fiction or fact

Lit fests are coming! Watch out for the moderator!! Or, rather, for the mad orator!!!

There’s nothing moderate about this character, claims someone who’s been at the receiving end.

I don’t do lit fests well. I was designed more for crawling under my bed and weeping into my childhood pillow. Quite often, I do the latter after doing the former.

But, on the odd occasion when I have been in conversation with someone like V Sriram, Harimohan Paruvu or Ivan Arthur, I have forgotten that I have a mike in my hand which I can gag myself to quick death with, and actually enjoyed a session. When it works out that way, I have a feeling the audience feels the same way, too.

Which brings us to moderators.

I once had a moderator (as Harimohan, again, and Vamsee Juluri will vouch) who gave us three panellists five minutes each while she read out select verses from sixteen large volumes of self-published poetry, all the while shaking her head from side to side like Stevie Wonder on steroids.

(That day was a specially bad one where the literary gods, and I don’t mean Devdutt Pattanaik, were giving me a clear message. Because, at a dinner that evening which had nothing to do with the lit fest, the same poet was a guest, sat next to me, and read out the gems she had left out at our session. I didn’t duck under the table in case there was a stash of her unpublished work kept below as standby.)

Not that anyone is going to invite me to a lit fest ever again, but here’s a tip for future moderators and lit fest organisers.

The job of the moderator is to be a conduit, a tactful interlocutor, an auto-tuner of the panellist, helping her say what she wants to say in the best possible way. And staying the heck out of the way the rest of the time. In a sense, the moderator plays the role of temporary editor to writer or writers present.

Yes, writers within grabbing distance of a mike do tend to behave like canines within sniffing distance of a crotch. That’s because they usually bring a year’s worth of gassy angst, and are dying to distribute it free to thronging admirers. At such times, dear moderators, by all means, do moderate.

But what does one do when a moderator forgets what she is there for, and hijacks the spotlight that she is meant to oscillate from writer to writer? Or worse still, decides she knows more than writers do?

This is precisely what happened at a lit fest I attended recently. Not once but thrice.

The first moderator was a writer without whom, apparently, one can’t conduct a lit fest these days.

It was a well-attended session where a poet was releasing his new book. The session was being moderated by said writer who is part of the in-crowd. (By that, I mean some white folk.) For ten whole minutes, as time ran out for glaciers, and I began suffering from short-term memory loss, the moderator babbled on ­– with delicate, arty hand movements – about time and memory.

The poor poet could do nothing but wait. No doubt, using said time composing limericks about said moderator. When it got down to question time, it was obvious the moderator hadn’t so much as looked at the poet’s book.

That the poet happened to be nothing short of brilliant, and that his two readings made me want to buy up everything he’s ever written made it all the more ironic. I did what I could by telling him I would be happy to illustrate that limerick book free of cost.

Now for Moderator Two.

This one supposedly had famous antecedents. In a session that had writers in translation, this moderator not only talked down to one particular writer (whose first language wasn’t English, but was, to my limited English-speaking knowledge, wonderfully articulate anyway), but completely twisted the meaning of what she was saying, and cut her off when she asked for the mike again. She also repeatedly asked the members of the audience if they even knew what the panellists were talking about. Yes, there was a larger-than-usual contingent of high-school students. But they were young. Not stupid.

When in doubt, I look to James Bond: Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.

And enemy action it was at another session when the same moderator took on the very same (award-winning) writer and, this time, told her that her points with regard to problems faced by writers in translation were, how can I put this elegantly, codswallop. Going by her résumé, the moderator hasn’t translated anything in her life.

If there isn’t an Arnab Goswami Award for Lit Fest Moderators, someone please institute one with immediate effect in honour of Moderator Number Two. And give the Simi Garewal Consolation Prize for Dim Dialogue to the first moderator.

I will end with my own experience at another lit fest.

This time, my moderator was a TV journalist who had written two books that had sold less than mine.

And that is a pretty humiliating feat, let me assure you.

He came into the session, looked at me and my co-panellist the way one looks at someone one has borrowed money from several years ago with no intention of repaying, and opened with “Okay, let’s throw open the session to the audience.”

While one enthusiastic front-bencher grabbed the mike and began reading the first chapter of his unpublished memoir, and another asked my compatriot whether it was better to write before or after a bowel movement, the moderator relaxed and took a selfie.

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a South Indian writer who has played to empty halls at assorted lit fests. He wishes to inform his wife he requires no moderator when he has his evening whisky.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Transforming patient care by managing talent better

Active leadership roles by physicians, innovative human resource strategies and a strong organizational culture can bridge the talent gap in healthcare.

Attracting and retaining talent is a challenge for many industries – however for the healthcare industry, the problem is compounded by acute shortage of skilled professionals. India has a ratio of 0.7 doctors and 1.5 nurses per 1,000 people as against the WHO ideal average of 2.5 each of doctors and nurses per 1,000 people. This reflects the immense human resource challenge in the Indian healthcare industry.

So, what can hospitals do to retain and groom the existing talent? How can a clear leadership vision motivate healthcare professionals to perform better? These were among the questions addressed at the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. The panel focused on three key aspects: leadership, talent retention and organisational culture.

Role of leadership

Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group and Faculty at Stanford Business School, spoke at length about the role of strong leadership in human resource and talent management. He began by defining the role of a leader. In this video, Dr. Pearl describes a leader as someone who motivates others by setting a strong vision.

Play

According to Dr. Pearl, for a leader to craft such a vision and motivate others to work towards it, he or she would require certain qualities. These include empathy, good communication and ability to make quick decisions, stay calm under stress, multitask, and take responsibility - qualities that physicians typically possess by virtue of their profession. He thus urged doctors and physicians to play a greater role in leading their institutions.

His view is supported by research - a report in a Harvard Business Review says that physician-run hospitals scored 25% higher in quality rankings across geographies over hospitals run by professionals from non-medical backgrounds.

Dr. Pearl says, a leader who is also a physician is in a better position to set benchmarks for other professionals. Setting benchmarks would also mean setting an example for organizational behavior, culture and thought process. Many studies have examined the influence of a leader on his organization’s culture. This is expressed well by Dr Larry Senn’s concept ‘Shadow of the leader’ which emphasizes that the kind of ‘shadow’ a leader casts across the organization impacts how the employees think, behave and work. Thus, it is all the more important for physicians to get involved in hospital leadership.

Managing and retaining talent

One of the key responsibilities of leadership is to also manage and retain good talent. According to Dr. Pearl, one way of optimizing talent is by making efficient use of human resources.

A study by Tuck’s Centre for Global Leadership of nine Indian hospitals reiterates this. It shows that the strategy of ‘task shifting’ or the transfer of routine tasks to lower-skilled workers left specialists free to handle more complicated procedures. The result – more productive doctors performing five to six surgeries per hour.

Attracting and retaining talent was also a major topic of discussion in the panel discussion on ‘Transforming the talent ecosystem’ at the HLS summit. Some of the panelists believed that exposing professionals to areas that go beyond their core skills, such as strategy and analytics, could play a significant role in retaining talent. This would ensure constant opportunities for learning and growth and also answer the hospitals’ growing need for professionals from management backgrounds.

Dr Nandakumar Jairam, Group Director – Columbia Asia pointed out that hospitals need to look at people with soft skills such as empathy, ability to listen well, etc. So, while hospitals expand their recruitment pool and look to other industries for recruiting people, they should also train their existing staff in these skills.

Play

The NYC Health + Hospitals in the U.S, a winner of the ‘Training Top 125’ 2017, is an example of how effective employee training can help achieve corporate goals. Its training programs span a range of skills - from medical simulations to language interpretation, leadership development and managing public health threats, thus giving its employees the opportunity to learn and grow within and outside their disciplines.

Reaching out to premier medical institutes in various ways also helps attract and retain talented professionals. Sir Gangaram Hospital in New Delhi, has emerged to be an attractive employer due its credibility in the medical research space. Their Department of Research aims to facilitate high quality, patient centric research and promotes laboratory based investigations across various disciplines, also assisting clinicians in pursuing projects.

Organizational culture and progressive HR policies

Rajit Mehta, CEO, Max Healthcare, also talked about the importance of having a conducive organizational culture that keeps the workforce together and motivates them to perform better. Every aspect of the organizational functioning reflects its culture – whether it’s staff behavior or communication – and culture stems from alignment with a strong leadership vision.

Organizational culture is also about incentivizing the workforce through performance rewards and employee-friendly HR policies. For example, at a popular healthcare facility in the US, all the 3,600 employees are actively encouraged to stay fit – they can buy fresh fruits and vegetables while at work, get healthy cooking tips from demonstrations in the office kitchen and enjoy free massages at their office chairs.

A report also talks about how some hospitals in the US inducted their employees into therapeutic activities like knitting, meditation etc., as part of their efforts to help them cope with stress. Some hospitals also have designated areas with amenities for staff members to relax and recoup.

Back home, Sir Gangaram Hospital recently helped its employees during the cash-crunched phase following demonetization by distributing currency notes to all. Such initiatives help establish trust and goodwill among the workforce.

Fostering a good culture is crucial for employee engagement. An engaged employee is one who is committed to the organisation’s goals and values and is motivated to give his or her best to the organisation’s success. Employee engagement has direct impact on hospital system health outcomes. According to a review of engagement and clinical outcomes at the National Health Service (NHS) in England, for every 10% increase in engagement there was a reduction in MRSA, a life-threatening skin infection, by .057 cases per 10,000 bed days. Additionally, a one standard deviation improvement in engagement reduced mortality by 2.4 percentage points.

It is however tough to gauge employee engagement and implement policies to improve it. As per an HRsoft study, more than 90% of managers or CEOs believe an engagement strategy is important for the organisation’s success but only 30% actually have one. The infographic below provides a useful starting point for managers to develop a strategy of their own.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services. Additionally, in more than 25 countries Abbott is recognized as a leading employer in country and a great place to work.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.