By | Prabodh Sirur | In search of Postitive Intranets at In search of Positive Intranets
Nachu was on his journey to find the secret sauce of success and happiness. He had found a great mentor in someone who, for some reason, was called Mr. Ten.
Mr. Ten, after listening to his aspirations, had asked Nachu to meet some of his heroes and learn from them. The first of his heroes was Mr. Speed. The second meeting was with Ms. Style. Then Nachu met Mr. Ka. Everyone had an unusual name. The fourth meeting was with Ms. Focus.
Ms. Focus had worked for Mr. Ten a long time ago. Mr. Ten had chosen the young, promising Ms. Focus to work as a project manager for him.
When he had asked her about it, she had asked for leave for two weeks to understand what was in store for a project manager, reminisced Mr. Ten.
She came back after a fortnight and agreed to work as a project manager. She had, during her vacation, studied everything about project management.
“She performed her role as Project Manager by the book,” said Mr. Ten.
Mr. Ten laughed softly and added, “I want to tell you something very different about her. You won’t believe this. Our global CEO was in town and everyone wanted to see him, to listen to him. Our Ms. Focus skipped this all-staff meeting. When I asked her why she didn’t attend such a rare event, she said, “But I had my weekly progress meeting with the client.” That’s why I call her Ms. Focus.
“She was famous for accomplishing any task given to her. She was one hundred percent dependable. One didn’t have to follow up to know the progress. She would deliver on the agreed date. Let me describe this in a different way. She has an INABILITY to see any hurdles that could come in the way. She has an INABILITY to understand that resources are a scarce commodity.”
The young man was puzzled. All these past days, Mr. Ten had spoken only about abilities. For the first time, he was talking about inabilities.
The young man said, “Mr. Ten, I am a bit confused by your description about Ms. Focus. Please can you explain a bit more?”
Mr. Ten laughed, “OK. Ms. Focus has the capability to accomplish her tasks in spite of any hurdle. Let me ask you, what hurdles can come in the way of accomplishing a task?”
The young man understood now.
He thought for a while and said, “I can classify the hurdles in two groups. There are some tangible hurdles and some intangible ones.” Ten liked the way the young man thought.
Nachu continued, “The tangible hurdles are lack of money or lack of manpower required to complete the task. The intangible hurdles are lack of authority to make decisions, lack of time available to do the task.”
“Very nice,” said Mr. Ten. He could see excitement mounting in the young man.
“Wait, I can see a third category of hurdles. For example, there could be doubt about our capability to successfully complete the task, there could be some more hurdles – Why should I do it? What is in it for me? Am I given this assignment because no one wants to do it?”
Ten applauded the young man for his quick thinking.
“Fantastic. Ms. Focus had the ability to quickly assess whether she should take up the task. If she didn’t feel like it, she would bluntly refuse the task. It did not matter who asked her to take it up. But when she said yes, we knew the task would be done, whatever it takes. Ms. Focus would just bulldoze it to closure. You will learn more when you meet her tomorrow.”
The young man was eager to meet Ms. Focus. He called her to arrange a time to meet. She gave him time in the late evening, after a week. The young man was not surprised.
Ms. Focus was now in her early forties. She was now a senior program director in her Organisation.
Nachu said, “Thank you for your time Ms. Focus. I met Mr. Ten because I needed his guidance in my life’s journey. He asked me to meet you. I have a few questions for you.”
Ms. Focus nodded.
The young man continued, “Do you remember when you began to have focus in whatever you did?”
Ms. Focus looked a little puzzled, “But everyone needs to be focused on what they are doing. Am I doing anything special?”
“There are distractions, people walk in one’s office to ask queries, the boss walks in to give some new instructions, phone calls, mails…” commented the young man, looking for answers.
“Well, I have not experienced this happening to me much. As for me, I do not call anyone unless it is planned, nor do I walk into others’ workplaces unless it is pre-decided.”
The young man was perplexed. His work was disturbed all the time. He became quiet, searching for the next question so that he could progress with the meeting.
Ms. Focus realized that the young man was stuck. She smiled and said, “I had learnt something important early in work life. If you miss a deadline, everything is lost. Whatever you do after that is of little use. This helped me in pushing everything aside if it is not helping me progress with my planned goal.”
“Do you think you are successful and happy?” the young man asked, to bring the conversation back to where he wanted.
“You know, when Mr. Ten made me a project manager, I felt really stressed. It was a totally new area of work, too far from my engineering background. There was a big gap between what I had studied about project management and real-life situations. Also, I had limited capability as a project manager. The biggest gap was about using proper communication techniques. I was an introvert and wanted to address this on a priority basis,” said Ms. Focus.
The young man guessed she did not want to answer his question about success and happiness; but he allowed her to speak about her early life as a project manager. He asked, “I am curious to know how you addressed the problems. Did you go to Mr. Ten for advice?”
“No; I went to work in a coffee bar in the evenings as a waitress. That taught me the art and science of speaking to people. I can’t say I mastered the art but it helped me in overcoming my shyness. By the way, it also helped me de-stress,” Ms. Focus laughed.
The young man said, “I have a question. Why did you take up the task of a project manager? Was it because your boss asked you?”
“No,” said Ms. Focus, “Because I decided to take the role. When you own the decision, you also own the consequences, good or bad.”
Ms. Focus was to the point. No frills. What was important to her was her own decision.
“Would you like to share your observations where people do not consider some important tasks in the planning stage?”
“Interesting question. I would not like to judge other people. But let me share my learning. You are right. If all the tasks involved are not considered, if all stakeholders’ needs are not met, the project is not complete. In the beginning I had missed this aspect. Especially the last mile tasks. I will give an example from my home chores. Let’s take preparing lunch as a task. When is the task complete?” asked Ms. Focus.
The young man thought for a while and said, “The task is complete when you serve lunch at the table.”
Ms. Focus smiled and said, “In my view, the task is complete when I wash the dishes, clean the table and keep the unfinished food in the fridge. Let me tell you one more example. When I take up the task of washing clothes, I don’t consider my task done when I put the washed clothes on the clothesline. I consider it done only when the dried clothes are folded and kept in the wardrobe.
“The same rule applies in the workplace. I have seen a good example of this in one of my colleagues. He would create a draft of a thank-you mail right at the beginning of the project and continued adding names of people in the draft as and when they joined the project, lest he should forget some names. He thought of the last mile actions right at the beginning of his project. I still remember what he told me once: ‘Many of us consider the task completed when we deliver a piece of work to the client. We should consider the task complete only when the client accepts the delivery, ensures completeness and sends you a nice testimonial. You have to start working for this right from the start of the project. There are too many hierarchical levels to get a nod for a testimonial.’ Really a very good example of knowing the task to the last dot.”
The young man remembered Dr. Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits described was “Begin with the end in mind.” He asked Ms. Focus, “Would you say we have to begin with the end in mind?”
“Nice thought,” Ms. Focus said, “I would like to add something here. I would say, first define what the ‘right’ end is and then begin with that end in mind.”
Nachu looked at his notes. He had picked up some good points. He thanked Ms. Focus for her inputs and began to take his leave.
Ms. Focus asked him to give her regards to Mr. Ten.
The young man said, “I met a few of his heroes and they asked me to ask Mr. Ten about why he is called Ten and what the cards are that he carries all the time.”
“You must also ask him about The One Minute Celebration,” Ms. Focus said and bade him good night.
The young man went back to meet Mr. Ten. He said, “Mr. Ten, I’ve met four of your heroes so far. They asked me to ask you why you are called Mr. Ten, why you carry cards all the time and what is a one minute celebration. I am dying to know from you.”
Mr. Ten laughed and said, “Of course I shall tell you. But let us finish all your meetings first. How did your meeting with Ms. Focus go?”
The young man looked at the notes and said, ”Well, I picked up a few gems from Ms. Focus.”
He had liked what she had said – Hurdles exist only in our mind.
But the one he liked best was – If you miss a deadline, everything is lost. Whatever you do after that is of little use.
Mr. Ten congratulated the young man for picking up some fine things from his heroes. He turned to the whiteboard and wrote these words against Ms. Focus’ name:
If you miss a deadline, everything is lost. Whatever you do after that is of little value.
How did Nachu benefit from meeting Ms. Focus? What actions did he put into practice? Did Nachu become successful and happy?…. You will get the answers to all these questions at the end of the book.
Sharing some reading that I did on this topic:
Whenever I create an article, I want to write something about Impressionism. The Impressionist art movement is my source of inspiration. It reminds me to think about innovation and about challenging the status quo.
Impressionism (1860–1890) is a 19th-century art movement. It was started by painters to challenge the then existing style of painting. They re-defined painting as an impression of one’s mind rather than what is seen by the eye. They turned the artistic establishment upside down with their revolutionary new approach to painting.
Today I want to write about Berthe Marisot (1841-1895), one of the important Impressionist painters. Born into an affluent bourgeois French family, Marisot was close to the famous band of Impressionist painters such as Manet, Degas, Renoir and Monet.
This painting, called Le Berceau (The Cradle) painted in 1872, is one of her best known paintings. This painting is now on display in Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
You will know more about this painting from Katherine George, Research Associate at Courtauld Institute of Art, the UK. Here’s a short video where Katherine talks about Berthe and her paintings. Grateful to you Katherine.