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Pause For Thought: Why The Arrival Matters As Much As The Journey

12/08/2015 8:05 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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We venerate youth today, and worship milestones and achievements. All very well, but a recent trip to a place of worship of the old-fashioned sort had me thinking that we really need to pause in order to succeed in our quest to move ahead.

We are in a hurry to grow. As an economy, the 6% growth rate suddenly seems Hindu, especially when the likes of Ruchir Sharma start writing op-ed pieces on the amazing growth rates being achieved by the manufacturing sectors in Pakistan and Bangladesh. As organisations, too, we aspire big, our stratospheric targets stretched to the point just a tad beyond achievable. Aim higher, we tell ourselves. Aim bigger, we tell our young teams. And then we move from quarter to quarter, or year to year, setting these impossible targets that we barely reach, but yet must go on ahead in the search of double-digit growth from one measurable period to another.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, "All things are, with more fervour chased, than enjoyed". In the modern business world, we have taken this quote to heart, celebrating the onward and upward journey of teams and firms. Why waste time enjoying the arrival, when real happiness lies in the path itself?

"The pause, the reflection on the past and its challenges and achievements is barely fractional, before we herd everyone towards the next step-up of goals and task planning."

It is true that motion is everything. Even Pandit Birju Maharaj connects gati and taal to the ceaseless, endless motion of stars and galaxies and atoms, and suggests that through motion the ephemeral dancer joins the eternal movement of nature.

But, there is pleasure not just in the chase or in the climb, as I was reminded on a cool, cloudy afternoon in the green hills at the mouth of the Godavari. Visiting a shrine with my father, after hours of climb up the hills and valleys of the Bramhagiri range, standing briefly in a queue and glancing up at the dark stone edifice waiting to get in, I couldn't help being let down by the eventual arrival at the relative emptiness of the nave of the sanctuary, only to be shooed away by a set of burly policemen, without even a fractional glance at the deity within. As our car had gone uphill just hours before, we had crossed peetamber-clad groups, trekking uphill. What of them, I wondered -- how do they perceive their journey, long and tiring as the road winds uphill to their eventual destination, only to be steered past the target by a gatekeeper. Deprived of the sense of arrival, what should they think of this journey?

Yet, we do the same with our teams, moving them ahead with smart measurable goals and stretch targets. And, when harried, dismayed, possibly overworked and confused through the year, they do reach somewhere close to the end point, we blithely announce next year's goals and targets and urge them to look ahead. As management, I have been guilty of doing the same. The pause, the reflection on the past and its challenges and achievements is barely fractional, before we herd everyone towards the next step-up of goals and task planning. We expect everyone to be driven by the journey itself, and get flummoxed when teams want free time just to be, easily judging the carefree samosa-eaters as the B players on the bell curve of the team, wantonly weaving their way through life without a measured plan or achievement orientation.

"That pause gives meaning to our activities. It informs us that we are building cathedrals, not just laying brick after brick."

The pause, however, does give the sense of closure to the journey. Even if it's merely a rest stop along a long journey to greatness, lingering at that plateau serves a purpose. To make us take stock of where we have come, even as we mentally prepare for where we need to go. It provides the space and time for the team leader to whisper those words of encouragement or praise.

The recent move by a few firms announcing the end of the bell curve gradation of employees and moving towards continuous assessment and feedback, is that ledge, then. That thin ledge of quick pause, that helps us gauge the past and assess the future and lets employees and teams move ahead, happier and with better understanding of what they are trying to achieve and why. That pause gives meaning to our activities. It informs us that we are building cathedrals, not just laying brick after brick. We don't achieve business goals by ourselves or with just a select group of A-players. Every person at every level in the organisation needs to be advised, informed, cajoled, praised, pushed, wheedled and moved along the path. This is the essence of managing effective teams -- slowing down, to move faster in unison. The joy is not just in the journey! Let us celebrate each mile marker.

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