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Archive for September, 2017

Ravana, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, was not only a great scholar but also a capable ruler. He had a great taste in music and had mastered the veena. He is said to have been an expert in astrology and political science. He is also believed to have written a treatise on Siddha medicine.

He is described as having ten heads which are said to represent his knowledge of the six shastras and the four Vedas. Folklore has it that even while lying on his deathbed, he imparted valuable wisdom to Lord Rama and Lakshmana.

Much like powerful CEOs of large corporate bodies, Ravana had the necessary knowledge and skills to steer his kingdom to great heights. But his sheer pride, arrogance and a tendency of stifling dissent did him in. His obstinacy, and intolerance towards dissent, eventually led to his fall from grace.

The fact that he coveted a woman who was someone else’s soul mate also led to his ruin. Popular belief takes a jaundiced view of his character since he had abducted Sita and had held her in captivity, thereby inviting the wrath of Lord Rama. His wife, Mandodari, brother Vibheeshana and grandfather Malyavaan – all advise him to return Sita to Rama. Instead, he chose to listen to his courtiers who played on his ego and pride and advised him not to do so.

Learning from Ravana

If CEOs of today were to take a leaf out of Ravana’s life, they would avoid becoming proud and arrogant. They would learn to be more tolerant and open-minded to views which do not match their own. They would run their fiefdoms with much greater finesse and grace, ensuring sustainable prosperity for all stakeholders to their business.

Getting rid of one’s ego does not necessarily mean that the CEO becomes a doormat. Or that he allows his team members to exploit the system and take advantage of his good intentions and decent behaviour. It simply means that he cultivates an ability to see the other person’s perspective before arriving at a decision; that a consultative and collaborative approach to decision making gets followed; that those who happen to be shy in a meeting are drawn out so he may check if they have something valuable to add to the issue on the table.

Consciously letting go of his pride is another quality they can cultivate. Privileges which go with a corner office can be readily forsaken. Exclusive car parking spaces can be given up. Preferential treatment in the common food court for employees can be politely declined. The barriers between himself and others can be lowered to the barest minimum. In all official proclamations, an ‘I’ can give way to a ‘We’.

Arrogance can get avoided. Instead, feigned anger can get used as a tool, either to defuse a tricky situation or to gently put in place a team member whose behaviour crosses the limits of decency.

Discouraging yes-men amongst their team members is yet another critical quality a CEO needs to develop. Encouraging healthy and objective dissent goes a long way in enjoying success in all spheres of life.

Respecting women in the workforce is another trait which is essential. Promoting a culture of zero tolerance towards harassment of the opposite sex helps a company to shore up its productivity and improve employee morale. Top achievers in the team cannot be allowed to act upon their amorous instincts at the work place.

Several qualities of Ravana are worth emulating by CEOs of today. Always striving to learn something new. Forever looking for new markets and new customers, much like Ravana harboured an ambition to conquer dev-loka, the heavens beyond. Tirelessly seeking different ways to achieve a goal. Adopting new technologies and cultivating an innovative mindset. Developing hobbies and interests which would help to keep a sense of balance in their lives.

The real victory is within us

This year, too, on the day of Vijayadashmi, we shall witness the burning of Ravana’s effigies and believe it to be the victory of good over evil. But would we stop for a moment to introspect and try to get rid of our own king-size egos? Would we resolve to let go of our arrogance and become good listeners, especially when someone like Vibheeshana is trying to tell us an unpalatable truth?

The day a CEO starts doing this would indeed be the true Vijayadashmi day for him!

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/management-lessons-from-ramayana

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/some-management-lessons-from-india

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/super-leaders-the-near-perfect-ceos)

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ashokbhatia

The departure of the rainy season leaves us with a weather which is hot and humid. The sky is a clean blue. The sun tends to get merciless yet again but is unable to catch up with the ferocity it displays during summers. Rivers and lakes are full to the brim, but are relatively quieter.

In ‘Ritusamhara’, Kalidasa captures this season as evocatively as he does all others. All the natural features of autumn get compared to either some activity or some ornament of the delicately nurtured. Immaculate moonshine is often said to be veiled by clouds. Twinkling stars get alluded to as jewellery of the autumnal night. Affairs of the heart invariably take centre stage.

Bollywood does not refrain from showing us the beauty of this season in all its glory while the hero and the heroine profess their love for each other. But there is a…

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Pondicherry has a unique charm for people of different hues, sizes, shapes, ethnicity and faiths. Some drive down with the singular purpose of unwinding and experiencing a spirit-ed upliftment of sorts. But many others pop up over a weekend, merely to soak in its spiritual ambience. Some hang around a wee bit longer, so as to be able to experience its spiritual vibrations. Many others keep coming back and even decide to settle in the city or its surroundings.

Spirituality and religion form an integral part of the allure of Pondicherry. Other than many spiritual hotspots and historic temples which it can justifiably boast of, the place is a spring-board of sorts for many places which would please a spiritual seeker as well as a religious devotee.

Of Spiritual Enlightenment

Besides meditating at either the Shri Aurobindo Ashram or the Matri Mandir, one can experience a heady spiritual upliftment merely by sitting quietly at a secluded place on the beach; being in communion with Mother Nature, aptly represented by the greenish blue waters of the Bay of Bengal.

Seeing the relentless rolling in of waves, deeply inhaling the salty air, pouring out one’s heart to the endless sea, watching the sun or the moon rise, following the movements of seagulls flying by – all these help one to attain a state of inner calm. Batteries get charged up. One can get back to one’s materialistic pursuits with a renewed vigour.

A dynamic awakening

But spiritual awakening comes about not only by adopting a static practice like meditation. It also has a dynamic dimension, which manifests itself through the mundane experiences of life.

Consider the unique experience of driving on the Pondicherry roads. It teaches one the virtues of Humility and Courage. When a millennial on his racing bike overtakes one from the left, one’s Receptivity improves. Bovines squatting on the roads quietly assert their democratic rights over whatever little road space is on offer, thereby teaching one the value of Equality. When a bus driver who believes he is driving an auto rickshaw instead suddenly honks from the side, a sense of Generosity coupled with the fear of life and limb helps one to offer him a right of way. The auto driver who delves unduly deep into the pockets of a lay visitor to Pondicherry also imparts a valuable instruction in Generosity.

Finding a parking space on the main thoroughfares needs loads of Perseverance. Upon a hapless pedestrian avoiding being run over by a speeding car, a sense of Gratitude towards the Divine descends. Sincerity of purpose is required while crossing a narrow road where two wheelers use a two-way as a four-way lane. When a traffic cop endowed with a stiff-upper-lip takes a lenient view of one’s inadvertent adventures on the road, vibrations of Goodness can be felt. When one has battled through the streets and reached one’s abode safely, a sense of Peace prevails.

Overall, one makes Spiritual Progress. One’s level of Aspiration goes up a notch higher. One learns the true meaning of Surrender to the Divine.

Even if one misses meditating at the twelve petals of Matri Mandir, each representing the qualities mentioned above, there is no cause for worry. Driving on local roads can also be an enlightening experience.

For Religious Succour

Ardent devotees of Lord Shiva treat Pondicherry as a part of the southern ‘Pancha-bhoota’ circuit, comprising Kalahasti (Air), Kancheepuram (Earth), Tiruvannamalai (Fire), Chidambaram (Ether/Space) and Trichy (Water). As an architectural marvel, the Big Temple at Thanjavur is not too far off. Overnight trains can transport one to Madurai, Rameshwaram and Kanyakumari in a jiffy.

 

Those who revere Lord Vishnu just need to head to the famous Ranganathaswamy temple at Trichy and experience its strong vibrations. Kumbakonam offers a heady concoction of many deities who are eager to bestow their grace on any of their believers who choose to get benefited. Some who wish to specifically appease Lord Shani head to the famous temple at Karaikal.

The dargah at Nagore offers solace to those seeking upliftment of a Sufi kind. The church at Velankanni is not too far off.

Irrespective of the faith one professes, Pondicherry and its vicinity offer a wide spectrum of uplifting options.

With the Union Government recently pitching in for burnishing this facet of Pondicherry in the years ahead, blissful days are surely ahead.

Brand Pondicherry

Brand Pondicherry has many attributes. A cosmopolitan culture. Metro-like facilities in a small-town framework. Warm people. Excellent education. Great medical support. A thriving hospitality and services sector. Yoga. Ease of meeting public officials. And like the proverbial icing on the cake, spiritual enlightenment and religious succour.

Take your pick and experience the myriad colours of the rainbow called Pondicherry!

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/pondicherry-a-certain-sense-of-gallic-glory-gone-by

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/pondicherry-the-little-indie-french-town

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/04/04/the-element-of-wisdom-in-management-a-seminar-at-pondicherry

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/the-travails-of-a-non-resident-pondicherryite

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/movies-with-a-puducherry-connection)

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Vacations

Not to be neglected. Do not give in to the temptation of believing that the whole organization would collapse in your absence. Plan for the same in advance and delegate while keeping your boss updated. You would be surprised to find that your team turned in a better performance while you were away to the Bahamas.

Companies like Daimler which facilitate a real ‘off’ from office would win in the long run. Incoming mails get deleted from your inbox and get diverted to someone else.

Before going off on vacation, an auto-reply mail along the following lines may come in handy:

‘Hi, I am on the Mars these days, missing Wi-Fi or cell signal, shall get in touch once I am back!’

The absence of a good manager is never felt, because his team is trained up so very well!

(Excerpt from my book ‘Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’, the English version of which was released recently. The Portuguese version of the excerpt follows.)

FÉRIAS

Não devem ser negligenciadas. Não ceda à tentação de acreditar que toda a organização entrará em colapso na sua ausência. Planeie as férias com antecedência e delegue as tarefas, mantendo o seu chefe informado. É capaz de ficar surpreendido ao constatar que a sua equipa teve um desempenho
melhor quando você estava ausente nas Bahamas.

Empresas como a Daimler, que facilitam um verdadeiro ‘desligar’ do escritório, ficam a ganhar no longo prazo. Os e-mails recebidos são apagados da sua caixa de entrada e reencaminhados para outro colega.

Antes de ir para férias, convirá redigir um e-mail de resposta automática, mais ou menos deste tipo:

“Olá, atualmente estou em Marte, sem Wi-Fi, nem rede detelemóvel. Entrarei em contacto consigo quando regressar!”

A ausência de um bom executivo nunca é sentida porque a sua equipa está muito bem treinada!

(This is how you can lay your hands on the Portuguese version of the book, launched in Portugal during March, 2016.)

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Successful organizations which boast of high brand equity follow several sustainable practices. One of these is the practice of treating their human assets with the respect and dignity they deserve. While compassion and empathy govern their HR practices, it would be wrong to surmise that they do so by compromising on their business goals.

This unique species of organizations, referred to here as Homo Organizationum, is envisaged as the one comprising Functionally Humane Organizations, where an optimal balance is  maintained between business results and human relations.

Let me share one such instance from my own career.

High performance vs domestic bliss

A star performer in an IT manufacturing set up had to strike a fine balance between her role as a crucial final quality controller and that of being a home maker. In her absence, high priority shipments could get delayed. At home, she had to take care of an ailing mother-in-law and a kid. Her husband used to work in another set up around 900 kms away and would come visiting once every two months.

On a specific weekend, when an important shipment was to leave the factory late at night, message came that her husband was on his way home. Much to her dismay, a permission to leave the factory at the normal closing time was promptly turned down by her immediate superior.

The grapevine ensured that the incident of refusal of permission percolated upwards to the manufacturing head. The superior was called in without delay and given a dressing down. He, and the head of Quality Assurance, were guided on making alternative arrangements.

Eventually, the woman was delighted to receive a permission to leave the place of work by lunch time itself, adding a few precious hours to her domestic bliss. The shipment also got despatched without any compromise on the immediate business goal.

Several such examples abound. Regrettably, however, these are outnumbered by the kind of instances which involved blatant exploitation of employees. Across organizations, this manifests in so many ways. Inhuman treatment while pursuing an immediate business goal. Depriving the employees their rightful dues. Lower salaries, accompanied by liberal grant of personal loans and advances, thereby keeping the employees perennially indebted to the employer, and the like.

The leaner Davids and the flabbier Goliaths

When I look back at my 35-year exposure to the private sector, one thing stands out. The positive examples were mostly from the larger companies in the organized sector. The negative examples were invariably from the small-scale sector.

Large companies have a better organized way of working. They often carry some flab. Systems take precedence over individuals. On the contrary, the smaller ones tend to be much leaner – though decidedly not fitter – simply because one person gets hired only when three are required!

The Consciousness of Organizations

Members of the species of entities known as Homo Organizationum thrive only when they can add value to their diverse stakeholders. However, to create a brand which is respected by their customers as well as their employees, as also to add value on a sustainable basis, they need to have a working culture which places a higher premium on such values as empathy, compassion, dignity, respect, justice, honesty, openness, transparency and equality.

Their employees then become their brand ambassadors, making it easier for them to attract better talent. This, in turn, makes them more efficient and effective.

All organizations have a consciousness which seeps through all its organs. It manifests itself in myriad ways; specifically, through its culture. It is reflected in the manner in which the seniors conduct themselves. It shows up in the way decisions get taken. Unlike grandiose Vision and Mission statements which adorn their physical walls, it is not easy to articulate culture in words. Nor can it be readily replicated.

Just like a tiger is known by its stripes, an organization is known by the kind of consciousness it lives and operates by. The more humane the same, the higher the probability of sustainable success.

Some crystal gazing

Advances in technology are already re-shaping our organizations. Gone are the control-and-command structures. Hierarchies are getting flatter. Mundane tasks are being taken over by Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Geeks are twiddling their thumbs, trying to cope up with Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things, et al.

Besides technology, buyer behaviour is changing. Geopolitics is changing. Workforce attitudes are changing.

But Homo Organizationum face little risk of becoming extinct. On the contrary, it is quite likely that with the kind of changes in the offing, the need for organizations to be humane would only go up in the future.

Time for HR honchos to re-skill themselves.

(A version of this article was published in the IBA Journal, volume 9, issue 2)

 

 

 

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Most of the management events we get enticed to attend are very much alike. Somebody gets up and introduces the chair person and the speaker of the evening. Then, the chair person mumbles a few words designed to cheer up the speaker. The speaker of the evening then goes on to describe at great length what he thinks of the scandalous manner in which private sector managements behave or exposes the inefficient goings-on in the public sector.

The hapless soul tasked to chair the session makes sympathetic observations about the subject at hand. He makes brief notes in a studious manner. Later, he uses these to wrap up the proceedings as quickly as norms of society, dictates of behavioural sciences and standards of politeness would allow.

The speaker of the evening is invariably dressed in an impeccable corporate style. This is merely to mask the inner shivering he experiences at the prospect of facing a firing squad. Externally, he exudes confidence. Internally, he is all of a twitter. Unfortunately, many speakers are blissfully unaware of the technique of public speaking unwittingly perfected by Gussie Fink Nottle of P G Wodehouse fame – that of getting adequately braced with generous helpings of a strong tissue restorative prior to delivering a speech.

While he tries his best to convey some serious messages to the unsuspecting audience, he also attempts to induct some humour into the otherwise listless and sombre proceedings. This helps him to sugar-coat his dull message to the unsuspecting audience.

The audience upon which the speaker’s verbosity is unleashed listens in a state of polite resignation, often suppressing a yawn or two. With an eye on the wrist watch and a nose trying to detect the faint aroma of snacks and coffee being served outside the lecture hall, they bide their time, hoping for the ordeal to end soon.

From time to time, some members in the audience rise and ask carefully rehearsed questions, which get answered fully and satisfactorily by the speaker. Often, when a question gets asked in the pure spirit of proving to the assembled group that the questioner is smarter than the questioned, the latter either ignores him, or says haughtily that he can find him arguments but cannot find him brains. Or, occasionally, when the question is an easy one, he answers it.

When the discussion gets out of hand, and the speaker is found to be twiddling his thumbs, the chair person rushes in to conclude the affair, thereby bringing joy and relief all around.

The speaker is delighted that he has been rescued just in time and looks upon the chair much like a typhoon survivor would look upon the US marines when they arrive to rescue him from a disastrous situation.

The audience is happy that the trauma is finally over. They look forward to grabbing the vitamins laid outside the hall, so as to keep their body and souls together and also to overcome the state of depression induced by the presentation.

The organisers breathe easy, having saved their furniture and other items from any damage. Someone from their side quickly offers a vote of thanks to all and sundry, lest the speaker change his mind and go on to bore the audience any further.

A smoothly conducted management meeting is one of our civilization’s most delightful indoor games. When the meeting turns boisterous, the audience has more fun, but the speaker a good deal less.

The book presentation session at Madras Management Association recently was true to form in more ways than one. Save and except for the following:

– Being chaired by an exceptional business person who is practising the art of true social responsibility.

– The presentation of some portions of the book was more of an interactive session which never tended to be boisterous.

– There was a singular absence of any rehearsed questions from the audience.

The session had attracted around forty odd souls who suffered the trauma of listening to yours truly and others for about forty minutes or so. Perhaps Einstein’s Theory of Relativity kicked in and these forty minutes felt like forty hours to them, because when it was time for the Q and A, they pounced on an inwardly shuddering yours truly with much glee.

As luck would have it, much light was generated in the discussion that followed the brief presentation. The heat generated was perceptibly less; thus, no fire alarms went off in the lecture hall. The brainy coves assembled for the evening proved their mettle by coming up with astute observations and insightful comments. An enlightened soul in the audience even went on to enquire as to what precisely is meant by Spiritual Quotient, and what could be done to shore it up.

Leadership styles got discussed. Tips on managing Lion Bosses got shared. Dignity of women at workplace came in for a mention. The delicate art of dishing out selective favours to those who really deserve support was brooded upon. Several other topics of contemporary interest were discussed, including the recent boardroom battles which played out at Infosys and at Tata House.

One is grateful to Madras Management Association for having provided this opportunity to share one’s thoughts with their brainy members and honourable invitees.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/a-tale-of-two-countries-and-a-book-launch)

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The Shy Gene

PG Wodehouse the Satirist

Truth

Mr Mulliner flitted into our ken with that wondrous tapestry of humour and wordplay titled ‘The Truth about George’. And after that he remained one of the most sparkling members of Plumsville. Well, it is extremely difficult to pick a favourite with PG Wodehouse characters, but with Mr Mulliner one can hardly ever go wrong.

Perhaps what lends a different sheen of class to these tales is that by the time when Wodehouse turned his furiously working fingers to the fisherman-storyteller, he had already found his niche, his pen had found a flow, and the minutest jarring note of his formative years had long disappeared amidst the increasing guffaws of laughter that his writing brought forth.

In ‘The Truth About George’, the protagonist, George Mulliner stammers … and when he falls helplessly in love with fellow crossword enthusiast Susan Blake, he decides to consult a specialist for a possible cure…

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