commitment from the dealer on the expected delivery date
I arranged the finances and made the payment to the dealer leaving a small part which I decided to pay on the date of the delivery. I also negotiated for an early delivery of the car and also that I would leave my old car with the dealer when I come to take delivery of the new car.

Step 7 -  Drive Home the New Car
  • Visit the car dealer on the date of delivery
  • Make sure the documents related to registration, warranty, insurance, etc. are in order. In case one is exchanging the old car for the new one, the sale documents for the old car also need to be checked.
  • Inspect the car and then sign all papers carefully
  • Thanks the car dealer
  • Drive your car out of the showroom!
I went on the day of the delivery to the showroom with my family in my old car. And after completing the formalities drove out in the new car.

And while on the road in your new car, very importantly, don't forget to carry the necessary car documents and follow the traffic rules. Enjoy and let other also enjoy safe driving.

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