A pinch of salt

Everything passes. It has to.

What deadlines mean – especially in the Indian parlance…

Say your boss walks up to you and says “Hey, I have this meeting with the VP at 10 AM tomorrow. I need the XYZ presentation in my inbox ASAP! I don’t care if you have to leave to pick your kid from school – I have a deadline to meet…”

I know you want to tear your hair out in sheer frustration – there’s that damn word again!

If you are in a corporate scenario – may be as a manager who delegates tasks to the team or as an executive who is involved in the task hands on, it really doesn’t matter which – I’m sure you are no stranger to this deadly term – “deadline”. And I’m sure you hate the term. That’s a universal sentiment and you are not alone. Combine that with words like “ASAP” and “Leverage” and “Bandwidth” and “Crunch” and “Streamline” and “Discuss” and you have a concoction enough to give you a ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­raving jargon hangover. And then there are phrases that have become threadbare from overuse and guarantee to get on your nerves. I could go on and on, on the subject, but that’s content for another time, another story…

Anyway, coming back to “Deadlines” (according to basic research I did online) the known origin of the term dates back to the American Civil War where soldiers were not allowed to pass beyond a certain point in a stockade that signified imminent life or death situations for the soldiers in question. Hmm…that at least makes some sense. But in the corporate scene, it must have crept in when some harangued employee probably equated his/her situation to that of a soldier at war with death looming if he/she did not comply with the boss’s (un)reasonable demands of task closure.

Calvin - deadline

Now, why it is different in the Indian scenario, you might ask?

Well, we Indians are a weird lot, I think. The concept of time is very different for us – alien almost. There’s time and then there are Indians. Two parallel tracks that never meet. We set our clocks ten minutes ahead aiming to be early. Yet we invariably end up late for an appointment. That’s because we end up back-calculating to the actual time since we know that we have manipulated our own clocks.

We go late to meetings and functions and parties only so we appear as the ‘somebody-who-was-so-busy-but-was-magnanimous-enough-to-make-time-somehow-to pop-in-at-the-last-moment’. It makes us feel kinda like celebrities – all eyes on the latecomer. Politicians, government officials, bureaucrats – they have built a reputation of being unpunctual because it makes them look important. Even the general public is no exception to this aberration. It doesn’t matter whether you need the services of a plumber or an electrician or are waiting for a meal at a restaurant. If you have ever known an Indian train to come on time, you have witnessed a miracle!

In the business scene, if Indians need something done by “Friday”, they end up giving a deadline of “Wednesday/ASAP” factoring in delays due to unforeseen circumstances. If there are Indians at receiving end of the deadline, you can bet we will assume that the person requesting the job would have factored in time for possible delays/iterations and therefore he/she actually means “Friday” instead of the said deadline of “Wednesday”. So end result? The work comes in on Friday or later.

Your boss takes for granted that the later into the night you stay at work, the more diligent and dedicated you are. It doesn’t matter if you started your day late and sauntered in to work only at 11:00 AM or took numerous chai-sutta breaks to relieve that tension brought on by deadlines and work pressure.

It’s super funny if you look at it (unless your work is impacted big time and you are livid as a result..!). Why can’t people just be honest and set the right expectations, you might ask. Beats me! I don’t know how it got to be a culture thing, but it’s somehow become ingrained in the system from years and years of unpunctuality. When it comes to Jugaad (resourcefulness) or smartness or doling out free advice, we have it all in oodles. But somehow timeliness got left out of the lot when God was attributing us Indians.

It works because people have accepted it as a norm. After all, in India, ‘sab chalta hai, boss’..!

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This entry was posted on April 24, 2015 by in Point of view and tagged , , , , .
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