Say ‘Yes’: Always but ‘No’ also sometimes

Commander ​VK Jaitly​​

A few days back, one of my mentee, Venky came to me and told that he was not able to cope up with pressure of work in his office. He told me that he was working even beyond working hours. He claimed that he was following my advice in letter and spirit in following ‘Time Management’ formulae as given in my book: ‘We Can! We Can!’ Chapter no: 8. He also reminded me my famous quote: ’Give more then what you are paid for.’ and told me that he is actually working more than what he gets according to not only his own assessment but as per the views of his colleagues also. He assured me that he was contributing to his company significantly but finding it difficult to meet the deadlines for some of the tasks allocated to him.

I have known Venky now for almost eight years and he is a go getter. He is intelligent and has software engineering background with a total of about 12 years of experience in the industry. He in fact got two promotions out of turn and now is just ahead of a couple of IIT engineers who joined with him but were given higher scales at the time of joining the company owing to their IIT credentials. So when he spoke to me this time, I realised that he was overburdened.

Venky is too good in his profession. Even when he is challenged to work in a new area, he has been a quick learner. The word ‘No’ is not in his dictionary. But this time, when he started talking to me, I could sense a bit of a feeling of helplessness in him. He was no more in command of the situations around him. The same environment where he had flourished during last so many years was now suffocating him. On query from me, he confirmed that seven software engineers reporting to him were substantially loaded too. I wanted to confirm that he perhaps is not failing in adequate delegation of jobs to his team members.

Venky’s problem escalated during last one year, when his new boss joined. He developed a liking for Venky within the very first month. He found that Venky was always fully prepared with the brief during all meetings. His team was always meeting all the targets. He found that Venky had a solution for every hurdle. So his boss started relying too much on Venky and started giving good amount of additional responsibility and tasks to him. He could manage to maintain his speed of execution for the first six months. But now, there were times, when he had slipped the dates, the targets and even some very important delivery deadlines to some very old customers.

I could see Venky was losing confidence. Where did he fail? He had learnt to say ‘Yes’ always. But he had not learn to say ‘No’ sometimes at least. When he knew that all his team members are neck deep busy and he himself was simultaneously working on a number of projects with rigid deadlines, he should have politely declined to his boss with full justification why he and his team can’t take up the additional areas of responsibility. Today he was working much more than his counterparts. His team members were also loaded substantially more than their equivalents in other teams. They were also overburdened because of the decency of their team leader, Venky.

So Venky was now proving to be not a good boss for his team members who were also working overtime daily and still falling short of meeting their deadlines. His team members were becoming irritating also at times and there were heated discussions between the team members on trivial matters. Venky’s team members had full regards for their boss for his professional competence and his personal nature. He always extended a helping hand whenever and wherever his people wanted.

But Venky’s inability to say ‘No’ to his boss had created a tense atmosphere within the small team of just eight people. Some of them may be carrying this tension, stress and irritation to their homes also. Venky, himself admitted to me that he is not able to spend quality time with his two little kids and his wife. His own work-life balance had gone for a six due to his inability to say ‘No’ to his boss. It is not that only Venky and his team of seven people was suffering. Its negative impact was visible on the whole organization. Any failure on their part was damaging the full organization.

So there were instances that Venky’s boss who liked him so much till recently, questioned him last month and asked for explanation for the delay in delivery of the last project to a very old client and as a result had to bear the 10% penalty due to the penalty clause built into the contract. There is no doubt that Venky’s boss should do some introspection and also encourage Venky for a frank discussion to find out the reason for late delivery and some other instances of degraded performance.

But if the boss is not proactive and pretending that things will automatically settle down after sometime, it is Venky’s duty now to tell his boss that he needs additional manpower to complete various projects that he had accepted or transfer some of his projects to other teams that are comparatively less loaded. He should at least now boldly accept that it was his mistake that he kept on accepting all additional jobs without asking for additional resources.

There is a very good joke that goes around in Army circles.

There was a young army captain who called his Gurkha JCO and gave him a list of jobs that needed to be completed in next seven days. Normally Gurkhas are highly obedient, don’t question at all and are ever ready to execute whatever is told to them. This Gurkha also said, ‘Ji Shaab’. ‘But the types of jobs you have told me will take a minimum of 15 days’. The young captain was not ready to listen ‘No’. He said I will give you double the number of soldiers you have as on today. But I want this job to be done in seven days only. ‘No Shaab’ retorted the Gurkha JCO. He tried to explain the various steps involved in the job and that needed 14 to 15 days minimum according to him. But the young, energetic captain was not ready to listen to any logic.

Then the highly experienced Gurkha JCO said, ’Shaab, ek aurat ek bacha paida karne ko kitna time lagata hai’.

‘Nine Months.’ Angrily replied the captain.
‘Nine Months!’ Repeated the Gurkha JCO.

‘Sir, if I put nine jawans on the job instead of one, can the same lady produce the kid in one month?’

The captain didn’t know where to look at. He laughed aloud and understood the logic.