Saturday, May 26, 2012

Undercover Boss: TV series

I began watching this TV series Undercover Boss on Netflix just a few days ago. I get to watch the  American version of this show on Netflix. So, the story line of this reality show is that the top boss (usually CEO, but in some cases, the COO, marketing head, legal advisor, etc.) of a particular company go undercover (under a disguise) for a week and work at the lowest level in their organisation, in different locations.

The workers, with whom they 'train' for their job, are (generally) told that this person is one amongst the two who are competing in a reality show for filling one open position in the corporation. They (the employee) have to evaluate his/her (the CXO's) performance on the job. The selling point of the show is that a wealthy CXO, who lives in a mansion, has expensive club memberships and jet-sets around US (perhaps the globe), is willing to reach employees at the lowest rung and work with them to understand the company better. At the end of the show, (s)he is supposed to announce what is being done to make the company a better place to work.

Of course, the show was meant for prime-time viewing, which means there has to be lots of drama and emotions thrown in. Human beings have a somewhat irrational reaction towards emotions and reality shows take complete advantage of this. So, the boss is sent to work with people who have struggled a lot before having this job or who have a family crisis or issues, which strike an emotional chord with the boss (and more importantly the viewers). In almost every show, the boss come out realising the (s)he cannot deliver with the same efficiency that those workers have been delivering (Oh, give me a break! Even I cannot do someone else's job with the same efficiency, but same hold true the other way round). And it also dawns upon them about how those employees are the ones who have made the company successful.

Well, well. Where was all this knowledge hiding till now? When you are chasing quarterly results, busy trying to impress Wall Street and shareholders, employees' happiness and well-being tends to take a back seat. But, at the end of this show, the CXO is supposed to realise what is not working in the organisation. (S)he has to attempt to fix the flaws that are stagnating or contrary to overall employees' growth. But you almost never see that happen!! On an average the CXO works with 4-5 employees in different locations and doing different jobs. Each employee narrates a set of problems (s)he is facing in life. Some are personal and some are professional. Some professional problems are a result of personal issues, while some personal problems arise from professional (on the job) issues. The CXO in almost all episodes seem to address the problems of individual employees. So, as a reward the employee sees his/her problem being addressed in the form of a vacation or a one-time cash grant. But then, doesn't this leave other employees, who were not selected to work with the CXO, unhappy? They could have problems far more serious than those selected. Besides, by announcing personal reward, how does it benefit the organisation? Where are the policy changes? Of the more than ten episodes that I saw, there have hardly been 3-4 policy decisions compared to almost 60 personal rewards. Or will there be policy decisions behind the camera? If that's the case, how will the prime-time viewer know whether the company is actually doing something for its employees? And the intention of the show is to demonstrate that the top management is willing to actually look into employees' problems and not just indulge in improving the top-line and golfing!!
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The mockery of sentiments

Our elected representatives were at it again. What would have remained confined to the eyes of a few, had they not raked it up, came out in the open for every one to see. And why did they rake it up? Because, they felt that the incident would hurt sentiments of certain people.

The cartoon of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru, sketched by Shankar in 1949, would have remained confined to the field of political science. But, our MPs didn't realise this and raked up the issue in the Parliament, saying that sentiments would be hurt. Thus, with the widespread reach of electronic media, the cartoon was now known to all and sundry, including those, who would have never even thought about the relations between Nehru and Ambedkar. Bowing to 'popular pressure', the government decided to withdraw circulation of the books that contained the cartoons. And going overboard, they decided to remove all political cartoons in NCERT textbooks!! 

Where is our society headed? A cartoon hurts the sentiments of people. But, failed promises by politicians don't!! Election after election, politicians have failed to live up to the promises made in their election manifestos. Till date, they have failed in ensuring the implementation of the most important functions of the government. But, this doesn't hurt peoples' sentiments. The Parliament is disrupted at will, bills are past without engaging debates. But this doesn't hurt peoples' sentiments.

This year, many parts of the nation are staring at a drought. This has led to migration of the village folks to cities in search of work and water. The nation has spent crores of rupees on sold called irrigation projects. But we haven't been able to guarantee adequate year-round supply of potable water. Forget the national level, even at city level there is no guarantee of adequate supply of potable water. This, doesn't hurt peoples' sentiments. Scam after scam is being unearthed. But those accused in such scams do not display any guilt. Instead some are promoted and most are backed by their respective parties. Such acts, do not hurt the sentiments of the people.

What hurts people is a cartoon, which was symbolic of the situation in 1949!! That's the claim of our elected representatives. But respected sirs and madams, what about you hurting our sentiments, when the government has failed to provide even the basic needs of millions of ordinary citizens across the country? Will Parliament be ever disrupted on this issue? Will crowds need to vandalise offices of MPs because manifesto promises were not fulfilled? Or have the MPs not yet understood what our true sentiments are!!
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Monday, May 07, 2012

India's Iran oil imports and US persuasion

Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, is on a visit to India, her last one before the term of this government ends. The Hindu reports the following about one of the points on the agenda of her visit
In the run-up to the Indian leg of her visit, agencies have reported an official of her delegation as saying Ms. Clinton will once again persuade Indian leaders to cut down their dependence on Iranian oil. The official noted the stepped up Indian purchases of oil from Saudi Arabia which, he believes, means lower procurement of Iranian oil.
She can afford to give advice. Because, as of 2009, USA produces around 9200 bpd of oil. This is out of its consumption of around 18000 bpd. Which means, US domestically produces around 50% of its crude oil requirement. Moreover, their natural gas production (as of 2010) is approximately 21500 billion cubic feet (bcf), which is around 87% of their total requirement. Of its imports, the largest contributor is its neighbour, Canada. And the remaining they get from friends like Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Plus, it has loads of shale oil and gas reserves, which if it exploits to the fullest potential can lead to US ceasing oil imports.

On the other hand, as of 2009, India produces 835 bpd of oil domestically. This is barely 28% of our total requirement of 3008 bpd. Which means, we import around 72% of our oil requirement. Moreover, with oil being priced in US Dollars, the US does not take a hit on currency fluctuations. But, we in India, are susceptible to both, fluctuation in crude oil price and currency fluctuations.

Hence, it is important that we tread cautiously on Hillary's demand to reduce imports from Iran. She would be delighted (at least in the media) to see us completely halt imports from Iran. But, we have to be aware of the risks involved. Moreover, we are a sovereign democracy and do have the right to decide on who our trade partners will be. And if we oblige to Hillary's demands, what do we get in return? China will march in and persuade Iran into giving huge discounts on crude oil and won't even care a damn about what US or its European allies have to say. Will Hillary return favour by doing away with the arbitrary rise in rejections of business visas and reducing the visa fees to an acceptable level? Will she promise (and deliver) complete access to technology related to power generation using nuclear energy, which they have been trying to restrict through some back door measures or the other?
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