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Leaders, What’s your Single Important Deliverable?

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Prashna Blog 4Organizations are struggling to build the right behaviours in their people. Small, mid-sized or large organizations – they’ve been going all over the place to find solutions to this perennial challenge. There is a solution sitting right in front of their eyes. I sometimes feel they simply choose to look in the other direction.

Read on.

One of the organizations I worked for is an established industry leader with a workforce of a thousand employees. Our official work timings were 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. The online system allowed you to log your attendance in till 10:00 am. Post that, you’d be marked late. This system, though, was a mere formality. Rarely was attendance monitored by someone. If they did monitor, they didn’t care. So, the intrinsically punctual folks came in on time and the others, which were a majority, took the liberty to walk in by 10:30 am or later.

One fateful day, the HR department woke up. The mandate had come from the top most executive. Punctuality had to be addressed. Policies were made – three late marks allowed, five late marks would mean half a day’s salary cut, seven late marks would mean a day’s salary cut and so on and so forth. Of course, you could talk to your manager and get the late marks reversed. As was expected, there was uproar. People winced, complained and laughed. Some of the reactions were:

  • “We’re a sales organization. Sales folks have to be on the field. How do you justify asking them to come to office on time to log in attendance?”
  • “What about all the late hours that we sit in office? Does the policy consider that also?”
  • “One day salary cut for seven late comings?! That’s affordable!”

HR met all these reactions – with a smile to some, empathy to some and a straight face to some.

The policy was enforced. It worked like magic. For about a month. Steadily, people went back to their old ways and came in as and when they pleased. And, who do you think was at the forefront of this reversal to old habits? You guessed it right – the leaders. Rarely would you see someone from the top leadership walk in by 9:30 am. If you were a regular employee in this entire situation, how would you perceive the leadership team? How would you perceive the HR team? How much importance would you give to similar policies that the organisation came up with?

The single most important ability that leaders bring to the table is that of creating a culture within the organisation.  Organisation are known to fret about and make huge investments in a desperate bid to try and build right behaviours and therefore the right culture – massive surveys are undertaken, premier institutes are roped in to conduct workshops for the leadership team and consulting firms are invited to add some sort of credibility to what, at the end of the day, is just an eyewash. Miraculously, as a conclusion to most of these exercises, employees at the lower levels in the hierarchy are targeted – interventions are built to develop them. So, these employees are made to undergo interventions like ‘Interpersonal Skills,’ while their leaders choose to comfortably shout across the floor asking them why a particular task wasn’t completed on time. Which learning do you think will stick? What the trainer had to say about interpersonal skills or the way in which the leader dealt with his one-down?

If this entire situation resonates with you, if it is something you’re grappling with in your own organisation, here are some questions you may have to find answers to:

  • When you recruit for leadership positions, what drives your decision? Is it guided purely by the candidate’s past performance or do you give equal weightage, if not more, to the candidate’s ability to influence people through his own actions?
  • Are you recruiting leaders who ‘fit in’ to your existing, laidback environment? Or are you looking for leaders who can come in, question status quo for the right reasons and pull through without giving up?
  • Are your existing leaders being questioned? Is anyone asking them why they do what they do? Are facets like building behaviours, setting examples, hygiene factors even being talked about in review meetings?
  • Have you created a complete environment in which the right behaviours are getting recognized? Where is the focus – on what was accomplished or on how it was accomplished? Your policies on growth in the organisation, rewards and recognition programs – do they all speak the same language?
  • Have you gauged your organization’s current maturity level with respect to behaviours and decided where it should be? What is the timeline that has been defined to get there? What path have you chalked out to reach there? How are people across the ladder going to learn in order to get there?


Edgar Schein, a former professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, once said, “If you don’t manage culture, it begins to manage you.” In this era of knowledge workers, how many hours an employee works in a day is less important than timely delivery of quality work. However, if the organisation requires everyone to reach office on time, then employees cannot have a choice to negotiate. On the face of it, it may come across as inconsequential – a leader who is consistently delivering results, walking in late to office. You never know, which employee, sitting in which corner of the office is observing this leader and forming perceptions on what works and what doesn’t work in your organisation.

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Neeyati is passionate about designing and driving Organization Development initiatives. She has the innate ability to identify opportunities from business situations and construct innovative solutions to cater to clients' needs. She has proven capabilities in Instructional Designing, Content Development, Facilitating Workshops, Need Identification and Facilitator Capability Building through conducting TTTs and On-the-job Coaching.


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