Thursday, February 28, 2013

When will we learn our lessons?

Courtesy of jscreationzs
Comparing our life-styles and thought processes with that of the western world is more of a daily affair for many of us. However, three specific incidents in the last few days have made me think about this much more than I used to do earlier. Not exactly "out-of-the-world" incidents, but definitely ones that prick you in a wrong direction. These were occasions when I observed people around me trying to do exactly the same things what the western world would have been fond of doing a few decades back. Same aspects of life where they would have experienced pain, learnt their lessons, incorporated changes, and moved along. Like many cyclical things in life, they have crossed the "peak" of the curve and are seeing the downtrend, like the red one on the right, and we, as starters on the trajectory have just started climbing the curve upwards, like the green one. We are living in interesting times when the two curves are meeting, and probably conflicting with each other, very frequently.

On the first occasion, I was interacting with a colleague of mine who was perfoming the role of a client representative on the one hand, and coordinating with my team on the deliverables on the other hand. More importantly, he was at least a few time zones behind us. When we were deciding the time for our daily catch up calls, my Indian colleague said - "Peter, I am fine with the daily update call any time till 10:30 PM IST." To this, Peter replied - "That's not done! Please suggest a more suitable time. I do NOT want you to compromise with your family time. This project is not more important than our families." And no, the project was not an insignifcant one ... we were discussing a deal with huge potential earnings. So here we are ... trying to be more "professional" and "flexible", trying to show others that we are so "committed" to the client, probably trying to go one step beyond what many of us have seen the same people on the other side of the wall do for so many years. Now that they have realized, or let me say some of them have realized, the importance of work-life balance and the need to know where to draw the line, we are trying to catch up with their older avatars.

Another occasion, another country, same experience. We were having a teleconference meeting with a colleague managing a global leadership role. There were participants from at least four other countries, from four different time zones. Right in the middle of the meeting, this colleague announced that she was walking out of the meeting for 15 minutes. The reason - she had to pick up her kid from the school bus. I am sure we will think twice before doing this. In our part of the world, this probably would be called unprofesional and not being serious about the job. Folks around will say, or so we believe, that we do not go the extra mile and that we are not ambitious. How many organizations around us accept "taking the kid out for a dental checkup" as a valid reason to skip a meeting? Of course, before we label this colleague with one of these adjectives, I would like to point out that she ensured her absence does not take the meeting off the agenda.

One last incident ... this happened last week, or shall I say weekend. In spite of trying to ensure that all the deliverables are in place well before time, all of us would vouch for the fact that on some occasions, especially in short duration projects, we need to stretch, probably getting into the weekend. When this became inevitable last Friday, the senior manager from yet another country, had to build one big story around why this has become necessary, and that it was in nobody's hands. He actually apologized while requesting all the team members to work on the weekend. He even thanked the entire team (and the families) for the weekend efforts in the concluding mail after the project got over. I can not imagine this thought process being replicated here ... it will be "expected" from you to work on weekend. It is an unwritten rule and an integral part of being professional, right?

Courtesy of Stuart Miles /
If we learn these "best practices" from them, why not learn the "true" best practices after they have been refined by their experience over the years? Are we waiting for the "peak" of the curve to arrive before going downwards, or can we try our bit to reach a lower peak and avoid the fall steep? Is joining the rat race the only option available to us? Why is adding the number of zeroes one of the most important objectives of our lives ... why not adding an equal number of smiles a part of that list? Is being professional a more important goal to achieve than being human?