I am not a statistic

Business, Ramayana 25 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier ET,  February 04, 2011

So the bridge was being built across the sea. This would enable Ram’s army to reach the island-kingdom of Lanka and rescue Ram’s wife who was being held captive there. This was no ordinary army – this was an army of animals. Vultures had identified where the island was located. Bears were serving as the architects. Monkeys were the workers implementing the construction, carrying huge boulders and throwing it into the sea. Work was hectic. The monkeys were jumping and screeching everywhere to ensure everything was being done efficiently and effectively when suddenly there appeared amongst them a tiny squirrel carrying a pebble. This little creature also wanted to contribute to the bridge-building exercise. The monkeys who saw him laughed. One even shoved the squirrel aside considering him a nuisance. But when Ram saw the squirrel, he was overwhelmed with gratitude. He thanked the tiny creature for his immense contribution. He brushed his fingers over its back to comfort him. This has given rise to the stripes on the squirrel’s back that can be seen even today, a sign of Ram’s acknowledgment of his contribution.

Statistically speaking, the squirrel’s contribution to the bridge was insignificant. But it was the squirrel’s 100%. Does it matter? Not as far as the bridge construction is concerned, for sure. But to Ram it did. He sensed that the squirrel’s devotion was second to none. The material contribution may not have been as great as the others but his emotional contribution was as high. That mattered.

Jaiswal is the Customer Servicing head of a credit card company. In order to achieve his target he needs to ensure all his customers are happy. So every time his Managing Director asks him if the customers are happy, he shows them a graph that reveals satisfaction amongst customers who pay regularly. He then shows another graph that compares the current year’s satisfaction with the satisfaction last year. He shows another table that reveals improvement in satisfaction despite increase in base and without increasing call centre cost. At the end of this presentation everyone in the room, the MD included, is convinced all the customers are happy.

But far away in Belgaum, Jairaj is miserable. He had traveled to Sri Lanka a few months ago and the credit card company deactivated his card without informing him. When he asked them why, he was told it was for security reasons as credit card theft and fraud was rife in tourist destinations like Sri Lanka. He was told he would get his new credit card in a week’s time. That was eight weeks ago. No card in sight yet.

Jairaj has been calling and calling but he receives the same monotonous answer. He has written to the Head of Customer Services but he has received no response. He feels betrayed, helpless and angry. But he knows no one cares. He does not matter.

Jairaj is the ‘squirrel’ in the satisfaction ‘bridge’ that Jaiswal is responsible for. Jairaj’s contribution clearly does not matter. He is just an individual. What matters is the statistic, the vast monkey force that throws huge boulders and gets one to the destination. For the credit card company, the equity that Jairaj can build means nothing. If anything his repeated complaints are a nuisance. This is the tragedy of modern management that has concluded it is impossible to make everyone happy, and so actually teaches how not to be Ram: don’t bother with the 100%, focus on the 80% who matter and ignore the 20% who don’t.

  • Nataraj

    Dear Devdutt,

    You have pulled out a dark side of operations, yes….today operations are focussing to ensure that every customer is happy, every interaction is in line with process, not more than 3 errors in one million operations are permitted….6 Sigma….there is a focus and methodology….but the operations is never given the adequate resources…we have only “monkeys” working… no “bears” and no Ram nor Lakshman….stones are ever short…. any squirrel is also invited to the team, but shouted, if not “performed”, never a word of appreciation, if done, it is so routine, that it would fail to motivate,

    The problem in not many Ram in the organsiations…it is like “bottle neck is always at the top”…today’s Management looks for Q2Q growth, they need numbers, results, actions…not contribution, honesty, loyalty, service, attitude.

    So it the responsibility of management to get more Ram…into the system and permit Ram to work like Ram….process and templates are avaialble…

    • Pradipta

      Very true. So the real problem is excess expectaions.
      Does it also question the integrity of the leaders?? If you have good value system why would you require to fuel such unrealistic desire.
      Many company states ‘Our values’, now its a fade, but not sure if they really practice.

  • rajesh gawade

    Great great great great…..very well written sir. Thank you very much for such enlightening thought. I hope people who believes in statistics read this at lest once.

  • Dear Mr. Devsab,
    i hav been reading ur article for a past few month thru ET as well as my subscription to ur site.
    this particular one is Such a rite comparative in todays every day corporate parlance.

    “”don’t bother with the 100%, focus on the 80% who matter and ignore the 20% who don’t.””

    thanks for such a vary of Mythos at par to current myths

    Rgds/ Sunil Sahu

  • Aghraja Bhatia

    I completely agree with comments made by Nataraj.

    The point is – Will there be Ram in Kalyuga?

  • Sanjay G Tendulkar

    A very valuable lesson learnt today. Thank you Sir.

  • Nataraja

    I must say that many RAM’s are dying in this cut-throat competition where only numbers, deadlines matter no matter how you achieve it, how persistent you are and how honest n loyal you are, if you dont win rat race you are completly out of the business. Thats why many RAM’s are changing their priciples and methodologies in order to make them, n make their families stable.

    Nice article indeed sir.
    All izz Welll!!!

  • I do not quite agree with you here. I feel there was just one Ram even in Satyug. Making 80% customers/employees happy is also quite close to modeling Ram in these times.

    Ram Rajya was a utopian rule that existed in a specific region at a specific time. One can strive towards it but, as you can already see it has never occurred again in the history.

    I agree with appreciating small contributions and more humanistic approach as against statistical but ‘being practical’ is the key here.

    • Deep

      With all due respect,

      The only reason u dont agree is cause ur scaling parameter is material wealth that an employee brings to the organization.

      But question to be asked to any leader is what values does he bring in his employee’s life apart from material well being ??? which makes him worthy of being a leader !!!


    Well, truly i loved the story. But the basic problem is not with Ram not existing today but with the factor that we humans dont have any set aim or destination like Ram had. Ram wanted to build the bridge so that he can get back Sita, his wife.

    But organisations build the bridge so that they can earn more money and increase their share price. So they have a Material need for which they are working and they also want their employees to think like them and work more hard for their Salary.

    So everyone is working for some gain which was actually irrelevant in Ram’s case.

    None of the animals working for Ram wanted anything in return but they were actually helping him Voluntarily.

    Thus, this concept does not apply to organisations which work for Profits but to Non-Profit organisation.

    I feel so. Rest it was a great article.

  • sourabh

    hello sir,

    Though some people collect lot of knowledge very early in life but they also take wrong decisions.
    sir i want to ask
    Is experience is necessary in life for using knowledge contextually and if not then why that consciousness is blurred within one self.

    sir plzz reply

  • your article satisfied “the squirrel” in me!!!
    I will try not to ignore the squirrels among my customers, staff, life etc.

  • Deepak Vyas

    We are again moving towards the eutopian society. The world is ever smaller, much more integrated. It’s just that do we need Ram aur Kalki ?

  • ShivaKaradi

    Well said Devji…Its an eye opener to understand the ethics and organizational policies.
    And I totally agree with Nataraj and Depp, who replied to Ujjwal Trivedi.
    Samastha Janno Sukhinobhavanthu

  • Dear Dev Ji,

    The episode of Ramayana is really touching. It is not the quantum of contribution that matters, but the zeal with which one makes the contribution. It is only an Avatar like Lord Ram, who could and would recognize this zeal, because zeal cannot be quantified. It can only be felt.

    Once, Prophet Mohammad was preparing for an expedition. His followers were very poor. Prophet appealed to all to make their contribution in the cause of God, such that they can buy the equipment needed for the expedition. Everybody contributed depending upon his capacity. Omar, a close companion of Prophet, thought that at least this time I shall be able to excel Abu Bakar, another close but poor companion of Prophet, because recently he got good amount of money from his business. He kept half of it for his family and he contributed the remaining half. Prophet inquired from Omar, “What did you leave for your family, Omar?” He replied, “I left half of my wealth for them.” Just then Abu Bakar also brought his contribution. And Prophet inquired the same from him, “What did you leave for your family, Abu Bakar?” He said, “I left only God and His Prophet for them.” On listening to this Omar said to himself that he can never think of excelling and overtaking Abu Bakar. Though what Omar contributed was hundred times more than what Abu Bakar contributed, it was only half or 50%. But what Abu Bakar contributed was full or 100%. This is, what is statistic.

    Dev ji, in my opinion, the analogy you have drawn from the credit card business is not so apt. Comparing the squirrel, who came to contribute its might, to Mr. Jairaj, who has come forward to complain, does not look so appropriate.

    The performance of Mr.Jaiswal, the customer service Head (CSH), should be measured by the Credit card company, with the ratio of the number of complaints redressed by him as against the number of complaints received, but not from the number of appreciation letters solicited and obtained by the CSH, or from the quantum of business generated by him. Of course, as the number of clients has increased, and also the quantum of business compared to a decade ago, most of the organizations have adopted a strategy called “POSITIVE DISCRIMINATION.” In any organization 90% of business comes from 10% of clients (HNIs), and only 10% comes from the remaining 90% clients. So a branch head is advised by the top management to cater to bigger clients himself, and entrust the smaller one to be entertained by his lower staff. This is a practical business strategy because, “Ek pyaala kis kis ki pyaas bujhaayey.”

    • Ashwin Rao

      Impressive strategy! The perspective you have taken is as of monkeys, but Mr.Devdutt has drawn this analogy in Rama’s perspective. So rights and wrongs are just different perspectives, I believe!

  • Pradipta

    Thank you very much for writing this lovely article on one of the myth of modern
    management theory.
    What you have implied by telling the story of Rama and the Squirrel is very correct and also true that this is one of the downside of the Pareto’s rule, that it does not allow us to look into the entire picture but only at the profitable side.

    I also refer to your one of your old article that “ Andher ngari , chaupat Raja, Takke ser bhaji , takke ser khwaja”. Here we have seen importance of differentiation. A strong emphasis on differentiation of employees has also been demonstrated in the book ‘Straight from the Gut’ by famous former CEO of GE, Jack Welch. He was not willing to promote any one, unless his Manager has recognized the low performer in the team.
    My question is don’t you think the above two are contradictory. I mean if some one wants to be Rama, then how would he do justice as a wise king who is also required to differentiate.
    Practically from my own experience I have seen it is really not possible to keep
    everyone happy. May be our intent is good but actually it boomerangs on us if we
    want to keep every one pleased.
    At times differentiation becomes ruthless. I have seen / read some of the good
    companies ( who are respected for their values) use the differentiation to chuck
    out some senior people out of the organization and get some fresh graduates at lesser cost. I am sure this must not be the objective of the differentiation (
    at least to me it should not be).

    Having analyzed both of your article, may I raise few points to ponder.
    Which of the two things i.e. defying Pareto’s rule of 80:20 or differentiation is more appropriate.
    Are they mutually exclusive or can coexist together.

  • Harshita

    Good Article, as usual.In many companies, their Appraisal system for individual growth and salary hikes are based on comparative contribution of an individual. It is sad coz, as Devji rightly said in most cases it maybe the 100% of some individuals. who go unrecognized with their motivation killed.

    Also in this article i cant help notice the beautiful artwork of Ram & squirrel, which differs from your usual style, which is unique and beautiful too.
    Who’s the artist for this one?
    I’m an avid art lover..hence the curiosity.

  • Mangal

    I’d hate to be in the 20%…, but Devdutt tell me is it practical to try and satisfy 100% of your customers….?

    • Pramod kumar

      Dear Friend,
      Today’s business is not based on professional honesty but on dishonesty. Customer who is ready to pay you 100% cost for the product/services, why he should not expect flawless product /service.
      Do you agree that when you pay for good pure milk, would you not complain or accept synthetic milk/spurious milk.
      We have become dishonest and do not want to do our work/job unless some body is there to warn you for your shot comings, this is professional dishonesty.
      These are my personal views

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  • D Balasubramaniam

    I was reading the article from the perspective of capabilities of various constituents of an organization and how a small token of appreciation can have a lasting effect … the squirrel still carries the stripes of appreciation!! Modern managers should learn how to buy the loyalty of the employees at all levels of capabilities. The resultant culture itself can solve some part, if not all, of the employee turnover problem faced by the Indian companies (the knowledge based ones in particular!)

    • Arvind Kumar Sharma

      Interestingly, the striped squirrel is naturally found only in India and Sri Lanka.

  • Excellent story line to justify the case of ‘right people for right roles’. Organizations require differently abled individuals. Capacity and capability are essential but in vain without the attitude of service. The attitude of the squirrel is what qualifies for a role. An able leadership will help define that role.

  • Kaushik P R

    Very true!