Waiting for Godot


The Vladimirs and Estragons keep waiting till 11.30, getting vague updates – he is on the way, will reach any time, held up due traffic and so on. Finally – wonder of wonders – Godot appears! A brief, curt apology, and Godot is off. Missing again for an hour – and Vladimir and Estragon keep waiting – they expect to do business with Godot.

The Great Indian Stretchable Time Malady is a great leveler – a malaise that straddles generations, languages, cultures, industries, businesses, everything. Indians, as a class, seem to be unable to keep appointments or schedules.

Across the world, business professionals schedule their work and meetings – and keep their schedules. Meetings not only start on time, they end on time. I’ve scheduled multiple meetings in a day at different part of a city in the US and Europe – and had people coming on time, every time. But back in India – and waiting!

Let ‘em wait!

The Great Indian Stretchable Time Malady is not restricted to managers – it can go all the way to the top. Indian corporate leaders seem to derive their power and prestige from making people wait – the higher you are on the Totem pole, the longer you make ‘em wait. Two of my CEO’s were notorious for this – if they scheduled a meeting with you, that’s all you could have on your calendar. And even so, the meeting may not happen at all! I recollect the entire Executive Committee – 18 high-powered Executives – wandering around the Corporate office for an entire day for a meeting to begin because the CEO was dealing with ’other priorities’.

It starts from the first job Interview

The induction to the corporate version of the IST Malaise starts right at the first interview. Have you ever walked into a large company’s office and seen people milling around waiting to be interviewed? I wonder what standard of professionalism the organization communicates when it assumes that the candidates’ time is of no consequence – after all, they are job seekers.  What do you expect these future employees would do? Make people wait!

People work, and time is the resource they offer, which is what organizations pay for. Wasting that in any form is criminal. Can you even estimate the cost of lost hours due ‘waiting’?

Dealing with the Malady

How do you deal with this? This is what I do.  I am willing to invest 25 minutes in waiting for any face-to-face meeting, and that is my consideration for the chaotic traffic situation. After that, I walk away. This is a practice I have followed since I was a struggling entrepreneur, when I walked away from a scheduled meeting with the COO of the then Hutchison Max. (At least the man was courteous enough to rush out and offer to buy me lunch when his secretary informed him I was not willing to wait).

Great Leaders set examples

All is not lost, however. There are still the old-time business leaders who keep their appointments. One lasting memory I have is that of Mr. Adi Godrej, who promised to attend my daughter’s wedding and said he would come to the venue at 7 pm. And he was there – 7 pm on the dot! No excuses – a new place, no directions, traffic, other meetings – nothing! And that is Corporate Leadership – by example! How do you stack up?

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