Sunday, November 13, 2011

Driving Enterprise Growth Part 3

I have received more private comments on the notion that changing road use behavior can lead to changed attitudes that translate to better behavior in general and better work place behavior. Behavior, I feel, is necessary if we want to make quality products and provide world class service. Behavior, I think, that is necessary for us to have pride in our handiwork and a belief that we can make our future bright. The past, however glorious, (this is not heritage I am talking of, which is also important - but rather a finger pointed at our habit of extolling past achievements that we do not truly value but only speak of) is past. We can no longer depend on that. We must make our future.

A key thread in those comments I received is that; for good behavior there must be an expectation and a threat. This is logical since as a friend pointed out, the same person that for example, drives badly behaves better in the work place. Reason is that he/she is expected to and knows that there will be consequences of considerable magnitude.
Whilst this is correct, it cannot explain the poor work attitude that is commonplace (think not only of the starched shirt that relies on sycophancy to get ahead; but also of the carpenter who leaves a mess because cleaning up is not his job; and everything in between). In most firms it should be possible to reinforce and flood peoples minds with what is expected. This seems to work better if the leadership practices what it preaches. Also, as pointed out by a person that handles training in the work place, changed behavior lasts longer if it is properly introduced and reinforced early in the career.

So should the argument be turned on its head - reinforce better practices at work and expect them to become better road users? Perhaps, and I would like to hear your views.

For one, the solutions that can address better road use are deeper (should address more than what a company addresses). Two, they can be broader (in terms of range of people impacted - unemployed and employed). Three, they are more universal (they are transferable across job and "extra-curricular" functions and processes).

As an aside, this seems to work well even before a career starts. Get school kids to pick up rubbish as a mandatory course requirement and they are unlikely to throw their rubbish around. This experiment was tried in a small way at the University of Hyderabad and seems to work. One solution therefore is a mandatory course on good use of roads that is taught in every grade from kindergarten to the end of school with the course covering every aspect of road use - from behavior specifics to attitude to the environment and most importantly why each aspect is so important and it should include practical work as well.

This in turn raises a new argument. Should we simply focus most of the effort on school children and those that have not been able to go to school but are at the age where they use roads? Perhaps.

There is yet another argument. This has to do with my view that people in cities behave more badly than people in villages because in a city (or any crowded environment) one has to compete for resources (from bus seats to movie tickets to pavements and jobs). So if we were to provide more resources would the behavior change. For example, if we had more and better busses and roads?

An academic suggested that the problem may be because we are a collectivistic society. If I understood him right, we are expected to be responsible for not just ourselves but our families, servants etc. This could make us more aggressive in our behavior especially when it comes to "being first" for resources - be those resources movie tickets or blood banks!

For this theory, while one cannot ask people to not look after the people they are responsible for, over time we could make it easier for people to not HAVE to look after all those people. If they WANT to, fine.

My learning from the above is what I had suspected at first. There is no one solution. We should identify as many reasons / arguments as possible and then craft solutions for each. They need not be coordinated but they must be wide and sustained. Flood and flood repeatedly. There must however be only one objective: of getting us to naturally take pride in what we do and how we do it.

Look forward to your ideas. Am glad more folks are reading this and would be most appreciative if you got the message out and the comments in.

My best wishes to all, Vishnu.