Ethics

All posts in the Ethics category

Inherent Risks Of Social Media Advertising – And How To Mitigate Them

Published October 28, 2017 by vishalvkale

I was enjoying my morning read of the Business Standard, when my eye fell upon a story – Facebook and Google helpedanti-Refugee campaign in Swing States, Business Standard, Friday 20thOctober. I  noticed this story, and marked it for later contemplation. The recent saga over Twitter usage by  Indian Politicians brought my mind back to this story – and its many implications. While the ethical & moral implications are also present – but most vital is the implication of this, and similar happenings we may or may not be aware of, for us the people as well as for democracy.
Image Credit – Google Search

It is one thing for a politician to openly come on Social Media – quite a few have done it quite successfully; they lay their views, attitudes, national plans, ideals, problems etc – like one Indian Politician. Others use Facebook, and especially  Twitter in their own names to further their own views etc. There is nothing wrong with that – in fact, that is actually welcome, as it helps a large number of people become aware of what that person stands for, as well as have a judgement of his or her potential. Used that way it is ethical, transparent, open and disseminates information.
TARGETED USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA BY INTERESTS
However, I would request that you open the link above and read it; the usage of – maybe even targeted usage of – the Social Media platform as described in the article, goes way beyond what has been described above, and indeed way beyond the scourge of fake news that is now a common phenomenon that we are seeing on Social Media nowadays.  “In the final weeks of the 2016 election campaign, voters in swing states including Nevada and North Carolina saw ads appear in their Facebook feeds and on Google websites touting a pair of controversial faux-tourism videos, showing France and Germany overrun by Sharia law.
This is quite frankly, extremely disturbing, worrisome and should cause unease and disquiet in most minds. The article goes further, showing emloyees roles as well as targeted advertising : “Unlike Russian efforts to secretly influence the 2016 election via social media, this American-led campaign was aided by direct collaboration with employees of Facebook and Google. They helped target the ads to more efficiently reach the intended audiences, according to internal reports from the ad agency that ran the campaign, as well as five people involved with the efforts.
FACTOR 1 : OUR ENTIRE LIVES ARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE INTERNET
In the modern world, those of us connected on Social Media have our entire lives on these platforms; it is easy to collate and study patterns for the SM companies – with a larger customer base meaning more defined patterns. It allows advertisers to target people specifically as per your individual tastes. Just think – you click on a site, and ads related to that site pop-up in your feed; used this way, it is legal, ethical as well as a powerful advertising tool, which can and does lead to win-win situations for the customers as well as the companies alike. But recall that we have our opinions, likes and dislikes etc all openly stated; it is easy to spot patterns and create interest groups on a large database.
FACTOR 2 : IMPACT OF AV MESSAGES & MODERN PREFERENCES OF PEOPLE
Secondly, the impact of Audio-Visual messages is known to be strong in both psychology as well as advertising. Further, add to that the increasingly short attention span of the audience combined with the sad phenomenon of lesser personal time / greater work stress, as well as the propensity to prefer easier to assimilate modes of information gathering {AV}, and short tit bits. These two sub-factors combine to create a situation that enables a mind to easily assimilate and accept messages that meet these criteria stated above.
DRAWING INFERENCES FROM THE TWO FACTORS
The two major factors above create a situation wherein a targeted message can be accepted with readiness and ease at least by one segment of the population. The abilities and concepts described in the first factor create a set of people with vested interests that enable the creation of ability and skill sets that can be put to use to reach the set of consumers identified for targeted messaging. In other words, to put it crudely, a set of people willing to accept, and a set of providers willing to use this acceptability of the people to get across a targeted message comes together to create confusion.
Let me explain – on one side, you have a set a data, voluminous, about people – their likes, dislikes, views, readership, viewership, opinions. We can use this to create sub-groups according to various tastes, opinions and what-have-you. This is the company-side skill. On the other side, you have a set of people with easy acceptance of AV or short messages, short content as told in the second factor. The companies can spot patterns among the people, can group them together. Thus it is becomes easy to make tailormade messages that can influence people with specific proclivities and propel their choices towards a targeted objective.
It is feasible to create patterns, extrapolate and draw inferences from Social Media activities. If one person has a habit of regularly visiting Food sites, specific to Chololates, Desserts, Cakes – one can draw the inference that this person may have a preference for sweets. Similarly, if a person regularly likes, tweets, gives opinion on one side of any view in the political or social spectrum, you can extrapolate that he believes in one POV. In large enough data – hundreds of thousands of respondents – this will enable the identification of a set of people predisdisposed towards a thought process. This may not hold true for all instances –  but in a large enough data sets of people, patterns will emerge that generally hold true; and remember, in Social Media we are dealing with live data sets, not snapshots of time.
As can be seen above – a targeted message {Anti-Refuge} was delivered through social media. And again, as we can read, there was direct collaboration of employees. Result was a strong message was delivered at a targeted audience, again as stated in the article.  And that is why the article above is so disturbing. While it is possible for this to happen even without the collusion of employees of SM companies, it becomes infinitely easier with their help; also, the data is also relatively error-free. Add to this the issue of Subliminal Advertising – of which currently there is no provable evidence in the public domain, and neither is it a legislated area.
COMING TO INDIA…
Can this happen in India? Has this happened in India? We do not know; I hope not. But we do know that now the political parties are using Social Media in myriad ways, as has been extensively reported. We also know of at least one book on trolling or usage of SM by one party. We have seen another getting smarter in its SM presence. This they should do – SM is an efficient way to reach audiences – be it politics or be it consumer goods. No issues with that whatsoever.
The problem is if this newfound capability is used to get across a targeted message – especially one of the fringe variety, towards a targeted audience. The biggest question is – where do we draw the line? And who is to judge what is the line specifically? If we have the capability to segment audiences as per tastes, I for one see no reason why that should not be used for mutual benefit. But – as I asked in my previous article as well – how far is too far?
It is we ourselves that are giving these parties and these companies this ability, by placing all our choices openly. This cannot be avoided in increasingly connected world – just not posting on SM is not the long term solution; other proxies can easily be developed, as so much is online in the modern world, that with time, money and capability drawing inferences from data sets is dead easy. This is the evil side, the negative side of the technology that drives our civilization. It really boils down to data security, and a question of simple regulation and ethics.
A QUESTION OF RULES & REGULATIONS
The Social Media companies need to have a strong set of internal rules &  regulations governing content that is accepted by their advertising departments; one that is specially rigorous for political parties or for messages that can be construed to have a political content, or indeed for social content. There has to be a differentiator clearly placed between product-service advertising, and cause advertising. This is doable and is frankly easy to do and operate. It requires an iron will within companies. It also requires strict regulation and a code of ethics so that pressure tactics are not used to pressurize companies.
CONCLUSION

Both the above are doable; we in corporate India need to wake up and smell the coffee. We need to open our eyes, and see the immense potential for good that technology holds as well as the immense potential for influence it holds – and the potential for damage. On a personal side, we customers need to be made more aware of privacy issues, data security and issues arising out of the above. It is not feasible to expect 500million people to stop posting opinions etc on SM; that is not going to happen.  Above all we need to understand the immense creative as well as disruptive power social media holds, its potential, as well as the need for regulation. This is a space that is not self-regulating. We need to wake up, and ensure that some borders are set in place. The US example should not be repeated… 

Wells Fargo Grilling – Why It Cant Happen In India

Published July 20, 2017 by vishalvkale

WELLS FARGO BACKDROP

One of the latest videos running viral on Social Media currently is the brilliant takedown of the Wells Fargo Top Man by a Senator, an excellent demonstration of interrogative skills, diligent and fair research, and deep domain expertise combined into one devastating argument. For the unaware, in very short, The Well Fagro account fraud scandal is an ongoing controversy brought about by the creation of millions of fraudulent savings and checking accounts on behalf of Wells Fargo clients without their consent. Various regulatory bodies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), fined the company a combined $185 million dollars as a result of the illegal activity, and the company faces additional civil and criminal suits. You can read more on it here : Wells Fargo Accounts Scandal – Wiki
THE SITUATION IN INDIA – A REAL WORLD EXAMPLE – TRUE CASE
While I agree with the general contention of all who have voiced a regret that this is not the case in India, that such searching questions are not asked of corporations in India- one can offhand think of more than a few cases where such deep questions can be asked, and should certainly be asked. Let me state just one, and that too individual example, let alone the bigger cases. A very well known conglomerate, highly respected, once opened a division to sell corporate debt bonds, or FDs, to unsuspecting investors. My Dad invested quite a bit of his money in it, despite my ardent pleas not tom as my analysis told me to beware. The net result is that we defaulted on our final installment {we were paying in two parts} on our home, lost it – and my parents died without a residence. We haven’t seen that money since.
This is just one example – there are others. The above is quoted just to make a point; that enforcement and accountability in extremely lax in India. This is beyond debate – even in the above case, there was a lot of, aah, action. A lot of noise, a lot of so-called questions and what-not. But the long and short of it was that we never got to see our money again -and it has now been 20+ years. I haven’t forgotten – that company is responsible for a lot of pain my parents went through. Neither can I forgive myself that despite having the knowledge and the ability I was unable to prevent the catastrophy that befell us.
THE ISSUES IN INDIA
The point of relevance is that never have I seen such stunningly blunt questioning being asked of the top management as in this video; and never have I seen such transparency being at least asked for from the Government to the Corporate Top Managers. This does not mean all is well on wall street – that it assuredly isn’t; it is as bad, maybe worse – far worse, than Indian Companies. History is mute proof of that – and we don’t need to go beyond 10 years in that history for proof. Wall Street and/or The Oh-So-Great West hasn’t learnt, not by a long shot; but at least they are asking, or are beginning to ask, hard questions of the Top Management and trying to hold them accountable for their misdeeds.
What we need is a dose of the same – hard, searching questions asked in televised open debates from Senior Management, by Parliamentarians  & Regulators who have deep domain expertise in that area, backed by thorough solid investigation and research. Let us be honest and ask ourselves do we have the atmosphere in the environs that matter – Parliament & Regulators -that can allow such a move? Knowledge isn’t an issue; that is certain – there are experts with deep domain skills available even in the regulators and the Government. But is it feasible for us, given the current atmosphere that prevails, that can allow such sessions with Top Honchoes from Corporate India? Look around, and see who has defaulted, and got away; who has done scams, or has highlighted major shortcomings, and got away without deep searching questions in public. The list is long.
CONCLUSION – AND SOME SOUL SEARCHING
In most cases we get investigations running into years, court cases, but no top man is ever brought to answer his or her decisions, actions; not in my case above, and not in any other case in my memory. Contrast with this Wells Fargo video – this happened in 2012-2014/15; and already we have this brilliant takedown. Thus, it isn’t just a question of will or atmosphere or ability alone – it is the entire ecosystem that needs to evolve to that level of accountability and speed of execution. Hard fact is that in India, we don’t ask our leaders any questions, be it in Public Sphere or be it in the Corporate World.
Ask yourselves – do we have the requisite resources in each identified area to execute something like this? How many scamsters, corporate top guys etc have been grilled like this? What is more – can they be grilled like this in India? If no, why not? Bringing this here requires more than just will etc – it requires investigation, proper and fast response mechanisms to a crisis, people of domain expertise involved in this matter who can guide the investigators in the right direction; it requires a speed of execution, and relative independence in operation.  That requires deep seated reform at the central and state polity; it requires speed of execution and independence, and freedom from political-corporate nexus. That is what we need – can we make it happen? I certainly hope so; but I fear not… I hope I am wrong….

De-Stressing The Corporate Job While Retaining Competitive Ability – 1

Published June 18, 2017 by vishalvkale

One of the rising themes of management discussion is the concept of work-life balance, compounded by rising stress in corporate life in India; quite a lot has been written about how we need to lessen the stress. Another theme is the concept of how Indian Managers don’t take or get leave too often, or rising lifestyle disease incidence and about rising burnout cases and so  on. Most articles I have read emphasize on a lot of points as a solution – namely, advocating leaves / smaller working hours / de-stressing and so on… sadly, most of these don’t take the overall corporate atmosphere into account.
LITTLE ALTERNATIVE TO THE STATUS QUO
Let me take a divergent view – that there actually little alternative to what is taking place, at least as of now. And the reason for that is that the current realities highlighted above are actually the symptoms of a larger malaise, or rather problem. We need to examine the overall atmosphere in which a modern corporate operates, the external environment.  Any processes and policies, even on the personnel front, need to be in keeping with this external environment and its relevant factors.
FACTORS OF THE REALITY STATED ABOVE
And these factors are : High growth economy in comparison to the developed world, newly opened to external pressures, increasing competition both internally as well as externally, the current work culture in India, massive gap in demand and supply of jobs, rapid rise in information availability – the information revolution. These factors intertwine together to create a situation where no other approach, at least majorly, is feasible.
Taken together, these impose virtually crippling constraints on Corporations; and the cost of ignoring the brutal demands imposed by the market can at times be too huge, resulting even in shutting of companies – leaving thousands jobless. That is not an alternative that bears contemplation. However, it doesn’t stop at these factors, as the two most crippling factors that stifle innovation while also affecting work culture is something that isn’t limited to Corporate India  – our Chaltaa Hai Attitude & our penchant for selfishness and corruption. These two will be analysed fully in the next article on this theme; as their impact cuts across functions, industries and levels, seriously eroding both innovation  as well as competitive ability, dampening enthusiasm & hampering winning strategies & thoughts.
SUMMARY ANALYSIS OF THE IMPACT OF THESE FACTORS
You have an external atmosphere, a culture where people habitually work long hours, even Sundays; where the in-thing is to be seen to be working hard. Add to this, fast growing competition, information revolution, and demand-supply gaps everywhere – and you are looking at certain marketshare losses if you buck the trend; or a certain job loss for yourself – as the pressure on your manager will hit your relationship, or both. If your specific industry involves long hours, and you alone strike out on your own – you could be looking at serious losses unless the shift in work pattern is strategized carefully.
The source of stress & diseases, tiredness is not just time-  but pressure as well. And even in that, I see little alternative, for the current method is the way we in Corporate India have been conditioned to operate under. Given the huge Demand-Supply gap, fact is that any employee at any level can be easily replaced without any loss of operational efficiency. A high attrition rate has little discernible impact on the overall operative efficiency of an organization so long as it is not too far out of hand. Sure – it has massive strategic implications & damage – but the modern manager is not trained to think along strategic lines, neither do most HR processes allow for any room for strategy at the levels where it should matter.
MODERN LIFE IS A CAULDRON
Modern Life is a cauldron – make no mistake about that. I suspect that most career lines will have similar problems, given the overall interplay of the factors outlined above. In a highly competitive atmosphere – stress will rise. That is the nature of competition. The problem isn’t the stress, or the late hours, or such things; they are symptoms of something else – and that something else is what we need to look for in our quest to unlock potential, lessen disease incidence, and enable better stress-handling capabilities of our employees.
In this series of articles on corporate stress and rising disease incidence, I will attempt to look at these factors in detail, and specify what that something else is, before embarking on the hunt for a solution to these issues. For now, my advise to newcomers to this life – adjust to it, and as fast as possible. Find out at the earliest possible moment from the time you graduate as to what helps you de-stress, and then nurture that; it will prove invaluable to you in the long run.
THE REAL ISSUES AT HAND
Coming to the point of the article-  the “something else”, the core reason why stress, disease etc are rising in Corporate India. This is isn’t any one, definable aspect; but rather a jumble of many intertwined major challenge areas : namely, competitive ability & skills – on personal as well as organizational levels;  internal core organizational processes {Pay, R&R, JD, Line Processes, Decision Making support systems, ethics, complaint redressals, PMS} not keeping pace with the external environment; organizational structures {size, span, power matrix, power collusion} not developing fast enough to meet & match external threats; and the most critical failure of all – the total failure of most organizations in my personal knowledge to tap into available information, collate it,  and use it properly…

It is the delicate interplay of these complex factors operating at individual, group, team & organizational levels that collude to create the problems and challenges you see around you. The organizations that manage these in older industries succeed more often than not; while in new industries, the organisations that succeed in incrementally improving these slowly rise above the rest, and take a commanding control of the initiative in the market. This series will, over the next few months, take a look in detail at each parameter… stay connected!

The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta and Leadership – 1

Published February 20, 2017 by vishalvkale

This is a realisation that came to me hard when I was doing my habitual morning reading of The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta; my thoughts on my learnings of two verses are tabulated below. 

BE PRACTICAL, MY FRIEND – DON’T CHANGE THE WORLD
Don’t try to change the world… Change Yourself…
The headline of this article says it all; this is the most common rejoinder people get when they try to set an example, with one single refrain – aap duniya nahi badal sakte; be practical, this is the way it is, and many other variations along this theme. Hidden in this lovely gem of a statement, this remarkably ignorant statement is a litany of problems, all of which hover around one single tragic theme in our society today. Some critics of this habit call it apathy, some selfishness, some a lack of confidence while some others blame it on the prevalent atmosphere. 
CHANGE AGENTS
There are two aspects or parameters to this, in my humble view; the first is ideological, and thoroughly idealistic in both its intent and its wording. Simply put – if everyone thinks along these lines, then, ladies and gentlemen, the simple reality is that nothing will ever change in any aspect of human endeavour, be it society or be it science. Change is a constant, and it is the change agents who bring about that change. By discouraging the change agents, you can only delay the change, with all its attendant effects good as well as bad– not cancel the change
In any field of human endeavour, it has been the change agents who have brought about defining change, despite the fact that they were all, without exception, ridiculed and even called fools, to put it bluntly.  There is no change agent I am aware of who did not have to struggle to get the change in place. Even top scientists & famous leaders had to struggle, read their biographies. The choice is between selfish faceless mediocrity, and selfless service! And it is also a fact that only a small number of people from these change agents actually succeed – but isn’t the norm in any field, where success percentage is actually always a small fraction?
But the fact is that, as any biography will readily confirm, the successful change agents build on a series of previous change efforts put in my innumerable nameless and faceless people. That is why it is absolutely essential to continue to swim against the tide in a defined moral and/or scientific direction – you may not succeed, but you and countless others might {will?) become the cause of someone who does manage to succeed. This is true for any field of activity – Science, Trade, Society – any human activity. It takes uncommon courage to go against the tide – and my advise to those who do so is that you are special, a person of raw courage and guts. Never ever give up!
LEADERS
The others aspect is the one of leadership. Now we define leaders as business leaders, political leaders  etc – I am not referring to these. I am referring to any leader, which  includes the above and many more – society leaders, opinion leaders, role-models, teachers, etc. Anyone who leads or influences even one person is a leader. It is a known philosophical as well as scientifically established reality that people try to follow and emulate those whom they see as leaders. I refer you to this verse from our Holy Book, The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta, Chapter 3 Verses 20 & 21 :
कर्मणैव हि संसिद्धिमास्थिता जनकादय: |
लोकसंग्रहमेवापि सम्पश्यन्कर्तुमर्हसि || 20||
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जन: |
यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते || 21||
By performing their prescribed duties, King Janak and others attained perfection. You should also perform your work to set an example for the good of the world. Whatever actions great persons perform, common people follow. Whatever standards they set, all the world pursues. Leaders of society thus have a moral responsibility to set lofty examples for inspiring the rest of the population by their words, deeds, and character. When noble leaders are in the forefront, the rest of society naturally gets uplifted in morality, selflessness, and spiritual strength.
I have given in the links below 4-6 commentaries; please go through them. They all talk of the same interpretation, and the role of leaders in forming societal values and norms. And this what the holiest of our Sanaatan Dharmi books tell us, written thousands of years ago. My personal definition of the word leader in the societal context is thought leaders, intellectuals, journalists, writers, filmmakers and actors, political leaders, social leaders etc.
Do we demand these qualities of our leaders – any leader? Do we judge them on such or similar parameters – or do we judge them by their status in terms of power, achievements and wealth? Arent we, as a society, placing a premium on the means of achievement attainment rather than the methods and values? What message are we sending society, what role models are creating? In the modern world, we set store by money earned, goods acquired, power attained – not on the values portrayed…
The least we can do is stop ridiculing the tough hard fighters who are trying to bring about change for the good; no one is asking or forcing you to emulate them. Change, true lasting change, cannot be enforced; it has to be embibed. It is a chain, wherein you add people one-by-one; it is inherently slow in the initial phases until it acquires critical mass.
Even our Scriptures, as also science, says the same; leaders have to show an uncommonly high standard of moral behaviour in any and all aspects. The least we can and should do is not discourage people who have the strength of character to be upright in these trying times. And the most we can do – choose leaders basis moral values, which,  as things stand today, is frankly a tough call…  
Agreed with the world – be practical, my friend. Dont change the world, but then, no one is trying to change the world. But you can and should set a moral behavioural example for the world. Now that is doable, isnt it? 


LINKS:
The Eternal Duties of a Human Beings – Geeta 3/21
Geeta as it is 3-21  
Holy Bhagvad Geeta 3-20/21 

REVISITING THE TERM ETHICS IN A BUSINESS SENSE

Published January 9, 2017 by vishalvkale

REVISITING THE TERM ETHICS IN A BUSINESS SENSE
This is the second and concluding part of the article on Ethics
ETHICS – A SITUATIONAL ASPECT
Ethics in a business atmosphere is extremely hard to understand, and is in reality highly situational – which is part of the reason why people refuse to be drawn into open conversation and comments even in personal one-on-one communications and discussions. One part of ethics is actually quite simple – cheating, fraud and other such actions that are either illegal, or wrong  – or indeed both. Bumping up TA Bills, collusion with the partners and vendors, and many other minor transgressions are also part of this. Frankly, these are minor irritants to companies, though they can grow in scale in times of stress.
MINOR TRANSGRESSIONS
These don’t impact business performance, inasmuch as they don’t have any connection with strategic or major tactical strategies, neither do they interfere with organizational goals. However, for some reason these are not discussed openly within companies. That is an entirely different matter, so let us leave it at that; we are on a hunt to determine the foundations, and such tangential aspects need not concern us regardless of the scope they are prevalent on. That said, these minor transgressions can get out of hand; and ensuring compliance is and should be a matter of company policy with zero tolerance.
Similar is the case with Gender related issues in some aspects; the gender mix in any company, for example, is not a matter of ethics. This is related to gender equality in a society, and is largely independent of ethical considerations. Reactions and response to such sociological factors depends on the prevalent societal modes and public direction, as well as the concept of right or wrong. Thus, while deliberately not hiring ladies {for example} may be an ethical issue, but again, this is something that is tangential to us, as in most cases it does not impact the bottomline and topline.
THE CORE ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
What are the aspects that are truly unethical? These are such practices that have a direct, provable causative link with business performance; aspects that need the focused attention of responsible managers. These habits can break markets, impact profitability, destroy brand reputation, destroy internal structures, and are born out of the managerial style, laxity in control structures, unhealthy unchecked business practices, and at times even a Performance Management System that is out of tune with the on-ground business scenario. There may also be other aspects; that will require deep study in the institutions and management colleges of India. Question is, are we doing that research?
This can take the shape of a powerful senior manager promoting, supporting and listening to favourites to the detriment of the organization. Now take a minute here; not all cases of the seniors supporting juniors are matters of ethics – these matters are, as I pointed out above, highly circumstantial. But if someone is aiding the rise of a manager who is operating on business practices that are not the core operational strategy adopted, then you have a major issue. This is not understood as a matter of ethics – but if your words are saying one strategy to one set of employees, and communication of a different,at times opposite, strategy to a select few- this is a lack of transparency, and maybe unethical. As I said, these matters are extremely hard to judge.
Another example is of a business negotiation; you ought to have complete transparency in operation and discussion. That, however, does not mean that you share everything; that would be stupid. The point is to share everything that is ideally or optimally required  for the other party to make a proper decision. In some cases, this does not happen – which is why quite often the relationship breaks down very fast. Given that incomplete disclosure has happened, this was a foregone conclusion, almost. And in 100% such cases, it represents a business risk that needs to be controlled.
CONCLUSION
These are just two examples I have taken to drive home my point; the focus of ethics in our Media, Organisations and Academia has always been the big-ticket issues that can drive companies asunder. These sporadic occurrences, though clearly unethical in nature, are just one aspect of the coin. The side of the coin we need to focus on is the other one – the daily operational aspect, the ones that are concerned with Human Nature, Business Processes, Core HR Functions… these  can destroy operational effectiveness, erode productivity and lead to a quantifiable business loss. These represent the foundation inasmuch as they are linked to core organisational processes that drive the daily operations, Balance Sheet and the Profit and Loss Account… 

EXAMINING THE ETHICAL FOUNDATIONS OF BUSINESS IN INDIA

Published January 7, 2017 by vishalvkale

EXAMINING THE ETHICAL FOUNDATIONS OF BUSINESS IN INDIA
{This is the first part of a multi part analysis into the ethical aspects of doing business in India}
Ethics, morality, integrity are all aspects that are not discussed too often in the business world; often, there is good reason for it, to be honest. These terms are not clearly understood even in the best of times; and are misunderstood more often than not. This is a first article in a series that attempts to clear certain misconceptions, and define ethics to the normal everyday workforce, and clear the air around these concepts. In this first article, I attempt to clarify what ethics means, or what it should mean in a business environment
The trigger for this series was an interesting incident that occurred, wherein I shared some of my thoughts around ethics in some of my contacts. Unsurprisingly, not one person responded– which is only to be expected. This  in a group of active people who normally respond to concepts and shares quite enthusiastically. This was part of a larger experiment that I am conducting at my own level – how people respond to these words, and what trigger words and the concepts people do respond to.
That triggered my mind : what is it about the word “Ethics” that we cant even discuss in hypothetical discussions? This is something I have noted for a long time, and across segments and modes of communication. Mention “Ethics” in a business sense, and you are immediately targeted as a “Raja Harishchandra”, a do-gooder, a change-the-world-person! The most amazing aspect is that in my 17 years experience, true unethical conduct in business has always resulted in a business loss to the organization, 100% of the time! And yet, we refuse adamantly to confront this scourge within us. All it requires is for the good people to remain silent – remember that
The above can mean two things – one, that nearly everyone is unethical. Now this is just plain ridiculous; having 17 years work experience, in my experience true unethical conduct in business, though quite rampant, is nowhere near being ubiquitous. Neither is it the modal behavior, though it does come close. And yet, the few people who do speak and write on ethics make it sound as though the people are all like that, which, as I said, is not the fact.
Two, the term “ethics” is not understood in business and by the large majority of the business professionals as it applies to our daily jobs. This is a failure of our management schools and training departments, which have not risen to the task, and tend to classify everything under ethics. Ethics can be defined asThe basic concepts and fundamental principles of decent human conduct. It includes study of universal values such as the essential equality of all men and women, human or natural rights, obedience to the law of land, concern for health and safety and, increasingly, also for the natural environment 
This is not helped by academia in the articles I have come across on this topic, which list a whole series of aspects in ethics, which does not do justice to the business reality on the ground. For example, you cannot mix basic disciplinary issues like office timings or market visits under ethics; some aspects are common in person and at work, and have to be dealt with independently. If some employee/s is/are not visiting the market regularly, it is not strictly an ethical issue. We frequently confuse it with one; it is plain and simple a managerial control issue, or an organizational culture issue. As are any number of other aspects that are thought to be ethical in nature – but are in reality basic human nature.
Laziness, work-avoidance {procrastination} and others are basic human traits, and will need to be countered, fought with, and overcome by every human being. The person who does it will succeed in life more often than not. Equality of the sexes is again a core cultural construct, and is an entirely different issue – and cannot be considered with ethics in my considered opinion. These are just examples, and even in these – true ethical issues may arise, as we shall see in the next part.
The question then arises – then what exactly is unethical? Breaking the law is unethical. Bullying employees in whichever way is unethical, so long as the term “bullying” is well defined in the organization for all functions. Withholding information in a business negotiation that is critical for decision making for both parties is also unethical. Breaking your word, or giving oral promises and not coming through is also unethical. From the above examples – it can be readily seen that only one is clearly defined and black-and-White; all the others are vague, and highly situational in both their context as well as their real-world applicability
In light of the above, it is rather strange that people are just not willing to engage in conversations around ethics, and ethical conduct. Why the assumption that this is a negative aspect? Our management schools need to develop a sustained discussion around ethics as they apply to the real world, to specific job functions and industries so that a better understanding can arise in the general populace – as do all employees. Most importantly, it can also be readily seen that all of the ethical issues will have wide industry differences, and cannot be understood without understanding the core industry and its realities.
And yet, we the people just refuse to engage in ethical conversations even in a hypothetical atmosphere. This is what I would ideally like to understand in the due fullness of time…

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and We The People : A Question of Values

Published June 24, 2015 by vishalvkale



Clean India : Swachhtaa Abhiyaan; at long last, we have a Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, a leader, interested in setting an example, becoming an exemplar to the people by focusing on all the right values : cleanliness, closeness to our culture {Yoga as an example}; he has faults – but let us praise where praise is manifestly due in all fairness. But, that does not mean that this attitude, while setting an exemplar, an example before us, will automatically solve our cleanliness issues, even without the systemic flaws I pointed out in my previous article on this issue: Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Or Clean India – Does It Meet The Problem?


As I wrote earler, do you really require the Prime Minister of your country to tell you keep your nation clean? Do you really require to be told to throw things in dustbins? Do you really require to be told to keep your city clean, not throw waste outside your home? Do you really need to be told to throw the waste inside the dustbin, not in its general direction? You dont clutter your home – then, in that case, if you throw garbage on the road, what does this behaviour say about you as a person


We are a nation of 1.28 Billion; setting the example wont do much good. Akela Chanaa etc etc… We have to get to the core reason behind such behaviour. Why do people behave the way they do? Why do people take care to keep their home clean, their office clean, the posh hotels etc clean, but display such crass behaviour elsewhere? ? What internal value systems are you displaying? What does it say about your true priorities?

At the office, it is peer pressure + HR / Disciplinary Action + Boss fear; at home it is family fear + selfishness + long exposure / stay; at the posh market it is peer pressure + image etc. What are the core values a person is displaying? It is certainly not cleanliness, or love for cleanliness, or even ethics. The values being displayed are Power, Hunger, Image, Presentation, Projection, Self etc…

A truly clean person displays the same – precise same – behaviour across all aspects of life, not a differential behaviour. Values {at least the core values} dont change as per the situation : if it does, it isnt a value or a core value of that person. Values are typically rock-steady, and remain virtually almost unassailable unless challenged by deep philosphical thought, or disaster etc – or a long sustained period of change : positive or negative. We dont try and make them decent human being; we dont teach values. It starts at home. What you see around you is a reflection of your own deeds, and attitudes.


No point pointing fingers. People are unclean because parents like you and me have not taught them this basic human behaviour. That can only mean that our minds are tainted and unclean. A clean mind, a truly clean mind, sees ethics, values and cleanliness in every endeavour. If there is duality, as in spoken ethics {or even provable ethics} combined with a habit of uncleanliness… Change your attitude towards India, be selfless, view it as your home, and internalise cleanliness.


Sorry to be harsh, but the fault is of the parents. Parents should scold or punish their children for such behaviour; that we dont is a manifest fact. We try and make them street-smart, we try and make them come first…


What is happening in these instances? A person is being influenced by external stimuli which is transient in nature; the moment this stimulus is removed. the behaviour goes back to the normal. Behaviour is controlled by your value system; and external stimuli that are transient and short-term have zero impact on the value system.


Thus, any recommended solution will perforce have to cater to the problem. The nature of the positive influencers like the exemplars others looked at above are such that these are transient temporary influences which lack a long-term impact in the absence of strong emotive rewards for the desired behaviour; that is why the impact wanes over time. And that is also why, despite the fact that Values can change in a sustained exposure, exemplars generally fail to make an impact all by themselves

By contrast, fear of punishment, image consciousness, etc negative influences retain their power for a much longer time after the removal of the stimulus. That is why the only way is to initiate a strong disincentive towards tardy behaviour {littering and filth in this case}, driving the subject towards the desired behaviour : cleanliness.

And that is why I recommend strong punishments for tardy behavior, as in Singapore. This can be combined with school {nursery level, KG-1&2 level children and parent interactions with trainers. And fail the children – even at these starting levels – if both parents dont turn up for these training sessions regularly. Disincentives all along the line for adults, and incentives and freebies and other reinforcers for the children. If you are not clean, there is no place in society for you is the message that should go across to the people.


Adults dont need to be reminded or reinforced of the need for cleanliness; that is a very basic and expected societal norm. Besides, with their value systems being fully formed, the chances of positive re-inforcers, exemplars etc changing the core behaviour is precious little. In order that action is initiated from such recalcitrant people, we need to take a leaf from the errant behaviour : negative influencers : peer pressure, fear etc which we saw above. These will be the drivers than will drive the adults to the sessions, namely the certainly that their child will be failed, for their fault.

Thereafter, you can use any number of positive influencers that you like, your exemplars etc. In my opinion, nothing else will work. We have seen exemplars showing people – I myself have for years being setting examples, with little to show for it. In my colony, for the past year, some adults have been voluntarily cleaning the garden, with zero impact. It is still as dirty as it used to be before the great swachhtaa tamaashaa!

That is why setting an example will not work; and that is why it hasnt worked till now. Remember the Aamir Khan Ad? Or recall all those people who do the cleaning up, and who carry things to the dustbin etc? It hasnt worked because it wont; not now, not ever.
These are influencers, and influence behaviour only for the duration of the experience. Thus, no amount of setting examples is the solution. Values change only when a person is put through a deep, positive or negative influence that has the capacity to jar a person from stem to stern. Or they can be formed during the early years; that is it. The only solution is parent and children education, and a slow change for the better. Fact of the matter is that the moral compass of our society is seriously skewed, and that is a fact.


Rest assured; if a person acts clean in office, malls – but is careless in public places, that person is almost a charlatan, a con and a put-on. He or she is wearing a fake garb of ethics. The truly ethical person is ethical in each and every walk of life, is uncompromising on this basic human value.


Doing Something Real And Current About Poverty

Published May 24, 2015 by vishalvkale

The Curse Of Poverty… one can see it all around us; I have myself written about both how hopeless and helpless I feel, as well as how horrifying the poverty trap is… this is something that I cant get over,  can’t forget, and can’t overlook. And the reason is simple : wherever I go, wherever I visit, wherever I turn in any place in India, my lovely India, I can find the same gut-wrenching and heart-stopping scenes of abject poverty, and the total helplessness of the people trapped in it.

I was just walking out from a Bakery {My Choice, Annapurna Road, Indore} when I was approached by a lady with her clothes in tatters, and was solicited for alms. I looked at her, and could not say no… I had just spent 117/- Rupees on a Pizza Topping and Butter purchase, and had in addition visited Dominoes. If I could spend that much, surely I can give her 10/-, which I did. I don’t feel guilty about my expenses – I work all day for it, all week and all year; but… I cannot forget that this is due to the benefit of education, parentage, opportunity and providence…

And, yet again, the same thoughts crash through my mind, as I have written earlier as well : why, God, why? What have we as a people done that is so horrible that millions of my countrymen and women have to suffer such terrifying indignities and conditions? What have we done to deserve this? My mind goes vacant for a moment…

The sight of beggars on the streets, the young children with no hope and no future, the labourers working all day for a few rupees just to keep alive, the slums which dot the landscape, the poverty in the villages, the mud and slush in the villages’ approaches, the lack of amenities, the huts and dwellings which offer scant true protection make for a chilling sight that shock me into numbness and an infinite and indefinable sadness at the complete hopelessness of it all…

AND THEN…
And then, I turn around – to see a very different, vibrant and tenacious India – the one of Education, Opportunity, Growth, Development, Cars, Bikes, Swank Offices, Rush-Hour Traffic, Malls & Theatres, fast-improving facilities and amenities, and a hope arises in my mind : firstly, there is still hope; a hope that one day the majority of my countrymen can enjoy the same facilities; that all of my countrymen can live a life of respect, sufficiency, confidence, and honour…

Secondly, a hope arises when I see people who have given their all for the betterment of the downtrodden – naming any one as an example would be insufficient – and understand that while I am still at the stage of shock and sadness, there are others who have shown the courage to act on their convictions, and place the lives, their careers on the line for these people.

To all such people – thank you; you are the future of India; you are the real hope for our India – you, the people who could have had cushy corporate jobs, but are doing what your heart tells you to do – a story that will go unknown and unwritten. But, collectively, when the results begin to show, you people will have done more than almost anyone else…

You are the people who highlight injustices, and, staying within legal limits, points systematic shortcomings; you are the people to reach out to these poor people and attempt to educate, treat them and help them or their children learn to grow. You are the people that drive change in the rest of society through the sheer power of your sacrifices, convictions and actions. You are the people who force the uncaring majority of Urban India and make them face their attitudes, selfishness and indefensible and deliberate ignorance of the plight of the poor of India. Verily, you are the people actually driving change – knowing fully well you will never get the credit. You are the people who are driving systemic change, forcing the uncaring and careless Urban Indian to abandon corruption, become more community conscious.

WILL THIS ALONE SUFFICE?
The question that now occurs to me is : will this alone suffice? How can we solve the problem of poverty if the poor are not in a position to either get employment, or start a business that can ensure respect and money enough to earn a decent living? Will the famed trickle-down theory actually work? The evidence of my eyes, as well as some data I have read, has led me to question the very basis of this theory; is the pace of change fast enough? How many more poor ladies and gentlemen {and their coming generations} will be forced into such terrifying conditions?

The development versus growth debate misses this one point : what will happen to the millions who are currently in distress? By not investing in capability development of this vast sea of manpower at the basic level, aren’t we creating a sea of future problems, aren’t we postponing the day of reckoning? How will increased factories and Urban Amenities benefit the poor, who aren’t educated enough to take advantage of the development? The conclusion is obvious : it the Urban Indian who stands to gain; while the poor will gain : the process will by definition be slow, as their growth will be through increased menial tasks become available, which will result in a slow improvement.

But this process creates a divergence: the Urban and Educated, through greater access to education and benefits, will clearly gain immediately. That is good – it will engender growth; but – it leaves the problem of the immediate amelioration of the conditions of the current lot of poor people. While the development – versus – growth angle is an unsettled economic debate, there can be no debate about this : that the current lot will not benefit. Therein lies the problem.  

One one side, we have a tribe of selfless people who are tirelessly working to ameliorate the conditions of these people, on the other side we have a growing economy, a vibrant democracy and increasing confidence in us as a people and as a civilization. Caught in between are the millions upon millions of poor people with no education, no hope and no chances – people whom life has never given any chances.   

The question for all of us Urban & Educated people should be – What Can We Do In Addition To What Is Being Done That Can Help? As Individuals, As People, As A Community, And As A Civilization? Isnt this worth doing? Shouldn’t there be a way where we can contribute? Our Mother, Our India gave birth to us; and gave us some benefits not available to others : how should we be using these benefits?




Choice is Yours, and Mine. 

Corporate India : The Self-Perpetuating Vicious Conditioned Response

Published March 20, 2015 by vishalvkale

A LinkedIn Question on Managers, and their attitudes towards employee’s mental health triggered a thought process; Do managers really care about employee’s mental health?
No, they dont. I dont think this can be an argued, with; neither is this open to question. There are several documented surveys in existence that bear the proof : that disease of every kind is rising, and fast. Question is, does anyone care? No. Also true. Next question : can anything be done? Answer : No. Concluding Question : Why? Answer : The stupid idiot who tries to do something gets sacked, regardless of level. Statement of simple fact. 

It doesnt take a genius to figure out that you run everyone under incredibly high stress combined long with 14-hour days – there are going to be cases of burnout, breakdown, mental disorders, heart attacks, diabetes, Asthma, etc. That is basic 10th standard Biology. Everyone should and does know this. Still they dont care. If they did, things wouldnt be as they were. That is also an unfortunate truism. People at the top – some of them, at any rate – are also well aware of the range of issues, but shy away from doing anything about it. Why should this be so? And why is bucking the system so damned tough for even a top manager? 

But first, the proof. As proof, in May 2013, The ET carried a damning indictment of Corporate India and its work culture. { Analysed on my blog here : Corporate India, work stress and employee dissatisfaction. } It holds an interesting divergence, and a hint of the key. While the Employer view was that employees value Career, the Employee view was the e.x.a.c.t opposite : they value job security. Another sector specific survey identifies rising mental illness in Corporate India. A third has clearly delineated abnormal and rising rates of sickness – especially lifestyle diseases. Just reading these surveys makes clear the TOTAL disconnect between Top Management and Middle-Lower-Frontline Staff. 


At core of the issue lies a bunch of cowardly middle managers, who are too scared to speak; brow-beaten frontline and firstline managers who know that if they speak, khatam, finish. And at the core of that lies a disturbed authority-responsibility matrix that gives power to people who dont deserve it, or dont train people for the higher responsibilities. And it is this self-perpetuating matrix that is in effect a vicious circle, breaking out of which is virtually impossible. 

This vicious circle is actually indicative of a deeper systemic malaise: the internal systems and processes are not coping up with the changed business reality that is confronting the corporate scenario. And that, to my mind, is the core reason for what we have seen above. HR systems, fist of all, need to be strengthened to cope with the new reality. This has to go hand-in-hand with a more humane treatment to employees, with a receptive ear to their manifest and genuine concerns. 

And the proof of that {malaise} is simple; all you have to do is look, ask the right questions – for example, in the sales function,  just trace sales, cost of sales, distributor and team instability, cheque bouncing, customer complaints, vendor issues etc : all are directly proportional, whereas logic and experience both dictate they should ideally be inversely proportional. This is basis practical experience of tracing numbers. The problem : The PMS does not measure anything except the first parameter, which means that there is no reason to do anything about the rest. Result? Also simple to trace. Trace the brand failures, their number and rising incidence. {To those, esp HR people, who lay claim that the modern PMS does measure other parameters – my rejoinder; no, it doesn’t, but that is another story, for a different blog post. Stay connected}

At one level, people are just plain dumb, and too scared of chucking their jobs; that is admittedly a part of the problem. To that, I can only say  : come on, everyone! You are educated, a post-graduate {at least a graduate}, qualified, intelligent… dont you have confidence in yourself? Just because someone threatens you, you back down and do something against your nature, or the law, or plain common sense, or something that causes a loss to your team or the organisation or both? What that means is that you are good for nothing except what you currently do; that outside that comfort zone, you are a total failure.  

The second level is the rampant and completely one-sided belief that people who stay and compromise are resilient; nothing could be farther from the truth. Resilience does not mean compromising on the virtues and good values that differentiate a human from an animal. True resilience is standing up for your beliefs, and fighting it out. Staying and admitting defeat or compromising is admitting that you are incompetent, that the system has changed you! And, as we shall see later, this is the compromise that actually deepens the problem; it is this compromise that creates a vicious cycle.

What you see is a conditioned response; a response conditioned by organisational policies that are as harmful to the organisation as to the employee, policies that, acting in concert, create a vicious cycle, strengthening one message, and one message only. These policies, acting in concert, selectively build unhealthy competencies, simultaneously undermining the organisation’s internal strengths and capabilities. This is a matter that lies at the door of the CEO, HR heads, OD Teams, Line Functions VP’s and above, requiring deep-rooted policy level action and lots of time to correct. 
The policies in question the entire breadth of the organisation, and together coordinate to co-create what we see, what is evident in the various surveys, suicides, murders, pink slips, anger, heart attacks and lifestyle diseases cropping up. For example, the moment you promote based on end-result alone, without looking at the underlying factors, you are sending a strong message that reinforces the learning that anything goes. 

Even during hiring, the same message : with the focus being on your achievements, not how you did them; background checks also just check the veracity of the written documents, when they should in reality be talking to all concerned to get at the gist of the real performance of the person : has this person left behind a sea of problems, dissatisfied customers / team members etc? The proof is the ease with which people who are sacked for rampant financial irregularity get hired.

The same reinforcement goes into the people during meetings, with the focus being on achievements, with no serious questions being asked as to how these were done. Fact of the matter is that all of us know that there is no hanky-panky / short-cut that cannot be revealed in a set of targeted questions at the so-called high-achiever. Any fool with experience can expose the reality; it doesn’t require either intelligence or extraordinary levels of skill to pull that off.
This message is further reinforced when someone who has not performed is pulled up, usually in public, with no attempt to analyse the reason for the non-performance. This is actually a serious business risk- as a lack of competitive ability in the organization and its products first shows up in the non-performers’ numbers; the so-called performers, skilled as they are at getting numbers any which way, hide the erosion in competitive ability of the offering in the market. Result? Organisation after organization is taken by surprise as the entire edifice crumbles… when all you really had to do is put some time and energy understanding the non-performing areas in terms of strategic offering, not a purely tactical view. 

But this isn’t done – sending, yet again, an exceptionally powerful message. A conditioned response is created. The same thing happens as leaders try to inculcate a uniformity in companies, leading to a team that thinks along a defined line, lacking the perceptive and functional in-depth skills that are built up by diversity. Yet again, the same message. This is further deepened when people compromise, and say “this is the way it happens”…

The exact same thing happens when people hire for stability, or for deep skills in one skill area; you are building a team that can and does crack open under pressure; these so-called stable, or skilled people, in reality have never seen adversity, or have no exposure to other areas, knowledge sets and experiences; this is a vital and needed parameter that builds a vital and strong organisation. In each and every case, a strong message is going : to succeed, this is what you have to do…

Each  and every policy and step taken, rather than engender a positive attitude and out-of-the-box thinking, further deepens the problem in a self-perpetuating cycle.
I have said it before; I say it again… 

In 16 years and counting, in a full 100% cases of failed products and launches, the frontline teams have predicted the outcome with 100% accuracy. Organisations regard them as not having knowledge; my experience at front, first and second line tells me they know more about the business realities than anyone else in the company; this is across functions as well, with faulty policies being rightly called as such in 100% cases by the people who are not listened to. You ignore them at your organisation’s peril. No one speaks for the simple reason that speaking up is not encouraged; I have been told on occasion : teraa aadmi bahut boltaa hai, chup karao yaa nikaalo! Yet again, you are gving a message… a reinforcement…

This requires deep-seated change, and can only happen when people at the bottom start saying no, and give a push-back; which can only happen in a crisis period for the industry, when the bloodbath begins… Examples abound. Sad part is, in the bloodbath, many innocent careers are sacrificed. Hansa chugegaa daanaa…. etc etc… how to change this in any other way? I have no idea… if you do, drop a comment, and educate me! Cant be more honest than that.  

Skill Gap – 3 : Doing Something Practical About It

Published February 4, 2015 by vishalvkale

The MBA is considered among those courses that are a ticket to a good life and earnings, it is considered among the most-sought after qualifications a person can have – if done from the right institution. To some, it is one of the most hyped courses, while to others, it is the only target and the only qualification. And yet, this course and its degree holders are the one that are among the most challenged. Similar is the situation with other professional courses at the Graduate and Post Graduate Level, in particular Engineering. 
And yet, surprisingly, it is the students of these courses that are finding getting a job to be a tough ask. Outside the top few colleges, placements are a real challenge. Even in cases where placements are done, the right job or a lucrative job is rare, to say the least. Placements usually require a compromise on the part of the student, who is understandably keen to land any job in this tough market. And even then, a good number have to remain jobless
Further, we are seeing a stunning spectacle of seats going unfilled in MBA colleges, and the closure of institutions. For example, as this article clarifies, 147 schools closed down last year. For a nation which is supposed to be going through a skill shortage, this is both sad as well as surprising. On one side, companies are crying skill shortage, bemoaning the lack of quality trained manpower, and on another – the institutions which can provide the manpower to companies- MBA, Engineering and other colleges are going through strain – either closing, or unable to attract students, or are going jobless, in a classic case of the supreme irony! This would even be a laughable joke, if it werent so tragic at so many levels…
This points to a deep seated problem at two levels – firstly on the part of hiring managers and organisations, as I delved into some detail in previous articles on my blog : Skill Gap and Skill Gap 2. In these articles, I noted the sad and pitiable status of training cutting across functions in companies; as well as the reluctance of companies to get into the situation, roll up their sleeves and craft a solution to the problem. 
Given the reluctance of the organisations to do anything about it, I can only conclude that these organisations lack the skill sets required to craft a solution to this vexing issue, something I shall go into greater detail in my next article on this matter. We then have no choice but to look at the other side of the equation, given that the people actually facing the problem have no intention of either solving it, or lend a helping hand in solving it. 
The second level of the problem is within the MBA courses and colleges itself, who in my experience have both the willingness as well as the ability to craft a solution. As a matter of fact, much of what I state will already have been thought of in colleges across the nation, of that I am certain. The key question here should be, what can these institutions do that is doable as well as logical?
Here again, there are two levels : one relatively easy, requiring little specialised knowledge and readily doable over a short time-frame; and the other exceptionally hard and time-consuming, requiring deep specialised knowledge and conceptual clarity of a high degree. The first is increasing industry-college linkages, and the other refurbishing the design of the MBA {or the core curriculum in degree courses} course itself. This article dwells on the first aspect only, given that the second is rather a tall order, especially for a blog post. 
The moot point in this is that the industry has shown itself to be completely unwilling to engage itself with colleges and institutes outside the top few in a meaningful manner, restricting their interaction to giving pointless and empty feedback regarding what students lack : in effect, brushing their hands off the problem and walking away! This leaves the colleges and the students both up a creek, so to speak : hunting for vague meaningless terms like “soft skills”!
The net result is that the people facing the problem in full : the students, the colleges {in particular the placement and administrative cells} – have little precise knowledge of exactly what the industry requires, for the perfectly simple reason that no one in the industry has ever taken the trouble of telling them in function and role-specific terms as to what is required. The reason for that, as we shall subsequently see in the follow-up to this article, is that companies themselves haven’t even a farthing’s idea as to what exactly this ethereal and by now almost legendary skill gap is in practical terms. 
Thus, the people who should know, dont; and the people who are the interface, the people who can link to the students and sort out this mess – the professors and teachers – cannot help in the absence of information. This leaves the gap open for vocational training services, which come at a cost, and, while effective no doubt, can with a little thought be made far more effective and pertinent. 
The solution is simple : catch onto professionals who would like to make a difference. Please note my usage of words, carefully : I did not state hire professionals as teachers and professors. I stated clearly, catch the professionals who want to make a difference. Trust me, if colleges across the nation make a determined effort, they will find ready talent across functions and levels – Engineers, Doctors, Managers, Marketers, Finance Specialists : the whole lot of professions – who would want to make a difference. All they require is an alternative, one which offers them a career option. 
I also did not state increase salaries to the level of the industry; the reason is straightforward. The industry can always pay more, there is zero chance of all institutions matching industry packages. Some might, but certainly not all. Second, there is the hope factor: so long as you are in the rat race, there is always a hope that you will get the promotion or the new job. Third, matching packages will run the risk of attracting people who are in it for the money, not for the love of the profession. What is required is giving entry to professionals, and a decent package that can ensure a decent life. That is it. 
Next, set up expectations from these professionals, in a defined framework; a framework that asks them to give some value addition from their industry experience. These cross-over professionals should be clear in their mind that their task involves both covering the syllabus as well as grooming students for corporate life. Interaction with such professionals in a classroom over a sustained period of 2-3 years is bound to have a powerful impact. This will of course require tweaking in the class allocations, with additional time being given to such professionals, alongwith some performance measurement criteria in terms of deliverables. Critically, for this to succeed, this has to be taken up with an almost missionary zeal. The make or break will be the professionals you hire, who should share this zeal and passion. 
The start will perforce be slow; but it has to be done. For in my considered opinion, as I shall cover in the next article, the industry cannot be relied upon to sort out this mess; it just does not have the requisite skill sets for this. Neither is the training institutes route a permanent solution; these are excellent; no doubt : but are hamstrung on two parameters : firstly, low acceptance in the industry, and second, high resistance to external intervention by industry as well as colleges, which is completely understandable. This will have to go hand in hand with a solution to another problem that is also a core issue : the availability of the proper study material at the right price and in the right language : which is a massive, massive issue… but that is an entirely different story, to be taken up in the concluding article in this series…