Carrot and Stick – or Mashed Potato

Everyone is familiar with the good old concept of carrot and/or stick – the act of cajoling someone to do something through a reward (carrot) and/or with the threat of punishment (stick). As children, we have all gone through the phase of adjusting our actions and behavior based on the expected use of this technique by our parents.

Like with everything else, the corporate world takes this phenomenon to a new level. There are managers who have learnt and (im)perfected this art through full-time courses in business schools, company-sponsored workshops and seminars, miracles producing ‘learn leadership in 30 days’ crash courses or simply through word of mouth from colleagues.

A savvy software development manager, supervising a group of developers in a large corporation, practices this technique like witchcraft. She announces to the team that the entire group would go on a cruise if the project is completed even one day (rephrase this as ‘one minute’ if you want to take this down to the wire) ahead of schedule. While the whole group kicks into a high degree of frenzy, I mean motivation, there are the habitual slackers who spoil the fun – net result is a non-cruise. The manager, annoyed at the delays and the effect on her reputation in the company, wields the stick and cancels pre-approved vacations, even for the good performers.

In the next iteration (software development is nothing but an endless series of failed iterations, under the modern day principle of failing quickly), very few developers bother to work hard and finish their tasks on time, assuming that the group will be late anyway.  The manager, however, selectively rewards the ones who finish their individual tasks on time. She also does not pull up those who are late thus sending mixed and confusing signals like a set of faulty lights at a traffic junction.

The group of developers are now in a state of confusion, to say the least. Those who could perform better but did not do so are fretting and fuming and decide to rebel and sabotage the next project. They promote wrong assumptions and deliberately mislead others about the features of the next software application being developed by their team, with the result that the entire system is scrapped by senior management and the whole department severely reprimanded.

Thus, the ingenious and cunning, though ineffective, use of the carrot-and-stick principle results in a mushy, unpalatable mashed potato!

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Deliverables

If you thought the words ‘delivery’ and ‘deliverable’ belonged to a branch of medicine pertaining to women and children or associated these words with the responsibilities of your local Post Office, you may be excused and even offered a free course on an important facet of corporate nuances – read on and become wiser.

A ‘Deliverable’ in corporate speak covers anything and everything – a sandwich for lunch, the Bridge on the River Kwai, an idea to confuse people and, well, even a plot not to deliver anything. With the right imagination, accompanied by a crafty but indecipherable description, each and every (non)activity can be mysteriously turned into a ‘deliverable’.

One must concede that management gurus like Peter Drucker may have invented the ‘deliverable’ as a means of providing an objective way to measure success or failure upon completion of a nebulous task. However, true to the ingenuity of corporate scholars of today, the exact opposite effect has come to stay – converting simple and intuitive outcomes into incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo.

The idea of a deliverable may be used to convert a simple result into a monumental outcome. Thus, a simple orientation session for new recruits in an organization can be positioned to ‘deliver’ the following:

  • welcome new hires and make them feel at home
  • help them become familiar with the nearest restrooms and fire exits
  • infuse the sense of belonging and commitment to the organization
  • create an appreciation for the nutritional values of different lunch options
  • ….and so on

In case the reader has failed to notice, the above deliverables are carefully defined to defy objective measurement of any kind. An added benefit of such definitions is that, where an external agency is involved in providing such complex deliverables, what may otherwise look like an exorbitant consultancy fee can readily be projected as a fair reward.

At the other end of the spectrum, the ‘deliverable’ phenomenon is used by veterans to remove any semblance of clarity in what is being delivered. Thus the objective (sorry, ‘deliverable’) of an expense reporting system, with simple functions such as the ability to enter and approve expenses, could be turned into a ‘system for simplification of workflow to control costs’ immediately creating a situation where implementation of the said system can be neither completed nor assessed for success.

Just imagine the extension of this corporate style to your every day activities. What is the deliverable for the plumber who fixes your leaking pipe? Eliminate discharge of water from the pipes other than at permissible outlets? Or, say, for your hairdresser – achieve a ratio of 1:3 between the amount of hair remaining versus the original quantum?

The next time you sit in a restaurant, waiting for food to be served, try and define the deliverable for the waiter (other than, of course, the actual items of food ordered). The fun is endless.