Nellaiappan’s Column-3: "My Concept of Value Addition"

Why do people obey instructions? Is it because of fear of punishment? Is it because of the hierarchy? – The boss gives instructions and people down the line listen and obey the instructions; or is it because of the fact that generally every human being from childhood has been conditioned to do obey authority?

Before trying for a satisfying answer to the question in hand, I should tell you what had happened long back when I was a section-in-charge in a chemical manufacturing unit.

It was just after the completion of my regular plant visit on that particular day. As I was walking from the plant towards the office, I could see at the factory gate someone trying to enter and the security guard preventing him. I just clapped my hand once to draw the attention of the guard and signaled him to send the outsider to me.

He was a well-built young man, dressed like a student but the dress was dirty. He seemed to be very tired and in a feeble voice told me that he had not taken any food for the past two days. Controlling his tears, he asked for a job, any job. I took him to the office, provided him water and then a cup of strong coffee.

I learnt from him that because of a quarrel with his father, he had come out of his home a week before and was managing on his own with the money he had for five days. When all the money was gone, he was desperately trying to get a job, when someone showed him our company.

He was at my feet, begging for a job. All he wanted was a job to ensure two square meals a day. When I told him that there was opening only for casual labor, he jumped excitedly and assured that he would do any work without complaint.

I arranged full meals for him in the company canteen and asked him to return the next day. I pressed a 100-rupee note in his shirt pocket, when he hesitated to take it from me.

The next day morning he was eagerly waiting for my arrival. He was standing outside my office. By then I had worked out a plan for the chap.

I asked him how much wages he expected. He replied that he would be happy with sixty rupees a day. I told him that the wage would be rupees 120 per day. He gasped a little and started thanking profusely. He was beaming. I had difficulty in stopping him from touching my feet again.

Then I took him to the lawn and asked him to dig a pit of one-meter by one-meter by one meter. He happily started the work. I had completely forgotten him. Towards the end of the day, I saw him near the lawn waiting for me. No doubt he had done a nice job. What next ,Sir, he asked me. Without any hesitation I told him to close the pit keeping my face very straight. “Pardon, me, Sir, close what?” He was a bit confused, and in a firm voice I told him again to close the pit, which he had taken him the best part of the day.

He looked disturbed for a minute, and then started filling the pit. But obviously he did not seem to be happy. I gave him Rs.120 when the work was over and also another fifty-rupee note. He hurriedly returned the fifty-rupee note thanking me for my kindness. Probably he was thinking that I was a bit mad and you may also do that. But wait.

I repeated the same thing the next day. When I asked him to dig a pit at the same place he was simply standing there without doing the work. When I reminded him about his assurance to do any kind of job, he started digging the same again, murmuring some thing in a low voice. Probably by now he had no doubt that I was stark mad.

After completing the work, he asked about the next work. I appreciated him for his speed and asked him to fill the pit. He asked in an agitated voice “Why?” I told him that that was none of his business and directed him to do what he was told. The next half an hour he was idle and then slowly started filling the sand.

The third day started with the request from the chap for a change of work. I immediately accepted that and took him to the workshop. I showed him a wooden box overflowing with metal washers and asked him to segregate them size-wise.

He enthusiastically completed the segregation and asked me where to keep them. I told him to keep them in the same wooden box. When he started searching for polythene bags to collect them sidewise I told him no need and asked to dump them in the same box. He became furious, shouted some thing and walked out of the main gate. That was the end of the chap.

Now the question is why a chap who was badly in need of a job refused a small work though the benefits were more than commensurate? If you can figure out a convincing answer for that, probably you may answer well the question “why do people obey instructions?” Let us find out.

Subordinates obey the instructions not because the boss told them, but because they feel they add some value by doing it. Any amount money cannot motivate them to do a meaningless work however easy it may be.

While giving some work, if you can tell them why it is important, why they are the right person for doing it, and what value they will add by doing it, the end result will be really amazing.

By the way, I still owe that chap Rs.120 for the third day’s work. May be even more for confirming my theory about Value Addition.

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