This is the story of Peter Samson, an aspiring senior programmer who left Fintech - a smaller organisation, which gave him the needed mentoring - for a larger organisation, NTS, which handled international projects. However, things at NTS rendered Peter completely helpless and he realised that between organisational image and individual expectations, lies a host of social processes and behavioural issues.
Srikanth Amanaganti (Srikanth), the Team leader of Fintech Solutions (Fintech) was grimly looking at his screen. He was browsing through an email he had just received from his former team member, Peter. The content in the mail said, “Sir, please bail me out of this crisis…. I am very discouraged and I want to rejoin Fintech…. please give me an opportunity again.” Srikanth sighed heavily and leaned back. He went down the memory lane where he used to sip coffee with Peter and other team members and discuss work related issues. Last month, Peter resigned Fintech and went to New Thought Solutions (NTS) because it was larger than Fintech and handled international projects. It was Peter’s dream to visit the USA and he knew that Fintech cannot help him realise that dream. With a heavy heart, Srikanth relieved Peter - a capable and energetic employee. He had left only a month ago and now he had sent this mail.
Peter Samson (Peter) joined NTS as a Senior Programmer with a good pay hike and a good number of amenities, besides an opportunity to go abroad. His excitement had no bounds. At NTS, Peter was a part of a 6-member team headed by Ahalya Varma (Ahalya). During induction, he found that she was intelligent, though very serious. However, he was excited to learn, to perform, to excel, and to fly. His team members were friendly and comfortable with their work. He interacted with them and got to know the nuances of the work. In fact, there was nothing that made him agitated at NTS. All he wanted was opportunities to excel and fly thereafter.
One day, he casually inquired about Ahalya, wanting to know more about the boss. His teammate, Vidyadhar said, “Ahalya doesn’t interfere with anybody’s work….to that extent that she tries to ignore all of us as much as she can.” Peter was taken aback by the two words, ‘doesn’t interfere’ and ‘ignore’ - the former sounded positive, but the latter was a little difficult to digest. Being an optimist, he said to himself, “Perhaps she empowers everyone so much that she need not interfere… also, perhaps she wants everyone to have their own standards of performance, thus ignores interpersonal ins and outs.” He recalled Srikanth, his former boss, who was Peter’s mentor and guide, but never interfering. Srikanth allowed team members to commit errors and learn from them. He encouraged individual ideas and made the team detect flaws and deviations, if any. For him, success belonged to the team, and hence failure is a collective responsibility. Everyone in the team looked up to Srikanth, for he epitomised the ideal boss. Peter believed Ahalya to be the same and was sure that her non-interference would enable him to grow.
The first week at NTS was a bit dull. However, this was nothing in front of his excitement and dreams. His team was allotted a new project, but there were technical glitches with the new software. Efforts to repair were in vain. That night, Peter retired late in the night pondering over this problem, and by the morning, he came up with several possible/feasible solutions.
He was longing to present it to Ahalya and his team. He started imagining how happy Ahalya would be with his presentation, she would praise him in public, his team members would express their happiness over his effort and so on.
Next morning, he walked into Ahalya’s cabin after seeking her appointment. She stared at him blankly and said, “Yes…?” Peter was a little shaken, but immediately restored to balance thinking that she might not have recognised him. He said, “Good morning Ma’am, I am Peter Samson, the new Senior Programmer in your team…” “OK… but what brings you to my cabin?”, she questioned with her forehead clouded.
This was the green signal for Peter and he began narrating the problems with the new software. And before he could even start with the solutions that he had formulated last night, she interrupted him and said, “Go back to your work, I will send an email with the solution by today afternoon and all of you can implement it immediately without any hassle.” Her reply came as a jolt to Peter crushing his enthusiasm. However, he calmed himself thinking that she might have already discussed this with the team and since he is new, he was perhaps not involved.
Peter came out of Ahalya’s cabin and joined his team members and narrated the solutions he had worked on last night, expecting to hear more from them. He waited for their response but none of them spoke. Unable to bear this intense silence, he openly asked them, “Why are you all so disinterested? Why aren’t you suggesting anything?”
Vidyadhar smirked and said, “Why discuss this amongst ourselves? Ahalya neither has the time nor the willingness to listen to us or discuss anything with us. She will give the solution along with a set of instructions. All we have to do is to implement what she said. Why waste our time ideating?” Peter looked at the other members while Vidyadhar spoke and found everybody concurring with Vidyadhar. Peter’s heart sank. “Oh, God! What is happening here? Is the environment going to be like this forever? Will my ideas ever be accepted?” He was struggling to accept the rejection and dejection just experienced. However, he realised that there is nothing he could do to change things.
He slowly began getting used to the new system. He realised that Ahalya is the exact opposite of Srikanth. Her efficiency and intelligence are doubtlessly supreme, but she never showed any inclination to groom her team members. She never had time for them. Her solutions were doubtlessly right, but she was never willing to discuss or debate on merits of any other idea mooted by the team members. Amidst all this, she did not hold the team down to their deadlines nor did she ever interfere. In fact, she rarely spoke or said anything. If at all the work did not get completed within the deadline, she would blame the team and blast them collectively and totally dissociate herself from them.
Peter was left with nothing apart from thinking about Srikanth and the good old days at Fintech and the positive influence Srikanth had on everyone. On the other hand, he was comparing Ahalya who was nowhere close to Srikanth in any of the positives. Peter began losing interest in work and the environment began to worsen. He concluded that at NTS, ‘one need not think, the boss has all the answers’.
Peter had no new learning, his career started to get meaningless, he was discouraged day-by-day, and his performance suffered. He was feeling helpless though bestowed with immense potential. He was in the danger zone of becoming a fossil soon. He is desperate to move to a new job and he did not hesitate while tapping Fintech for the same and he mailed the same to his former boss, Srikanth. He wrote, “Dear Sir, Fintech gave me the wings, I thought NTS would help me sharpen my wings, but there is a hurdle called the social environment inter alia……”
Dr. Prageetha G Raju is Associate Professor-Business Management, Department of Business Management, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad Centre, a constituent of Symbiosis International (Deemed University). She can be reached on [email protected]
Analysis by Ravi Mishra, Senior Vice President-HR for Global Epoxy Business, Aditya Birla Group
Peter was not wrong for leaving Fintech, however, he failed to properly understandhis new employer New Thought Solutions (NTS) before jumping the ship. It is here that maturity comes into play, and with repeated mistakes, the high/frequent flier lands in trouble. Peter is also wrong in assuming that he has lost out an opportunity to show his competence and mettle. He is always bound to come across opportunities in the future where his team members or Ahalya are unable to contemplate a solution. Hence, he must see the larger picture and focus on the key aspects for which he joined NTS. Peter should be patient and develop the competency called “influence and engage.”
Also, it is wrong for Peter to compare Srikanth and his new boss Ahalya Verma. Every individual has his/her own approach, and it is seen to vary with the scale of companies. Frequently, in smaller companies, employees have easy access to managers and leaders as compared to big or large-sized organisations. Peter must accept and adapt to the new realities while socialising in the new organisation and try to align with the new work environment and culture. Instead of running away, he should in fact try to be reasonable and accommodative at NTS. As a good professional, he should always look forward, analyse the good and believe in ‘fail fast, learn fast’.
An analogy can be drawn to a joke where a guy dumped his girlfriend for someone seemingly more charming only to realise that his Ex-girlfriend was way better. By the time he returned to the former, he realises that she had already hooked up with someone else and was holidaying.
Srikanth should be guiding Peter to be adaptive and not compare apples and oranges. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that can be construed as a mantra. Possibly, Peter believed everything he read and heard about NTS, but did not carry out his own research. He may have gotten excited to pursue his ambition to learn, perform, excel, and to fly.
In many large organisations, you will find a team leader (TL) like Ahalya successfully driving the business – taking every precaution and strongly adopting the check and control mechanism. Such TLs do not wish to delegate everything, and avoid wasting time and resources in inventing the wheel, if it has been already done. Also, Peter failed to read the context. She never asked him to stop ideating or learning, but owing to her own priorities, training was not on her agenda. This is a new trend among companies that do not train their people, and instead, hire trained people. Ahalya has managed to retain her post since the management finds value in her performance and delivery. Peter needs to be confident that she will identify his strength in due course and recognise his deliverables and capabilities. Every good organisation value its people for their competence. As of now, it appears that her current priorities in terms of accountability from her team is hassle-free and flawless execution.
An intelligent person like Peter must wait for future opportunities to share his skill and knowledge. In the meantime, he should gel with team and reflect upon himself. He must work out a strategy that fits at NTS and create a kind of a winwin situation. As an HR professional, one has seen many Peters, but most of them have coursecorrected after misjudging or jumping into hot water. This experience will certainly present with lots of valuable lessons for Peter.
Analysis By Rohit Hasteer is the Group CHRO for Housing.com, Prop Tiger.com and Makaan.com.
“People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” This infamous quote perfectly sums up the situation in question. Peter wants to leave NTS owing to the attitude and behaviour of his manager, Ahalya. Peter seems to be a little impatient here and is making a hasty decision. It has been only a month since he joined NTS, and he should definitely give himself some time to settle into the new culture and build a connect with the people around him, including his manager. Peter should also give time to his manager Ahalya to understand him and his capabilities as a senior programmer.
In the current situation, Peter is quick to judge his manager basis one incident alone, which appears to have been coloured by the team members who have given a negative picture of Ahalya. Peter already has a pre-conceived notion about his manager, and is viewing the recent incident under the same light. One must understand that employees play a pivotal role in shaping their team environment besides the manager.
Peter’s team members seem to have made no effort to understand why Ahalya ‘ignores’ them. It would be noteworthy to know whether they spoke to her and expressed their unhappiness over their style of functioning. Peter is also wrong to compare Ahalya with his previous manager. He decided to join NTS owing to the prospects. Peter was not disloyal or wrong when he decided to take this plunge since he visualised a career growth. Assuming Peter had spent considerable time with Fintech, it was okay for him to move on. But he needs to understand that every manager has a distinct leadership style and every organisation has a different culture. Hence, it is futile to compare the two. This would only create more mental blocks and make it difficult for him to accept his new manager.
Ahalya comes across as an efficient and intelligent individual who knows her job well. But, she seems to be faltering as a team leader. Often, organisations do not realise that an individual’s success in a non-leadership role does not make them a leader. Ahalya displays the ‘Absentee’ style of leadership. While she is in a leadership position, she exhibits psychological absence from her responsibilities, and seems to be lacking people manager skills. Teams with absentee leaders are bound to fail, as team members, devoid of any kind of guidance, often feel directionless.
In order to continue in NTS, Peter should be clear about his apprehensions with Ahalya and also understand her point of view. He should try to decipher the behaviours and skills that Ahalya values. Alternatively, he should share his thoughts with the HR or skip level manager who can help in coaching Ahalya, and at the same time, handhold Peter.
NTS is a successful organisation with intelligent people, and it is difficult to gauge as to where the problem is. It is important to understand if NTS is focused on functional competence and not on developing great leaders. It is also important to understand whether people engagement or open culture is a focus area at NTS.
A great work culture acts as a competitive advantage for organisations. In fact, your work culture affects nearly every area of your business and is pivotal to the organisation’s longterm success. Hence, it is important that organisations and leaders strive to build a culture where people are valued; a culture where people are encouraged to speak their mind; a culture where leaders are open to feedback; a culture which nurtures people managers and much more. A strong company culture can truly keep the people motivated and can help improve everything from retention to employee productivity.
Do you think hybrid work arrangements would be a common feature of the workplaces going forward?
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