Level up #6

Sandeep has to deal with human emotions, the worst of all problems

Hi 👋,

Hemant here. This is the 6th post in the Level Up short story series. You can read the previous 5 stories here. I highly recommend checking them out if you haven’t already :)

Quick recap:

Sandeep became a manager accidentally as his team was about to begin working on a critical project. The reason - the manager of the team left. Sandeep was asked to step up to the task. But it hasn’t been so easy for him…

In today’s story, he’ll see how the biggest problems in management are that involving human emotion. Delivering projects is the easier part.


Assumptions

With the way Sandeep had handled the crisis, the team had become more welcoming of him. Sandeep, ever so passionate about Neo, could be seen walking through the corridors of the office making hyperboles of how it was going to change banking in India forever. And it was with good reason he said it. There were so many startups playing in the neo-banking space – the opportunity felt obvious.

At least a few of his exaggerations landed well with the team. The excitement was slowly building up. People were coming back to Sandeep’s desk to have a discussion about the newest technology, about re-writing a part of the code in a more efficient manner, and everything else.

But that was not all.

Sandeep had more good news to share today! He had hired two new engineers for the team. Both of them were joining today, so Sandeep was ever-so-excited. Another engineer was going to join in a few weeks, which gave Sandeep all the more reason to rejoice.

He wanted to do something special for the team, so he had designed souvenirs for the team. Every team member was going to get their own individual coffee mugs, with their headshot and a name that described every person. For Amita, it was, “Rocket Singh,” for Derek, it was “Babu Bhaiya,” and so on. The names were well-known within the teams, so Sandeep was not going to offend anyone.

Before he headed to the office, he went to the printing shop and picked three boxes full of mugs, unsure of how he was going to carry them on his bike. He balanced them over the petrol tank between his legs, as the topmost box touched his chin. He asked the vendor for a rope, using which he tied the three boxes together so they wouldn’t fall. The boxes were wide, so Sandeep had to bend his arms to reach the bike’s handle. Carrying the three boxes for the 8 km distance made his hands feel stiff. His shoulders were going to take a couple of days of rest to recover.

But the smile on the team members’ faces as he handed them the cups was worth the effort. Derek chuckled at seeing the name – perfect!

For the new team members, Sandeep had not brought individualized cups. He had left them blank.

“For Anand and Preeti,” he said looking at the new joiners and talking to the entire team, from where he could see his entire team, “we will not give them these yet! You need to earn these. Let's not make it so simple,” he joked.

Up next, Sandeep had to complete a “people skills” training session. He had attended a similar session about a year ago, but the difference was that he wasn’t a manager then. This time, the training was focused on managers. But how different could the content be? The training was conducted through a set of videos and quizzes. Sandeep was hoping to skip through most of the videos, answer the quiz, and be done quickly.

“As managers, one of your responsibilities is to ensure the well-being of your reports, and so...” the video started. A speaker was talking and showing slides simultaneously. Sandeep skipped through parts of the video, going directly to the quizzes. Most of the questions asked were commonsensical. Sandeep was able to flash through them without much thought.

The two-hour-long training session ended with --

“When in doubt, contact human resource coordinators.”

Sandeep ended the training in haste and went to the cafeteria for lunch. “Why do they make these online trainings mandatory?” He wondered.

Later that evening, as the team finished their work, Sandeep took all of them out for dinner to welcome Anand and Preeti. The new joiners looked impressed by the welcome. In the euphoric atmosphere, Sandeep even made the announcement he had been holding off for so long. Seema was pregnant, and her belly was now showing up quite well. There was no point hiding it from people in the office.

The announcement led to a spontaneous round of drinks for everyone sitting at the table.

The next morning, when Sandeep arrived, a few others had arrived and were in deep work mode. Their next milestone was up in 3 days, and the team was slightly behind.

Sandeep wanted to ensure there were no delays. So, he started to have conversations with every member of the team to see how they could deliver faster. He was surprised to see that the issue that was delaying them had been resolved last night. He thanked Bavesh for staying up at night to figure it out.

He spent the rest of the day figuring out how the team could go faster. Towards the end of the day, he felt confident that they would deliver before time.

He was about to head to Sri’s office for letting her know. But Amita came up to him, looking disturbed as she tapped on his shoulder.

“I need to talk to you about something,” she said. Sandeep was scared. His biggest worry – was she leaving the team? On the short walk from his desk to a nearby vacant conference room, Sandeep thought of all possible reasons why she was leaving. Was she not paid enough? Not treated fairly? Teased by people around her? Was she not liking the work anymore? Was she bored of the work? Was she leaving just because she lost motivation? What was happening?

“Okay,” she said as she sat down on a chair in the room. She hesitated as she started to speak again.

“What is it, Amita? You can tell me, I won’t mind.”

“Yeah, that’s why I came to you. You see, I am not treated very well in the company. There is someone who is constantly teasing me. Making jokes on how I’m in a man’s world, how women should mind their... you get the gist,” she said. Sandeep's eyes and ears were suddenly warmer. He could see a storm coming.

“Who?” he asked.

“Brian,” she said. Brian was not on the Neo team but worked on a partner team. As a result, every engineer on Neo had frequent interactions with Brian’s team.

“Okay... what exactly happened?” Sandeep asked. As Amita started narrating the history of how she was taunted for being a woman, Sandeep realized dealing with this situation was trickier than any other situation he had dealt with.

He sat down on his seat and placed his arms over his eyes, resting his elbows on the table.

What could he do now? Brian was an expert when it came to the existing banking system, so he was critical for the team’s success. On the other hand, this behaviour, if true, was unacceptable. Sandeep trusted Amita and believed that things were true and had already reached the tipping point.

“He says these things only when he meets me, so I don’t have a way to prove this to you,” Amita said, as a tear dropped from her left eye.

“Let me see, I’ll talk to him about this...”

“No, no, I think that’ll aggravate his behaviour. And, also, my name will be out in public,” Amita responded.

“But if we don’t talk, this would never be resolved...”

“Look, I don’t want to become a laughing stock in the company. People will say I couldn’t even handle a few comments from a coworker. Let's not make an example out of this, Sandy, please,” she concluded.

“Okay. Let me see what I can do here," he said.

Amita nodded and headed out of the room. Sandeep stayed back for a few minutes, staring into his phone. He seemed to type something on the phone, but he was thinking of ways to resolve the issue. If he went to Brian and complained, he would jeopardize his team’s work with Brian. If he went to Brian’s manager, he wasn’t sure how they would react. Asking Amita to ignore for the time being was also not the right thing to do.

What could he do?

“When in doubt, contact Human Resource coordinators,” he remembered from the training earlier in the day. The problem – he wasn’t sure how Amita would react if he spoke to HR. He just hoped the secrecy of the matter wasn’t compromised.

After minutes of deliberating, he decided it was best if he spoke to HR. Making a judgement by himself was not right. He went to an HR representative in the office and told her everything he could. The HR representative mentioned that she would look into this matter. Since the day was almost over, Sandeep headed home. Some of his teammates were still at work, but they didn’t need Sandeep to be there.

The next morning, one of his teammates announced that they have fixed all the pending issues for the next release, and things were waiting on Sandeep’s approval. If he approved, they could release the code early. Sandeep allowed! There was no reason to wait.

The rest of the day was uneventful until Amita walked up to him, her hair disheveled and a drop of sweat on her forehead. She panted as she walked with Sandeep to a room. As soon as Sandeep closed the door, she screamed -

“You went to HR? Are you out of your mind?” Her panting grew intense. “Do you realize that my career could get screwed here? I don’t know what kind of a person this Brian is, and what he could do to me...”

“Wait, what did HR say to you?”

“That doesn’t matter. The damage has been done...” Amita sat down on a chair, rested her hands on the table, and rested her forehead on her arms. Sandeep couldn’t tell if she was crying or not.

“I was only trying to help...” Sandeep said. He opened his mouth to speak again but didn’t know what to say. Should he console her? Tell that everything will be alright? Ask her not to cry? Tell her that he would make sure no one hurts her sentiments? But could he make sure?

“I trusted you, Sandeep...” she said, “We could’ve probably settled the issue amongst ourselves, but now things have blown up. I will never forgive you for this.”

“But...” Sandeep balked.

After minutes of awkward silence, Sandeep opened the room’s door and walked out. Amita stayed behind. His brain had stopped thinking. He felt a deep pain in his heart. How could his noble intentions be this bad? Had he really destroyed Amita’s career?

He went back to his desk and flipped his laptop open, not sure what work to do. So, he kept flipping through the open windows on his laptop, without actually reading what was on the screen. He opened a word document. His eyes were on the screen, but they weren’t reading. His fingers were on the keyboard, typing, but his mind was not thinking of any words.

While he was lost, his phone rang. It was Seema.

“Yes, yes, I will leave now,” Sandeep said. Seema had a doctor’s appointment and Sandeep was already running late.

As he climbed into the elevator, he saw Brian. The last person he wanted to see. But he was carrying an open box with him, which had his personal items. A few books, greeting cards, pens, pencils, and other random stationery. Sandeep almost smiled looking at it. He didn’t climb into the elevator to avoid an awkward situation. He waited for the elevator to come back to his floor after making a round-trip.

Brian was fired from the company.

Sandeep felt like this was the biggest achievement of his management career. Yes, their work would be affected because Brian was the person the team worked very closely with. But Sandeep’s priorities were clear. Taking care of his people came first, work came later.

But Sandeep wasn’t sure how Amita would react to this. He hoped she would be okay with what happened, but he couldn’t say for sure. He decided to stop making assumptions about what his coworkers think. If he wanted to help, it was best if he took permission.

The next day, Amita walked up to him and thanked him for what he had done.

Strange world.


As we can see, Sandeep is growing into a mature manager.

But can people ever be predictable? In the next story, we’ll see how he has to deal with yet another human tantrum.

If you liked this story, hit the 💛 button!

Thanks for reading :)

Hemant