June 2006

One of my closest buddies and partner from IITK, Ajit got married yesterday. Apart from being excited about it for the obvious reasons, I was also looking forward to it coz I had a chance to meet with few people whom I haven't met for quite a long time. Some snippets –

  • Met Atul after a gap of 5 years. Spent the night talking about his business. With 550 students Momentum is the No.2 institute in Jabalpur in just 3 years of existence. We talked about the growth and the issues he is facing – personally as well as professionaly. (Btw, if you know someone who is good at teaching Chemistry for IIT-JEE and is looking for work then let me know. From what I gather, Momentum has a vacancy and pays quite handsomely)
  • Met Abhijeet Bhandari. He has joined Techspan, the company I was in a few years back. We talked about his career plans about the work at Techspan, and the changes between the time I left and now.
  • Met Niraj Nandan – he shared some of his 'wants' in life. My advice, give some time to yourself and figure out what makes you happy. You'll do well in that. Also know that there are more than one things that will make you happy.
  • Met Mayur. An easy-go-happy person. I hardly had five minutes to get him talking about his plans. He likes the concept of Tendulkar's and the way they have named the tables (after famous cricket venues – The Oval, The Eden Gardens and so on). I shared my idea of a "War Theme" with him. I want to see how exciting it will be to eat sitting inside a bunker, night time battle scene, dim lights, with tanks rolling and grenades exploding around you, and enemies crawling behind thick bushes. I am very much for a theme restaurant, I have some ideas in mind ("War" being one of them). And I am willing to discuss it with anyone who is putting up a theme restaurant. When Mayur has his food business up and running, I am surely going to give it a shot. Esp if he has a War Theme in it 🙂

And now some memories from the marriage.

  • It was the first day-time marriage I attended. And even though the barat was out in the sun at 1pm I liked it more than I had eariler thought I would. It was the first time I saw Lalitpur and met all of Ajits family (brothers & sis & jiju). The marriage was warm, the closeness – very visible.
  • I 'met' Romi. Why 'met' (quotes) and not just met? Actually its a bit strange. One year back we had chanced at a mall in Gurgaon, where we had both bought books at Galgotia's, didn't talk anything except the customary 'Hi' and that was it. Really that was it. Back then I had left the mall with a feeling that I will want to talk to her some times in future. Many months later I spotted her on Orkut, dropped in a line and things took off nicely. Now about fifteen months later from our technically first meeting, we met at Ajit's Marriage. The first words she said, 'Hi. We met again,.. finally!' Yes, we did. And I liked the way she put it – with all smiles. Picture perfect, kodak moment.
  • Atul tells me – 'Ajit means one who cannot be won. Vijeta means someone who won.' Ajit – jisko jeeta nahi ja sakta hain. Vijeta – jiseny usey bhi jeet liya. I liked the idea. Later I learned it was obvious for many people there. How come it didn't strike me? Dumb me.
  • Saw a cute little girl. Wanted to talk to her. So I just make a wild guess, 'Bete, tumhaarey chachu ki shaadi hain?' She says in a defiant tone typical of a small child, 'Nai. Chachi ki shaadi hain'. DING!
  • 'Okay, I'm wrong. She is from the ladki waala side', I thought. And carried on with the gang. But something was amiss. Chaachu is a blood relation. Chaachi is by nature a matrimonial relation. Then how can anyone's chaachi get married? A chaachi is only when you are already married. Half an hour later, when 'saat fere' was over, it struck me, if Ajit is her Chachu, then Vijeta is her Chachi.
  • Ajit and Vijeta on stage after jaymaal. Photographer to Vijeta – 'Thoda smile kijiye please'. She smiles a bit, still maintaining that poised demeanour of a 'dulhan'. Someone says something, and she slips into a wide smile, then a hearty laugh, then hides her face in her hands, and then back to normal smiling again. I liked the drama.
  • We on the stage with Ajit & Vijeta. Atul hands over his handycam to the guy who is doing the video recordings for the marriage, and asks him to take a 20-sec shot for us, before he takes the 'official' version. A minute later we all descend after wishing the couple, and see the recording on Atul's cam. Its a simple recording, starts with all eight of us on the dais. Zoom in. Atul, Mayur and myself fall out of frame. Zoom more, Abhijeet and Neeraj are out. Keep zooming, and move the focus next to Vijeta. Ajit & Vijeta also knocked out of frame! But the photographer doesn't seem to be worrying about that. He focusses on the prettiest face in the party – Romi! Haha, 'Nice photographer, perfect focus', we chuckle. 'O that means, I haven't lost my charms', she entertains. Too good!
  • After the 'saat feres' Ajit puts sindoor on Vijeta. The moment he applies the first bit, tears well in her eyes. Ajit takes some more sindoor and applies the second bit. Tears roll down her face. Why? I wondered. I still don't know, but I was moved by the moment.

The Delhi gang left at 9pm. One day in life..  one final goodbye, and some memories for a lifetime.

Few minutes later my train arrives. As I lie down on my berth, and stretch myself out, Romi's introduction appears in my mind. 'I am I, and there is no other I'.

So true. Closed my eyes, and tuned into Echoes.

'Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me…'

Who is your Employee? An Employee? Or a Customer?

My first company – Webtek. Ok, that was not ‘my’ company, I didn’t own it. I just worked there. But even today I call it my company. Why? Because I always felt like that. Morning, I used to almost fly over that small three-steps-stairs and felt electric entering the building. Night, I left for home wanting the next day to begin at its earliest. Many of my colleagues felt the same!

Now, that is what some companies acheive. Every employee feels valued. I think the atmosphere at Webtek was largely a result of their recruitment process and their policies. They took great care in recruitment.

Its so easy to get a wrong person on board. And one wrong person is all you need to spoil the show. So be *very* careful with recruitment. Turn down. Turn down. Turn down. Go vacant if you have to, but never compromise on the kind of people you hire. And when you get the right person, do the best you can to keep them happy.

The second company I worked at was Techspan where I came across a new concept. The HR there maintained that Employees are Customers. Internal Customers. It meant that employee’s need would be treated as a customer’s demand. Which I think was a pretty neat idea. I would say, ‘I will be travelling to Charlotte on Tuesday.’ and Deployment team would service that request as if a Customer is to travel. Same for technical issues, equipment, network, books, resources etc.

When every employee is a customer, and is required to treat the other like a customer then the level of service in the whole organisation goes up. Requests become demands. And are processed differently. There is afterall bound to be a difference when an ’employee’ calls up a DBA, and when a ‘customer’ calls up the DBA.

Employee: Hey DBA, can you create a user for the sales data. I need to fire some querries on it.

DBA (who happens to be sipping his coffee): Sure E. Will do. (E waits for sometime, and checks his mail, chats to his colleague, plays sudoku etc in the meantime.)

Customer: DBA. Where is my data?

DBA (the coffee mysteriously vanishes. It will come again later) Right here, Sir. (Rushes back to his machine).

Now at S&D we are implementing yet another model. Its the oft promoted but hugely misunderstood ‘Family’. Our Employees are a Family. Right at the begining, we decided, there would be no designation which says ‘Manager’. No Store Manager, no Sales Manager, no Regional Manager. All work is still done, and there is someone doing it. Only thing is, he is not called a Manager. We have anything against Managers. We just thought that the word ‘Manager’ creates an illusion in minds of most people about why they are actually in the company. So we decided to part with this term. Let everyone be Family. And everyone has a responsibilty to the sum total. Not to his work or job description.

Now, the Family is not very easy to start with. For ex, how do you inculcate the spirit of a family? How do you produce that bonding? How do you feel comfortable discussing things with newly hired people that you would actually discuss with your family? And how do you encourage them to do the same? Its difficult, and it can develop only over time. But if you keep pushing hard enough and are able to implement it, then its a fairly easy model to maintain later on.

Today, we talk among ourself as a family. That means I get to hear things, like

  • I am having a back problem today.
  • My brother got 86% in his exams. Now, which college should we try for?
  • Mom/dad are travelling today, and Choti is alone at home. I won’t be able to work late night.
  • Whats cooking at your place this Thursday? Why don’t we all have ‘chola-rice’ with you?
  • Should I take up a job at ZYX?

Now, the last question has been the most often asked question. Does that means they are not happy working here? I don’t know. But I do know (to my pleasure) that it means that one, Our employees are needed / wanted in the market. And two, they find it natural to discuss it with family. Actual and the company!

Similarily, employees also get to hear everything – the good news as well as the bad news. When Ambani announced their plans of Reliance Retail, we told everyone about it. We said that if we sink then atleast they will be able to find a better job with Reliance (as Organised Retail is a sunrise industry in India, and there is acute shortage of trained people). They appreciated and said that given a choice between Reliance and us, they would like to be here! 🙂

Today, coz of this family nature, I can call up anyone anytime for a work widely outside his ‘job description’. The idea of a ‘job’ has fazed out, all we are left with is ‘responsibilty’. Responsibilty towards a shared vision.

Today, due to this family nature, they can bother me with problems that has got absolutely nothing to do with my current business. And consume my time. Its okay. Because when times are bad, I know they will go out of their way to keep us going.

Our employees have turned down job offers which were paying twice, (yes, twice!) their salary here. And proudly told us about it. And we reacted as if it was expected from them.

Similarily at times when there has been some friction between an employee and a customer, we have taken sides with our employee (unless he was wrong). We have brushed aside the popular dogma – ‘Customer is always right. Customer is the king’. Right, Customer is the king. But the employee is my family. I seriously think, you can let go a customer. But you cannot let an employee down. How else will he work with the same zeal? (Though I wonder how many Entrepreuners feel the same.)

So of the three models – Employee as Employee Vs Customers Vs Family, which one is the best? Having worked in all three, I think a lot depends on you (the Entrepreuner). Each has it advantages as I have mentioned above. But if it has to be family, then please remember, it has to come from both side. And that is precisely why the Family is the most difficult model to implement.

If I as an Entrepreuner am not willing to put up the emotional and monetary and time cost of having another family, I won’t be able to reap the support it provides.