Tewatia scripts a management story in 31 balls

Results are usually achieved when abilities and roles are matched right and employees are supported when plans do not get off to a good start

Rahul Tewatia has forced these two questions on us.

Are you allowing your team members to play the 18th over? Are you allowing yourself to play the 18th over?

Before exploring those questions, here is a tour d’horizon of the much-discussed segment of the encounter between Rajasthan Royals (RR) and Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) in IPL 2020 at Sharjah on September 27.

RR had promoted Tewatia up the order. Mr. Tewatia, do the opposition enough damage whacking the white leather over the short boundaries a few times, and it doesn’t matter if you perish in your belligerence — obviously, that would have been the brief handed out to him. The think-tank knew he could do it. Tewatia knew he could do it.

With Tewatia doddering at 8 off 19 balls, often struggling to put bat to ball, the script suddenly seemed to have been ill-researched, marked by an all too evident gap in judgement.

There was all-round bewilderment which at times bordered on outrage — from the commentary box, Twitter handles and living rooms. What could possibly have led the RR think-tank to choose him for a pinch-hitting job? Had they thought through this right? The experienced campaigner that he is, Robin Uthappa should be out there in the middle now and not Tewatia.

It was a letdown. The match seemed headed for a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire finish, and it would have made a great Sunday watch. Now, thanks to Tewatia, it was changing course towards a lacklustre end. Spectators in their homes and experts in the box seemed convinced that Tewatia should retire out, or somehow get out of the way for his team’s good and his own as well.

In hindsight, the cricket-loving world is glad he didn’t; and that the RR think-tank didn’t want him to. Even after Tewatia’s career runs its course, his bio-story won’t be silent on the massacre of Sheldon Cottrell, whom he cleared five times over the ropes in one over, in that tide-turning 18th over. Tewatia should be held up as an epitome of mid-game transformation — from seeming ineptitude into match-winning efficiency, not to mention pinch-hitting brilliance.

The Pygmalion Effect

Tewatia’s is also a remarkable management story.

Without taking anything away from his achievement, the team think-tank deserves much more of the spotlight. Tewatia succeeded because the team management believed he would, and they honoured that belief even when it seemed to have been misplaced.

What Tewatia did, and more importantly, what the RR management allowed him to do that Sunday together make an arresting illustration of ‘The Pygmalion Effect’. It is about how expectations shape reality for the better. Though primarily associated with education — about how teachers can get their students to give their best by first expecting them to give their best— thanks to a study and a book by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, The Pygmalion Effect in job performance is also acknowledged.

In theory, it is about using positive expectations to ensure positive outcomes. It is way harder to translate into practice. For, it often entails looking beyond feelings and temporary results.

As attitude consultant M. Keshav puts it, “Having positive expectations automatically implies extending decision-making freedom, continued trust and patience to the employee. In this match situation, the RR bosses gave Tewatia the freedom to decide for himself — whether to get out or keep at it. With their silence, they seemed to be telling him, ‘Okay, if you feel you can go on, go on! We trust you. We won’t hold anything against you if you fail.’ Freedom and trust are the two basic motivators in a professional relationship, between the manager and the team member, coach and performer. Of course, another essential component is self-belief: At the end of it, someone can achieve only what they believe they can. No amount of extraneous belief and expectation — from the manager or any other agency — is going to help, if self-belief is lacking. However, self-belief can be impacted by the manager’s expectations. It can grow only in a positive environment of freedom, trust and patience. A good leader will back you up when you fail, and will give you the freedom to continue trying to succeed. And when a leader trusts his subordinate to do well, they have also implicitly promised patience. The point here is that the RR bosses were patient with Tewatia as he struggled through his inadequacies in the early part of his innings.”

Define the role

Defining key result areas is a necessary aspect of having positive expectations. It is about defining that role before someone is thrust into it.

“Give team members every opportunity to prove themselves, and make sure to define the role before the event and not after. In the post-match speech, Tewatia said he was supposed to hit the leg-spinner, but ended up hitting the other bowler. So, the expectations were clearly spelt out and his role unmistakably defined. The brief probably was: ‘When Ravi Bishnoi comes on to the attack, you are supposed to target him’,” says Keshav.

That’s where the RR script got skewed, but got straightened out in the end, thanks to the team bosses refraining from sending in a ‘message’ to Tewatia, and instead letting him continue till the fateful 18th over was bowled.

Keep it realistic

The Pygmalion Effect can backfire, if expectations and abilities are not matched right. It’s about identifying what an employee can do and can’t, and encouraging them to do what they can a lot better and in a manner that benefits them and the organisation. Again, in the post-match session, Tewatia said that in the dugout, his team members were surprised with how the first part of his innings went, as they knew he could “hit long”.

It was a case of getting the match between expectation and ability right — only that the expectation was met a few balls later than expected.

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