Honesty is the best policy

One afternoon, a new customer entered our office and asked to meet me. He told me that one of our existing customers had asked him to contact me, and gave a brief description of the equipment that he needed urgently. I confirmed to him that the equipment he needed could be supplied by us. The price was Rs. 20,000 + 10 % Sales Tax. Luckily, we had one piece in stock! He immediately confirmed that he would buy the equipment and would give us a cheque for Rs. 22,000. At that point, I asked him what exactly he needed the equipment for. After hearing his reply, I told him that the equipment we supplied was too precise for his work. I informed him that his requirement could be fulfilled by a similar product supplied by another company. That equipment was less precise than ours, but the price would also be lower by 50% or more. In response to his request, I gave him the address of that company.

After the customer left, my colleague, who was a few years my senior, expressed his exasperation at the fact that I had turned away a customer who was about to give me an order with full payment. “You are totally unsuitable for sales!” he declared. I shrugged and replied that my conscience did not permit me to let the customer buy something that he did not really need. If that meant I was unfit for a sales job, so be it!

This incident was soon forgotten by us since the particular equipment was among the lowest priced items in our product range.

About 6 months later, the same customer came to our office and met me. He had received a huge export order, and had to increase his production capacity. He gave me a list of the equipment that he needed. I told him that we could supply all the equipment in the list, but, again, I wanted to be sure that the equipment that we supplied would be most suitable for his requirement. After discussing for a few minutes, I confirmed that our equipment did meet his requirement. The total cost would be Rs.1.8 million + 10 % Sales Tax. The equipment could be delivered about 4 to 5 weeks after we received an order with 10 % advance. He immediately confirmed his order and gave me a cheque for Rs. 180,000. I was surprised that he had made a decision so quickly. I asked him if he had taken competitive offers from any other suppliers. He replied that he did not need any competitive offers. Based on our earlier encounter, he was sure that, if any other equipment was better suited for his requirement, I would have told him so myself!

After the customer left, I turned to my colleague and said, “We got a huge order on a platter today because, that day, I LOST the order but I WON the customer’s confidence!”

(This post was originally published on August 10, 2013 as Is honesty the best policy?)

Only Zero Tolerance can prevent Unpunctuality!

The first session of a Management Training Programme had just ended at 12.30 pm. Dr. Prasad, the Programme Faculty, announced that the next session would start as per the original schedule at 2.00 pm. The participants, all engineers, MBAs or Chartered Accountants with 10 to 15 years’ work experience, dispersed for lunch. All of them had been sponsored by their respective employers for the 4-days programme at a 5 Star Holiday Resort.

When some of the participants returned at 1.55 pm, Dr. Prasad was already present. At exactly 2.00 pm, he started his presentation. When one of the participants pointed out that only 11 of the 40 participants were present, Dr. Prasad ignored him and continued with his presentation. At about 2.05 pm, participants started walking in. The last participant entered at about 2.10 pm. Dr. Prasad continued with his presentation without a second glance at the latecomers walking in.

At the conclusion of the session at 4.00 pm, Dr. Prasad announced, “The next session will start at 4.40 pm. Of course, you are free to come back at any time according to your convenience.”

All 40 participants reported on time for all the remaining sessions of the Training Programme!

In the last session, Dr. Prasad described to the participants how, till a few years earlier, he would start the training sessions late, only after all, or almost all participants were present. His repeated requests to participants to report on time yielded little or no result. One day, in a fit of frustration, he started a training session on time even though very few of the participants were present. At the end of that session, he simply announced, “Time and tide, and I wait for no man!” He found that this approach solved the unpunctuality problem, and continued using it in all future training programmes.

Do you agree that only Zero Tolerance can prevent Unpunctuality?

Dignity of Labour: practising without preaching!

My company had supplied a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine to a medium-scale manufacturer of automotive parts. The machine costing around Rs. 4 million was the first CNC machine being purchased by this company. While finalizing the order, we had emphasized the importance of routine maintenance for ensuring the machine’s excellent performance and long life. We had committed that our service team would impart maintenance training to their factory personnel.

During the week after the machine was installed in the customer’s factory, our service team conducted maintenance training for the customer’s personnel as committed. Later, our Service Manager visited this customer’s factory every Saturday morning to check that all maintenance procedures were being followed correctly.

One Saturday afternoon, the MD of that company telephoned me and apologized profusely for ‘subjecting the Service Manager to humiliation’. My repeated attempts to get him to shed some more light on the matter were unsuccessful. Fortunately, the Service Manager was in the office, so I could get a firsthand clarification!

On the previous Saturday’s visit, the Service Manager had noticed that the ceiling fan above the machine was rotating very slowly, because of which air circulation around the machine was less than desired. On checking, he found that the fan was not rotating fast because a lot of dust had accumulated on the fan’s blades. He pointed this out to the Factory Manager and requested that the fan be cleaned immediately since insufficient air circulation would result in the machine getting overheated. The Factory Manager assured him that the fan would be cleaned as soon as possible.

On the next visit, he saw that the fan had not been cleaned. Upon enquiring with the Factory Manager, he was told that the responsibility for cleaning the fan had not been assigned to anybody; hence nobody had cleaned the fan. He felt that that this ‘issue’ wasn’t likely to be resolved soon. Hence, without a word to anybody, he brought a step ladder which was lying nearby, shut down the machine, switched off the fan, took some cotton waste, climbed on the step ladder and cleaned the fan. Obviously, somebody had reported this entire incident to the MD of that company.

I asked the Service Manager why he had chosen to clean the fan himself; it wasn’t his job. His answer was, “If the fan wasn’t cleaned immediately, our machine might have suffered long-term damage due to overheating. Hence, it was important to clean the fan immediately. The customer’s people did not understand this. So, I did it myself. I hope they have now understood that we were serious about the importance of keeping the fan clean, and will do it themselves in future. If not, we will clean the fan regularly as part of our maintenance routine.”

He had taught many persons, including me, ‘Dignity of Labour’ by practising without preaching!

This post was originally published on July 20, 2013 as I Saw, I Learnt

Email to Aamir Khan about fairness product advertisement on Satyamev Jayate

I sent the following email from proactiveindian@rediffmail.com to satyamevjayate@akpfilms.com on October 06, 2014. As stated in the email, I will publish the response from Aamir Khan or from any member of his Satyamev Jayate team if and when I receive it.

Subject: Discrimination on the basis of skin colour

Kind attention: Mr. Aamir Khan

Dear Aamir,

I have watched almost all episodes of Satyamev Jayate, starting from the Season 1’s 1st episode.

I am an admirer of Aamir Khan the actor, but I am a much greater admirer of Aamir Khan of Satyamev Jayate! While I am aware that the show is not perfect, I have immense respect and admiration for the fact that you are one of the few celebrities who is making a genuine effort to drive change in our society.

While watching the 1st episode of Season 3, I was shocked to see an advertisement by a fairness product!! Much has been written and spoken about how fairness products promote discrimination on the basis of skin colour. While the advertisement may conform to ASCI’s recent guidelines for advertising for skin lightening or fairness improvement products, the fact remains that these products and their advertisements do reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin colour.

Satyamev Jayate’s past episodes have been about, among other subjects, Gender Discrimination, Caste Discrimination, and Discrimination against People with Disabilities. When I saw the fairness product advertisement, I wondered whether Aamir Khan and his Satyamev Jayate team are, inadvertently or otherwise, promoting Discrimination on the basis of skin colour.

Please do not let the millions of Satyamev Jayate fans, most of whom are probably not fair-skinned, get the impression that you and your team support Discrimination on the basis of skin colour. Please withdraw this advertisement immediately, even if this means losing some money.

I hope you take my feedback in the same positive spirit in which I gave it. I look forward to a reply from you or from any member of your team. I will be publishing the text of this email on my blog later today, and will also publish your response whenever I receive it.

Warm regards,

Proactive Indian

P.S.: I have chosen to remain an anonymous blogger since I do not want my name, age, gender, religion, caste, economic status, educational background, profession, place of residence, etc. to colour people’s reaction to my views. If you wish, I will certainly let you know my name, age, gender, and place of residence.

Turn the other cheek? Or offer to slap back?

(The “Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan” was launched on October 02, 2014. The least we as citizens can do to contribute to a cleaner India is to ensure that we, and everybody around us, dispose of garbage in the proper way. I am re-posting ‘Turn the other cheek? Or offer to slap back?’, which had originally been posted on October 03, 2013.)

Early one morning, while I was walking down my street to the local park for my daily walk, I saw a young man come out of the house where he worked as a domestic help, carrying a garbage bag. Just as he was about to drop the garbage bag on the footpath, next to the gate of the house, a middle-aged woman, who was sweeping the courtyard of the opposite house, where she worked as a domestic help, politely requested him to throw the garbage bag into the dustbin barely 50 feet away.

Giving the woman an insolent look, the young man replied, “This street does not belong to you or your employer. You bother about keeping your employer’s house clean,” and dropped the bag on the footpath. The woman replied in a slightly raised voice, “If you don’t pick up that bag right now and throw it in the dustbin, I’ll open it and empty the contents in your employer’s house! This street belongs to all of us. Nobody has the right to dirty it.” The young man realised he had met his match. He quietly picked up the garbage bag, walked down the street and threw the garbage bag into the dustbin.

I was filled with admiration and respect for the woman.

When I related this incident to a friend who lives in another city, he recalled that, a few years back, his neighbours, both educated, English-speaking persons, used to keep their garbage bag not outside their own flat, but across the corridor outside my friend’s flat. My friend politely requested his neighbours a number of times to refrain from doing this, but without any result. The neighbours’ invariable reply was, “We’ve told the maid so many times! OK, we’ll tell her again.” My friend knew the neighbours were bluffing, but didn’t want to make a big issue of a seemingly trivial matter. One day, when he ran out of patience, my friend told his neighbours almost exactly what I had heard the woman tell the young man: that he would empty the contents of the neighbour’s garbage bag in the neighbour’s drawing room! That yielded the desired result!!

These are only two examples of how polite requests often fall on deaf ears. If you ‘turn the other cheek’ to some people, they will reward you with a second slap! With such people, it is only a real threat of penalty or retaliation that works! This is not restricted to any particular category of people. Educational qualification, socio-economic status, etc. have absolutely nothing to do with it.

If more of us emulate the attitude and behaviour that the woman and my friend had displayed, people like the young man and my friend’s neighbour will change for the better! Then, we will have no need to ‘turn the other cheek’ because there would no ‘slap’ in the first place!!