One of my favorite articles

As I shifted my work place to Manyata, I, a lover of cars, reluctantly concluded that I needed a driver to drive me between home and office. After all 2 hours of commute time could be better served than navigating a car across the labyrinth of Bangalore. I casually mentioned it to a friend of mine in the IT recruitment business. He said, “Jayesh, in this city, Siebel Consultants, Java Programmers and car drivers are the three most sought after resources, next only to cooks. You will be lucky to find a gooddriver”.
I was lucky. One Monday morning Samuel presented himself at my door step. He was all of five feet two inches, hair combed to perfection, wearing a clean shirt and pant and polished shoes. After agreeing to what I considered a generous pay package I handed him the keys to my precious car. Our relationship was matter of fact and very professional. I was taciturn with him, but polite. We hardly exchanged more than a few sentences every day. I was preoccupied in my thoughts and encouraged him to be silent and focus on his driving.
Over the next few weeks I concluded that Samuel’s performance was a mixed bag. On the positive side he was punctual to a fault, a rare distinction. He was honest, dependable and disciplined. On the flip side he epitomized road rage. It did not matter whether he was at fault or not. Any incident resulted in him spewing out epithets that would put Harbhajan (Bhajji) to shame. In fact he would go a step further. In case some one retorted in kind, he would freely swing his arm for a quick settlement of the dispute. In addition, he was absent minded. Every time we would stop at a fuel station for filling the tank, Samuel, without fail
would turn to me and ask, “Sir, petrol or diesel?” After the first few occasions I would give him an exasperated look and say, “Petrol Samuel, how many times should I tell you”.
After a month of trial I concluded that he was an “above average” candidate who, in my view had the potential to become “very good”. I decided to confirm him in his job and push him to better performance. In executing my performance plan, I would sit next to him and “coach” him. “Samuel, stop the car. The signal has changed to red”, I would say with firmness. “Samuel, you were at fault in not giving the other driver time to react. Stop abusing him”. “Samuel, stop driving so fast. What are you trying to catch? I am in no hurry”. “Samuel, how does it matter who is at fault. I have to pay for this dent and it is costing me money. You have to safeguard against other reckless drivers”. And occasionally, “Samuel, cool down or I will take over. You can sit next to me or find another means to reach home”.
After two months, much to my disappointment, I found that there was no improvement. On the contrary I discovered that he would sulk most of the time and his body language was not what I would consider positive. On top of it after collecting his paycheck he casually mentioned to me that he would leave at some point in the near future. “Sir, there is no self respect in this job”, he said leaving me puzzled. I thought I was paying him at the 95th percentile level!
After some thought on the matter I decided that I needed to do things a little differently, before throwing in the towel on the relationship. After all it was rare for a driver to be punctual 100% of the time and be honest and disciplined.
The next day morning, Samuel knocked on the door at 7.29 am. I opened the door and said with a smile, while handing over the keys, “Good Morning Samuel. How are you?” I immediately noticed his chest puff up with importance and pride. “Good Morning, sir”, he said with a smile. As I got into the car a few minutes later, I observed that it was polished to a gleam. “Samuel, the car looks shiny and clean”, I said. “Thank you sir”, said Samuel with a look of satisfaction
As usual we traveled in silence. After a while, I casually asked, “Samuel how is the family doing?” I noticed in the rear view mirror, Samuel’s face light up with pleasure. “Sir, my daughter is in the ninth class and works very hard at her studies. My son is in the eighth class and is doing well. My wife works for a garment company”. “I can see that you and your family are very committed to whatever you are doing”, I quipped. Samuel immediately launched into a narrative of how his father was in the armed forces and how he and his siblings were brought up with discipline and how those values have rubbed off on to his family. I got down at Manyata with a “Thank you Samuel” and left him. Over the next few weeks I ensured that my interaction with him always included a few essentials. I wished him every day in the morning and in the night. I complimented him on the things that he did well – his punctuality, his attire, his cleanliness and commitment, I engaged him in a short conversation every ride, asking him about himself, his family, his upbringing and his beliefs. I accommodated his failings rather than embarrass him. As far as his fatal flaws were concerned, like his road rage, I continued showing my displeasure albeit any emotions.
At the end of three months I did the equivalent of a performance appraisal for Samuel. I had read Dr. Benjamin Spock like any other good parent and I recall him mentioning that for every negative stroke that you give a child you need to compensate it with six positive strokes, which is what I did with Samuel. I listed out all the positives to a beaming Samuel and inserted the flaws in between. I won a small victory when he admitted to his rage and
the need to change.
It is three years since I hired Samuel. He continues to serve me well. He is not without his flaws but we have adjusted to each other. As I look back, I realize that there are important lessons for me as a professional manager: A job, to be satisfying must have both material and emotional attributes. They are the equivalent of the father and mother in a child’s life. One cannot replace the other. As an example, good salary is important. Equally so is the need to motivate. Being professional in your relationship does not mean being cold and
antiseptic. It means balancing the “here & now” with the “emotional & personal”. All of us adults have a child in us that seeks gratification. Dr. Spock’s formula is equally applicable to employees as it is to their children. The ratio of positive to negative strokes must be well balanced, the latter exceeding the former, most often. Good manager-employee relationship requires adjustments from both the employee and the manager. The latter is often neglected and not emphasized. Successful relationships need investment in time by the manager – to plan and customize the interactions with the employee. Managers must identify irreparable flaws of the employee and work around them (the petrol vs. diesel example) rather than expose them. Give all the time that is necessary to build, sustain and test the
relationship. However when the time comes, be decisive. Either it works or it doesn’t.
Good salary is important.
Equally so is the need to motivate “

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