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Corporate India : Understanding The Ethical Dilemma

Published December 16, 2014 by vishalvkale

This is the second part of the article of Is This Business? Professionalism? Planning? Management?


We looked at some real-world examples of the result of unethical behaviour in the Corporate World in the previous post linked above; these can be easily added to by the simple means of a google search; any number of real cases will appear for ready consideration. As I asked in the conclusion of the previous article, why does this happen? 


There is no simple answer to this; I personally refer to this as the Ethical Dilemma that each new employee is faced with. At this juncture, let us all move away from the oft-repeated excuse that we are a corrupt society, and this is the way things happen. That is not the issue here; the focus here should be to understand the underlying factors that result in on-the-job unethical behaviour, and how are they rooted in core corporate concepts, processes and methods. 


It is only through such an exercise that we can evolve new processes that can alleviate the problem. The objective is not Gandhian or some abstract social change paradigm; I am a hard-core, hard-wired corporate professional, and my objective here is only to assist in creating a more smoothly functional organisation that can deliver better bang for the buck while remaining within legal and moral parameters; in fact – harness ethics and ethical behaviour as an asset, rather than as a liability that most people currently believe it to be. It can be done; that is certain. All it requires is a process-centered approach and an iron-will…


UNDERSTANDING THE WORD ETHICS IN THE BUSINESS WORLD

In this article, I shall focus on the ethical dilemma; we shall subsequently look at some processes in the 3rd part of this mini-series. Before we move into corporates, let us establish the bedrock : our society. Whether we like it or not, the current trend is that morality and straightforwardness is not an asset in the modern world, with corruption being almost endemic, and there being an almost ubiquitous belief in “duniyadaari” or being worldly wise. And most discussions on ethics are brushed aside by saying you need to be worldly wise. Keep this in mind; this is a vital attitude that we will return to later in the 3rd part, as it betrays a lamentable lack of understanding of  a few basic concepts. 


To be frank; such an attitude is neither here nor there, and is in reality totally irrelevant. There are only two terms that are relevant to us : being ethical, and being naive. If you open all your cards in a business negotiation, you are not being ethical; you are being naive, and foolish. This has nothing to do with ethics! As another example, if your channel partner is not giving adequate focus to your business, then the question of how to proceed is not one of ethics, it is a straight and simple business question, and has nothing to do with ethics. 


We need to be specific : what do we mean by the term ethics? By that, let us be clear  that we are referring to illegal behaviour, actions and steps that are against standard societal norms, and such actions that will eventually lead to loss to the organisation in the long term due to their being focused on individual gain. Let us qualify this last point with one caveat : unless short term steps are deemed to be necessary for short-term organisational survival, and documented as such by the concerned management.



THE ETHICAL DILEMMA

Let us start with an example; you are in a negotiation with a prospective business partner. In the course of negotiations, you hold back certain information; as I stated before, that is a standard and indeed essential practice. But this needs to be clarified : all information that is pertinent to the decision of the business partner as well as is vital for a long term association needs t0 be revealed; holding that back is unethical. Such is the fine line between ethical and unethical behaviour in a business situation. 


Furthermore, there is also a very high degree of probability that the above may be against the law, which mandates release of all pertinent information in a business contract. Be that as it may, the decision as to what is pertinent is a very situational parameter, and requires experience. Look at it this way : if the Channel Partner is looking for a long-term association with a solid or upcoming brand with a clear way forward, whereas you are in it only to solve a short-term crisis without having any long-term intentions, there is a potential fundamental disconnect. If your brand then does not have a clear way forward in terms of new products, marketing activities and their range & scope, and you nevertheless imply or commit that you do, then you are in unethical territory. 


So long as you give complete disclosure, that you need a business partner urgently, can provide a solid business case to the potential partner, and can meet objections, you are fine. All you have to do is identify the core non-negotiable points of the other party, and what points can be negotiated on, and build your case on them. But the moment you cut corners, and start lying, you are on suspect ground. This leads to a disconnect between the partner and the organisation upon the start of business when the partner learns that there is no clear way forward – leading to him or her withdrawing from the business. 

This is just one example of the ethical dilemma, wherein professional falter  : my KRAs versus Solid Business Logic. The inability to connect the two is the ethical dilemma; the word dilemma means specifically “a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially ones that are equally undesirable“. Here the choice is the unpalatable choice of breaking norms and lying to achieve the goal, versus the equally unpalatable choice of having to struggle hard while keeping on the right side of ethics. 



UNDERSTANDING THE ETHICAL DILEMMA


Why should the employee be faced with such a hobson’s choice : KRAs, or Ethics? The next question then comes automatically : Are the two really mutually exclusive under current circumstances? Or is the entire feeling of a totally different origin? Or is it that both the KRAs as well as the other factors need consideration and reworking? And what are these other factors? 

One thing needs to be clear at the outset : the question of ethics is fundamentally an individual decision, an individual choice. And yet, we see the improbable sight of a large number of people sacrificing ethics at the altar of the rat race, the race to succeed, to survive, and to get ahead. This is the single largest indicator that there is something, some fundamental weakness or oversight within the core processes of the companies that either catalyzes or fails to check unethical behaviour. No company states unethical behaviour as acceptable; 100% frown upon it, and yet large swathes of companies are struggling to bring unethical conduct under control, which is a strange paradox. 

Optimally, the ethical dilemma should not occur to employees in the first place; ethics should support and in fact strengthen the business process. That they dont is a manifest reality, as indicated in the examples I mentioned in the first article linked above. Granted that in the real world, there will always be difficult choices and borderline cases; but that does not take away from this core reality. 

Since the choice is one of individual behaviour, and is made with an objective to achieve some business goals, KRAs automatically become a part of the discussion. So does the entire system that the employee is exposed to; why is the employee having to make such decisions on a regular basis? KRAs, Relations with superiors, Support systems, Checks and Balances, external environment all come into the gamut of discussion. For the ethical dilemma may be that of an individual, but it is of an individual who is a part of a larger system, which shapes as well as influences the thinking and decision making of the individual. 

The key point, the way forward is to understand the functioning at an organisational level, and plot the pulls pressures and developments in both the organisation and the external atmosphere it operates in. The reason is simple : we are in business for profit, not an NGO for social development. We need to plot a way forward that is largely ethical, that rewards ethical conduct, and that does not instill a feeling of threat while being ethical; all the while operating in the external atmosphere as it exists in the modern day – and we certainly arent living in a Utopia. 

This is the subject of the 3rd part of this series… 
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The Experience Of Life…

Published November 12, 2014 by vishalvkale

Life… Volumes have been written on this topic, and by far more qualified and knowledgeable writers than myself. I dont profess to understand or explain life; this post is more a mirror of my mind, and an attempt to come to terms with the range of conflicting emotions that rage through my mind every so often; an attempt to understand myself… with the fervent hope that others who are going through the same thoughts can draw some inspiration and learnings

This chain of thoughts was triggered on my Father’s funeral pyre, on the 29th of September 2007. As Dad was consigned to the flames, in between the tears and the memories, the one thought that crashed through my mind that all we had left were his memories; in that moment, his plot of land, his money and his worldly possessions meant nothing to me. His achievements, considerable though they were; were of no importance. This realisation, this experience {I cant call it anything else} hit me hard; it flashed through my mind like a lightening bolt…

It has been 7 years since then; I still haven’t gotten over Dad’s death. An year later, I lost my Mom; much the  same realisation hit me with double force and impact. That, and one additional thought : in the end, both went as they came; alone, and with empty hands. On that last journey, Dad and Mom went alone. All alone. As the pyre burnt, my mind wanted to be in that burning wood, with my Dad. As the waters closed around my Dad’s ashes at Rajendra Prasad Ghat at Varanasi, I wanted to be there with him… but he  went alone. All alone… as did Mom. 



MOVING ON…

As time passed, these feelings were suppressed; my life restarted . The daily grind of my life took over… the job, the KRAs, the performance… the salary and the daily needs of myself, and my family. For, as Sai Baba has rightly said, as long as we are in this body, the needs of the body and the world are a real and present fact, and it is our duty to do our duty to our family and ourselves. Further, beyond salary – the needs of pride, and of growth are also real, and vital – they fuel confidence, and ability – in ourselves as well as in our families.  Not only that, as you grow in abilities and position, the dependence, trust and confidence of your staff and their families also rests in you, as their team leader. You become far more than an individual, and more of a leader who drives the hopes and lives of your teams, howsoever small or large may these teams be. Thus, these real-world issues cannot be forgotten; one cannot and should not run away. 

Time continues to pass; but the memory, that startling lightening bolt, was never far from my mind; I would always recall that pyre where Dad went up in flames; those waters where I last saw my Dad vanish form sight.They would come back to me every so often; perhaps once every few months. And I would recall that they left everything behind. It lies till this day, by and large, the entire inheritance.

And, slowly but surely, I began to notice the real world around me : as I noted in my earlier series The Curse Of Poverty {The Curse Of PovertyThe Curse Of Poverty 2The Curse Of Poverty 3The Curse Of Poverty 4}. I began to notice both the good – {our achievements as a nation, my achievements, those of the people around me, the good in my family, the people at large} – as well as the bad – {corruption, the two-faced nature of people, crime, rampant lawlessness, excessive materialism, self-centered attitudes}. This last bit – both in myself as well as in others, to be honest. And I began  to ask questions. 

Questions to which I had no answers. Still dont. 

From one of the above posts : {And my heart screams – why, God, why? Why has it got to be so? What have we done that is so wrong, so brutally amoral that generations of Indians have to suffer this terrifying curse of abject poverty? What have we done to deserve this? My mind deserts me, and my heart goes vacant… for a moment – just for a moment – I can think of nothing else. At that point, I feel no rage, just a queer emptiness and a total helplessness in the face of such insurmountable odds

The evidence of poverty is to be found everywhere: on the roads in the form of the roadside hutments, the labourers in the sun, the carefree and scantily clad children playing around doing nothing, the poor and bare hutments in villages, the kuchha roads in the villages, the series of villages with landless peasants, villagers lounging about the chai shop with nothing to do, women with a old faded sari, the malnourished and famished children and adults both, the beggars in cities and towns alike… and my mind wonders… when will we be free of this terrible scourge? 

Raasta bahut lamba hai… manzil milon door hai, aur jaanaa kis taraf hai abhi toh yeh bhi maalum nahi hai. Magar tabhi- doosre kshan, mujhe kuchh aur dikhai detaa hai…

Har chehre par muskan; a smile on every face; the joy on the children’s faces; the sheer delight as the mother gives them what she has to eat; the laughs of the men on the chai shop, the animated discussions of the labourers, the happy faces of the women as they talk while going about their chores, the carefree delight on the children… and I wonder in admiration at these people’s spirit… }. 

From another post : “An old lady had spread her “padar” in front of me, looking for alms. I was about to brush her off, but something stopped me. I dont know what it was, but I was halted in my tracks. I looked at her, and recalled that I routinely spend far more on personal effects… I can spend 100+ for my pleasure, but cant spare even a single rupee for the needy. Just that thought came to me, and I automatically opened up and gave her some money. I wasnt much, but it was a rupee. It was several rupees – enough for her to get a vada paav

I wont claim lofty idealistic claims like “My heart felt nice on giving” or such sentimental drivel. Truth be told, my heart was heavy even after giving, as I realised I cannot do anything of any real value, neither can I give to everyone who approaches me. Truth be told, there was even a fleeting thought in my mind : “I did something nice today” – which takes away any credit that I might deserve : true giving means you do it out of your feeling for the destitute- not for any good-feel for yourself



THE POINT OF THE ARTICLE

With the passage of time, with age and experience, with team leading and level-up experiences and the attendant ups and downs, I learnt to come to terms with these barrage of thoughts that cascaded in my mind every so often. Life moved on. And the moment I came to terms with these strong overpowering emotions rising like a tide within me – a new and far more enriching view of life came in front of me. I still haven’t fully come to terms with this; so I cannot be very specific; but I shall try to put my point across. 

When I learnt to put it all together, the ups and downs of my life, my positive and happy attitude throughout both the ups and downs, the inconsistencies of life, the inequalities, the achievements and the challenges, the crippling problems around us – and the smiles and cheer  in the midst of these problems : one glaring inconsistency, or paradox occurred to me slowly and surely. A realisation that both is a path  forward as well as a challenge, a key to peace and stability of mind and mental satisfaction. 

In the end, there is nothing, Nothing, except your memories, your words, and your nature that people recall. What then, is the purpose of life? Earning far more than what we need – not stating vairagya here – referring to more than we need for a comfortable existence? What is the point of growing in your career, if you cannot benefit your team, and the society at large? Especially, since on your death, nothing will remain yours, except your deeds?
What is the point of challenging and breaking laws just to earn money? Is it not far better to grow while benefiting people? To do deeds that add value to society, and to the community? Is it not possible to both grow in comforts, stature and position, while also being a benefit to society? To do something that will give something back to  society? To do something that put some meaning into the mundane experience of life? To do something that will make life, your job and your time on earth meaningful?

I am not a communist; or a socialist. Capitalists help the economy grow, help feed the stomachs, growths and ambitions of millions of people in India and the entire capitalist world. Neither am I trying to change the world; these are questions that I still havent answered. My point is : if when we die, we leave behind nothing that is ours – except our words, our nature and our deeds, then why not concentrate on doing deeds that ensure that we are remembered when we are no more?

The house will be transferred to your children’s name. The money will go to their accounts, and get spent. The trophies will adorn the mantlepiece or the showcase for a period of time, then get packed or junked. The records you make will be erased with time. The world will move on; but your good deeds and your contributions to people will be remembered long after you are dead and gone. 

Isnt it a far better deal to do something that will make you immortal? Isnt it far better that you utilise your talents, as well as the benefits you have enjoyed and earned in positive ways, giving meaning to your life, and your time on earth? The needs of the body and the family- all the way from food to prestige – will still need fulfillment; but cant there be a middle path, a way to do something that will help alleviate the unfortunate? Or help to benefit people {not necessarily just the poor – students, or science – as per the individual talent and capability}


Does my life have a meaning? A real meaning? If so, what is that meaning? This is as far as I have got in my thinking… till life, salary needs, KRAs, family intervenes, bringing me back to reality… this is a post written from my heart; so please ignore if it sounds a bit disjointed… this post is a mirror, a window into my heart, and my soul… 

The Skill Gap – 2 : The Way Forward; Focus On What You Can Change

Published July 1, 2014 by vishalvkale

I am penning this article based on my experience as a corporate guy with nearly 16 years work experience cutting across Indian companies, as well as MNCs. What makes me slightly different is that I have been a visiting faculty in 3-4 management institutes, and have managed to develop relationships with quite a few students. These institutes range from top ones to unknown ones, and thus represent the entire cross-spectrum.

I am also an active blogger, and regularly attend blogger meets across platforms like Indiblogger and Blogadda, where I meet and mix with teens, 20-somethings as well as 30-somethings.

Thus, I have seen the so-called “unskilled” people at 4 levels –

* hiring manager;

* team leader / area manager / segment manager / regional manager;

* Professor and/or guide

* Friend, or group member, having been talking to and conversing with them as one of them.



THE BACKDROP

As I observed in my previous post on this – The Great Indian Skill Gap, the so-called Skill Gap is vastly different from the perception. I have read several news articles that wax eloquent on this, as well as a few surveys – all have the same verbiage and meaning; but fall short on specifics, Furthermore, most are a survey of hiring managers, and are frankly based on the gift of gab. This is by no means in the category of an exhaustive research. 


The answers to the questions are based on personal experience, and the background of that experience, the company policies, industry realities, specifics KRA requirements etc is not taken into account. 

The phraseology is wonderfully indistinct, and proves nothing either way. What does “lack of technical competencies” mean in specific terms? It can mean anything under the sun. It needs to be specific, this is just a general statement. This statement can also be construed to mean that companies are setting the bar way too high. This is way too general a statement, and we can draw no conclusion based on this. The technical competencies vary widely with the role, function and the industry. There can be no generalisation; we can conclude nothing based on these reports. 

Frankly, it could also mean that employer expectations are rising too fast, and employer willingness to invest in training is waning too fast. This hypotheses has not been tested; hence, one simply cannot draw the conclusion that there is a skill gap from such data unless the reverse hypotheses is tested, and not on hiring managers, but on a more exhaustive research. Only then can we state anything for certain!


ABOUT SKILL SETS AND COMPETENCIES

It is not about setting the bar high; it is about hiring for skills that are just not required for on-the-job performance! Our intake process does not measure KRA-Specific skills, but rather wavers all over the place, including all and sundry items in addition to job-specific skills in the guise of gauging personality. And the fun of it is that this judgement is passed by people who themselves have precisely zero knowledge of psychology, or personality! The entire process is highly subjective and prone to error which is perhaps why frequently positions go unfilled or hiring gets delayed. 

And the description “technical competencies” cannot be so vague – especially not in a high-level report, on which basis strategic vision documents are created. It has to be specific – and it will vary from industry to industry. For example, for underwriting in insurance, the core skill is knowledge of documents & their veracity; basic finance; insurance theories, concepts and processes; and so on. No college teaches these skills; and oral communication is not a pre-requisite. Neither is an excellent knowledge of English a requirement, given that documents can also be presented in the Vernacular. 

Anything else is frankly immaterial insofaras underwriting is concerned. A similar case can be stated for other functional skills – the moment you go specific, you realise that the organisations are equally responsible for bloating the entire affair out of all proportion. I say this as I have seen all sides of the coin – the college, the young brigade as well as the company side. Whether or not the candidate can speak English is immaterial, as is any other point not mentioned as a core skill. Not all jobs require you to be technically savvy, or speak English at all {let alone fluently}

The focus on hiring managers in survey after survey is fallacious; this requires a deeper research to get a handle on this entire matter, which is far too complex to rely on one set of individuals alone. Few hiring managers are skilled in psychology, and yet “bad attitude”, and “personality mismatch” feature as rejection reasons. How can a person who has zero knowledge of psychology pass judgement on these parameters? Far more critical, how can any decision on future direction be taken on the pronouncements of these people?


TRAINING SCENARIO

How much emphasis is placed on training? How much emphasis is placed on skilling the candidate in specific KRA-designed training programmes by companies? Nil. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Nothing. Cipher. Induction programmes are unimaginative affairs, listing things a simple google search will reveal. You require an induction for that? What for?

How many hours are devoted to periodic training that is KRA specific by companies? Again, very near zero. Training is looked upon as a waste of time by line managers. A training programme nomination is looked upon as a warning, as is treated as a first step to sacking by more than a majority of line managers. Periodic training to refresh skill sets is absent across functions. Simple fact.

How can you blame candidates or universities in such a scenario? The companies are not willing to invest in their own people, whom they call “assets”, and want to earn profits from their performance? Furthermore, no company is wanting to engage with universities and colleges outside the top 10-15, and communicate with and work with these colleges. Arent the companies a part of our society, our culture? Shouldnt they do it – if not for nationalist feeling, then out of a pure play profit motive?

I am not absolving the colleges of the blame – just making a simple point that this is far too complex a matter. 


THE WAY FORWARD – THE CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE  

Let me clarify. I once had occasion, during my tenure as a visiting faculty, to check what my students are using as study material. The non-regular students were using translations into the vernacular; these students were further not in the A-Graders, or even B-Graders. Now companies immediately scream at this juncture : English Problem! No Skills! Prima Facie, this seems logical, and spot-on. Except, on deeper analysis, this is exposed as a fallacious impression. 

First, is the knowledge of English mission critical? In most roles, it isnt. Fact. Then why reject because of this? Next, how do you expect a student from the heartland and hinterland, schooled in poor schools or local languages to upgrade to flowing top-level English in the space of a heartbeat? Impossible – it cant be done! Does this mean that this person has no talent whatsoever? 

The next point follows from this – if the person cannot even understand English, how can anyone expect him to be functionally an expert, or at a par with those who can, given that most top-level books are in English? At this point, companies reject, scream “Skill Gap” and wash their hands off the entire matter. Seems logical – except that it is anything but, as deeper thought reveals.

As Corporate India moves into the smaller towns / smaller colleges in big towns for its hiring, this is going to be a persistent problem. This is not really a problem – it is a signal that Corporate India is not in sync with the ground realities, and needs to modify its processes and procedures, and undergo serious introspection. 

The reality is that only the creamy layer is exposed to good schooling; this is an external reality. Hindi / Marathi / Bengali / Tamil / Telugu etc are the medium of instruction. Corporate India has yet to realise this reality, let alone accept it. Books and quality material, access to resources are absent in this layer. Schools and parents alike cant afford it. This is a hard reality. 

Does this mean that this entire set of people, or a large majority among them, is not worth hiring? Has anyone given them a chance, by proper timely training interventions before deployment on the job / regular interaction with college managements and faculties and such like? No! Then how can you assume that they cant perform, when you are using standards of judgement that they just cannot meet, and are therefore manifestly unfair? 

This isnt socialism – I am talking pure capitalism and perfect business sense. You have a vacancy; you have candidates who have passed an exam pertaining to that required skill set; and you dont hire! You choose – note that – actually choose – to leave the vacancy open in a hyper-competitive market! Amazing! 

Not one corporate in my experience has tried to retrain these people. And, sadly and shockingly, in corporate India itself there are people who have overcome these handicaps, reskilled themselves, and succeeded – thereby proving that this is a gap that can be bridged. And if it can be bridged, it ceases to be a gap, and becomes a ground-level challenge that needs attending to. 

Trust me – there are students who are raring to go, given a chance at reskilling. It is in corporate interest to give them that chance. Either that – or cry skill gap, leave positions vacant and impact your business competence. Corporates are running away from the problem, not trying to solve it. 

They are a part of this nation; they are a part of this society. That they should get in, dirty their hands and get it done is beyond debate. The pay-off? Talent. And there is plenty of latent talent – try interacting with these students. I did. And was stunned, humbled and shameful. 

Remember : Focus on what you can change, the circle of influence. The socio-economic factors, the schooling issues are way too complex and are in the circle of concern. Changing that will require decades- and you want business performance in the near term. 

My point is that this is not so simple, and has many, many facets and roots – Socio-Cultural, Economic, Political, Business etc. This does not lend itself to simple and-or situations. In the meantime, we in Corporate India need people. 

Any youngster will have dreams and aspirations, that is natural. It is the absence of dreams that is a problem, not how tall they are. Similarly, not all can communicate their feelings and thoughts. That is again a human trait. Does this mean that all those who cant communicate are worthless, and have no talent? Obviously no. What is needed in counselling – which is not done, or proper guidance as to what suits which person. This is the most significant gap in educational systems. 

What can WE do should be the question? That is our circle of influence. Remember – we require people as much as they require jobs. Our need is in some ways greater than theirs. We can either sit and cry as to the failures of the system – or roll up our sleeves, plan and execute strategies that will bridge the gap. The latter course is a sure guarantee of success. The former isnt. 

What we can do is step in, fill the perceived gaps in chosen institutes that have the potential of meeting our needs, and work with these institutes round-the-year, through monthly seminars with students, one-on-one counselling sessions,and other such activities. This will cost next to nothing, and give us a strong understanding of the prospective candidates to boot. In the pressure for immediate results, we forget to nurture new talent; we set the bar too high due to our internal deliverables which are demanding, so say the least. The need of the hour is a long-term approach. To be specific, choose and target specific colleges in smaller towns and cities – Indore, Bhopal, Varanasi, Surat, Nasik, Akola, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Bhuj, Agra etc. Work with these places – you will get talent, and at a lower cost. Win-win situation 

This will also go a long way in reducing employee turnover, reduce stress, build engagement. Survey after survey is showing rise of dissatisfaction, unbearable stress, physical diseases, mental diseases in Corporate India. 


In my experience, students do respond to counselling, and proper guidance. Problem is, they dont have anyone to approach for help and guidance. We can play that role. The pay-off? Talent. Assured talent, and tie-ups with institutes that will last years, as also fulfilling your CSR mandates in a sure way.

Tackling Employee Dissatisfaction

Published December 9, 2013 by vishalvkale

The trend in Employee – Organisation relationships, as brought out in a few recent surveys, shows a majority of the employees are not engaged with the organisation; that the dissatisfaction levels are very high. Alongside this fact is the lament – or statement from organisations that they are making the organisation more employee friendly. And yet, there is no discernible impact on dissatisfaction levels in general – which are, if anything – rising. 

Reason for that is not one single attempt has dealt with the core issue/s at hand – why are the employees dissatisfied? Why are they disengaged? In my experience no one has even tried to attempt this. As a result, the efforts at engagement are centering around employee activities, rewards and recognition, feel-good programmes, dress-up and dress-down days, cafeteria enhancements, remuneration and emoluments, Saturday half-days which are applicable only to the HO, Gift programmes, intranet links and mailers, parties etc. Not one of these has worked; in fact – the exact reverse. All have boomeranged, and boomeranged big-time.

The reality is that these programmes have either no discernible impact, or indeed serve only to embitter the employee. For example, Saturday offs / Half-Days. These are usually enjoyed only by HO staff; more often than not the branches remain open. At times, even on Sundays – due to the proverbial “driven” boss, who has nothing better to do with his time – and walks in. Result? Your employee-friendly policy goes out the window, and actually causes deep resentment as you realise that the HO staff – or your classmate in Mysore – is relaxing at home! 

Another example: gift programmes, emoluments, Rewards and Recognition. The shoddy implementation of these, in place of acting as motivators, act as severe de motivators due to 2 strong reasons – first, lack of transparency in the process combined with a top-down approach which leaves simmering discontent among the staff, who are not convinced regarding the winners or the people getting appreciation. The general contention is that the favourite got it; its not for us. Secondly, the cut-offs or targets set for appreciation or Gifts is either not communicated properly – or is ridiculously high. The belief is that an unachievable target will drive the employees. The result? More pressure, as the boss makes it a prestige issue. The supposed Reward gets converted into an added target, and more reason for pressure. Result? Good-bye motivation, Good-bye engagement – and Hi There, Dissatisfaction! 

A third example – those lovely cafeterias, game rooms and other facilitators.  An excellent idea, one would think – except the moment the boss walks in – you walk out, or be tagged a loiterer! If that does not happen – in walks the boss, Milk Shake in hand, sees you… Bang! Meeting Chalu! Lets start the meeting. You have no option but to respond. Midway, one of you gets an idea. Out comes the Cellphone, in comes the entire team – and lo and behold, Good-bye game room / cafetaria and Welcome New Meeting Room! Next time, I Me Myself and others at my level make it a point to walk all the way to the cutting chaiwaalaa – individually, mind you (at the most in pairs) – have a cup of tea, spend 15 minutes cursing everyone and his uncle – and back to work! 

There is no systemic check on such blatant abuse of power, and total lack of personal space to the employee. What is worse, most of us do not see it as an encroachment of personal space. Furthermore, none of the relationship improvement efforts attempt to solve the real problems plaguing the corporate world, where what one actually does is in complete variance with our value systems, as well as frequently openly against the law. The lack of Job Security is a further dampener. The total absence of leaves (even if pushed, insecurity forces employees not to take leaves) is an added burden. This is complicated by a lack of security once outside the job. Not only that, a total lack of career planning for employees & no training for skill upgradation is another factor. And, as the icing on the cake, you have the other factors – lack of personal space, too much pressure, constant monitoring etc. The real problems are:

  • The penchant to take unhealthy or even illegal shortcuts; 
  • Pressure to conform rather than be an individual;
  • Pressure tactics; 
  • Hire-and-fire policies; 
  • Lack of proper training and career clarity 
  • Long work hours; 
  • General Lack of transparency unfair PMS
  • Lack of personal time and 
  • Downright unhealthy work atmoshpere cutting across levels and functions.


If you want the employee to be engaged – stop all the frankly ridiculous attempts at engagement – and:

  1. Start enriching his/her job; 
  2. Give him/her security; 
  3. Enable strong checks and balances against misuse of power;
  4. Intolerance towards unhealthy business practices and illegal acts – even at the cost of marketshare 
  5. Shorten work hours; 
  6. Invest in training
  7. Give personal space; \
  8. Empower employees and 
  9. Free from ridiculous levels of control. Thats it.


Nothing else is required. One straight, frank and blunt feedback – whenever such programmes, or measures are announced, I have heard snide remarks as well as foul language. Real foul language. It is a common statement – why should we do anything for the company, when it does nothing for us? Whats in it for me? I’ll stay here for 1-2 years and move on! How can anyone be engaged in such an atmosphere? Impossible!

From personal experience in leading teams – nearly 70-80% of employees respond positively to kind and understanding handling, personal space and independence, time for personal activities, and total intolerance of unhealthy / illegal acts. But once you go down that road, you as the Boss pay for it. Blunt : I have received instructions to commit clear transgressions of law or company rules from Seniors more than once, and oblique hints as a general rule. Further, there is a general statement – if you can do this much with so little pressure, yaar “unki G@#$$ maaro business 20% growth hogaa. You are killing performance! This when the person is already touching 90-100% on targets! That is the reality of Corporate India. 

Things are beginning to change – since, for the first time, people are openly coming out in private conversations, HR confidential emails, blogs, newspapers etc. There is a general dialogue that has started; this bodes well. What is more, those speaking up span the entire spectrum from the juniormost to the seniormost, which is a healthy sign, a harbinger of change – positive change. One might even say that it is only to be expected that some things will go bad in times of rapid growth (such as India saw over the past few years till 2009). Having said that, now is the time to set things right again… here’s hoping that happens…

Shortcuts, Managers, KRA -Focus and Business Loss

Published July 12, 2013 by vishalvkale

A small incident in a retailer’s outlet today has set me thinking… I was asked by this retailer in Mumbai about a brand in telecom (a new local brand). I immediately replied that my experience of this brand in MP has not been too healthy; we had a common distributor, who was running to huge losses on account of several issues in terms of service failures and product failures. I shared this experience with him, and accordingly advised him to be careful. Note how a chance interaction in Indore has impacted a business deal 600 Kilometers away. I could not do otherwise: I, too, had a business dealing with him- and for the sake of that association, and maintaining trust – I had to be truthful with him. But this has impacted the other totally unconnected brand… 
And yet, corporate managers tend to disregard this for shortcut methods – only to attain short-term numbers. This is not an isolated incident: my mind went back some 12 years to when I was managing a packing assembly at Visakapattanam port. I was getting jacked daily for bagging losses, and was at wits’ end as to what to do. To cut a long story short, I was able to prove that the losses were due to a reason entirely out of my control, and slam-bang in procurement. The pressure eased; but no appreciation or regret was ever shared with me for the tough time I went through. In another incident, I came across a market that was destroyed on account of claim pendency and push-sales; from a high of 7200+ units, sales had crashed to negative 1100 units; the company concerned had to shell out huge amounts to the channel, and suffer business losses from that territory. I asked the supposed perpetrator as to why he did such foolishness – his answer floored me. “I survived for nearly 3 years, and have moved on. They (the bosses) were saying do – or quit. So, I did it, took the benefits and quit!” Such is corporate life.
Each of the 3 cases – real life, true cases – highlight how the company at large – which is supposed to be above the individual – has been taken for a right royal ride by individuals focussed on self, and used short-term tactics to further their own ends. The third case highlights how it is a chain, and how the pressure distorts perspective, and leads juniors on the same path. The cases above span functions – from procurement and materials to sales.  In each case, the losers are the employee who has been sacked, or not promoted; and the company, which has lost profit and marketshare. This is a simple truism – and yet short-termism is rampant – as Cobrapost and Ranbaxy as well as many, many other scandals have recently highlighted.
Quite simply, this is a systemic failure cutting across all functions; KRAs are not designed well enough to capture or arrest this reality; internal checks and balances are not identifying, isolating and checking errant behaviour; internal systems are not in pace with the external market. This is what is evident in most scandals as well as the cases above- the pressure to perform, and the fear of a job-loss is leading the weaker (or smarter – depending on your viewpoint) employees to take recourse to short-term tactics. 
How is it an acceptable business practice to send erroneous bagging material to a plant? How did it go unchecked? How is it a good business practice if your product fails 38% of the time? How is it an acceptable practice if your sales are growing at an alarming rate on the back of pressure sales involving heavy discounts, shy-high inventories, sky-high cheque bouncing, unordered material being pushed in, abject lies to channel partners etc? How is advocating – shall we say – innovative ways to save tax – an acceptable business practice? How is falsifying documents and data an acceptable business practice?
Unhealthy business practices ultimately hit the company and the economy hard: witness the Sub-Prime scam, and how falsifying documents and chasing crazy targets led to the greatest crash of modern times. The people who paid for it were not the ones who committed the errors: as my friend so glibly stated. The ones who pay are the customer who buys your faulty product; the employee who misses on a deserved raise, or who gets sacked, or who gets his career royally screwed. 
But, as scam and scandals have shown, it is the organisation who stands to lose the most – over and above all these. The economy will recover, employees will find new jobs and move on (again, like my friend) – but the company is stuck with the fruits of its past negligence. The company has to face the ire of regulators, of customers, of employees – everyone; and that too on a daily basis. The company, on occasion, loses its existence even – as innumerable examples will tell you. The company loses sales, marketshare and profit; it loses employees as well as market trust… 
And yet, there is rampant short-termism; it is everyone for himself… Anyone thinking of the organisation as a whole????? Doesn’t look like it – for if that was the case, these corporate scandals would not have happened. Furthermore, gone are the days when bad  tactics and their ill-effects could be limited to one area, as the opening example shows. The impact spreads, thanks to the free mobility of people as well as through the internet and social media. And it spreads fast, blindingly fast. There is no way you can limit the damage. 
In a city I visited, all the Channel Partners in the entire market had got together in a forum – the result was the the company was not able to find a distributor. Reason? sky high inventory holding, unsettled claims and lack of trust. Before you could adjust to this new reality, this forum had spread to the entire state. Instead of asking itself why the dealers and the channels ganged up, why were the claims not settled – the firm pulled up the local, regional and zonal sales teams! Excuse me, you dont settle claims, force 120 days stock down a partners throat, dont settle service issues in the entire product basket- and ask why did the forum start? All this, when the concerned Regional Manager was consistently following up on issues, and warning of things getting worse? The learning for us is the speed of the spread – it had even led to the entire central zone meeting up at Nagpur – all this in a matter of a short time. In the modern world, the power of the channel is increasing, lessening the ability of the short-term gamers to play their games. But, yet again, internal systems and employees are slow to respond. Too, too slow. 
And in all this, it is Brand India that is suffering… it is not my case that all of cororate India is like this; but the above are examples that I have observed often enough across industries, functions and levels. I can also state glorious examples from corporates – but that is not the purpose of my blog. I want to engender change – and one does not bring in change by skirting the real issues. And the real issue is that the market has changed, leaving companies behind. The reality is that short-termism needs to be stamped out ruthlessly – even at the cost of numbers and short-term targets – or you pay for it later. 
Jaago, Sonewaalon!

The Right Career Choice…

Published April 25, 2013 by vishalvkale

THE RIGHT CHOICE
The most important decision of our lives – the career choice – is frequently the one which gets the least serious in-depth thinking and analysis. There is a tendency among youngsters to follow the trend; or do something because everyone is doing it. This includes the MBA degree, Medicine – or whichever field you can think of. Even after you have completed your professional education, little thought is given to which organisation, or which specific work-field to go into. Yes, some people do give it deep thought and choose something they are passionate about, or talented at, or which suits them. But quite a few dont. This article is meant for those who dont. 
First, in my 14 years work experience, I have noticed something – and that is the unfortunate fact that earning money has little provable relation to doing something of your choice, or having a career that you are happy at. Innumerable employee satisfaction surveys have proven that most people are unhappy at their jobs; there is little work satisfaction. Paradoxically, most of these ladies and gentlemen are also earning good money – or at least enough money to afford a decent lifestyle. It isnt about money; the human mind,with its untapped and little-understood capacities, can overcome obstacles  and force the body to perform, thus ensuring that job requirements are met. But this is an adjustment; it has its costs in terms of health – physical as well as mental.
 It is possible to train your mind and body to do something you are not interested in; but with the passage of time, dissatisfaction at your daily routine creeps in. The practical needs of providing for self and family ensures regularity and performance on the job – but your mind is increasingly at odds with your reality. This has its tell-tale effects on your health as well – as can be seen with the rising incidence of lifestyle diseases as well as high Blood Pressure, Diabetes and Heart ailments. Yes, it is true that not all dissatisfied people get the above diseases – there are other causes for them. But even if you escape these diseases, the sceptre of dissatisfaction leaves you with a feeling of yearning, of a lack of something vital in your life. You dont enjoy your life and your job as much as you could have; your job becomes a mere tool to provide for your family. 
There is also another side to this – a bad career choice can lead to failure as well. This does not mean that you as a person have failed; just that you attempted to do something that you are not good at, or talented at, or interested in. Life can become a struggle for such people. That is why focus and attention needs to be given to oneself and one’s abilities at the right stage of your life – and that is during higher secondary school, or during undergraduate studies. 
The greatest obstacle in front of students in this endeavour is the students themselves; the total lack of interest in reading is a fundamental obstacle that will need to be overcome. Reading keeps you aware of latest trends, developments as well as exposes you to new career choices; it gives you ideas as well as develops your mind and enables an analysis of the self. Apart from this, students tend to disregard elders’ opinions. You as a student need to broaden your horizons, to make you better aware of the world around you and the options it offers. Taking this up with your peers, seniors and elders in the know will only broaden your horizons, expose you to new ideas; you dont have to accept everything they tell you. The decision is yours – it has to be yours. And to make a decision – you need information – which can only be garnered by the means stated above. 
Each individual needs to identity what areas he or she is good at, talented at or interested in; then all that remains is a choice of the most remunerative and attractive career option from among these. This does not mean you are guaranteed a successful career – just that you will be dong something you enjoy, or are good at. Life is a struggle – any way you look at it. A career of your choice (as opposed to the herd choice) will at least ensure that you are mentally at peace with what you are doing; this will give you a greater stress-bearing ability, as well as act as a force multiplier. Job disstatisfaction may still arise – but you will be in a better frame of mind to deal with it – and other challenges that come your way. For one thing is certain – challenges will come your way, whatever you may choose to do… but the right choice will give you a wider range of weapons to deal with the challenges…
In this series of 4 articles, I shall attempt to delve into this issue – that of career choice, as well as the Mid-Life crisis, and rampant lack of job satisfaction in greater detail. The last 2 have several other parameters apart from career choice that need to be taken into consideration – but that is another story…