Excerpt 1 from Karthik Varada’s interview
by Arasu Arun
“Good communication is one that leads to progressive debates which helps solves problems in a better way.”
This section of the interview is regarding Karthik Varada’s views and experiences as the Gymkhana President on how a Gymkhana should interact with the student body.
[Please refer to the title article for information regarding Karthik Varada’s interview]
Me: Let’s get started with the first topic: Communications between the Gymkhana and the student body. It’s a very vital organ and it being healthy is a sign of a well-managed Gymkhana.
KV: Yeah, you’re right. In my Gymkhana, we put a lot of emphasis on communications – especially complaints.
Me: I personally feel that complaint management is the most important of all the communications. There is an interesting psychology behind complaints and it not only decides how organized the system is, but also how much trust the people have on the system.
So, how did you handle complaints in your Gymkhana?
KV: You’re spot on when you said that there is a big psychology behind the complaint system. We analysed that very well and tried to formulate an effective solution.
[THE COMPLAINT SYSTEM IN VARADA’S GYMKHANA]
Let me first tell you how my Gymkhana handled the complaints. We had an online form for complaints, very similar in looks to Google Forms. Once people submit an entry, it’ll be stored in an excel file. That file can be viewed by us, the Gymkhana council, and the Hostel Office.
Now, some complaints like those regardings utilities like the washing machine, must be handled by the Hostel office. Others like the TV recharges you told me about (I told him about it off record), must be handled by the Gymkhana. We used timestamps to keep track of the complaints that were handled. .
[VARADA’S VIEWS ON THE PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND A COMPLAINT]
KV: Now, there is actually a big problem with this. Many people are too lazy to go online and fill a simple form. Others believe that someone else will do it and they need not concern themselves. Hence, this system will not be perfect.
I also must admit that not all complaints were perfectly handled. If the hostel office is irresponsible, the blame will ultimately fall on us at the end. We did our best to make sure that everyone was on their feet.
We also kept a private excel file within the Gymkhana members, to keep track of our own timestamps. This helped us keep vigilant and also settle unnecessary remarks and disputes later.
Me: How do you feel you can overcome the human-behaviour element? What would you propose?
KV: There is always scope for improvement anywhere. The hard part is not the carrying out the complaints themselves – it’s overcoming the laziness of the people. I actually proposed to my succeeding Gymkhana a mobile application dedicated to the Gymkhana, especially complaints. It’s so much easier to just write something down on your phone and it’ll automatically send it over along with the necessary user information. I hoped it would work out, but sadly, I see it hasn’t been implemented yet.
Me: Well, you’ve visioned a very good tech interface. But what do you feel about the human element in the communications. I’m asking this in a superficial sense, which is very visible.
I feel that there could be separate member of the Gymkhana, whose role caters to fostering and managing these communications and interaction, maybe the Representatives…
KV: Lemme first tackle what you said about there being a person with those responsibilities In fact, there is. It is one of the responsibilities of the representatives. I had a proactive UG Rep under me, who handled communications well.
[VARADA’S VIEWS ON HUMAN INTERACTIONS]
When it comes to the other aspects of the interaction, there should be quite a balance. Like you said, it’s very simple to analyse. There are some parts of the system, such as repairs, to be automated and bypass us. We are busy and should devote time to more enhancing activities. Plus, automated systems are more effective in many cases. We encouraged people to use the online complaint form, but we would also consider it if they approached us personally.
Me: So, lets get back to the point of effective communication. What would you label as a successful communication? How were your experiences in receiving good feedback and trying to convey messages to the people – namely during the GBMs.
KV: I feel that good communication is one which leads to progressive debates which helps solves problems in a better way.
[VARADA’S EXPERIENCES REGARDING FEEDBACK IN GBMs]
I’ve had many experiences in this regard. In my GBMs, I’ve noticed that there are three kinds of participants:
- ones with valid points and are there to provide constructive criticism
- ones who don’t open their mouths for 364 days and come to the GBM just to shout and make a scene
- ones who are there for fun because they have nothing else to do; they might also be there to support the second category
I really wish only the first category will show up as good communication occurs only there. Let’s talk about the GBMs. The attendance there gradually decrease and then increase. Upto 200 people show up for the first and last GBMs. But very few of them contribute.
I’ll give you an example. For weeks and weeks together, people have been approaching us around the campus (the council) and giving many many complaints regarding the messes and the food quality. So, we finally decided to hold a GBM solely for the purpose of resolving the mess issues. 10 (ten) people showed up. We were absolutely shocked with the turnout. We listened to just these ten and acted to their needs.
Me: Hm… that’s disappointing.
[THE CONCEPT OF A STUDENT SENATE]
KV: Yes, it was from all the ineffective GBMs lacking quality feedback and overall lack of effective that the idea of a Student Senate ** sparked into my mind.
I wanted the students to select representatives – 1 rep for 60 students – to the Senate. This senate will have the power of vigilance over the Gymkhana.
Hence, the Gymkhana will have to be very transparent to them and all of our members are held answerable.
Also, instead of ineffective monthly GBMs, we thought of having monthly Senate-Gymkhana meetings. These meetings, we believed, will have better feedback and discussion and hence, will be more productive.
Me: Wow… that actually solves a lot of the problems you’ve faced in communication!
KV: Indeed – Vigilation, feedback, transparency… and the Senate must also approve any major decision taken by the Gymkhana.
However, the Director felt we were not ready for a Senate. He suggested we try to implement this after a few years.
Me: Cool! Hopefully it works out soon.
** If you would like to see the actual email Karthik Varada sent to the public regarding the Student Senate, drop me a mail and I’ll forward it to you.
— Arasu Arun