LESSONS FROM THE PAST 20- Need for Setting Priorities
When I worked for Glaxo 60 years ago, it was accepted that a weekend was ‘leisure time’. It was a break – and one came back on Monday, fresh from whatever you had been doing on the weekend. It was only when I joined a company with a young Indian heading the company as chief executive (CEO), who had no other interests except work – that the system of coming to work on Saturdays was surreptitiously introduced. 
 
“We will talk about this on Saturday. We can then discuss this at length”. This was the way priorities changed. Until we had an Australian, who was sent as production director, by the international HQs. 
 
At the end of his first week in India, the CEO said to him – “We can discuss this tomorrow. We will have more time.” 
 
And Rob said sorry. “It is Saturday. I never work on weekends. I play cricket or go yachting. I am sorry, we will have to do this on Monday.” 
 
There was a dead silence – and it was also the end of the conversation. 
 
Rob had set his priorities. And he kept to this principle for the rest of his term in India. 
 
Rob worked hard, produced results, and enjoyed every weekend – even going from Hyderabad to various destinations like Delhi and Jaipur, just for the weekend! 
The rest of us continued to be in attendance on Saturdays – because absence was taken seriously by the CEO, with mental notes of “not hardworking enough” or worse “not interested enough.” 
 
This would be reflected in the year-end appraisal!
 
When one looks around in India, one finds that the cause of failure is our “lack of priorities.” 
 
Steven Covey, who has become famous throughout the world for his books on Seven Habits (for highly effective people; for happy families etc.) propounds – Put first things first – as one of the seven habits.
 
It means, set your priorities. 
 
Do what is most important, first. 
 
Although most of us would be inclined to do just the opposite. 
 
In books on management, especially under the chapter on time management, they will tell you to separate all jobs into important, urgent, routine and not necessary. 
 
It is important to deal with the important and urgent first. And deal with everything else, only if and when there is time. 
 
Many of us forget these basic lessons in our busy schedules in life! 
 
Look at the waste of time of all these senior managers coming to the office on Saturdays, just to be seen by the boss – and really not doing anything useful – or anything that cannot be done next Monday!
 
Many times, I drive down roads in Mumbai, where I see large gangs of workers breaking down and resetting road dividers. 
 
Or worse, they will be painting the white lines for traffic channels. Even worse, they will be painting these white lines, at pedestrian crossings at peak traffic hours in the morning, or the evening, thus increasing the traffic chaos, in an already chaotic situation. 
 
Yet the condition of the road is so bad, with potholes and craters and badly constructed speed breakers, that one wonders why the authorities have focused on road dividers as a priority, rather than the roads themselves. 
 
Would not the road maintenance be more important than the road divider? Is this a case of reverse importance in setting priorities?
 
We just read about the case of a person who met with an accident –he was knocked down by a train when he was crossing the railway track. 
 
Of course, he was wrong. 
 
As he lay there a doctor jumped out of the train to help the injured man and with the help of two onlookers moved him to the road, and looked for a taxi to take him to the nearest hospital in Ghatkopar in Mumbai. 
 
But for half an hour they could not get one. 
 
The drivers were not keen to get involved in a “police case.” The police have to be first notified and only then the hospital will admit the patient. 
By the time these formalities are complied with, many patients may die of bleeding. 
 
But that does not matter. Rules are rules. 
 
And registering with the police is the first priority. Are our priorities misplaced? Do we put first things first? 
 
I saw this at a bus stop a few weeks ago. It was evening rush hour. As the bus took off from the city center at Flora Fountain, in Mumbai, a young man ran behind the bus, tried to jump in, missed his footing and failed to grasp the support bar and fell on his face on the road. 
 
A car, coming just behind the bus went over him- just a little late to come to a dead halt with screeching brakes. 
 
And I thought – what are the young man’s priorities? To reach home fast, or to reach home safely? 
 
All of us need to set our priorities. 
 
To think through. To put first things first. As persons, or as corporations or as a nation. 
 
The simple matter of Rob Jackson spending the weekend had got me thinking, and gave me a lesson for life! 
 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
Comments
raviforjustice
6 months ago
There is a similar story on how the government of a newly independent India fixed the pay for its employees. It gave Rs 100/- to each employee in a Delhi office and told them to enjoy the week end. The Indian employees took their families to India Gate, bought them groundnut and ice creams and returned on Monday to refund Rs 90/- to the office. The foreigners took their families to Agra/Jaipur, spent Rs 200/- and on Monday sought an additional compensation of Rs 100/- The GoI then fixed the pay accordingly to satisfy both groups to maintain their quality of life, as had been demonstrated by them.
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