procedures

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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!
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Analysing The Telecom Tangle 1 – Systemic Risks

Published June 14, 2017 by vishalvkale

INTRODUCTION
The telecom sector has been in the news of late for all the wrong reasons – rising stress, high debt, loss making or low profitability, mergers, job losses and lot… this sector is one of the high-points of the India Growth story. For this to happen in this showcase industry seems strange from the outside… the reality is, in my opinion, the exact reverse. The seeds of the stress were sown right at the beginning; all hints to this reality were ignored, and by everyone. I do not recall anyone pointing these, self included; though I did come close, to be honest. Yet, when I now look back with my experience garnered since then – there can be no doubt : the seeds of the problems were inherent in the model itself…
SYSTEMS & PROCESSES
It wasn’t, for the most part, deliberate; the decisions that were reached were all rational decisions made by rational people. They may not have been the right ones, as we know from hindsight, but they were decisions reached with a strategy in mind, as we shall see. Also bear in mind that this was a new trade, with no established learnings, norms, procedures, case studies. In essence we were creating them as we went along. And this was the first, most critical point – we went wrong, as we focused on the end-results – new customer acquisitions – in isolation; there should have been equal focus on establishing industry firsts, processes, learnings, sharing of good practices, deep analyses etc. None of this was done for the levels that mattered. The result is there for all to see!
SYSTEMIC ISSUES – TRAINING
The next error that happened was frankly, stupid in the extreme – I make no bones about it. It was simply inexcusable – and it was simply this : there was never any training imparted to new employees as they came into the company, beyond the perfunctory induction training & some technical training. This is fine for old established trades, with established learnings and processes, and in-built mechanisms at team level. This was a disastrous decision for a new trade with none of these. These first two factors taken together sowed the seeds for disaster, as we shall see how they connected years down the line to create hell.  As a matter of fact, in a brutal indictment of the Telecom & Handset Trades, these two trades stand as the only trades where I have not received extensive training on joining the company. s
WHY IDENTIFY SYSTEMIC ISSUES FIRST?
Yes- there were other problems, as we shall see. You could make the case that the major issue was the investments are not justified by the market or its size. There may be some truth to this; an analysis of this is, however, not on the menu for this article. That too will be attended to, in the fullness of time. Please bear with me, as the aspect of the quantum of investments into the industry is deep, has many parameters, and ramifications in addition to a massive scandal associated with it from our past. So, let us leave that aside for the moment. My point is to first of all identify the systemic risks in the model of business as it was practiced on the field. This is because systemic issues create insolvable long terms, and become critical only over a long period of time.
So what do you do, once you have invested in the business? For starters – you are stuck with that decision, and then it is upto you to make the best you can out of it. And this is where the second phase of problems started, and right at the beginning. Mobile Telephony was a new concept to India; and the implied assumption might have been that customers don’t need education. This was especially so in the period prior to internet on mobile. You were in a new market, in a new industry, selling a new product. And when Data happened – this fledgling problem became a full-scale crisis…
AT THE FIELD LEVEL
The focus should have been on developing the market, deepening it; opening new customer lines; new markets; investing in finding new usages and the market sizes of these new usages {think data here}; studying how it can be a game-changer. If any of this happened-  it certainly didn’t percolate to the field levels, and most certainly did not show up in the customer communications. There was little effort to educate the customer, to create the market. The emphasis was always on acquiring new customers. That is by itself a laudable objective; the problem was that this  was the only present objective. By the time the realization sunk in that merely acquiring new customers is useless if they don’t contribute to the bottom and top lines of your company, the rot had set in.  
By this time, unfortunately, the teams were accustomed to getting customers by any means at their disposal – leading to a Brain Drain from the trade as well, as Channel Partners as well as elite employees realized early on that this was wrong, and quit back to their original trades. This was to hurt, and hurt the trade very badly indeed in the time to come. The complete absence of checks and balances to check misuse, {including out-and-out unethical tactics & short sighted approaches to sales} and short term tactics, or profitability over the long term, meant these practices became systemic- giving rise to a fourth systemic risk in the practiced Business Model.
PROFITABLE CUSTOMER ACQUISITION
There was never any genuine focus on profitable customer acquisition; this is something I did point out, and in my first few months in the trade, as I could not see the point of having a customer who purchased nothing! That said – I readily admit I did not foresee this getting to be an endemic serious and crippling issue in the trade. When the trade did wake up, the solution proffered was wrong; they started tracking calls, in the sense that sales targets were accepted basis first and second calls and so on. Will 2 or 3 or even 25 calls give you a profitable customer? Obviously not! The only answer should have been to move to revenue targets and per customer revenue, and all along down the line. This was never done, at least not till very late.
The core challenge in this trade is  the nature of the cash flow from Telecom service products, which is a service, and a recurrent revenue source. The employees had no idea of the accounting involved in such a different trade; being from product sales, wherein profitability calculations are far simpler. In this trade, a customer registers a profit only after regular usage of the service over a period of time. This should have been clear right from the start  till the last level of the organization – it wasn’t. I had to educate myself regarding the concept of profitability in such a scenario. The companies did not invest in training employees. It is only after studying the theory myself, including case studies {something laughed at by most salesguys} that I came to the realization of the risk of taking a strategy that did not cater to the risk imposed by the nature of the cash flows that emanated from the Business.
The result of this was a front, second and third line totally disconnected with profitability from operations. In a product sales scenario, so long as the pricing decisions have been & and are properly made, inventories planned out, and an intrinsic demand generated, profit is almost a certainly so long as demand continues to arise, and the scalability of the business attended to. However, this is not the case in Telecom Services, which is a recurrent revenue model, involving very different profit concepts. Unless the profitability is built into the strategies, the processes and the systems at field level – disaster is a foregone conclusion, at least at an industry-wide level.
The inability to ensure sufficient revenue per customer is a problem that has roots in this simple issue; it has, of course, since then grown into gigantic proportions, and with many other, more serious parameters now involved. We shall look at them in later parts of this Telecom Series. The key issue here is, had this been built into the DNA of the organization and the industry at the beginning itself, this would have been hard-coded into the entire company. Working with only  profitable customers would, could and should have been the buzzword for the trade. That it wasn’t the case is a Manifest Truth.
CONCLUSION OF THE FIRST PART
Yes, there are issues of marketing strategies involved – wherein you spread the net wide and then draw it in; was this strategy the best one feasible? Yes, in a fast-growth market, you need to grow in tandem with the Market- But that does not mean you incubate a series of deep systemic risks in your business model for too long, which is what happened! We know now, with the benefit of hindsight, that it clearly wasn’t the best way to go about it. The industry numbers tell the tale. A check was badly needed; had this check – that of profitable customers only – been there at the start, with a proper process and strategy behind it – in all likelihood, the situation would not have been as bad. For Business is always a matter of choices – and in this case, the choice apparently was between scale or profit. No one thought that it was feasible to develop a strategy of Building-Scale-With-Profit. And that was the biggest industry failure.

In the next parts – I shall go deeper into these systemic risks, and identify the way forward now for the trade, basis hard-core case studies from other industries I have since worked in, as well as my extensive reading of Business Literature from across the world. Stay connected! Furthermore, at no point do I deny the external factors that were to buffet this fledgling trade. My point is simply that the internal systemic risks made the entire system more susceptible to external environmental shocks…. 

Being Good – And Its Price

Published October 22, 2013 by vishalvkale

“Adjust”; “Learn to move with the times”; “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”; “Everyone does it”; “Do it for your own survival”; “If you have to grow, this is the only way” and many many other similar variations would have been heard by all of us on a routine basis. These would even form the basis of our thoughts as we go about our day-to-day life. These very thoughts would form the justification in our own minds as we bend the rules, and ignore the morality and the legality of our actions… The beauty of the situation is that the large majority of the people do not even stop, or even pause, for a moment – and analyse; is this really needed? Is there any other way to do it? Do I really need to break the laws of morality, legality and common business sense in order to achieve my ends? These are the questions that I intend to address in this post: Is it possible to be straight, decent and good in this modern world, especially considering the practical requirements of raising a family and meeting their legitimate desires? 
HOME AND FAMILY LIFE
Let us take a look at the home first, and then move on to the professional sphere, and examine the various choices that confront us in our day-to-day lives. Take the example of a driving licence. A large majority of us willingly pay up a bribe in the form of “agent fees” of around 1500 rupees, when the actual fees is in the region of a few rupees only. I dont have a driving licence- have had 2 or 3 learners licences, which expired when I did not pay the bribe – and did not find the time to go all the way to RTO office for renewal due to daily pressures. There is no need to pay a bribe here; one can afford to be good – the only cost is some inconvenience to us. Is this inconvenience so hard, that one has to pay a bribe? No! And yet. we pay up without a second thought! Similar is the case for most examples in the home: proper planning and time devotion will obviate the need for a bribe, or short-cut methods. And yet, how many of us take the easier path? Is it really needed? Yes, being good and straight here has a cost: it is that of your time. Only that, nothing more. 
The big question is, why dont we find the time? Why do we find it necessary to take a short-cut route? And, what do we lose if we take a little more time, and the attendant inconvenience? Do we really lose anything of practical significance by shouldering this inconvenience? The fact of the matter is that we dont. All it requires is take some time off. That is it. And yet, we take the easier path – for which, frankly, there is no justification whatsoever. It is your own home; if you wont find time for it, who will? Be it a DL, or a Gas connection – or anything else – the situation is the same. 
OFFICE AND PROFESSIONAL LIFE
This is where things get really interesting, as the price of being good escalates exponentially, and the choices become more tangled, and the risk and loss increases to uncomfortable- and at times- threatening levels. Unfortunately, in this sphere of our lives, the hard truth is that the loss incurred by being straight is normally a heavy cost; and it is for each of us to ask ourselves – is this cost so great that we abandon the right path, the straight and narrow – be become practical. And, given that families and children’s welfare depends on us, there is no right answer to this. Sad, but true. This is where the world is at; there is no escape from this reality, and no getting around this ugly fact. 
In your professional life, if you choose to play absolutely straight, and ignore the norms and practices of the trade you are in, you are liable to be labelled “satyavaadi harishchandra” or “saadhu” by the soft-spoken gentry, and plain and simple “chutiyaa” by the rest. Hard fact. For example, as a sales guy, if you choose to ignore the illegal or rough trade practices, you will not achieve as many numbers as those who do- not over the short term. The consequences of this can range from harassment from seniors, to low increments and no promotions – all the way to sacking. And this is no laughing matter; I myself have heard one of my bosses telling a vendor to beat me up if I didnt do something. I was lucky that the vendor wasnt as crooked…and let me listen in on loudspeaker on the mobile. This matter was raised with HR- who did precisely nothing! That, my dear friends, is the ugly reality. And let me tell you this was not an isolated incident; another comes to mind, when a complaint by 2 ladies was ignored, as the company closed ranks. Such incidences are not uncommon, as I am sure most of you have yourself encountered in some form or the other. 
All you have to do is look up what has happened to whistleblowers, and how they are targeted, of which we have seen examples aplenty. Now this is admittedly at the extreme end of the spectrum; but the rest of the spectrum also does not make for easy reading either. Neither is this restricted to any one vocation, but is in fact widespread. We can see this in the recent drug scandals, in the recent scams, as well as  in the cobrapost expose. Examples abound; what matters to us is the question, did the concerned professionals have a choice? Yes, they did: they could have played it straight. But would it have cost them? Yes – missed deadlines, missed targets, missed promotions, lower increments, loss of a job etc. And, in this hyper-competitive world, this is a big deal indeed. The systems is geared towards recognising those who achieve deadlines, results, targets – and, in this process, the ones who play by the book tend to get looked over – or victimised. 
THE CONCLUSION
Being good, thus has a well-defined price: be it the home, or be it the office. If you play straight, you will find it impossible to register a property, for example; or find it exceedingly stressful at the office. This justification is unfortunately a reality. And, given that each person is responsible to his or her family, the above justification becomes a powerful one; the survival instinct is after all paramount. Are we then to conclude that being good is now passe, out of fashion, and impractical? The data and facts tend to support such a position. The logic is seemingly flawless; we did it for survival, we didnt have a choice. But, then answer a question for yourselves, in your own mind: where do we draw a line? Where does practicality stop, and morality, legality, decency and professionalism take over? And, as we shall see in a later post, what about the systemic inefficiencies and deficiencies that are being promoted and anchored into our systems, organisations and psychologies? 

Values & Teamwork in Business and Education

Published September 16, 2013 by vishalvkale

To the Naval Officer with whom I had this discussion: If you are reading this, please accept my thanks for your Armed Forces training and job insights and our comparisons with organisational life and trainings; this idea came to me while we were engaged in our discussion, as you will hopefully recall…
As previously noted in earlier articles on my blog, corporate India has been shaken to its core by a recent series of scandals and scams that have cut across the entire spectrum almost; with the bad news coming from Mining, Pharmaceuticals, Banking, Telecom, Coal etc. I have previously argued in my blog of the need for introspection within the hallowed corridors of power in Corporate India, and of the need for a re-visit to the the basics to set things right. In the course of this analysis, we looked at the external environment, which has changed quite significantly, with very, very heavy competition and the resultant pressure becoming the norm of the day; I further argued that the internal processes are simply not keeping pace with the the on-ground scenario. 
To this, let me add another albeit highly contentious variable – Values. Call it what you will; Values / Ethics / Morals / Code of Conduct, or any other suitable term. (I am not being theoretically rigorous here). Values are our guiding spirit; they help us in living our lives; they help in guiding us, setting targets and directing us on the right path towards the achievement of those targets. They are the DNA on which our lives are built.
It is an inescapable conclusion that the values displayed by the list of financial scams, scandals and corporate exposes are not those we would like to see in our children. It is also true that none of us tries to develop such personality attributes consciously. And yet, the perpetrators were people like us: people from within us; people who grew up in the same systems and processes we were exposed to in our corporate lives. Where and how did they go bad? And how did things come to such a pass that no one even speaks out for fear of being victimised? These are very pertinent questions that should occur to us on reading about these scandals
It is also equally true that organisation after organisation has failed to spot the errors that have set in; the scale of the problems may be small in some and large in others – but it is there. The victim organisations span a list ranging from behemoths to small organisations. Blaming society is useless; we are the ones that make up the same society. Neither is blaming the external environment a satisfactory escape for it does nothing to change the status quo, and does not look for a solution to the tough questions being posed to Corporate India
The above was the rough gist of my argument to the Naval Officer, who was on his way to an IIM for a one-year course in management. He then made a few interesting observations during the discussion, a couple of which are highlighted below… 
a) In the Armed Forces, during our training, if one of the team fails, the entire team is punished and vice versa. This enables group thinking and teamwork. The focus is on performing as a unit, as a team – and not as an individual
b) I cannot believe that you cannot voice your opinion forcefully and truthfully; If I do that, I put the entire ship, along with the hundreds of people on it, at grave risk. Thus when I receive orders that I observe to be potentially harmful, I make it a point to object and point out the inherent dangers
Now look at the corporate sphere; it is easy to spot parallels. Perfect parallels. Group Thinking, Teamwork, Organisation above self are not on overt display anywhere. The argument that “the Organisation does not care, so who should we” also does not hold water, for our long-term career prospects are determined as much by the quality of the organisations in your career profile as by your individual achievements. 
The focus is never on genuine team performance; the focus is rabidly individual, rather than spotting performing teams. This is easy to spot in the behaviours within teams, where there is little sharing of best practices; in fact, quite the reverse. Each team member is looked at more as a rival than as a support system and as a team member. Group thinking is permeated with scoring browny points with the boss, rather than any genuine efforts at adding value. 
We corporate guys willingly and enthusiastically implement strategies that we know will lead to doom and sales disasters; and we do so without even a whimper of protest. Competitor feedback – even of seminal events – is usually tepid, and controlled. No one wants to rock the boat, no one wants to be highlighted. We willingly get into unethical practices (no point beating around the bush; we do do so) without a single second thought. And the system is simply unable to check this habit. Indeed, in some ways the system actually reinforces it, as, for example, those who rock the boat are more often than not the first to get jacked. And the biggest challenge for the Organisation -any organisation – is how to tackle this issue; how to get employees to be forthcoming; how to engage employees, and make them feel part of the larger picture. 
Where are we going wrong? Why is the inability to engage employees such a serious issue? The answer is within ourselves – as I have previously argued. Short and sweet  – this happens as we focus on results, and not the means. We focus on the short-term, and not the long-term especially in tactical execution of long-term strategies. This may explain the unethical behaviour; but it does not fully explain the lack of group and team approach. This explanation also does not fully explain why some employees choose to stay honest even at great personal cost to themselves and their families
The only possible solution, the only answer that occurs to me is that at no point during our professional lives – right from MBA – do we focus on values, the morality of our actions, the aspect of teamwork, the aspect of Organisation first. Critically, the Naval Officer I spoke to was unequivocal: He did not recall a single value-based query, question or case during the entire selection process – which is at complete odds with my experience  in the services selection board
Food for thought; that little tit-bit of wisdom. True: at no point in the entire MBA degree do we genuinely focus on team enhancement. Values are only theoretical points to be mugged up; rare is the exposure to genuine cases where value decisions are required; where the task comes into conflict with your values. The entire focus is on self, or on inhuman strategies. Same is the case in the organisation: 100% of the focus is on performance, meeting numbers: never on the basic fundamentals. And equally, there is precisely zero focus on decision making in conflict scenarios, on value decisions, on emphasising laws of the land; on the human cost of decisions etc. Even in interviews I have given and taken, the focus is on performance – never on the values that make up a person, and what makes him or her tick. It is almost as if we are hiring machines-  not human beings that think and feel. 
Where are we going wrong? And far more pertinent is the query “How to sort this mess”? I do not have answers. Not yet, anway. As I said earlier, the purpose of my articles is to engender a questioning attitude in people, and encourage them to question the status quo in their own minds…

Corporate India: A challenge to Ethics and Morality?

Published June 7, 2013 by vishalvkale


This has been a tumultuous year for the corporate world – with sting after sting leaving companies and corporates red-faced, and running helter-skelter to check the damage. Ranbaxy and Cobrapost, taken together, have hit some of the biggest names in our corporate world. This is nothing to celebrate; neither is it anything to mourn. It is in fact an opportunity for corporate India to introspect and put in place systems and processes that can lead to an image improvement, as well as better on-field performance. 

Are these incidents systemic, or are they sporadic? And, if they are systemic, what are the systems and processes that are causing this? First of all, the Cobrapost sting affected almost the entire banking spectrum without exception. Something so widespread cannot be a sporadic happening. This alone forces me to painfully conclude that this is a systemic failure on the part of corporate India. The question that arises from my declaration above, is that is this constricted to the banking sector, or does this spread outside it as well? While there will be differences between industries, can we spot come commonalities? And can we spot the precise root cause without resorting to sweeping generalisations such as “falling moral standards of society”? 

The first external hint came from the Ranbaxy episode. This leads to the assumption that something, somewhere, is not right. At this juncture, it becomes important to specify, as a serving member of corporate India, that such reactions as you have seen in the above 2 cases, are not the norm; they are only the outliers in the range of responses of employees to corporate pressures and realities. These responses range from the idealistic, to the practical; from the practical to the amoral; and from the amoral to the illegal. In other words, they span the entire spectrum. We are interested in the modal response – that is, the most frequent response and the general trend. 

There is one common string that runs through both cases: the pressure to perform, the pressure to deliver results. This leads to the automatic assumption that there is a problem in the Performance Measurement Systems of corporations. Well, yes – true; there is a  very serious issue there; but that is but one factor. The pressure to deliver results hails,  in addition to the PMS, from Competition and Job Security as well; in addition – all these three factors are intertwined together. Let us now look at all these one-by-one

Competition
This word refers to internal as well as external competition. External Competition refers to the competitive scenario in terms of both competing products as well as competing product categories. This much-ignored factor is the real culprit; competition is increasing by leaps and bounds. Even a cursory glance at management concepts will tell you this is par for the course in a growing market. New competing brands will come up; competitors will continuously innovate in the product variants, brand communications, distribution etc. New categories also come up that frequently challenge that very basis of your business model, or fundamentally alter the business environment in terms of market size, obsolescence etc. The factor of internal competition and the PMS has to be seen in this all-pervading atmosphere. And, as we shall see later, it is the modern corporates’ failure to effectively produce processes and systems to tackle the pressures arising out of this external atmosphere that lies at the root of the problems. The icing on the cake is that we are in a relatively young nation, with the large number of people ready to replace you (with skills comparable to yourself) – with some of them being jobless.  Taken together, this is a recipe for a pressure-cooker like atmosphere where the winner takes all. 

Internal competition refers to the pressure to get ahead, the pressure to excel, get solid increments and promotions. In a pressure cooker scenario such as exists now-a-days as outlined above, this will cascade on employees – challenging the very basis of their thoughts and their business approach. No one enters a job with the explicit intention of breaking rules; it is something that you pick up on the course of your normal duties – it is a survival instinct, a reaction taken to ensure continuity. Not every person is blessed with the obstinacy and the obduracy to avoid the pulls of a slight moral detour – esp when everyone is doing it. Each employee wants to succeed; that is a given. It is this desire that motivates actions seen above in some cases…

Job Security
The manifest lack of Job Security in the modern workplace is also another core reason for this. Threatened with the fear of a loss of a job, quite a few employees do compromise on their values, and take the easy way out. The very fact of the presence of such tactics is mute testimony to this reality. It is relatively easy to get fired, or to get replaced – even without fault. And once out, no one looks to see the base reason; getting a replacement job becomes extremely difficult. It is this cruel reality that fuels and adds fire to the already smouldering embers described above. These 2 combine in the catalysing presence of the PMS to create a full-blown fire…

The Performance Management System
Any Performance Management System should be an aid to performance, a guide-stick for a future plan, an opportunity to increase salary and perks, and a fearless chance to correct mistakes. It should also be a tool to ensure that the organisation proceeds along the right path. Given the pressure-cooker atmosphere described above, it needs to be sufficiently robust, providing a framework for the basic prevention of unhealthy activities as well as a tool, a guide towards the correct operational method. 

Most PMSs I have seen fall way short of this. Inordinate emphasis is laid on the short-term end-result; and consequently lesser emphasis is laid on the process that goes into the result. Most I have seen measure the result to the tune of 60-80% at the lower levels, while altering this only at the senior levels. This creates a lower employee base that is interested in only results; with a senior base that professes to be interested in both. Upto middle levels, this is the unfortunate reality. Obviously, when you are being measured only on results, there will be a tendency to take unethical and even illegal short-cuts. If the Key Result Areas are 60% numbers, 20% processes, and 20% people skills – then it becomes relatively easy to tweak then process, achieve the 60% at the cost of the other two parameters. Net result is that you are safe; and further, at the back of the mind is the knowledge that the corporate will prefer number achievers over the process guys. 

Summary
Thus we can see that in an atmosphere that provides the opportunity for unscrupulous  ladies and gentlemen to get ahead, the pressure to perform colludes with the external and internal pressures to create unethical conduct. Here we run into one fundamental objection: organisations exist to achieve objectives, targets, numbers and profitability, and are operating in a fast-moving and dynamic external atmosphere, which accounts for the emphasis on numbers. To this, let me clarify: numbers are the be-all and end-all of the organisation; but it is also the core task of the same organisation to ensure sustainability of performance over the long term and avoid crises, losses and damages to bottomline and image. Short term tactics cannot ensure long-term success; unhealthy practices if exposed can cause regulatory and business losses, as we have seen in the examples above.  

In conclusion, it can be said that the playing field changed- as seen by the changes in the external competitive atmosphere. And the corporates have been slow in responding with adequate changes that can reflect the new business reality that now faces them. We have seen The PMS in this article, and the lack of Job Security.  The lack of human, friendly processes that de-stress this hard reality and motivate employees seems to be at the root of this. The PMS, Hire-And-Fire, Rewards and Recognition Programmes, Employee education and training  to deal with competive stress are in dire need of updation. We shall look at these in the 3rd part. But these arent the only ones responsible; there is one other factor that needs to be considered to make this picture complete: the bedrock to which this is linked; the overall organisational and societal culture; and the secondary organisational processes like competition monitoring, employee mentoring etc. This is what I shall attempt in the 3rd part of this topic…

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Corporate India, work stress and employee dissatisfaction

Published May 16, 2013 by vishalvkale

Image courtesy: The Economic TImes

Now add one or two other little tit-bits of information that make the picture complete… first, the rising incidence of stress and mental ill-health, as was brought out on a recent report on the IT industry – and second, the rising family tensions and divorce rates. Add the two – and you have the makings of a shakespearean tragedy. I am making an extremely bold move in this article – openly criticizing these matters while being a member of corporate India. But something will have to be done; I dont know whether this small contribution will help or not…

Look at the data: this is the company perspective presented. Employees are facing excessive work pressure and longer hours – and 36-38% of companies accept this. If you ask the employees  – especially in private- this number is likely to double – or more. This is also far higher in India than elsewhere. Thus, this is a local phenomenon. Most critically, look at the most damning comparison of all: the employee perspective clearly mentions that they value job security; this is totally absent from the employer perspective

Rising stress levels, lower job security, ever-tighter deadlines and targets are now a business reality. This is borne out of the competitive environment we find ourselves in – at least the first and the third parameters. The second – job-security is simply a function of internal priorities, processes, checks and balances. Quite a few corporates in India still do not value the employee as much as the numbers. The effect on the employee and his family is totally ignored – and – as I shall delve upon in a follow-up article – the effect on norms, best practices, law and ethics is also a victim of this.

Let me take telecom, for example. Where there were 6 competitors, now there are 12 in the mobile services space. Where there were only Nokia, Sony and Motorola, now there are Samsung, Micromax, Karbonn, Lava, Spice, IBall, Xolo to name but a few. Competition has risen exponentially; this is a business reality and cannot be wished away. This has placed tremendous pressure on the existing players to maintain and grow their toplines and bottomlines. Similarly, the hold on the market of the market leaders has placed equally heavy pressure on the new players to make a mark and win themselves a niche. The other source of pressure is the increasing focus on profitability and revenue growth. This seemingly straightforward focus – eminently sensible- is fine in a system with defined humane processes,  humane systems, proper procedures and acceptable ethics. But when even one of the three is missing – it leads to what you see above. And if more than one is missing, then… 

This is not a factor of the recessionary market phase we are in; in my 14 years experience, this has always been present. Yes, this has risen in levels off late; but it would be wrong to state that this is a phenomenon born out of the larger economic problems facing the world economy. And this is probably present even in the older industries (it has been 9 years since I moved into telecom). The data above seems to indicate that. In those industries, some of the reasons are different.

My point is that this is not going away. Competition is rising and will continue to rise, and focus on topline and bottomline is the way to conduct business. We are, after all, in a business – not philanthropy. It is the way we go about tackling the competition and the daily grind of conducting the business that is the issue. And in that, we are found wanting – as the numbers above, as well as the stress surveys and mental and physical health issues, divorces etc show. 

This is indicative of a deeper systemic malaise: the internal systems and processes are not coping up with the changed business reality that is confronting the corporate scenario. And that, to my mind, is the core reason for what we have seen above. HR systems, fist of all, need to be strengthened to cope with the new reality. This has to go hand-in-hand with a more humane treatment to employees, with a receptive ear to their manifest and genuine concerns. The employee is primarily concerned with Job Security as can be seen above; corporates would do well to move away from the stupid and self-defeating hire-and-fire systems currently in vogue for a start. An assurance of stability would go a long way in tackling attrition, as well as make the employee a happier person. 

The current impression of managers that the employee is driven by fear needs to change; employees are driven more by desire than by fear. Fear incapacitates a person and erodes his competitiveness. The key is to find a set of drivers and focus on them; job security need not mean a drop in performance. Quite the reverse, in fact: performance will shoot up over the short term; and it is the task of the manager to engage with and drive his team to derive performance over the mid to long term. 

Performance measurement, retention policies, promotion and increment policies, office times – in fact – all employee centric policies need to be overhauled. The manager needs to ensure that the emplyee is not spending 6 days a week late at office. Yes, at times staying may be mandated – but this should not be the norm. Make the work-space comfortable for the employee – and spot the difference. KRA do not mean only the end-result; measure the process as well as the end-result. I understand that performance has to be maintained: but what I cannot understand is the assumption that performance can only happen by placing the employee under stress. The key should be to finding the motivators for each employee, and driving him or her accordingly. That is why we have managers: to engage with and drive employees. If the employee  has failed, somewhere along the line even the manager has failed. Simple truth. Do current systems reflect this?

No, they dont. Also simple truth.

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