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Friday, April 02, 2010

In corporate work, we can only produce task output without influencing 'task outcome'

In a recent ATP tennis tournament of Indian Wells, California, 2010, i was watching semifinal match between Andy Murray and Soldering. The match looked close. At the end, Soldering won the match in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Statistics however at the end of match was surprising. Both had won equal points: 79. Both players won equal points, but one player won the match at the end. Andy Murray and Soldering put in same efforts in the match, produced same output, but the outcome of the match was determined by 'who won the points at what time'!

I see this phenomenon regularly in a corporate world. Two individuals working in a company may work equally hard, but may end up producing different outcomes. That is, one may get less 'credit' for the task accomplishment than the other. It looks so unfair to the loser, like it looked so unfair for Andy Murray. But if you pause for a moment, you will not be surprised.

Unlike in a tennis match, the work in a corporate world is always done by a team. In a team situation, where the work is knowledge work, it is very difficult to decipher 'who did what'. How does one decide, for instance, that a 'smart' idea of one team member contributed more than the 'long hard work' of another team member? Therefore, logically speaking, in such a situation, 'perception' plays a critical role in determining the 'winner' than the real merit. With no method of determining 'truth', that is the only way out.

You may wonder that this rule may work in a demanding field like research, where research contributions are strictly monitored. But i was surprised. One of my friend who is a researcher in physics ( doing her PhD) also experienced the same phenomenon. When the research was over, she found herself 'fighting' for getting the credit of success. Phenomenon was no different than a corporate world!

But if Soldering's win was a surprise to me, the result of next match in the same tournament was shocker to me. It was a match of Nadal versus Ljubicic. Nadal won more points than Ljubicic at the end. It was 98 versus 92. But yet, Ljubicic won the match in the third set in a tie breaker. It is so difficult to believe.

Now what other proof do we need to appreciate that we can only influence 'output', not 'outcome', even in a one-to-one match. If it is so valid in a one to one situation, how can it be different in a team work of corporate life ( where it is more probable because of additional factor of 'perception')?