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April 15, 2006

The Waiter Principle

Came across this link via BusinessPundit - on how you can tell a lot about a person's character by the way he treats the waiter - ("waiter" being a metaphor for "anyone who means nothing to you")

Some classic situations in organizations where “character” is displayed:

Employee behaviour during notice period: One of my favorites as far as getting a flavour of the "real" thing. It’s interesting to see the mild turn acerbic and the fence-sitters become highly opinionated over-night. Surely an act of handing in a piece of paper cannot drastically alter your personality? That the same organization which you were part of till yesterday suddenly becomes this ogre that you would not touch with a barge pole today?
I guess it requires “character” to say “I came here by choice”, and “I’m leaving by choice”

Treatment of candidates / prospective employees: Much has been said about that here. Indeed the “hiring experience” that we talk about is nothing but how we get treated when we are one of the many.

Vending machine discussions: How and what you say in an informal chat is as important as how you would raise the issue in a formal discussion. Yes, the tone and language may loosen a little bit, but your stand does not. People give far too much of their hypocrisy away in their flip-flop between coffee machine and boardroom.

How the manager handles the performance discussion with his team member: Defensiveness, blame, lack of ownership - are all the low hanging fruits which we reach out to when we are in difficult situations. And, a performance review is definitely one such situation for a manager. Explaining to your team member why his performance was not upto the mark despite the long hours he put in, why he got the rating / increment he did, why his colleague got promoted, are all very “sticky” issues right? Wrong. I think where we fail is that we get into these discussions without adequate data. And then give all the wrong reasons. These discussions require as much (maybe more) homework on the part of the manager, but then who really has the time for that? And then again, “homework” would be so “out-of-character" right?

Without doubt ‘character’ is what gives you brilliance and makes you a great human being. And yet, you will never find it when you go looking for it, because, as some one said - “real” character is doing the right thing when no one is looking. So much for impression management.


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