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.