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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Don't drive the hujur away

I spent a considerable amount of my early teen days to cook up compelling and innovative stories to keep Lokman Hujur at bay. Awful I thought were those days when Hujur used to show up in lazy, hot, humid afternoons to teach me the Quran and how to pray properly. Lokman Hujur had a legacy of giving 'sohi koran shikkha' to many of my cousins, uncles etc. who, along with me, had spent some quality time in mugging up basic excerpts (suraas) to manage day to day prayer requirements. I also remember during my 16th birthday, my late Nanabhai presented me a blue-cover 'Shohoj Arbi Shikkha' (Easy Arabic Learning) language learning book fresh from New Market. He was my inspiration and mentor to ignite my interest in foreign languages. However, perhaps with one exception that of Arabic. Everytime Lokman Hujur and even Nanabhai used to portray and preach to me Arabic as the language to achieve divine guidance and licence to salvation, my teenage mind used to rebel relentlessly. After all, Hujurs and people who are good in Arabic are stereotyped of belonging to certain school of thoughts, doctrine and even their appearances and activities are also labelled unfortunately not in the intended way always.

I wish Lokman Hujur had made me realize early on that Arabic would turn out to be the 5th most widely spoken language of the world. I wish Nanabhai would have convinced me early on that learning Arabic as a foreign language might have some earthly benefits associated with it too, say a job at UN or somewhere in Dubai...may be my tender mind would have given in to the mere greed of earthly ambitions. Perhaps the desire to attain residential permit of Jannatul Ferdous with my Arabic language skills were too confusing for a teenager to comprehend. So I kept on ignoring their calls, I denied the urge to learn only to read a language like a parrot and understand nothing at all. I didn't see any glamour or element of coolness in learning it, unlike French, which is so well-branded. They arrange parties, they talk about art and culture and they are so happening. But Arabic? Why waste time dosto...molla hobi naki?? That was the thought.

So I look at the top 10 most widely spoken languages of the world now and wonder where does our comparative advantage lie as a nation. If we agree that manpower is single most best natural resource, then what exactly is their skill that sets them apart from the global competition? They are cheap labor perhaps, but does cheap mean good and all round quality too? Why not language? Mandarin, Hindi, English, Spanish, Arabic, Bangla, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, German, that order. Think how many do you speak or understand? Even if you leave Mandarin aside for a while, doesn't it seem that we are pretty much familiar with all top 5 languages other than Spanish? Hindi...due to our neighbourly 'love' and culture vulturization, English is self-explanatory, Arabic due to our Hujurs and Nanabhais and finally Bangla is our mother-tongue and pride. So we are in a pretty good position to attain some sort of language dominance over others it seems.

Having an edge in foreign languages would give our semi-skilled, skilled, export-ready manpower great advantages and preferences in the global market. Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institut, even the reputed foreign language school in Dhaka university, never catered specifically to the need of the manpower market. Its only in the last 5 years that a number of schools have mushroomed around Dhaka city who claim (atleast) that they give certification courses in languages which are spoken in countries where Bangladeshi manpower is exported more often such as Malay for Malaysia, Korean for South Korea etc. No wonder our fellow countrymen learn it the hard way when they actually reach the foreign shores to chase their dollar (or riyal) dreams. With ornamental Bangladeshi diplomatic missions, absence of any legal cover and sub-standard living and working conditions, they also somehow 'manage and adjust' to all learning requirements, learning the host language is a small peanut in the ocean of miseries for them.

Its important to think and look again at what we already possess, rather than nag about things we are never supposed to have, as a nation. If manpower is our strength, proper foreign language training at home will be a small step in equipping them better to settle down in foreign territories. A change of perception at our language expertise and workforce, especially the young, is vital now.

In fine, I am sure that Arabic has its spiritual values and (heavenly) benefits of learning, but for those who oppose the idea for any such notions, the counter-argument (earthly benefit) is atleast worth pondering and considering. So learn any language that is spoken in the target country of business, it opens doors. By the way, please focus on Mandarin too, as I have heard it helps to give useful hints during bargaining with Chinese counterparts, also useful when they swear or say something silly, assuming that we know nothing at all what the ching-chung-chang they are talking about.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Variable Compensation Drives Performance

Guess which company was the world’s most innovative company in 2011? Yes, it is Apple, as determined by BusinessWeek and the Boston Consulting Group. Regardless of the measures considered, Apple and Google have consistently been at the top of the list of the most successful companies in the world. What are the secrets of their success? Among other factors, a performance based culture is the key driver for their accomplishments and common in both companies. Like most high performing companies, Apple and Google offer their people the opportunity to share in the success those people help create through variable compensation.

A few examples would illustrate the importance of variable compensation in high performing companies.  Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, drew an annual salary of $1 for 13 years. Wait, that $1 is not all! He earned billions of dollars through gains in stocks – he owned 5.5 million shares of Apple and share price of Apple skyrocketed with its superior performance. If Apple did not perform well and share price went down, he would have made just $1 annually. Next, Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, had a total compensation of $378 million in 2011 – only $900K of that (less than 0.25% of total) in cash salary and the rest in stock grant.   Similarly, Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, had a fixed salary of $1 from 2004 through 2010; He is one of the few people to become billionaires based on stock options received as an employee. We can go on and on, but let us stop here. These few examples illustrate that top executives of the most successful companies are predominantly paid in the form of variable compensation – when performance of their companies rock, so do their personal worth. So far, we just established a correlation that the most successful companies have variable compensation pay structure, but the real question is, how does this pay structure help corporations drive performance? 

Linking variable compensation of employees to the performance of the organization encourages certain behavior from employees that reinforces corporate objective. Among all different responsibilities, an employee is likely to devote more attention on the projects driving his/her target achievement. When employees are aligned with corporate objectives and are motivated to work hard, execution becomes easier & more efficient and financial benefits must follow.

Variable compensation also encourages employees to take responsibilities of their action – the characteristics of an owner. They understand that if they can deliver superior performance driving success for the company, they would be rewarded too. When employees take ownership of their projects, they take results personally and ‘walk the extra mile’ to ensure that targets are achieved.

Variable pay structure not only motivates employees because of the monetary value, but it also creates a sense of accomplishment which creates hunger among them for more success. Once employees get the taste of wining, they want to win more and work harder to continue the momentum – somewhat similar to winning games such as Cricket.

A well designed compensation structure attracts certain kinds of talent that is desirable by companies. Clear communication regarding compensation structure to the potential candidates allows for ‘self-selection’ by the applicants – this in turn, increase retention rate which reduces Human Resources costs related to training, recruiting etc. An example would illustrate the concept of ‘self-selection.’ Consider three compensation schemes - option 1: 100,000 (BDT) monthly salary with up to 15% bonus opportunity; option 2: 90,000 (BDT) per month with up to 40% bonus opportunity and option 3: 105,000 (BDT) per month with no bonus opportunity. As evident, if an individual is high achiever and prefers risk, he/she would prefer option 2, which offers less fixed salary, but has potential of the highest payoff (136,000 BDT). On the other hand, if an individual is looking for certainty and do not prefer risk at all, he/she would choose option 3, which offers the highest fixed salary (105,000), but no bonus and therefore no risks. Offering the right combination of fixed and variable compensation, a company can attract employee with right attitudes. When employees ‘self select’ the organization to work in, they are more likely to be culturally aligned and therefore low chances of turnover.

Variable compensation is prevalent in most companies across the globe. According to a survey by Hewitt Associates (now Aon), a global Human Capital consulting firm, more than 80% of the companies worldwide offered variable compensation in 2010. In Bangladesh, while most companies offer bonuses for religious festivals, only a handful has a variable compensation pay structure. Even in these companies, variable pay plans are not planned/implemented well - achievements are often discretionary to supervisor’s ratings and bonus do not vary as much with individual’s performance/efforts. To be competitive in the global marketplace, Bangladeshi firms need to integrate variable compensations structures – not because top successful companies have it, but because of the benefits it provides.

Variable compensation has been a great tool for most high performing companies to create a performance driven culture and therefore drive success. However, many companies also failed to reap the full potential of this pay structure due to poor implementation. It needs to be carefully designed, complemented by right organizational structure and aligned with corporate strategy. Different types of variable rewards needs to be offered at different level of management to balance long term strategic visions and short term objectives. Since this concept is not well understood and rather nonexistent in the corporate Bangladesh, the firms that want to pioneer should seek help from experts in this field. We hope that most companies of Bangladesh will recognize the benefits of pay for performance concept and implement it appropriately to become more efficient, successful and competitive in the global marketplace.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Fall and Rise of "Jack"

"Jack of all trades, master of none."

I dunno about others but I literally grew up on that. I guess that's customary for all army brats. The military life has the smell of standardization in just about everything. While in uniform, one is put through every imaginable crisis and stress rising up the chain of command. Which in turn makes the men weather ready and somewhat multi-functional.

But then economy prospered and we liberalized. We moved out of the disciplinary ways of life dubbing it medieval and anti-intellectual. Our careers thrived with specializations, the mastering of a specific skill seemed to make all the difference. In fact from the days of Civil Service or Military Service being the foremost prestigious professions, we progressed to Private Service as the chosen one.

Capitalism happened. And like many times before this, we took a ride with the flow.

Born in the 80's in Bangladesh meant you were exposed to the last of these legendary Jacks. The cream of the society, the so-called intellectuals served the government (which in turn served the people, I guess) and remained the most elusive career option. Back in those days, BCS (Bangladesh Civil Service) exam used to be the greatest test of one's intellectual and practical abilities. A test of life. The decision maker of your future.

Like every other economy in the world, ours also flourished with private entrepreneurs and industries. However unlike the good economies, the public sector undertakings went on a gradual decline. Soon "groom wanted" ads in the classifieds stopped mentioning Army Officer or BCS Cadre as preferred professions. Police and Customs emerged as the career choice for the dishonest.
And most ironically paisa took over prestige.
Multinational and local conglomerates were now the employer of choice.
A new age of professionals had begun.

Computer Science, Applied Physics, Engineering were the kind of majors every talented high-schooler was aiming for. All of a sudden, Bangladesh was a bustling economy full of science grads. It was all merry and everyone was awaiting a happy ending.

Not to be.

The curse of capitalism stuck again. The need of generalization was back with a bang. In came the mother of all degrees (apparently), the one degree that MacGyver wanted for himself, BBA. The game was back in even grounds again. Specialists were only good for R&D but who will fill up the rest of the departments.Thus the need of Jacks was alive again.

I consider myself lucky to be in the bridging generation where both specialization and standardization of senior degrees could exist in parallel. But as the companies grow and quality of education deteriorates, its only the Jacks who are filling up all the blanks in the sentence.

I am a BBA graduate myself. It wasn't a degree out of passion or interest. I consider it as a visa-free entry in the modern economy. Now that I look back, the more purer forms of education seems more enlightening and intriguing than ever before. The likes of Archeology, Economics, History, Psychology or even Zoology (which I totally sucked at) had more to offer than a degree that's comparable to a marriage license.

This article also appears at

Monday, July 9, 2012

10-Point check for Customer Service : Part II

You might be interested to read part I before proceeding to read this section of the write-up.

Point 6: Is your customer service personnel trained to handle complains?

Complain handling is traditionally seen as the most important concern for the customer service department.  Effective handling of customer complains could open up new opportunities for sustaining a long term customer relationship.  As already noted earlier, the opportunity of emotional bonding with customers is best served not when customers are happy, but when something goes wrong and unhappy customers show up or call for redressal. However, handling complain is not an easy task since customers vary by expectations and nature of problems could also have variety in itself. Simply knowing rules of engagement and a printed manual with lists of problems and solutions are not what we are talking about. Complain handling goes beyond the boundary of a printed manual. It is about empathy- an essential part of service executives ‘ personality- it is about connecting and communicating while putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Point 7: Do your customer service personnel stay calm with irritating customers?

Not all customers behave well while interacting with service executives, specifically in situations when things go wrong and they expect the kind of redressal that might not be allowable by the company. This type of behavior, sometimes, might be based on legitimate claims from customers’ part. Having said that, it is not service executives’ job to match their behavior with that of customers! In many cases, even trained executives can cross the line and get involved in an argument with customers. Once an angry customer shouted to an executive, saying that she feels sorry for him because he could not find a better job rather than to work for this lousy company! Ok, it seems like a comment (or insult) at personal level, which is inappropriate per se. However, despite how inappropriate the customers’ comments are, learning to stay calm and helpful is the ultimate test for customer service executives’ career.  Letting customers to vent out anger is a way to cool down the situation at end.

Point 8: Are your customer services executives trained NOT to assume?

Assuming customer’s problem before completely listening to it, is another problem that arises out of so called printed “service manual” that is usually provided during training session for service executives. Every customer problem should be treated uniquely, addressing it to the point by carefully listening to it. Stop assuming, start listening – that is the key in understanding customers here.

Point 9: Do your customer service department “follow-up” with customers?

After getting a lead, or closing a sale, or handling a complain – we often assume that things are running alright now. In many instances, this is not right. A sales lead must be followed up, a sales must be traced to customers and see if things are alright with him/her, a well-handled complain must be followed up to see if the customer needs further help or not. This is something that most customers are not expecting, thus opening up an opportunity to delight them with their decisions to buy or for contacting the service department.

Point 10: Are your customer service executives happy with the company they work for?

You cannot expect to pass all the previous 9 tests if the last test fails you. Customer service executives are your internal customers.  A group of unhappy internal customers cannot make external customers happy. The job satisfaction may not only flow from competitive compensation packages, but also from the external prestige and excellence that your product commands in the market. A poorly designed product with minimal branding effort will automatically fetch in a lot of complains. Who does want to listen to complains (and more complains) all day long, feeling the pain of faking a smile and keep saying sorry to address aggrieved customers? Of course, some of them will keep acting and faking to keep the job, but most will keep looking for places elsewhere, resulting in increase of employee turnover at the end.

This routine check of your customer service department will not only ensure a smooth running of your service engine, but also would prevent it from breaking apart that might necessitate expensive repair later on.  

Saturday, June 30, 2012

10-Point check for Customer Service : Part I

As customers, we traditionally understood "customer service" as a department inside an organization that dealt in things that went wrong after customer had purchased anything. Your cellphone bill seems overstated, ok, then call customer service. The new dress that you bought need to be exchanged for a different size, ok, then walk up to the customer service with receipt within a stipulated time. Your refrigerator may require some repairs. If it is still within the warranty period, call customer service to send a mechanic. This is how the concept of customer service has been understood by customers and practiced by companies.

In this new era of hyper competition, we need to redo the whole concept and practices of customer service. While theoretical discourses are plenty, the implementation of these concepts is still meager in reality. Here is a 10-point check to run in your customer service process:

Point 1: Is your customer service making a first impression?

Customer service performs its functions in three time stages: before, during, and after a purchase is being made.  In the first step, see if your customer service is prompt enough to answer the phone or greet customers when they enter the floor. There are many companies who publicize phone numbers and then when you call, nobody answers! There are sales centers where nobody greets you when you enter their floor. In its redesigned retail outlets, Apple has introduced a front-door person who greets customers when customers enter the floor, and then the front-person claps and congratulates customers when they leave with their new purchases. First impression can be long-lasting, it might even change the perception of customers about your organization.

Point 2: Is your customer service trained to be courteous and honest?

Courtesy costs nothing, but buys everything. This old adage is quite applicable to customer service. Consistency and courtesy create a bond between customers and the company. Courteous service is applicable even when dealing with angry customers. Ironically, the opportunity of emotional bonding with customers is best served not when customers are happy, but when something goes wrong and unhappy customers walk in the store with their sleeves up the elbow! Effective handling of such customers by making them happy will make them leave the store with a smile on their faces. Definitely, you have added someone to the list of your loyal customers. Honesty is another dimension that must be practiced all the time. Do not rush your customers to sales, even at the expense of your honesty. Many times, it is possible to trick customers into sales by hiding facts or convincing him/her about the need of the item you are selling. In the long run, customers understand this trick when it is too late for them. It does not win your business in customers’ minds in the long run. Thinking customers fool is a foolish idea.

Point 3: Is your customer service adding value through information exchange?

Answering right questions with right answers is extremely important. This exchange of information requires knowledge.  It is important to update customer service personnel about product knowledge so that they can answer customer queries and worries. This knowledge should not only cover basic information that most customers would look for, but also unusual information like sources of ingredients, ethnic value preferences, safety issues, health issues etc.

Point 4: Are your customer service personnel trained to be a trainer?

In some industries, e.g., electronics retailing, providing information to customers may not be enough. Your sales personnel may well assume the role of customer trainer. A lot of after-sales issues can be resolved even before they occur if customers can be trained during the sale process. Apple stores usually have a set-up area where employees help customers set their gadgets ready for use. 

Point 5: Is your customer service aware of warranty issues and fine prints?

In many industries, after sales service is a great value proposition. There where comes a good amount of fine prints that even many customer service executive might not be aware of. As a result, customers might later be surprised and feel like “Oh no, I did not know that!” This feeling of being tricked and fool creates dissatisfaction which cannot be corrected by customer service by going beyond company policy. As a customer service personnel, you may feel sorry for the customer, but your hands are tied because you would have to act within the boundary of the warranty policy. That is why, odds are in your favor if you provide this information beforehand.
(to be continued)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hartal and traffic free - work from home

Does your company allow you to work from home? Given the fact the spoilticians (spoilt politicians) are determined to make ‘hartal’ part and parcel of life in the country, may be human resource department in your company will need to review existing policies to encourage and allow employees to work from home if required. Other than hartals, think about the snarling traffic or even any emergency family issues which will require you to stay back at home. Rather than taking a day off or calling sick falsely, it would be nice if your company introduces flexible policies to accommodate familial and social realities. In the end of the day, what is more important is getting agreed outputs from employees as part of their job contract – physical presence in the office premises is required but the job should be done and can be done from any location, if technology, infrastructure and rules are in place. 

Working from home too much has its own risks – either you end up working too much as the boundaries between work and family life is blurred or you can totally become a scumbag and start misusing your flexible arrangements. Although one of the reasons I preferred to go to work in one of my jobs in Bangladesh as early in the morning as possible was due to the fact that there was a massive generator at work and it was all air-conditioned. So work or no work – I could stay away from the terrible Dhaka summer, nice and cosy in the office cabins – no power cuts, no heat and humidity. You can always argue that what is the point of staying at home and work via laptop/internet if there are so many powercuts, unreliable net connection and all the usual complains? Well, no easy response to this though, but there is for sure a trade off between travelling for 2 hours to reach work, wasting valuable economic times due to hartal – and staying at home to get the same jobs done via easy technologies – as and when required. HR managers welcome to shed some light on the topic.

Monday, May 7, 2012

তাক ধুম তাক ধুম বাজাও বাংলাদেশের ঢোল !

I had the great privilege of taking part in the recent Liveperson Aspire 2012 conference held in Vinopolis near London Bridge in London. In the agenda there was a music session in the end which didn’t leave much for imagination at first as I was thinking that this must be some sort of a live performance of some sort. From all my previous experiences of attending training sessions in Bangladesh and even in the UK – usually anything to do with music always ended up someone or some group of musicians performing live music, song etc. while the crowd mingled around. Sometimes they ended up taking group photos , dinner or heading straight to pub (in UK).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Calling your community of customers

What do you call the community of customers who use your product and services? True that may be you can take a step back and ask yourself whether you nurture a community of customers in the first place or not, may be you are focusing so much on treating every customer as unique individuals that you are moving your sight away from the combined whole – a community. I think the trick lies in striking a balance so that your customers feel to be treated as a unique person with unique needs and requirements from your business but at the same time can feel part of a bigger community of users with whom they can share their experience of using your services and products.

I am sure you are aware that Lady Gaga fondly calls her fans and followers as ‘Little Monsters’ whereas Justin Bieber has labelled his army of mostly teenage girls as ‘Beliebers’. May be the kind of business you are in, you don’t need to label the community of your customers as anything at all. But do give it a thought whether it would make any business sense of branding the community of your loyal users with a name or identity with which they can easily connect to and more importantly feel very proud about it to the extent that they will happily share your business accolade to their peers, friends and families.

Again, if you are producing Pran products, don’t end up calling the community of consumers ‘Prani’, likewise don’t call all who subscribe to Grameenphone as ‘Grameen’ only – there is no harm to be creative and relevant. But yes, in my opinion I still call those who use Robi as Robiuls as I humbly don’t like the name for a telecom operator. Well again that is my personal and may be partial opinion. But coming back to the main proposition - try treating your customers as a community at times, then think of certain rituals that they can follow during certain times of the year and feel part of something bigger than their usual self. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Commoner's City

I have been called many things. From a snob, a flaunt, a narcissist to a bundle of talent, the list is quite long. I myself started a few jargon from time to time. Geek, madman, poor man's genius son, puny, helpless and what not. But nothing in the lines of being a responsible citizen or social change agent. And I'd prefer it like that.

Today's story isn't much about being thoughtful of the world around me, but more of the take of a common man. Over time as our knowledge and wealth has prospered, the basics of immersing ourselves into new ideas (much like a sponge) has gone missing. I'll try and shed some light on such a burning issue in today's piece.

Dhaka, the city of dreams for many Bangladeshis has been inhabited by people for over thousand years now. With over 16 million people, its not only the 9th largest megacity in the world but also the heart of Bangladesh. Commercial hub, administrative capital, epicenter of culture and education progression, defense headquarters, most connected city; I mean all of those description apply to a single city. I mean who doesn't like the being the center of attention, but I believe she can live without a bit of it or at least broaden the horizon to let more in.

You see in the city I currently live in is a city within a city. Yes, you read it right. And I am not trying to describe a floating cruise-liner or the latest Airbus A380. Gurgaon is an extension of Delhi but still a city with its own pros and cons. While Delhi is about a rich legacy and colors of life; Gurgaon is the more posh business hub with upscale gated communities. Like I had mentioned earlier, Gurgaon is nothing but a part of greater Delhi or as they coin it National Capital Region (NCR). The smart Indians took the seven cities of Delhi to the next level by forming the largest urban agglomeration by area and second largest by population.

Confused? Well its nothing but multiple urban centers served by a single city hub (in layman's terms). Other examples in this concept include Sao Paolo, Tokyo and New York-Newark. In fact India has two other cities who have flourished in the same manner, Mumbai and Kolkata. This practice of distribution is not only a very practical solution to the growing metropolises but also the right way forward.

Imagine Dhaka in 2020, when it will be a city of (perhaps) 20 million people with nothing but unplanned urbanization that too with questionable actions (filling low-lands).

I am not an urbanization expert, not am I a policymaker. I have no background in the fields of sociology, architecture or anything that can help conceive the idea of a unified city. But in the past few weeks of traversing through the different cities of Delhi, one thing made absolute sense to me. Something that the policymakers should have done back in the 80's. Something that could have at least made Dhaka a lil' more livable as a city. Something that could have saved some wetlands and blessed us with more greenery.

Its time we start looking at our dear capital as a union of cities.

I mean its common sense to combine the areas around Dhaka under a common entity and broaden the scope of urbanization in a planned manner. There are so many who are living in Savar and Narayanganj already, why not make them satellite cities of Dhaka and spread the population density thin across the territory. A bigger Dhaka would call for better public transportation and significant change in mindset, but all that's possible if only the right policymakers are in place.

If our dear government can plan an airport as far as km off the city, how difficult can it be to bring together the 25km radius around Dhaka under a common entity? I was looking it up in Google Maps and surprisingly even to my untrained eyes, it was very much a possibility. If Old Delhi could graduate to New Delhi, why can't Jahangir Nagar or Sonargaon be a part of Dhaka megacity.

I am not a man who dictates any influence in anything the people's government does, but I am at least a  common man who sees beyond the bureaucracy.

To add to my stupidity, I even went on to play with shapes and maps to see whether I envision a reality!

what it is vs. what it could be

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Where does your boss sit?

Have you ever thought how it impacts the way you sit in an office floor? More importantly, have you ever noticed how our line managers/bosses are seated relative to other staff and how it conveys certain work place cultures? Traditionally in almost all the companies that I have worked in or visited in Bangladesh are really effective in making clear by way of artefacts, physical boundaries, glass walls, bigger and more comfortable chairs (often wrapped with clean towels) – who the boss around is. There is this invisible space that is being created by virtue of various furniture and demarcations to establish the work place hierarchy. But to what extent that influences the culture that you have in your company? More importantly I am not sure how many companies in Bangladesh take up office interior designing as a professional service and to what extent they consult companies on the setups of office spaces and links to company culture that it nurtures. 

I have worked in office environments where my immediate line manager used to sit next to me, his line manager just opposite where he used to sit and his one next to his right – all just on either sides of a low partition, not exactly a cubicle.  You may argue that line managers need certain privacy when they discuss confidential matters or when they need to entertain important business visitors. But imagine that for all these concerns – you will ideally have dedicated spaces allocated in your office – a private meeting room, confernece call center etc.  I have found that by removing any physical boundaries between you and your high-up colleagues, the artificial distance is removed and transparency, exchange of tacit knowledge and work relationship is increased. 

So next time you are planning to revamp your office set up, think about the culture you want your company to nurture. If you want to be clear about who the boss is and impose a certain degree of distance between you and your employees – go ahead lock up yourself in a private air-conditioned cabin, glass wall or not, order a comfy, bigger, chair and place two or more smaller ones on the other side of your mega desk – so as to be explicit that you have climbed higher up in the organogram to deserve entetaining guests at your desk. Otherwise if you want relationships between employees to be fluid and transparent – remove what is not required. It does not mean that you will be casting the eye of the Big Brother all the time around other people’s monitor to see if they are Facebooking or not – ideally that would mean that either you or your staff doesn’t have much to do in any case and the problem lies elsewhere.