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Covid19—A Marshmallow Test For Organizations

Covid19—A Marshmallow Test For Organizations

Kulbir Singh Lamba*

Any Psychology and Management study would not like to miss to teach the "Marshmallow Test". Few of us may recall it vividly, few may have dusky remembrance how our Professors used to explain it . Let's revise it briefly:

In 1970s Stanford Professor Walter Mischel experimented on kids of age 3-5 years. They were made to sit in a lab and 'Marshmallow' in front of them. Deal was made that whoever can wait for 15 minutes, will get two Marshmallows later. Otherwise, they could have one Marshmallow and satiate. Few kids managed, few gave in immediately the supervisor left the lab and few others waited for some time but couldn't resist for 15 minutes. The scientist saved many Marshmallows, because of the kids who couldn't resist. Children left the lab and in due course of time the Marshmallows got digested. But the actual results came after more than 25 Years. Surprise!

The scientist followed up with the participants and wanted to check their journey. They were analyzed across different parameters like SAT scores, likelihood of obesity, coping up with the stress, social skills and scores in a range of other life measures. It was concluded that kids who managed to pass those 15 minutes without having a Marshmallow, fared better on these other parameters also. And the literature got flooded with many interchangeably terms like Delay of Gratification etc. Many scholars started considering this a cornerstone in the success of an individual.

This brings us to an interesting crossroad. Kids grow and join the workforce in the organizations and few start their own organizations. The grown-ups interact with each other at workplace and outside as well. Finally people are the decision makers in an organization. Their interactions and subsequent decisions taken form the culture of an organization. Though sometimes we are made to believe that culture flows from the Top corner offices, but don't forget that the corner office people were also kids at one point of time (Many behave childish even now also, while sitting on high back revolving chairs!!).

The organizations compete on basis of price, quality, services and other parameters. In this race, they forget 'Why' they exist in the first place. Slowly the customers, shareholders and the employees also forget them. As Simon Sinek in his inspiring Book 'Start with Why' puts it: "People don't buy what you do, but they buy 'Why' you do".

The marshmallows were a temptation for the kids. Translate it to today's environment created by Covid-19. As businesses are going out of business they are finding alternate avenues to increase the revenues or cut the expenses. The temptations and the short term solutions visible to them are; firing employees en-masse, to not continue the contracts or putting the plans on back burner. Though on the cost part some blessing in disguise is there as no dinner parties at the expense of the company and no business class travels, in few cases private jets are parked in hangers !

However, the times are to resist the temptations before any knee jerk decisions are taken. As few kids resisted the temptation; by engaging themselves in different activities, showed discomforting expressions but managed to hold on for 15 minutes. They got two Marshmallows. The businesses can do the same with varied approaches which definitely shall be tailor made. One size can't fit all, at least in this situation. These can be- alternate working, reduced working hours, renegotiation with Clients / Vendors and cross training the employees. Give employees a furlough, don't layoff. A

beautiful example is set by Hilton Hotels by partnering with companies like Amazon, CVS, Walgreens and Publix. They have created an online portal for furloughed Hilton employees to sign up for an expedited hiring process. When the world will say good bye to Covid, these furloughed employees will be welcomed by Hilton with open arms. In return, the employees will be more loyal than before.

It is for sure that temptations resisted now will pay in a good way. At the end, it is the people who will make the business to stand up again. When businesses start getting traction again more people will be needed, what will be the magnet to get loyal people then? Learning can be taken from the approach of Jim Sinegal, founder of Costco, a rival to Walmart. When questioned about his approach about spending on employees rather than cost cutting, he answered "Wall Street is in the business of making money between now and next Tuesday. We are in the business of building an organization, an institution that we hope will be here fifty years from now. And paying good wages and keeping people working with you is a very good business."

The situation is sui generis and the measures must be proportionally effective to sail through. But the Organizations resisting temptations on few fronts will get Two Marshmallows. —The Hawk Features

*Kulbir Singh Lamba is pursuing PhD from IIT Jodhpur.

Updated : 2020-09-01T23:16:28+05:30
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