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.