This is a story of people management.
I was posted as a manager in a regional office of a bank. Within the organization, I had earned a reputation as a dynamic officer and was consequentially, rewarded with the charge of a regional office. Something to be proud of for a young aspirant. I was ambitious; had a career to look forward to; a hierarchical position to reach. I used to be a reputed disciplinarian then who insisted on efficiency, efficacy and punctuality. Set an example myself. Walked the talk. I knew that my 20 odd staff who worked in my office admired me. Internally, I was proud of myself, a young professional or ‘yuppie’.
Among the staff was Venky, a forty year old officer who had been in the office for longer years than anyone else. On the day of my reporting, I observed that he was rather casual in his dress and indifferent to me in approach. Unlike the rest, he did not seem to bother much for the new ‘boss’. There was a sense of ‘deja vu’ in his eyes. As a young , fast rising yuppie, my ego was hurt.
Venky thus moved over to my caution list. Over the next few days, I observed Venky to be a habitual latecomer, coming in between thirty to forty minutes late every morning. The office had no arrival- departure check in; our system was built on employee trust. I felt that this habitual lack of punctuality was a breach of trust.
I tried to check up on his back office desk whether he was up to date (you may call me a ‘snoopervisor‘; an act unbecoming of a supervisor, but a yuppie has to have a self preservation instinct); I found that his desk had no arrears of work. I was not satisfied with my research; I felt that office protocol was being subjected to strain by Venky.
In two weeks, I observed that he left office a couple of days early- by 2 hours!. I checked up with the human resource (HR) officer on the irregular habits of Venky. To my assessment, the HR Officer seemed hand in glove! As a matter of fact, he stated that Venky did come late “occasionally”. He clarified that Venky was working in the back office “Sir, we are aware of his late coming habits and have posted him in the back office to avoid any customer interactions”:. The HR officer’s answer seemed evasive and added to my irritation. ‘This HR is ‘accomodative’ , I thought to myself.
As a young, aspiring, manager, I decided that I had to intervene. A message had to be conveyed to all. This attitudinal problem with Venky was an opportunity. This had to be set right in larger interests of the office. I instructed the HR Officer to suitably advise Venky and to record in his file that he had advised him.
Venky had by now moved up to the top of my black list. I began monitoring his arrivals and departures. Two weeks later, he was late again. I thought there was a challenge to authority implied there.
I summoned the errant official for an official chat. Venky seemed glazed as I sought explanation. His silence was deafening and defiant. He would not meet me in the eye. “You have been warned by HR”, I provoked. He was silent and seemed impatient to be done with. “Next time you are late, I may not appreciate it”, I continued. Silence again. My advice seemed to be gone with the wind.
Two weeks later, I noticed he was late on two consecutive days. That, I decided was my ‘Venky moment’. I called in the HR officer and ordered the Venky be issued an official warning. The HR officer seemed to be uncomfortable and pleaded that this letter be withheld for a few days. He pleaded that Venky was current in his work.
” Why delay such action?” , I countered. ” We need to drive home to everyone that we are serious about maintaining office etiquette”. I insisted that I sign the letter the very same day. The HR officer, reluctant though, complied. I left that evening with a sense of achievement . I had again proved myself a strong and effective manager.
The day after
Through out the next day, cold stares seemed to greet me. Suddenly, I seemed to have lost my colleagues. The warmth in their eyes seemed replaced by some shade of insecurity. Staff seemed even reluctant to respond to my greetings. Eyes looked away.
I called Ms Barve, my secretary to my office. Usually quite enthusiastic, even she seemed reticent to communicate. As the head of the office, I knew I had to seek reasons. I could not antagonize all. I confidentially sought reasons for this divide. Initially she was reluctant. But then someone had to tell me.
“The staff feel that action was quite hasty. You have not understood the man. You are not aware that Venky has a special needs kid. Venky takes this kid of his to the school everyday. Some days, the boy is emotional; he yells and cries and then Venky remains in school till he calms down. Some days, the boy suddenly is upset at school and he gets a call from the teacher there and he has to rush and take the kid home to calm him down… we all have normal children so we do not realise the angusih of the parent”…
That was a tanker of cold, icy water being directed at me. I knew instanteneously that I had taken an ill informed decision. In my megalomania, I seemed to have wronged him. I needed to defend myself from my guilt. So I asked Mrs Barve ”Why did he not tell me?”.
“He swore us to secrecy not to pass this info to you. He is a man of immense self respect. He says he does not need to exploit the office on sentiments. He told the HR officer not to reveal but to go ahead and issue the memo as that is proper office procedure. He said he respected your desire to send a proper message to staff on punctuality,” she said as she left.
I stared at the ceiling.
Was Venky’s secretive nature inappropriate?
Should the HR officer have been more transparent?.
As a task driven manager, was I insensate, callous?
Should I withdraw the letter and the warning from the file?
Should I call Venky and apologise?