I was straddled with this question a few days back when I was quietly sitting at my davenport, looking back at the tidings of the day with almost a half closed mind, cernuous to the wide range of subjects attempted in the last ten hour routine. It came as an abstersion in an otherwise repetitive denouement of picking up scattered pieces of thoughts, taking some of it home, leaving some for the next day’s drill.
“How much value did I add today?”
I thought about my shop-floor confrere and imagined how his hands and feet and his eyes had followed the instructions on the “Lot Ticket”, the variant of the process card, with the attention and the skill that he had gathered over the years that he had spent on the shop-floor and had turned a part of the process “input” into an “output”. And this I could well confer that he had done the same for all the seven hours in the shift betwixt keying of data on the “central technical database”.
Incontinent, I could accite innumerable examples of such “hourly rated” work which in real terms is nothing else than “value-addition” in the truest sense. And this was not at all abstruse for me to follow whereas the question was, in spite of having it to concern myself and none else.
Concrescence of energy, both human and abstract converts an input into an output, thus creating “value”. It is simple till we bring in the measures and the yardsticks; sequester the elements of “value” concerning managerial content as distinct from the contents of labour. I remembered my professor defines “Value addition” as the sum of PBDIT & Employment Cost but seldom had I thought deeply till this moment confronted by the featous question, “How much value did I add today”?
Going back to my colleague who adds value for seven hours in an eight- hour shift, I could see a well-knit structure in form of an activity- value matrix. While each element of his activity could be broken down, each microelement of value created could be tracked, measured and monitored with near precision. Facsimile of such microelements of work throughout the value-chain constitutes what we call the value-addition by human labour.
But what is difficult and incondite is the measure of the managerial content of “value-addition” and this is because it is devoid of structure and concinnity, complex and inconsistent. The degree and extent of managerial value addition over short or long periods of time have never really crossed my mind till this moment when I heard the question. I wanted to delve a little bit more on this and I preferred to keep my thinking de-linked from sensitivities related to this subject.
Managerial value addition starts with the managerial attitude towards work. Here again the necropsy of the primitive examples touched my mind and the rancour of an example cited by my learned professor Ranjan Das of IIM Calcutta, on this subject reprised unknowingly. He had come across a letter written by a CEO of a Fortune 500 company at U.K. to another at U.S. which ran like this:
“The other day I was swimming at the London Hilton pool when I noticed a Japanese swimmer by my side. He was looking at me more often than not, which looked a bit awkward. Later when I was drying myself at the poolside he came forward and took out his waterproof business card from his swimming trunk and handed over the same to me introducing him.
“Dear me, how do we confront these Japanese at the market place who carry their business cards in their swimming trunks?”
Then our professor told us the essence of this new attitude of the managers of the new millennium.
Thinking about business for twenty-four hours of the day is what is “in”; configuring time for the business is “out”; keeping awake so that not a single business opportunity is missed at any time.
I shall start with this fundamental premise that time is not restricted by the boundaries of the work place. It is therefore left to the manager to decide what he intends to do with his time. We often make this fundamental mistake by starting and finishing the day by specific hours of the clock. Thinking per se can never be confined to specificities at the work place, influenced by actions and reactions and nothing beyond. That would be far too biased by imponderables, traipsing the logic put forward by the intermediaries. It is important though that the process of thinking and action is in tandem with the organizational processes at the work place, but there is no binding to taking them beyond the limits as defined or comprehensible so far by dictums or routines.
There is however no discernment to the idea that work place influences our managerial behavior more than anything else. This is because we channelise our thoughts and actions based on observations of activities and processes. Therefore to me managerial value addition starts from the analysis of our daily observations. Unfortunately we often restrict our observations to events, shop-floor activities, meetings, training sessions, correspondence, etc. But observations can go beyond all this.
Managerial observations start with interactions in the dyadic form. Dyads play a major role in breaking elements of interaction into logical structures and in the process makes it analytical. Here again the sequence should not be missed. Such interactions can be extended to preclude a myriad of activities related to business processes. The striking feature of any such interaction is the element of managerial curiosity on which let me write a few lines.
The questioning attitude of the manager starts with the element of curiosity that rocks his mind. Unless there is deep routed curious mind inside him, which had been nurtured consciously over years of service as a practicing manager, every observation and thereafter inference drawn from it is bound to be myopic. Most managers fail to get to the “Big Picture” because they loose out on this habit of curiosity not having nurtured it from infancy and not having applied it judiciously at times of crisis or even otherwise. Managerial curiosity almost like scientific curiosity is what drives the engine of “change” in organizational activities.
The next important thing that comes to my mind is the concept of “managerial planning” which is quite different from what we normally do in our everyday work life.
Planning is about the future. And future is normally visualized from impressions of the present. The interactions with the external and internal environs are taken into account while thoughts are crystallized about the future. But the crucial issue is that how deeply are these interactions studied, analyzed, questioned, and tested out as small experiments before a judgment is arrived at? Some people mix up vision with plan. But these are two different things. Planning leads to vision. The “Big Picture” can never be visualized unless a planned approach is taken.
Planning has to go beyond what the “present” events reflect. It has to go deeply into identification of “constraints” and “opportunities”. Here again we jump to conclusions selecting the path, which apparently looks to be the one giving the maximum value. We tend to miss out that even the ones that do not appear lucrative might be the ones that would give the optimum benefit in the longer run. The time scale is important in planning.
Managerial planning starts with defining the parameters, the goals, the process and the measuring yardsticks of activities. The efficacy of a plan would depend on how well these have been defined. Unfortunately our focus shifts to the execution of a plan rather than the plan itself and how the plan had been arrived at.
I had talked about “questioning” before and now I would like to talk about “answering”. Here I am rocked by the horns of dilemma. Answers are equally important as the questions. If managers do not seek to provide answers they would gradually loose the authority and the inclination towards asking questions. Therefore along with the learning attitude comes the teaching attitude. And managers have to inculcate this habit of teaching along with the habit of learning.
But the most important aspect of managerial value additional is the creation of excitement at the workplace around a goal. This is as daunting a task as all the others combined together. People have infinite potential hidden inside waiting to be flowered by the touches of inspiration. They have to be brought out from their cocooned shelves, from the islands of isolation and united around a goal. The profound, deeply rooted wiser elements that the human conscience is made of have to be brought out with utmost care so that they maybe channelised for delivering much superior value.
I remembered the words of my dearest poet, “Man is wider than all the sea and her necklace of islands, and we must fall back on him as down a well to clamber back with branches of secret water, recondite truths.”
I went back to the question with which I had started.
The answer came, “Even if I did all that I have thought out to be managerial elements of value addition, it is still far too short in content when compared to the value addition of seven hour toil by my shop-floor confrere.”
Procyon Mukherjee is currently living in Zurich Switzerland.