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Exploring the concept of Consciousness further, one may say that whereas a normal organization cares for Results alone, an organization steeped in Consciousnesswould provide an equal weight to all of its three ‘R’s – Results, Relationshipsand Righteousness – in its strategic and tactical thinking.

Results could be either of the financial kind, the market share kind, or a combination of the two.

Relationships would imply a positive working atmosphere where, besides harmonious relations, dissent is not suppressed; rather, it is encouraged. Following human values is an essential part of this attribute. So is respect and dignity towards people in general.

Righteousness would encompass such features as concern for sustainability, giving back to the society and running operations not only within the ambit of law but beyond it, wherever possible. Being pro-active, when it comes to corporate governance; taking care of the rights of the minority shareholders; ensuring that principles of…

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P. G. Wodehouse, the British humourist, did not intend his books and stories to impart management lessons of any kind. However, his keen observation skills, his detailed characterization, and certain traits he endows on some of his characters could be used by CEOs and managers of all kinds to achieve greater success in their careers, enabling them to face challenges with a chin-up attitude. Decision making while facing such disruptive situations as that of a pandemic could then be achieved with a jaunty sang-froid.

Management and Humour?!

Those of you who are from the realm of management and are dimly aware of the existence of a British humourist known as P. G. Wodehouse would by now be shaking your heads in disbelief wondering how something dished out by way of making one chuckle, guffaw and laugh could have anything to do with the stiff-upper-lip discipline of management.

Seriousness vs. Humour

I believe that seriousness and humour are two sides of the same coin. Consider the fact that humour is serious business indeed. It is bound to make us feel lighter but cannot be taken lightly. In fact, humour is a good lubricant which could be deployed to communicate serious messages more effectively.  

The deeper reality is that we value seriousness and tragedy over humour and laughter. Our minds boss over our hearts. Most of the times, anything humorous is treated by us as being frivolous and perhaps fit to be scoffed at on the intellectual plane. On campuses of high-brow seats of learning, it is easy for us to visualize absent-minded professors going about with a heavy tome or two clutched in their hands, with a morose look on their faces, as if they were just being led by an invisible hand to the gallows. At management seminars and conclaves, serious talks get applauded, whereas a speaker conveying a plain vanilla message coated in delectable humour is ridiculed for playing to the gallery. In companies, at board meetings, detailed power point presentations of a serious kind get appreciated, whereas anything said in a lighter vein runs the risk of being viewed with a jaundiced eye.

One admires such management thinkers as C. Northcote Parkinson, Sharu Rangnekar and Laurence J. Peter who have broken this glass ceiling and given us rich management lessons in a humorous manner. All those who have worked in a large bureaucracy revere Parkinson’s Law which postulates that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. Some of you may be familiar with Rangnekar’s The Wonderland of Indian Managers, an uproariously funny account of how things really work in organizations. Those who have missed out on a coveted promotion would be twiddling their thumbs to figure out if they have attained their level of incompetence, a la The Peter Principle.

In their book Humour, Seriously, Naomi Bagdonas and Jennifer Aaker debunk the myth that humour has no place at the workplace. In an interview, Jennifer Aaker opines that leaders with a sense of humour are seen as 27% more motivating; their teams are more than likely twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge. When leaders use humour in their interactions with their team members, they signal humility and humanity, thereby reducing the status barrier between themselves and their audience. The goal of humour at the workplace is not merely to make others laugh; it is to put people at ease, thereby enabling them to be more open and candid in sharing their opinions.

Of Humour and Brands

Consider the innovative way humour gets deployed by a few brands of repute to keep their images shining bright.

Since 1946, the Air India Maharajah has been representing India with charm and dignity, making the company more visible to its customers all over the world. Created by Bobby Kooka along with Umesh Rao of J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency, it has kept pace with the times – as a lover boy in Paris, a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, a Romeo in Rome and even a guru of transcendental meditation in Rishikesh.

Likewise, we have the case of the Amul girl. The mascot was created as a response to Amul’s rival brand Polson’s butter-girl. The idea was conceived in 1967 once ASP (Advertising, Sales and Promotion) clinched the brand portfolio from the previous agency FCB Ulka. It was executed by Mr. Sylvester Da Cunha, the owner of the agency and his art director Eustace Fernandes on hoardings, painted bus panels and posters in Mumbai. The mascot, since then, has been mobilized to comment on many events of national and political importance.

Not to forget some of our politicos who rose from the ranks after having been successful comedians, motivating their denizens to stand up to bullying by oversized neighbours waging wars so as to widen their own sphere of influence.

Wodehouse and Management  

If a lay manager were to pick up such books by P. G. Wodehouse as Psmith in the City, Blandings Castle and Elsewhere and Something Fresh and put them under a managerial lens, she is surely apt to discover a treasure trove of precious lessons in such diverse fields like marketing, human resources, entrepreneurship, operations, systems and procedures, human resources, and the like.

When it comes to the art and science of managing bosses, Rupert Psmith, Reginald Jeeves, and Ashe Marson offer quite a few templates for a manager to follow. Then there are precious lessons in administration, time management and quite a few other areas in management.

Wodehouse and the Evolution of Management Thought

P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), fondly referred to as Plum, dished out his narratives in an era which one could allude to as the sunrise era of the science and art of management. He was a prolific writer. Between 1902 and 1974, he wrote just under 100 books in total, of which about 70 were novels; about 20 were short story collections (with a further 100 short stories not appearing in book form); four were semi-autobiographical works (including Not George Washington); one was a children’s story, one, a book of essays and another a book based on a newspaper column.

He used a mixture of Edwardian slang, quotations from and allusions to numerous literary figures, and several other literary techniques to produce a prose style that has been compared to comic poetry and musical comedy. One of the qualities of his oeuvre is its wonderful consistency of quality, tone, wit, and wisdom.

The Early Years

When Wodehouse arrived on the literary scene, Max Weber (1864-1920) was speaking of different forms of authority – charismatic, traditional, and rational-legal, while Henri Fayol (1841-1925) was working on his twelve principles of management.  

While Wodehouse was busy honing his unique skills as an author, Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) was preoccupied with a new approach to management. In 1909, Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management. In the same year, Wodehouse had come up with The Swoop and Mike. Much like a management executive, Mike happens to be a solid, reliable character with a strong sense of fair play; he also has an appetite for excitement.

I believe that Plum’s works effectively capture many of the concepts of management propounded at the beginning of the twentieth century by these thinkers:  Authority, Power, Delegation, Span of Control, Responsibility, Decision Making, Goals, Organizing, Division of Labour, Chain of Command, to name a few.     

Think of rich uncles who exercise authority over the fortunes as well as the matrimonial prospects of their nieces and nephews. Jeeves exerts his soft power over Bertie Wooster and many others by virtue of his superior knowledge and keen intelligence. Roberta Wickham, Stephanie Byng, Rosie M. Banks, and scores of others are equally adept at exercising their soft power to get things done. In The Code of the Woosters, Aunt Dahlia delegates to Bertie the task of going to an antique shop on Brompton Road, sneer at a silver cow creamer and register scorn. The highly regimented life of those below the stairs, as portrayed in Something Fresh, brings home to a lay manager such concepts as organizing, division of labour, and chain of command.

By 1910, Wodehouse had published Psmith in the City, offering us insights into the working of a bank, and hinting as to how one could manage bosses. The Little Nugget came up in 1913, introducing us to Ogden Ford, someone who, like a bright and upright executive, can manipulate his distracters with much aplomb and even stand up to and tick off his stepfather.  During December 1913, Henry Ford had installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of automobiles. His innovation had then reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to one hour and 33 minutes.

The Delicately Nurtured

While Wodehouse was busy introducing us to such emancipated females steeped in entrepreneurial enthusiasm as Joan Valentine, Jill Mariner and Sally Nicholas, Mary Parker Follett was having a profound impact on the development of management thought. She was active in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when women occupied few executive positions in business, government, or education. Her audience was small but devoted. Her remarkable work can be found in the volume Mary Parker Follett – Prophet of Management, published in 1995 by Harvard Business School Press.       

During 1940, Wodehouse published Quick Service, outlining the risks involved in stealing portraits, thereby touching upon the realm of decision making under uncertainty. Meanwhile, Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr. (1875 – 1966) was busy steering General Motors on a highway of high growth. From the 1920s through the 1950s, he brought in such concepts as an annual model change, brand architecture, industrial engineering, styling and planned obsolescence.

The Post World War Years

Traces of Peter Drucker in Plum’s Works

Most of the modern management post-second World War and great depression has been influenced by the thoughts of Peter Ferdinand Drucker (1909-2005) on management principles and practices. He enlarged our vision of the realm of management. Functions like Marketing, Production, Finance, Supply Chain Management, Systems and Human Resources emerged. Almost all of the works of Wodehouse touch upon some of these areas, as we shall shortly see.    

Some of the basic principles of management according to Drucker are:

•     Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.

•     Because management deals with the integration of people in a common venture, it is deeply embedded in culture.

•     Every enterprise requires commitment to common goals and shared values. Without such commitment, there is no enterprise.

Jeeves instead highlights the importance of ‘the psychology of the individual’ to get desired results. Aunt Dahlia demonstrates the criticality of formulating a strategy as well as that of teamwork in The Code of the Woosters. When Roderick Spode keeps threatening Bertie Wooster and Gussie Fink-Nottle repeatedly, she comes up with the strategy of checkmating him by getting Jeeves to dig up any secret of his. With help from the Junior Ganymede club book, Bertie learns the word ‘Eulalie’, and tells Spode that he knows all about it. Spode, who does not want his followers to learn about his career as a designer of ladies’ lingerie, gets effectively persuaded to not to bother Bertie or Gussie any further.

•     Every enterprise is a learning and teaching institution. Training and development must be built into it on all levels— training and development that never stop.

•     Every enterprise is composed of people with different skills and knowledge doing many different kinds of work. It must be built on communication and on individual responsibility. The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that results exist only on the outside. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.

Consider Something Fresh which brings into sharp focus the life of those below the stairs who keep serving the inhabitants, guests, and impostors at Blandings Castle with alacrity and panache. Under the directions of Mr. Sebastian Beach and Mrs. Twemlow, things are always done properly at the Castle, with the right solemnity. And let us not forget the contribution of kitchen maids, scullery maids, chauffeurs, footmen, under-butlers, pantry boys, hall boys, stillroom maids, housemaids, nursery maids, secretaries, pig-keepers, and head gardeners like Angus McAllister. 

•     In 1966, Drucker brought in the concept of The Effective Executive. In 1964-65, Plum offered us Galahad at Blandings which showcased the unique abilities of Galahad to sort things out satisfactorily at Blandings Castle, which as usual is overrun with overbearing sisters, super-efficient secretaries, and the love struck, threatening to put an end to Lord Emsworth’s peaceful, pig-loving existence. Just like Jeeves resolves complicated issues with ease, Galahad is also a good example of an executive who happens to be effective when it comes to delivering results.  

Philip Kotler and Plum’s Works

Philip Kotler (born 1931) further expanded the Marketing horizon by conceptualizing the 4 Ps – Product, Place, Pricing and Promotion. He published Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning and Control, which forever changed the way we look at marketing.

In Plum’s works, precious lessons can be learnt in marketing and salesmanship from someone like Frederick Threepwood (Freddie) who appears in many of the Blandings stories. He is normally a somewhat simple-minded youth who invites a jaundiced eye of the kind the British aristocracy is apt to cast upon its younger sons. In The Go-Getter, we come to appreciate Freddie’s perseverance in peddling the product he represents for his American father-in-law, the patriarch of the Donaldson’s Dog Biscuits empire. Like a true-blue marketing honcho, Freddie stops at nothing to achieve his objective. Besides extolling the virtues of the product, he even plans to get a cousin of his married to the owner of a chain of stores, so the distribution network expands.  

Thus, of the four Ps mentioned by Philip Kotler, at least three are covered in Plum’s works – Product, Place and Promotion. Understandably, the element of Price is missing from these.  

An Ever-evolving Field of Thought

Much after Wodehouse had kicked the bucket in 1975, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman gave us In Search of Excellence (1982). In 1989, Stephen R. Covey offered his unique managerial insights through 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Many other experts have since contributed – and shall continue to do so – newer concepts to the realm of management.  

A unique characteristic of management professionals is that they seem to have a very short attention span for concepts. Their craving for novelty in management concepts is never satiated. Give them Statistical Quality Control and Just-in-time and they lap it up with the kind of enthusiasm a cat shows on being offered a fish slice. Show them the potential of Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing and they embrace it with all gusto. They are enamoured by a concept only until a new buzzword comes along. Thus, management thinkers and writers have a unique challenge – that of marketing even old ideas in a flashy new language. In order to maintain their status as a management guru, the hapless guys/gals have to not only keep coming up with newer concepts but also to keep recycling the older wines and offering the same in dazzling new bottles. 

Like all other realms of knowledge, management continues to be an ever-evolving field, in tandem with the evolution of our economies. With rapid advances in technology, all segments of this knowledge are undergoing major changes. There is a dire need for futuristic business leaders in the mould of Rupert Psmith who can achieve goals in a sustainable manner, backed not only by hard core analytical prowess but also by such soft skills as compassion, empathy, and equanimity. A street-smart approach, backed by an ability to think on one’s feet and deploy one’s intuitive faculties to deliver results is the sine qua non for one to keep occupying that much sought after icon of power – the corner office.

Leading business institutes are increasingly depending on literature and fine arts to groom aspiring managers whose heads are screwed on right, thereby giving them a better chance at tackling the rise in the entropy of the business environment.  

Some Common Features

Despite an evolution of managerial thought, over the last century, the fundamentals of organization management and leadership have remained the same, even if the delivery of those concepts has been reshaped to service the needs of a new economy. Rigid hierarchies have slowly given way to flexible organizations. With the advent of a work-from-home mode, many organizations have become dispersed in space and time.

In a similar vein, Plum’s works remain frozen in time, using the eccentricities of the British aristocracy as a fodder. All over the world, his fans keep churning out pastiches, thereby keeping his works alive. The underlying messages in his works continue to be relevant in our contemporary times. However, their timelessness lies in keeping our CEOs and managers away from getting depressed while facing the harsh slings and arrows of fate.

Wodehouse’s Works Under A Contemporary Lens

Having looked at the links between Plum’s novels and stories and the management tenets proposed by reputed experts over the last century, let us now try and put his works under a more contemporary managerial lens. We may consider focusing on such functional areas as Marketing, Human Resources/Organizational Behaviour, Entrepreneurship, Operations (Production of goods and services, Materials/Supply Chains/Logistics) Finance/Banking/Insurance, Systems/Procedures/IT, Administration, and Business Ethics.  Formulating strategies is a macro-level area of importance.

In Plum’s oeuvre, one is apt to find references to almost all the functional areas of management. Whether one goes through the Bertie and Jeeves books, the Blandings Castle’s saga, the Ukridges, the Uncle Freds, or the Mulliner chronicles, one is apt to keep running into one or another facet of management.

The endeavour here is to delve a little deeper into the areas of Marketing and Human Resources/Organizational Behaviour, as also to briefly touch upon the other functions as these can be traced in many of Plum’s narratives.

Marketing

Let us see how Freddie goes about securing the patronage of his target customers for Donaldson’s Dog-Joy biscuits. 

Identifying a Prospect

In The Go-Getter, he is quick to spot Aunt Georgina who owns four Pekingese, two Poms, a Yorkshire terrier, five Sealyhams, a Borzoi, and an Airedale. She is a woman who has a sound reputation in dog-loving circles.

Influencing the Prospect

First, Freddie gives an hour’s talk to Aunt Georgina on such virtues of the product as wholesomeness, richness in essential vitamins, and its bone-forming properties. Then he showers her with product brochures. He shows samples. He even offers a fortnight’s free trial.

If an order does not get placed, he does not lose hope. He perseveres in his efforts. He attempts to give a live demonstration by chewing a dog biscuit himself, thereby trying to establish that it is so superbly wholesome as to be fit even for human consumption.

When he chokes and business does not result, he borrows Bottles, Rev. Rupert Bingham’s pet, which has a robust constitution, thanks to its being fed by the product being promoted. Somehow, in an initial brawl with a Pekingese belonging to Aunt Georgina, Bottles fails to establish its superiority.

Down, But Never Out

Donaldson’s Inc. grooms its vice-presidents rather well. They may be down, but they are never out. They are trained to think like lightning. It is seldom that they are baffled for more than about a minute and a quarter. Freddie then thinks of demonstrating Bottles’ superior skills at handling rats. However, this proposal is vetoed by the audience.  

Eventually, Bottles ends up proving his mettle in a fight with Aunt Georgina’s Airedale. A timely intervention by Bingham saves the day, prompting Gertrude, Aunt Georgina’s daughter, to fall back into his arms, thereby pleasing Aunt Georgina. She places an initial trial order of two tons!

Boosting Distribution by Facilitating Matrimonial Alliances

In Full Moon, Freddie is keen on a matrimonial alliance fructifying between his cousin Veronica and the man who owns the controlling interest in Tipton’s Stores. Veronica would obviously influence her would-be husband to promote the interests of Donaldson’s Dog-Joy biscuits. If Freddie can swing the deal and secure for Donaldson’s an exclusive dog-biscuit concession throughout Tipton’s chain of stores, he believes it would be the biggest thing he would have ever pulled off.

When approached, Tipton Plimsoll gleefully accepts the suggestion. The merger and acquisition takes place, as envisaged. Expansion of the distribution network of Donaldson’s Dog-Joy biscuits is assured.  

Berating the Competition

Freddie does not shy away from berating the competition. In Full Moon, Peterson’s Pup Food, a competing brand, is held to be a product lacking in vitamins, causing the hounds to get rickets, rheumatism, sciatica, anaemia, and stomach trouble, whereas:

‘…dogs raised on Donaldson’s Dog-Joy become fine, strong, upstanding dogs who go about with their chins up and both feet on the ground and look the world in the eye. Get your dog thinking the Donaldson way! Let Donaldson make your spaniel a super-spaniel! Place your Irish setter’s paws on the broad Donaldson highroad and watch him scamper away to health, happiness, the clear eye, the cold nose, and the ever-wagging tail!

Even Small Orders Count

In the same narrative, we meet Lady Dora Garland who happens to command two spaniels and an Irish setter. Her being a small prospect does not deter our go-getter. He believes that every little bit added to what one has makes just a little more. 

Allowing, say, twenty biscuits per day per spaniel and the same or possibly more per day per Irish setter, her custom per year per complete menagerie would be quite well worth securing.

Networking as a Tool

In Full Moon, Freddie also keeps in touch with Sir Rupert Brackenbury, the Master of Fox Hounds. His subtle sales talks have already won him over as a customer. He believes that those who join a satisfied customer like him for a hunt from nearby counties are likely to be told that the pack keeps ‘tucking into Donaldson’s Dog-Joy all the time, a bone-forming product peculiarly rich in Vitamins A, B, and C.’

Marketing professionals of all hues, sizes, and shapes would surely approve of the strategy and tactics used by Freddie to market his company’s product.

Promotion

Wilfred Mulliner is also our go-to guy when promoting newly invented products.

Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo speaks of Buck-U-Uppo which acts directly on the red corpuscles. If type A is required for human invalids, type B is purely for circulation in the animal kingdom and was invented to fill a long-felt want throughout India. Maharajas could use it to cause even a timid elephant to trumpet loudly and charge the fiercest tiger without a qualm.

A Slice of Life promotes the case of Mulliner’s Raven Gypsy Face Cream which is to be applied nightly with a small sponge before retiring to rest, leading to satisfactory results from numerous members of the aristocracy. 

The same story advises nobility to use Mulliner’s Reduc-O, thereby eliminating the need for one to stew in Turkish Baths:

Mulliner’s Reduc-o, which contains no injurious chemicals, but is compounded purely of health-giving herbs, is guaranteed to remove excess weight, steadily and without weakening after-effects, at the rate of two pounds a week.

Human Resources/Organizational Behaviour

I think the richest harvest a CEO could reap from Plum’s works is in the realm of managing Human Resources. Many of his propositions are universal in nature and could be used by managers in any kind of organizational setting.

Psychology of the Individual

A critical input from Plum is in the form of the emphasis that Jeeves lays on the ‘psychology of the individual’.

Consider the way Jeeves manages to keep his career prospects intact by using tact and resource. His methods may be rough at times, but the neat results obtained do provide satisfaction to all concerned. He believes that one needs to break a few eggs to make an omelette. He registers dissent in a diplomatic manner. He is a respectful and dignified listener, speaking only when necessary. He leads others while appearing to be a devout follower.

The effectiveness of positive interpersonal relationships at work can never be over-emphasized. The efficiency as well as the effectiveness of CEOs and managers depends on the same. Whether managing bosses of different kinds or motivating colleagues and team members, an understanding of what makes each one tick surely helps.

The Art of Managing Bosses

Plum presents us with a wide spectrum of bosses. From the rather stiff-necked Mr. Peters of Something Fresh to a pliable one like Bertie Wooster, he offers us bosses with temperaments as varied as the colours in a rainbow.

Plum makes us appreciate the starkly different ways by which bosses get ‘managed’ by their respective juniors. Of all the alternative choices available, there are at least three which deserve a deeper consideration. I allude to Reginald Jeeves, Ashe Marson, and Rupert Psmith.

Jeeves is the inimitable valet of Bertie Wooster. Ashe Marson is the hero of Something Fresh. Psmith is the suave monocle-sporting Etonian. Each one has his own style of managing a boss. 

Managing the Boss: The Jeeves Style

It is difficult to sum up in a few words the kind of tactics Jeeves uses to manage the affairs of Bertie Wooster and many others in the canon. Sending Bertie off on a midnight cycle ride through a forest, making him take the rap for setting a boat adrift resulting in an angry swan attacking the Right Honourable A. B. Filmer, and allowing some cats to be present just when Sir Roderick is coming for lunch are but some of his ways to make Bertie’s life smoother.

  • Tact and Resource

In ‘Bertie Changes His Mind’ (Carry On, Jeeves), Jeeves sees a crisis which requires adroit handling. Simply by managing Bertie to deliver a talk to some giggling and staring schoolgirls, he manages to change Bertie’s mind when it comes to having the prattle of kids’ feet around him. He concludes thus:

Employers are like horses. They want managing. Some of us have the knack of managing them, some haven’t. I, I am happy to say, have no cause for complaint.

  • Decision Making Under Uncertainty

Mr. Wooster is a young gentleman with practically every desirable quality except one. I do not mean brains, for in an employer brains are not desirable. The quality to which I allude is hard to define, but perhaps I might call it the gift of dealing with the Unusual Situation.

What Jeeves prescribed almost a century back continues to be valid even today, especially in the mundane life of a CEO; even more so in the post Covid-phase of our operations. Those who have this unique gift of dealing with an unusual situation fare much better!

Managing the Boss: The Ashe Marson Style

In Something Fresh, Ashe Marson loves confronting his boss and challenges him to give up his sedentary habits. Looking the boss in the eye and giving it back to him occasionally ends up helping the boss. The diet-exercise regime unleashed upon the boss to cure his dyspepsia gradually starts showing results. The employer-employee relationship here has a dash of disobedience on part of the latter, but it does get results.

‘You’re a wonder,’ said Mr. Peters. ‘You’re sassy and you have no respect for your elders and betters, but you deliver the goods. That’s the point. Why, I am beginning to feel great.’

After the scarab is restored and the assignment at hand is over, Mr. Peter is impressed enough to offer him a career in watching over his health. He graciously accepts the offer to shift base to America, along with Joan Valentine, the love of his life. We are already aware that Ashe is conscious that a future in which Joan did not figure would not be such as to bear considering.

Alas, much like Psmith and Eve of the Leave it to Psmith fame, both are never heard of again anywhere else in the canon. 

The Rupert Psmith Style

In Leave it to Psmith, when Rupert Baxter, the secretary of Lord Emsworth, is given his marching orders, Psmith skilfully manages to charm Lord Emsworth into hiring him instead.

In Psmith in the City, we meet a tough cookie named John Bickersdyke, manager of the London branch of the New Asiatic Bank. Psmith provides us with quite a few invaluable insights into the art of boss management.

  • The Induction Process

For a new entrant, the induction phase in an organization plays a crucial role. Psmith offers some tips on the process of settling down in a company. 

  • The Friendly Native

Networking and social skills play an important role here. One needs to secure the cooperation of a friendly native. He is the one who knows the ropes and is aware of the personality traits and personal hobbies of the superiors who matter. Comrade Bannister is identified as the friendly native. In a casual chat, Bannister informs Psmith and Mike about Rossiter’s interest in football.

  • Winning Over Superiors

Armed with this intelligence, Psmith’s task of endearing himself to Rossiter, his immediate superior and the head of the Postal Department, becomes easy.

If the way to an immediate superior’s mind is good performance on the job, then the way to his heart is through either a hobby of his or an area of mutual interest.  

  • Entente Cordiale

Psmith advocates the use of patience – the chief quality of a successful general. The haunting of the hapless target of one’s attention – the boss – is a gradual process. It works better if one’s performance on the core job remains without a blemish.

Background information about an area of interest, when imparted to and discussed with the superior over a period of time, speeds up the progress of entente cordiale.

Once goodwill of the immediate boss has been earned, feedback reaching the top boss regarding a new recruit’s capabilities and potential is invariably positive.

Managing the Top Boss

However, Psmith’s approach to managing the top boss is different. Here, he achieves success by taking a confrontational approach. But he does so only after having proven his performance and having achieved success in his efforts to ingratiate himself with the immediate boss. Once he has found his feet, he is ready to take a leap of faith.

He achieves his objective in two phases.

  • The Reform Phase

The first one involves reforming the top boss by opening a dialogue with him at his club and then going on to challenge him openly, whether at a public meeting or at a spa.

When the bank manager Mr. Bickersdyke addresses a meeting at the Kenningford Town Hall to fulfil his political ambitions, the audience listens intently. Having said some nasty things about Free Trade and the Alien Immigrant, he turns to the Needs of the Navy and the necessity of increasing the fleet at all costs.

‘This is no time for half-measures,’ he said. ’We must do our utmost. We must burn our boats—’

‘Excuse me,’ said a gentle voice.

Mr Bickersdyke broke off. In the centre of the hall a tall figure had risen. Mr. Bickersdyke found himself looking at a gleaming eye-glass which the speaker had just polished and inserted in his eye.

‘How,’ asked Psmith, ’do you propose to strengthen the Navy by burning boats?’

The inanity of the question enraged even the pleasure-seekers at the back.

‘Order! Order!’ cried the earnest contingent.

Psmith claims that all his efforts are directed towards making a decent man of his boss; to establish that he is his truest friend.

  • The Blackmail Phase

The second phase is to ignore the boss’ threats to dismiss him for insolence and get him to do his bidding by even resorting to blackmail, if necessary.

When Mike’s career in the bank is in jeopardy, Psmith resorts to it. He leverages the political ambitions of the top boss to pull Mike out of the soup. He digs up some old speeches made by Comrade Bickersdyke when he was a bulwark of the Tulse Hill Parliament. If published, these would adversely affect Bickersdyke’s chances of getting in as the Unionist candidate at Kenningford.

This is what Psmith tells Mike:

‘I have some little influence with Comrade Bickersdyke. Wrongly, perhaps,’ added Psmith modestly, ’he thinks somewhat highly of my judgement. If he sees that I am opposed to this step, he may possibly reconsider it. What Psmith thinks today, is his motto, I shall think tomorrow. However, we shall see.’

The top boss weighs his options and eventually relents. While Mike gets off the hook, Comrade Bickersdyke goes on to become a Member of Parliament.

Management is all about getting results. Psmith shows us how to get a superior to do his bidding. 

The Perils of Having Yes-persons Around

The Nodder introduces us to Mr. Schnellenhamer, the head of the Perfecto-Zizzbaum Corporation, a film studio in Hollywood. He is not a person who brooks dissent. When he expresses his opinion on any subject, a respectful silence prevails. He looks about him expectantly. This is a cue for the senior Yes-Sheep to say yes. He is followed by the middle-rung Yes-Sheep and then the junior Yes-Sheep. Then the turn of all the Nodder-Dormices comes. They simply nod, one after the other. A dash of sycophancy keeps their employment prospects bright. 

This may work for owners of small and modest sized businesses. However, management professionals in senior positions seldom realize that having a bevy of Yes-persons around could be harmful to their long-term career prospects. Encouraging dissenters is a sine qua non for a leader’s success in any field of human endeavour. 

In Money in the Bank, Jeff describes Mrs. Cork, a brutal taskmaster, being in the same league as that of Simon Legree.

Building Bridges with Colleagues

Most organization charts hide more than they reveal. An organization really runs in an informal fashion where official proclamations are never as effective as informal ones. Goals get achieved faster and better by resorting to one’s interpersonal relationships. Building bridges with colleagues is the way to go.

One of the traits of an effective executive is the ability to get along with people of all temperaments and also looking at things from their view points.

By way of an example, consider Mike. He is not a snob. But he simply does not have the ability to be at his ease with people in another class from his own. He did not know what to talk to them about, unless they were cricket professionals. With them he was never at a loss.

However, Psmith is different. He could get on with anyone. He seems to have the gift of entering into their minds and seeing things from their point of view. Building bridges with others does help him in delivering results.

Being a Student of Human Nature Helps

While trying to console Mike, Rupert Psmith points out to him that a man of Comrade Bickersdyke’s warm-hearted type is apt to say in the heat of the moment a great deal more than he really means.

Men of his impulsive character cannot help expressing themselves in times of stress with a certain generous strength which those who do not understand them are inclined to take a little too seriously.

Chasing one’s Passion

Mike experiences the exhilaration of bursting the bonds with the New Asiatic Bank when he decides to return to cricket. Psmith, on the other hand, deserts his responsibilities to pursue a career in law.

‘This can’t go on,’ he said to himself. ’This life of commerce is too great a strain. One is practically a hunted hare.’

It needs wisdom to understand one’s strengths and weaknesses. If a leap of faith gets made to pursue one’s passion in life, happiness cannot be far behind.

The Art of Becoming Indispensable

Proficiency in On-the-job Skills

In The Custody of the Pumpkin, Lord Emsworth has to eat humble pie and beg Angus McAllister to rejoin his services. He approaches McAllister humbly and offers to double his salary if he returns to the castle. This alone ensures that his precious pumpkin ‘The Hope of Blandings’ ends up winning the coveted first prize at the Shrewsbury Show.  

Rendering Perfect Services

In The Inimitable Jeeves, we are treated to a scenario where Bertie has made up his mind to sack Jeeves.  To quote a delectable passage from the memoirs:

‘I buzzed into the flat like an east wind…and there was the box of cigarettes on the small table and the illustrated weekly papers on the big table and my slippers on the floor, and every dashed thing so bally right, if you know what I mean, that I started to calm down in the first two seconds. …. Softened, I mean to say. That is the word I want. I was softened.’

Needless to say, Jeeves stays put!

God’s Gift to Our Gastric Juices

Anatole, the supremely skilled French chef of Aunt Dahlia at her country house Brinkley Court, is much sought after by other employers. Those who try and lure him away from the Travers household include Mr. Anstruther in The Love that Purifies Sir Watkyn Bassett in The Code of the Woosters and Mrs. Trotter in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. He keeps Tom Travers’ lining of the stomach in the pink of health.

His is a fine example of such highly skilled professionals whose reputation travels far and wide, making potential employers keep a tab on their career moves with keen interest.

In The Story of Cedric, we meet Miss Myrtle Watling who assists Cedric Mulliner so very proficiently that he ends up marrying her. 

All of them achieve a high degree of invincibility in their careers by acquiring relevant knowledge, cultivating appropriate skills which happen to be invaluable to the organization. Also, by having a positive attitude and a value system which matches with that of their employers.  

Business Administration

Some Traits of a Bureaucratic Organization

The organizational behaviour of large bureaucracies is unique in many ways. Plum does not disappoint us in capturing this facet of management.

In Frozen Assets, Jerry, while reporting a missing wallet to a sergeant in a police station in Paris, realizes that he is up against French red tape, compared to which that of Great Britain and America is only pinkish.

In Psmith in the City, Plum gives us a sneak peek into the way a large bureaucratic organization works.

A Healthier Work–Life Balance

Then there was no doubt that it was an interesting little community, that of the New Asiatic Bank. The curiously amateurish nature of the institution lent a certain air of light-heartedness to the place. It was not like one of those banks whose London office is their main office, where stern business is everything and a man becomes a mere machine for getting through a certain amount of routine work. The employees of the New Asiatic Bank, having plenty of time on their hands, were able to retain their individuality. They had leisure to think of other things besides their work. Indeed, they had so much leisure that it is a wonder they thought of their work at all.

The Boredom Quotient of a Routine Job

Upon joining the bank, Mike realizes that except for Saturdays and Sundays, and the ten days’ holiday each year, he would have to face the drudgery of daily coming in at ten and leaving at five o’clock. The monotony of the prospect appalled him.

It is this monotony which makes the daily lunch a highlight of the day.

Few workers in the City do regard lunch as a trivial affair. It is the keynote of their day. It is an oasis in a desert of ink and ledgers. Conversation in city office deals, in the morning, with what one is going to have for lunch, and in the afternoon with what one has had for lunch.

For employees who believe in being proactive, it is difficult to shake off the caged feeling, often making them feel restless. Sooner or later, they start looking out for more exciting pastures.

The Concept of a Mistake-Clerk

How do we handle a disgruntled customer’s complaint? How do we assuage the feelings of a customer who is seething with fury?

According to Psmith in the City, there happens to be a regular post in American companies, called a mistake-clerk. His Key Responsibility Area is to receive all the flak when customers complain. He is hauled into the presence of the foaming customer, cursed, and sacked. The customer goes away appeased. The mistake-clerk, if the cursing has been unusually energetic, applies for a rise of salary.

Being the ‘fall guy/gal’ is no one’s idea of fun. However, there are indeed situations which need managers to willingly face the firing squad, howsoever despicable the prospect may be!

The Enthusiasm of Being a Cog in the Wheel

When Psmith joins the New Asiatic Bank, he believes that he, as an individual, ceases to exist. Instead, he becomes a cog in the wheel and a link in the bank’s chain. He makes his superiors believe that he, the Worker, shall not spare himself; that he shall toil with all the accumulated energy at his disposal.

Whose is that form sitting on the steps of the bank in the morning, waiting eagerly for the place to open? It is the form of Psmith, the Worker. Whose is that haggard, drawn face which bends over a ledger long after the other toilers have sped blithely westwards to dine at Lyons’ Popular Cafe? It is the face of Psmith, the Worker.

Discipline is the key to smoother operations. Painful duties cannot be shirked. In any case, Peter F. Drucker recommends focusing on one’s performance, rather than being concerned about one’s happiness.

Secretaries

Once upon a time, behind every successful senior manager or CEO, there used to be a secretary. Without a secretary fussing over them, the best of bosses would collapse. Their performance ratings would drop. Meetings, appointments, conference calls, travel plans, grapevine management, appointments, appraisals, promotions – there was virtually no activity in a company which fell outside the circle of influence of this omniscient and omnipotent tribe. Lesser mortals would invariably strive to always remain in the good books of the members of this species.

Over time, this species appears to have joined the ranks of such endangered ones as those of tigers, rhinos, and panthers. The smart ones have managed to get kicked upwards and have assumed operational roles. The not-so-smart ones have gravitated towards the unalloyed bliss of handling some mundane chores. The dull ones have simply been asked to pack their bags and seek greener pastures elsewhere.

In Plumsville too, secretaries keep the affairs in the lives of their bosses going on smoothly.

Lord Emsworth has employed a series of secretaries, most notable among them the ever-suspicious Rupert Baxter, the highly efficient young man who never seems to be able to keep away from Blandings, despite his boss’ increasingly low opinion of his sanity. He is succeeded in the post by Reginald Psmith, and later by the likes of Hugo Carmody and Monty Bodkin. The castle’s splendid library was catalogued, for the first time since 1885, by Eve Halliday.

When in the company of Lord Marshmoreton, we meet Alice Faraday. Julia Ukridge has a secretary by the name of Dora Mason. Aunt Agatha’s plans to get Bertie Wooster to take up the role of a secretary to the Cabinet Minister, A. B. Filmer, get thwarted by the acts of an angry swan.

Of course, the most outstanding secretary was Miss Myrtle Watling who made herself so very indispensable to Cedric Mulliner that he ended up marrying her!

Entrepreneurship

A Risk-Taking Ability

When it comes to stoking entrepreneurial ambitions and improving one’s propensity to take risks, Joan Valentine, the heroine of Something Fresh, exhorts us as follows:

Don’t get into a groove. Be an adventurer. Snatch at the next chance, whatever it is.

She makes us appreciate that the ideal adventurer needs a certain lively inquisitiveness. She has a sense of enterprise which keeps her moving on in life.

A Dash of Optimism

Elsewhere in the canon, we meet Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, a charismatic opportunist who will do anything to increase his capital – except, of course, work. He believes in the adage that unless one speculates, one does not accumulate. He keeps coming up with get-rich-quick schemes and failing in his ventures with a remarkable degree of consistency. But his buoyant optimism never deserts him.

We find him setting up a Dog College where dogs can get trained to perform at a music hall. We also find him setting up an Accident Syndicate so insurance claims could be split up. He also supports sailors in the boxing ring. Elsewhere, we find that he is not averse to splitting a real estate commission earned during the sale of an English country house. In Love Among the Chickens, we find him setting up a chicken farm which also fails. But his buoyant optimism never deserts him. He starts visualizing starting up a duck farm!

Ukridge makes for an interesting case study on how not to set up and run a business. Lofty sales projections, an over-dependence on credit from suppliers, and lack of risk planning to overcome unforeseen setbacks ensure a failure of his ventures. Moreover, most of his ideas are of an immoral kind and are not sustainable.

Luck By Chance

The role that a chance occurrence plays in the life of an entrepreneur is brought out in Uncle Fred in the Springtime. Lord Ickenham tells Pongo of the policeman who accosted his aunt Brenda and said that her dog ought to be wearing a muzzle. When the aunt whipped her lorgnette from its holster and looked sternly at the man, he was never the same again. He left the Force, and eventually drifted into the grocery business.

And that is how Sir Thomas Lipton got his start.

Production/Operations

In Plumsville, we do not run into any operations of a manufacturing kind. But rendering a service is what keeps many of the characters busy.

In Plumsville, besides Anatole, we also run into other cooks who are adored by their respective employers. In Jeeves Exerts the Old Cerebellum, we come across the example of Miss Watson whom Mr. Mortimer Little, uncle of Bingo Little, intends to marry.  

Discipline for Rendering Impeccable Services

Something Fresh touches upon the kind of discipline required to render impeccable services at Blandings Castle. It takes a bevy of servants to keep things running in an orderly fashion at the Castle.

Besides the ever-present butler Beach, with eighteen years’ service at the castle under his ample belt, it employs a number of footmen, such as Charles, Thomas, Stokes, James and Alfred. The chauffeurs Slingsby and Alfred Voules drive the castle’s stately Hispano-Suiza. Scottish head gardeners Thorne and Angus McAllister tend the grounds while George Cyril Wellbeloved, James Pirbright and the Amazonian Monica Simmons take turns to look after the needs of Empress of Blandings.

There is a rigid hierarchy here, backed by customs and rituals which need to be scrupulously observed. There are strict rules of precedence among the servants. A public rebuke from the butler is the worst fate that can befall a defaulting member of this tribe.

Kitchen maids and scullery maids eat in the kitchen. Chauffeurs, footmen, under-butlers, pantry boys, hall boy, odd man and steward’s-room footman take their meals in the servants’ hall, waited on by the hall boy. The stillroom maids have breakfast and tea in the stillroom, and dinner and supper in the hall. The housemaids and nursery maids have breakfast and tea in the housemaid’s sitting-room, and dinner and supper in the hall. The head housemaid ranks next to the head stillroom maid. The laundry maids have a place of their own near the laundry, and the head laundry maid ranks above the head housemaid. The chef has his meals in a room of his own near the kitchen.

All this may sound similar to running a five-star property in the hospitality segment. Also, behaviourally speaking, there is not much difference between our corporate citizens and those who work below the stairs. Both love discussing the idiosyncrasies of those above them.

Materials/Supply Chain/Logistics

When the dove of matrimonial peace keeps flapping its wings over the abode of a happily married couple – like that of Rosie M. Banks and Bingo Little – it is apparent that the household and the kitchen never run short of any critical item. Since Rosie keeps travelling often, one may safely assume that the credit of managing the supply chain management on the household front would mainly go to Bingo Little.

Another example of an efficient ‘no-stock-out’ system would surely be that of Jeeves, the resourceful valet of Bertie Wooster. He never runs out of critical items at his master’s lair, even managing the needs of surprise visitors who descended on the Mayflair flat at a short notice. A ready supply of tissue restoratives and pick-me-ups is always available.

In Episode of the Dog McIntosh, the successful and timely restoration of the custody of the dog McIntosh to Aunt Agatha demonstrates the importance of following the Just-in-Time dictum.

This is how Bertie says he procured aniseed powder, widely used in the dog-stealing industry:

I don’t know what the record is for popping out and buying aniseed, but I should think I hold it. The thought of Aunt Agatha getting nearer and nearer to the Metropolis every minute induced a rare burst of speed. I was back at the flat so quick that I nearly met myself coming out.

Finance/Banking/Insurance

Ukridge is of the view that ‘If you do not speculate, you do not accumulate.’ Those who dabble in the stock market would heartily approve of this sentiment.

Plum’s works do not offer any solace to those burning the proverbial midnight oil preparing cash flow and funds flow statements, though balancing of ledgers does figure sporadically in Psmith in the City. But he offers unique insights into the realm of finance, banking and insurance.

Of Insolvent Banks and Non-Performing Assets

In Do Butlers Burgle Banks? we meet Horace Appleby who looks and acts like a butler but is, in reality, part of a gang which is after jewels and precious objects. In nearby Mallow Hall lives Mike Bond, who has recently succeeded his late uncle as owner of the house and Bond’s Bank. He employs secretary Ada Cootes, and lives with his aunt Isobel Bond, who is confined to her room with a broken leg and has a nurse, Jill Willard.

Jill eavesdrops on a conversation between Mike and the bank trustees, General Sir Frederick Featherstone and Augustus “Gussie” Mortlake. The bank is insolvent by a hundred thousand pounds. Originally the amount was even greater, but Mike gambled with the depositors’ money to bring the amount down; he will go to prison if this is discovered.

Mike wishes someone would rob the bank to hide the truth. Jill suggests to Ada, who knows the combination to the bank’s large safe, that they rob the bank. They do so and after many twists and turns in the story, the police are on to Mike who fears he will go to prison if he keeps the suitcase, but the bank will fail if he returns it. Horace and the gang use their savings to finance the bank, saving Mike.

Making Insurance Companies Spiritual and Avoiding Stop Payment of Cheques

In Anselm Gets A Chance, we run into Myrtle Jellaby, niece of Sir Leopold Jellaby, the local squire, who happens to be a millionaire philatelist. Some of us would fondly recall the managerial abilities of Myrtle, who is in love with Anselm, the curate of the parish of Rising Mattock in Hampshire. Anselm cannot inform her uncle of the position of affairs because all he has to marry on is his meagre stipend.

Anselm benefits by an unexpected legacy – a stamp album which is insured for a sum of no less than five thousand pounds. Sir Jellaby pulls a fast one and declares the collection to be virtually worthless.

Myrtle brings in Joe Beamish who has served about sixteen prison sentences and has a sound reputation amongst burglars. Her idea is to get Joe to ‘steal’ the album so Anselm may claim the insurance money. But Anselm gets cold feet when it comes to lodging a claim.

Myrtle has definite views about insurance companies. Backed by her woman’s intuition, she goes to the root of the matter and touches a spot.

“What do you mean, you wonder? Of course we collect. Shoot the claim in to the insurance people without a moment’s delay.”

“But have you reflected, dearest?

“It doesn’t matter whether a thing’s valuable or not. The point is what you insure it for. And it isn’t as if it’s going to hurt these Mutual Aid and Benefit birds to brass up. It’s sinful the amount of money those insurance companies have. Must be jolly bad for them, if you ask me.”

Myrtle believes that insurance companies have too much money and would be better, finer, more spiritual insurance companies if they were made to cough up high value claims. Persuaded by her, Anselm realizes that it was not only a pleasure, but a duty, to nick the London and Midland Counties Mutual Aid and Benefit Association for five thousand pounds. It might prove the turning-point in the lives of its Board of Directors.

The fact that Myrtle herself has engineered the theft leaves Anselm shaken to the core. Of course, love prevails over ethical considerations.

But the situation undergoes a sea change when Anselm delivers a moving Sermon on Brotherly Love. Joe Beamish hands back the inherited stamp collection to him, thereby rendering a claim null and void. Sir Leopald Jellaby is found sobbing and expresses himself thus:

“Mulliner,” said Sir Leopold Jellaby, “you find me in tears. And why am I in tears? Because, my dear Mulliner, I am still overwhelmed by that wonderful sermon of yours on Brotherly Love and our duty to our neighbours.

“I wish to write you a cheque for ten thousand pounds for that stamp collection of yours.

“But your sermon to-night has made me see that there is something higher and nobler than a code of business ethics. Shall I cross the cheque?”

Having received a cheque, Myrtle does not waste time. She persuades Anselm to endorse it and give it to her, so she may motor to London that very night in her two-seater. This way, she would be at the bank the moment it opens and deposit it.

“You see, I know Uncle Leopold. He might take it into his head, after he had slept on it and that sermon had worn off a bit, to ‘phone and stop payment. You know how he feels about business precautions. This way we shall avoid all rannygazoo.”

There is nothing that so heartens a man in a crisis as the feeling that he has a woman of strong executive qualities at his side. Anselm kisses her fondly.

“You think of everything, dearest,” he said. “How right you are. One does so wish, does one not, to avoid rannygazoo.”

Systems and procedures

Regrettably, Wodehouse did not live long enough to witness the era of Information Technology. Around the time he handed in his dinner pail in 1975, this field was in its embryonic stage. Hence, this facet of management missed out on his humorous take on the digital world.

However, in the age of snail mail, telegrams, cyclostyle machines, telexes, fax machines, and large organizations with rigid hierarchies, Standard Operating Procedures drafted by glum looking internal auditors ruled. In Plumsville, one is apt to find rozzers and detectives who had their own set of procedures to be followed rigorously.

The Conscientious Rozzers

Take the case of rozzers who are over-zealous about protecting the property of the Crown. Use of their bicycles to impart riding lessons to young lasses gets resented. While tracking down criminals, they spare no effort. It is their upright and proper conduct which upholds the might of the Law. They are invariably meticulous in their approach. They show due respect to the gentler sex, unless they have direct evidence to the contrary. Even defaulters of the canine kind do not escape their fury.

Constable Ernest Dobbs (The Mating Season), Colonel Aubrey Wyvern (Ring for Jeeves), Eustace Oates (The Code of the Woosters) and Stilton Cheesewright (Joy in the Morning) are a few of the characters which pop up in one’s mind. 

Detectives

Detectives of the benign kind solve many a problem for themselves and for their clients. In our challenging times, they no longer wear disguises. These days, besides tracking unfaithful spouses, they assist their companies in protecting their data against unethical hackers. Scotland Yard may still not be looking for their services, but many others are slowly recognizing the value of hiring digital detectives. 

The Perks of Having a Sinister Smile

In The Smile That Wins, Adrian Mulliner, a private detective, falls in love with Lady Millicent Shipton-Bellinger, the daughter of the fifth Earl of Brangbolton who dislikes detectives. The father insists that Millicent must marry Sir Jasper Addleton, the financier.

Heartbroken, Adrian has a bad attack of dyspepsia and a doctor advises him that the best cure for it is to smile. Adrian has a sinister-looking smile that seems to say ‘I know all’ and causes a great deal of nervousness amongst people with something to hide. When invited to a Baronet’s country home he unleashes his smile on Sir Jasper Addleton who, guilty like all financiers, hands him a cheque for a hundred thousand pounds.

With the hundred thousand pounds in hand, and the unfortunate effect of the smile on the Earl just as the Earl was cheating at cards, Adrian gets the Earl’s blessing to marry Millicent.

Joining the Beloved’s Profession

In Bill the Bloodhound, we run into Henry Pitfield Rice, a young man employed in a detective bureau who has fallen in love with chorus girl Alice Weston. He proposes to her, but she refuses. She is fond of him but wants to marry someone in her profession. Henry tries to get a job on the stage but fails since he cannot sing or dance. Henry is sent by his employer to follow the touring company performing The Girl from Brighton, which Alice is part of, since a woman wants her husband shadowed and he is an actor in the show. Henry follows the company from town to town, using different disguises.

The touring company realizes that Henry is a detective. People there call him Bill the Bloodhound. They are holding a sweepstake on who he is investigating. The show has been successful, so he gets asked to join them as a mascot. Henry agrees, but refuses to reveal who he is following. During the next show, Henry proposes to Alice just before she goes on stage. Eventually, Henry joins the company, and becomes a part of the same profession as that of Alice.

Others

Investigators also include R. Jones of Something Fresh fame and Miss Putnam of Hot Water fame who plays a detective disguised as a secretary.    

Many companies do not encourage romantic relationships between their employees. However, hormones often overpower hierarchies.

Ethics

We run into many ethical dilemmas faced by some of the characters in Plum’s narratives. Admittedly, there are no easy solutions to these.

In Clustering Round Young Bingo, Aunt Dahlia commissions the famous valet to somehow persuade the temperamental French cook Anatole to join her staff, so that Uncle Tom’s lining of the stomach remains in the pink of health. Bingo, Anatole’s current employer, is aghast to hear this.

‘What! Is that – that buzzard trying to pinch our cook?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘After eating our bread and salt, dammit?’

‘I fear, sir,’ sighed Jeeves, ‘that when it comes to a matter of cooks, ladies have but a rudimentary sense of morality.’

Many a times, Bertie Wooster is blackmailed by Aunt Dahlia who is bent upon getting her work done. The threat she holds out is that of banishing him from Brinkley Manor, her lair, where Anatole, God’s gift to the gastric juices, serves his delectable spreads.

In Something Fresh, the absent-minded Lord Emsworth ends up pocketing a prized scarab from the collection of American millionaire J. Preston Peters. Even though Peters suspects Lord Emsworth, he hesitates from directly confronting him on the issue, since his daughter Aline Peters is engaged to be married to Lord Emsworth’s son. He gets Ashe Marson to recover the scarab.

All managers face ethical and moral dilemmas in their career. Some are upright and uncompromising; many others allow practical considerations to prevail over principles.

Lessons of a General Kind

When the volume of the milk of human kindness coursing through an executive’s veins exceeds a certain critical level, peril lurks.

Voluntarily Seeking a Cut in the Paycheck

To Avoid a Saunter Down the Aisle

In The Episode of the Landlady’s Daughter, we run into Roland Bleke, an ordinary young man. He is a clerk in a seed-merchant’s office. Roland inadvertently gets engaged to his landlady’s daughter, Muriel Coppin, and does not want to marry her. He is supposed to marry her when his salary is large enough, so he asks his boss Mr. Fineberg to reduce his salary, which surprises Mr. Fineberg.

“Please, sir, it’s about my salary.”

“Salary?” he cried. “What about it? What’s the matter with it? You get it, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir, but it’s too much.”

Mr. Fineberg’s brain reeled.

“Say that again,” he said.

“If you could see your way to reduce it, sir——”

It occurred to Mr. Fineberg for one instant that his subordinate was endeavoring to be humorous, but a glance at Roland’s face dispelled that idea.

“Why do you want it reduced?”

“Please, sir, I am to be married when my salary reaches a hundred and fifty, sir. And it’s a hundred and forty now, so if you could see your way to knocking off ten pounds——”

For the Good of the Organization

In The Nodder, Mr. Mulliner tries to explain the role of a Nodder in a Hollywood motion picture organization thus:

‘Putting it as briefly as possible, a Nodder is something like a Yes-Man, only lower in the social scale. A Yes-Man’s duty is to attend conferences and say ‘Yes.” A Nodder’s, as the name implies, is to nod. The chief executive throws out some statement of opinion, and looks about him expectantly. This is the cue for the senior Yes-Man to say yes. He is followed, in order of precedence, by the second Yes-Man – or Vice-Yesser, as he is sometimes called – and the junior Yes-Man. Only when all the Yes-Men have yessed, do the Nodders begin to function. They nod.’

Wilmot Mulliner is one such. He is quiet, respectful, deferential, and obsequious.

Once he gets promoted to the rank of executive, starts getting his love reciprocated and is in receipt of a most satisfactory salary, he feels that the happy ending has arrived. He gets filled with the utmost benevolence and goodwill towards all humanity.

When the boss, Mr. Schnellenhamer, points out to him that the company is facing difficulties and needs to cut expenses, he proposes his own salary to be sliced by as much as eighty percent!

‘About how much were you thinking of?’

‘Well, you’re getting fifteen hundred a week.’

‘I know, I know,’ said Wilmot. ‘It’s a lot of money.’

‘I thought if we said seven hundred and fifty from now on …’

‘It’s an awkward sort of sum,’ said Wilmot dubiously. ‘Not round, if you follow me. I would suggest five hundred.’

‘Or four?’

‘Four, if you prefer it.’

‘Very well,’ said Mr. Schnellenhamer. ‘Then from now on we’ll put you on the books as three. It’s a more convenient sum than four,’ he explained.

‘Makes less book-keeping.’

‘Of course,’ said Wilmot. ‘Of course. What a perfectly lovely day it is, is it not? I was thinking as I came along here that I had never seen the sun shining more brightly. One just wanted to be out and about, doing lots of good on every side. Well, I’m delighted if I have been able to do anything in my humble way to make things easier for you, Chief. It has been a real pleasure.’

Employers simply love employees with this kind of a feudal and benevolent approach towards the organization!

Developing the Executive Abilities of Lady Macbeth

Dolly is the brassy, golden-haired shoplifting wife of Soapy, the brains of the couple. Unlike her husband, she is a firm believer in direct action. in Money in the Bank, Jeff Miller considers her to have the executive abilities of Lady Macbeth.

Justifying Being Late

Many of us have invented several excuses for landing up late in the office. In Quick Service, Joss Weatherby gives us a unique perspective.

When he walks into the offices of Duff and Trotter several hours later than expected, the following exchange takes place between him and Mr. Duff:

“You’re late!” he boomed.

“Not really,” said Joss.

“What the devil do you mean, not really?”

“A man like me always seems to be later than he is. That is because people sit yearning for him. They get all tense, listening for his footstep, and every minute seems an hour…”

Grooming Future-ready CEOs and Managers

By no stretch of imagination can this essay be taken to be an exhaustive one. It is merely a very thin slice of the delectable cake that Plum has left behind for managers to savour. The realm of management is a very wide one; so is the sheer range of Plum’s works. The attempt here is to not only connect some of the dots between the realms of management to some of his works but also to check if his oeuvre is relevant to navigate the choppy waters that our managers face in a high-entropy business environment.  

His works continue to be an effective balm for many a weary and wounded soul. When it comes to shrugging off those blues, these act like the pick-me-ups whipped up by Jeeves and make one rise over one’s dead self to higher things in life.

Plum’s works not only entertain us. These also carry invaluable lessons for mankind in general and for CEOs and managers in particular. The more the disruptions caused by advances in technology, the higher the risk of human alienation. The higher the level of alienation, the wider the prevalence of depression and psychosomatic illnesses. His works are based on the psychology of the individual and act as effective anti-depressants. This is the basic reason his works have a very long shelf life.

I am not a management academician, but I do believe that his works, if converted into case studies and brought into the regular syllabi of management institutes, can surely help us in grooming future-ready CEOs and managers.

Enlightened owners and CEOs, while rewarding good work, can consider presenting a set of Plum’s books to their star performers, so as to entertain, enthuse and educate their managers better.

Harvard Business School (HBS) was set up in 1908, when Plum was barely 27 years of age and was just warming up to his future career as an illustrious humourist. But if he had ever attended a management course at HBS, his characters might have been etched out differently.

Roberta Wickham would have been a marketing head at a FMCG conglomerate, coming up with such goofy schemes as getting management trainees to puncture the hot-water bottles of competing companies’ CEOs. Bingo Little would have been deploying his sporting spirits to educate people on investing in equities. Madeline Bassett would have been the dreamy Creative Head of an advertising agency. Roderick Spode would have been the Chairman and Design Head of Eulalie Secrets Ltd.

Florence Craye would have been dishing out such best-selling tomes as ‘A Managerial Spin to Our Drifting Times’. Pauline Stoker would have been the head of an event management company of repute. Jeeves would have been running an academy offering specialized courses in managing bosses. Bertie Wooster would have been delivering talks to a bunch of giggling management students on ‘Decision Making: Lessons from The Cat Chap’ and perhaps even working on a series of articles entitled ‘What the Well-Dressed CEO is Wearing’ for the Harvard Business Review.

Galahad and Psmith would have been found managing large multinational businesses, steering those strategically and handling their operations with quiet efficiency and effectiveness.  

The possibilities are endless. The mind boggles.

Had this been the case, management academicians would have readily incorporated his works in textbooks and even whipped up relevant case studies, thereby benefitting wannabe managers.           

Management by Milk of Human Kindness

In an interesting article (https://hbr.org/2014/07/managements-three-eras-a-brief-history), Rita Gunther McGrath identifies three eras of the process of evolution of management thought. According to her, if the first era pertained to execution – with an emphasis on creating scale – the second one focused on expertise. During the second era, professionals were focused on providing advanced services. Now, many are looking to organizations to create conscious and meaningful experiences. Though she argues that management has entered a new era of empathy, I would rather say that we have entered an era of consciousness, wherein managements are being increasingly called upon to act responsibly towards the planet which supports their sustenance.

Subconsciously, we have already entered an era of management thought wherein the basic credo is the Milk of Human Kindness, a term borrowed by Plum from Macbeth more than a century back. Empathy has indeed become important, making businesses aware of larger issues besides shareholder returns. Triple-line bottom accounting is gaining traction. ESG (Environment, Society, and Governance) norms are being applied by investors before they decide to loosen their purse strings. Blockchain is being deployed to offer a transparent deal to the customer, who continues to rule the roost. Employees are increasingly showing a preference for employers whose transactions are equitable, fair, and transparent. 

As we march into the future, a Wodehousean approach to Management could help organizations in more ways than one.

Notes:

  1. Illustration on Secretaries by Mario Miranda; Caricature of P G Wodehouse courtesy Suvarna Sanyal.
  2. Inputs from Anustup Datta, Chakravarti Madhusudana, Elin Woodger, Prof Satish Kapoor, and Tomas Prenkert are gratefully acknowledged.

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When Jeeves Takes Charge: 2.0

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ashokbhatia

A culture which is rooted in Consciousness does not throw up hapless leaders who keep burning the proverbial midnight oil in their relentless pursuit of commercial goals only, while shoving concerns such as the environment, the society and human resources under the corporate carpet.   It does not merely mean that our marketing honchos are doing their best in servicing our customers effectively and efficiently; instead, it implies that they do so while ensuring that the product/service as well as its packaging is environment-friendly.

It means that those toiling on the operations side design the processes in such a way that the carbon footprints are at least neutral, if not positive; that our financial wizards keep nudging the organization towards maximizing returns to all its stakeholders; and the human resource executives keep burning the midnight oil to ensure that people and processes respect human values and dignity, while keeping the costs…

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It is said that Mr. R. M. Lala, an editor, writer and publisher of repute, once commented to Mr. J. R. D. Tata that the latter believed in excellence. The great man is said to have retorted thus: “Not excellence. Perfection. You aim for perfection; you will attain excellence. If you aim for excellence, you will go lower.”

But even achieving excellence is not a cake walk. Many leaders are not clear how to go about doing it. The mirage of excellence is elusive, and most often, it is not a surrogate for achieving outstanding business performance alone by measuring and surpassing business results. There is more to it than what meets the eye.

Satyendra Kumar’s book endeavors to answer this question.

The author shares distilled insights from his four decades of accumulated learning from various organisations to portray the fundamentals — that are often elusive —in building organisational excellence. 

This book is a valuable treasure trove of insights. It has the potential to enable as well as enrich the thinking process of business leaders when it comes to achieving excellence in a sustainable manner.

Elusive Secrets in Seven Chapters

The book etches out seven steps to facilitate the process of achieving excellence, each step being covered in a separate chapter.

The Foundation is obviously laid by a leader’s spark of genius beyond intelligence, evoking intuitive facets to nurture essentials that fuel a never-ending appetite for learning.

This leads to the concept of Learning Forever, which, in turn, instills a norm of Measurement and Predictability.  

A climate of learning and measurement provides an impetus for Productive Working that leads to a build-up of confidence across teams and groups entrusted with the task of achieving business goals. 

This brings out the criticality of The People Factor which is an important ingredient in creating a Culture of Improvement and Transformation.  

Last, but not the least, is the Invisible Backdrop of a deep purpose guided by values and ethics that the author presents as it loops back to the very essence in the acts towards building the Foundation.

Each chapter progressively enhances the value of the conversation with an elevated level of awareness, thereby igniting the intuitive mind to grasp what is relevant and necessary.

Every company eager to protect its soul and spirit for worthy outcomes could benefit from reading this book.

Author’s Profile

Satyendra Kumar has enhanced the quality systems for world-class global organisations with his contributions for over 40 years. He has served on several industry bodies and has received numerous awards in shaping the conversation for progress with his deep understanding of the systems view of an organisation that is a precondition for nurturing a culture of excellence.

Kumar today continues his passion by helping organisations strengthen their systems maturity by providing his rich experience as an Independent Advisor and Consultant to several large and medium-scale institutions and enterprises since 2013. Kumar was the Global Head and Senior Vice President – Productivity & Quality, Technology Tools & Software Reuse at Infosys Limited (2000 – 2013). He has worked as Vice President at IMR Global, the USA, between 1998 and 2000. As Deputy Chief Executive for Tata Quality Management Services – Tata Group between 1996 and 1998, he provided an intellectual impetus in laying the foundation for instituting the Tata business excellence initiative. Kumar’s rich experience spans his consulting expertise to over 50 national and multi-national clients in areas of Business Excellence, Operational Efficiency, Customer Satisfaction Management, Business Continuity Management, Project and Programme Management, and Quality Management.

He has served on many Boards and Panels such as Board member (QuEST USA), On the Panel of Judges – Wisconsin State Award (USA), Administrative Reforms Committee of Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and Chief Technical Advisor to the Confederation of Indian Industry – Institute of Quality. Has been a recipient of the IEEE-Software Engineering Institute (Carnegie Mellon University) International award (2011) and honoured with the “Lifetime Achievement Award for Quality and Business Excellence” by an IT industry association.

Some Accolades

Satyendra Kumar’s relentless and unfettered focus on excellence played an important role in the high percentage of repeat business Infosys obtained from customers. This book is a distilled wisdom of his impactful journey at Infosys during 2000 – 2013 and many other companies during his professional career. I recommend this book to leaders, managers, and development professionals in any company to read it, learn from it, and deploy the lessons.

— N.R. NARAYANA MURTHY
Co-founder Infosys Ltd

Satyendra and I worked together at Infosys till 2009 … I believe his relentless pursuit of excellence played a seminal role in the evolution of Infosys. As you read through this book, you will get a glimpse of what I believe are the fundamentals that need to be put into place to aspire for excellence. The best part is that you will hear them from Satyendra first-hand! I hope that the next generation of leaders invests time and patience to learn from this work and find ways to incorporate it into their leadership, culture, and the basic fabric of their organisations.

— NANDAN NILEKANI

Chairman and co-founder Infosys Ltd, Chairman and co-founder EkStep Foundation

Achieving excellence in business is an arduous journey. One has to design for quality and innovation, and plan for longevity, a truer measure of business success. Satyendra Kumar, with his experience in steering quality movement in the IT industry, provides a practical guide for future leaders in building organisational excellence.

—  KRIS GOPALAKRISHNAN,
Former CEO and Co-Founder Infosys Ltd, Chairman Axilor Ventures

Satyendra Kumar’s book bestows upon the reader his wisdom, expertise, and countless years of professional and personal experience. We are fortunate that Kumar has taken the time to document his life’s work. One will learn from his many incredible successes and will also learn how to avoid or overcome difficulties he encountered over time. I enthusiastically recommend and endorse this book.

— STEVEN HOISINGTON,

Retired senior executive, leadership coach.

I have seen Satyendra Kumar in action for three decades. His unwavering focus on building a culture of learning and improvement with long term focus is amazing. This book elegantly reflects his experiences and should be leveraged by start-ups or established companies to instill these great practices for long term success.

— ARUN NARAYANAN, 

President and the Mentor, US Technologies Global Ltd

Despite the enormous body of literature from the academic and consulting worlds, Organizational Excellence is still elusive to most people. This book precisely addresses this issue through interesting anecdotes, case studies, and experiential stories. It reflects — how organisational learning, people caring, and ethical governance can lead to long-term organisational excellence and sustenance. Satyendra Kumar has nicely brought out many hidden facets that business owners and leaders born or made, and passionate entrepreneurs should read and take advantage of.

— MITALI CHATTERJEE,
Former Director General, STQC, Ministry of IT, Govt of India

A powerful and elegantly written book with deeper insights.

— MADAN MOHAN,
EVP Coforge Ltd

Satyendra Kumar has written an interesting book backed by years of experience. His narrative is experiential, giving guidance and insights into systems, implementation, and achieving organisational excellence. I recommend this book to everyone in the corporate world who wish to focus on organisational excellence.

— S.D. SHIBULAL,

Former CEO and Co-Founder Infosys Ltd

Satyendra Kumar as a practitioner and leader brings three decades of his rich experience relevant to businesses and business leaders of various types. Quality is not just a buzz word but is about its leaders, their values or ethos and purpose imbibed through a long journey is well brought out.  It was a pleasure for me to have been part of leading this journey with him in Infosys as well as relive that journey on reading it.

— K. DINESH,
Chairman AHT Foundation and Co-founder Infosys Ltd.

Satyendra Kumar has distilled into this book, decades of his experience in creating a culture of excellence in some of the worlds most successful corporations. His incisive and yet simple principles are relevant equally for large corporations and young start-ups. I have seen him passionately inculcate excellence in every aspect of business at Infosys and I am confident that the book will be a key guide for leaders navigating an increasingly competitive world. Each chapter of the book provides a vivid road map for creating excellence through pragmatic steps. A must read for leaders who aspire to create world-class organizations!

— M.D. RANGANATH,
Chairman, Catamaran Ventures, Independent Director, HDFC Bank

For Additional Information

https://striking-ideas.com/elusive-secrets

Links to Acquire a Copy of the Book

USA: https://a.co/d/3EDMaCy

INDIA: https://amzn.eu/d/crfISyg

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ashokbhatia

Interpersonal relationships happen to be a key factor in achieving success in aRelationship managerial career. Even otherwise, positive relationships boost our Happiness Quotient in life.

Here are few insights on relationships based on some well-known scientific principles.

FB and the Roentgen Effect

Never take a person at face value. Be ruthless in acting like a X-ray machine, Scientist Roentgenascertaining the inner motives of the party of the other part.

Create your own Facebook – a filtered version of the bosses, peers and subordinates you come across. Categorize them into, say, Close Friends, Friends, Acquaintances, Foes and those Vehemently Opposed to whatever you say or do. Deal with them at their respective wavelengths. You would vibe well.

Be sceptical of sudden unwarranted praise. A very tough project could be coming your way. The lynching mob could be sharpening its arsenal by the time you gleefully accept to drive a car all the…

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Can the works of P. G. Wodehouse impart some lessons to CEOs and managers in managing their affairs better? His fans are always eager to relive the moments of mirth and bliss experienced by them while going through his books and stories. However, those of you who are from the realm of management and are dimly aware of the existence of a British humourist known as P. G. Wodehouse would by now be shaking your heads in disbelief wondering how something dished out by way of making one chuckle, guffaw and laugh could have anything to do with the stiff-upper-lip discipline of management.

To the latter, one would say that humour is serious business indeed. It is bound to make us feel lighter but cannot be taken lightly. In the past, we have examined in some detail the question if humour is serious business and have found an answer in the affirmative. In an earlier post, we also touched upon the way management theories and practices have evolved over the past century and checked if there are any common points between such theories and what Plum dishes out by means of his scintillating works.

The Intellectual Halo Around Seriousness

The deeper reality is that we value seriousness and tragedy over humour and laughter. Our minds boss over our hearts. Seriousness somehow makes us sound more intellectual. Most of the times, anything humorous is treated by us as being frivolous and perhaps fit to be scoffed at on the intellectual plane. On campuses of high-brow seats of learning, it is easy for us to visualize absent-minded professors going about with a heavy tome or two clutched in their hands, with a morose look on their faces, as if they were just being led by an invisible hand to the gallows. At management seminars and conclaves, serious talks get applauded while a speaker conveying a plain vanilla message coated in delectable humour gets ridiculed for playing to the gallery. In companies, at board meetings, detailed power point presentations of a serious kind get appreciated, whereas anything said in a lighter vein runs the risk of being greeted with healthy scorn.

One admires such management thinkers as C. Northcote Parkinson, Sharu Rangnekar and Laurence J. Peter who have broken this glass ceiling and given us rich management lessons in a humorous manner.

In their book Humour, Seriously, Naomi Bagdonas and Jennifer Aaker debunk the myth that humour has no place at the work place. In an interview, Jennifer Aaker opines that leaders with a sense of humour are seen as 27% more motivating; their teams are more than likely twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge. When leaders use humour in their interactions with their team members, they signal humility and humanity, thereby reducing the status barrier between themselves and their audience. The goal of humour at the work place is not merely to make others laugh; it is to put people at ease, thereby enabling them to be more open and candid in sharing their opinions.  

Humour in Brand Management  

Consider the innovative way humour gets deployed by a few brands of repute to keep their images shining bright.

Since 1946, the Air India Maharajah has been representing India with charm and dignity, making the company more visible to its customers all over the world. Created by Bobby Kooka along with Umesh Rao of J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency, it has kept pace with the times – as a lover boy in Paris, a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, a Romeo in Rome and even a guru of transcendental meditation in Rishikesh.

Likewise, we have the case of the Amul girl. The mascot was created as a response to Amul’s rival brand Polson’s butter-girl. The idea was conceived in 1967 once ASP (Advertising, Sales and Promotion) clinched the brand portfolio from the previous agency FCB Ulka. It was executed by Mr. Sylvester Da Cunha, the owner of the agency and his art director Eustace Fernandes on hoardings, painted bus panels and posters in Mumbai. The mascot, since then, has been mobilized to comment on many events of national and political importance.

Not to forget some of our politicos who have risen from the ranks after having been successful comedians, managing countries and motivating their denizens to stand up to bullying by oversized neighbours waging wars so as to widen their sphere of influence.  

If a lay manager were to pick up such books by P. G. Wodehouse as Psmith in the City, Blandings Castle and Elsewhere and Something Fresh and put them under a managerial lens, she is surely apt to discover a treasure trove of precious lessons in such diverse fields as marketing, entrepreneurship, operations, systems and procedures and human resources.

When it comes to the art and science of managing bosses, Rupert Psmith, Reginald Jeeves and Ashe Marson have created a few templates for a manager to follow.

The higher the level of entropy of our business environment, the higher would be the need for humour in business. As we march into the future, a Wodehousean approach to Management could help CEOs and managers in more ways than one.

(Illustration courtesy R. K. Laxman)

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P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), fondly referred to as Plum, dished out his narratives in an era which one could allude to as the sunrise era of the science and art of management. He was a prolific writer, publishing more than ninety books, forty plays, two hundred short stories, several poems and other writings between 1902 and 1974.

He used a mixture of Edwardian slang, quotations from and allusions to numerous literary figures, and several other literary techniques to produce a prose style that has been compared to comic poetry and musical comedy. One of the qualities of his oeuvre is its wonderful consistency of quality, tone, wit and wisdom.

The Early Years

When Wodehouse arrived on the literary scene, Max Weber (1864-1920) was speaking of different forms of authority – charismatic, traditional and rational-legal, while Henri Fayol (1841-1925) was working on his twelve principles of management.

While Wodehouse, was busy honing his unique skills as an author, Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) was preoccupied with a new approach to management. In 1909, Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management, highlighting the importance of organizational structures and a chain of command. In the same year, Wodehouse had come up with The Swoop and Mike. Much like a management executive, Mike happens to be a solid, reliable character with a strong sense of fair play; he also has an appetite for excitement. 

By 1910, Wodehouse had published Psmith in the City, offering us insights into the working of a bank and hinting as to how one could manage bosses. The Little Nugget came up in 1913 introducing us to Ogden Ford, someone who, like a bright and upright executive, can manipulate his distracters with much aplomb and even stand up to and tick off his step father.  During December 1913, Henry Ford had installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of automobiles. His innovation had then reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to one hour and 33 minutes.

The Delicately Nurtured

While Wodehouse was busy introducing us to such emancipated females steeped in entrepreneurial enthusiasm as Joan Valentine, Jill Mariner and Sally Nicholas, Mary Parker Follett was having a profound impact on the development of management thought. She was active in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when women occupied few executive positions in business, government or education. Her audience was small, but devoted. Her remarkable work can be found in the volume Mary Parker Follett – Prophet of Management, published in 1995 by Harvard Business School Press.

During 1940, Wodehouse published Quick Service, outlining the risks involved in stealing portraits, thereby touching upon the realm of decision making under uncertainty. In 1942, C. Northcote Parkinson came up with the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” a useful concept to capture the growth of bureaucracy (The Parkinson’s Law). As to bureaucratic eccentricities, Wodehouse covers these in at least two of his works, Psmith in the City (1910) and Frozen Assets (1964).

One of the brands created by Plum, Reginald Jeeves, continues to stand for impeccable service. As long as such mentally negligible bosses like Bertie Wooster are around, it will never become obsolete. From the 1920s through the 1950s, Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr. (1875 – 1966) was busy steering General Motors on a highway of high growth. He brought in such concepts as an annual model change, brand architecture, industrial engineering, styling and planned obsolescence.

Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005) subsequently enlarged our vision of the realm of management. Functions like Marketing, Production, Finance, Supply Chain Management, Systems and Human Resources emerged. In 1964-65, Plum offered us Galahad at Blandings which showcased the unique abilities of Galahad to sort things out satisfactorily at Blandings Castle, which as usual is overrun with overbearing sisters, super-efficient secretaries, and the love struck, threatening to put an end to Lord Emsworth’s peaceful, pig-loving existence. In 1966, Peter F. Drucker came up with The Effective Executive, highlighting traits not dissimilar to those of Galahad and Rupert Psmith.

 

Philip Kotler (born 1931) further expanded the Marketing horizon by conceptualizing the 4 Ps – Product, Place, Pricing and Promotion. Many other leading thinkers expanded and enriched our understanding of management and leadership processes in organizations while Plum was busy unleashing his brand of humour upon the unsuspecting public. Way back in 1935, in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere, he had captured Freddie Threepwood’s marketing endeavours to peddle Donaldson’s Dog-Joy biscuits. Come 1967 and he gave us ‘Company for Henry’ (The Purloined Paperweight) which spoke of the art of managing to purloin a paperweight, while Philip Kotler gifted us with Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning and Control.

During 1969-70, Wodehouse had published A Pelican at Blandings showcasing yet again the genius of Galahad to manage things effectively, establishing that he was yet to reach his level of incompetence. During 1969, Peter and Raymond Hull were publishing The Peter Principle.

Much after Wodehouse had handed in his dinner pail, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman gave us In Search of Excellence (1982). In 1989, Stephen R. Covey offered his unique managerial insights through 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The idea here is not to say that when it comes to the realm of management, Plum’s works were ahead of their times. It is merely to put both on a time scale and check if any pattern emerges. We can see from the above that while in some cases, he was still stuck in the classical models of management which were more of a command and control type, whereas in some other cases, he was indeed ahead of the curve of management thought.   

An Ever-evolving Field of Thought

A unique characteristic of management professionals is that they seem to have a very short attention span for concepts. Their craving for novelty in management concepts is never satiated. Give them Statistical Quality Control and Just-in-time and they lap it up with the kind of enthusiasm a cat shows on being offered a fish slice. Show them the potential of Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing and they embrace it with all gusto. They are enamoured by a concept only until a new buzzword comes along. Each buzzword has a limited shelf life as an effective intoxicant.

Thus, management thinkers and writers have a unique challenge – that of marketing even old ideas in a flashy new language. In order to maintain their status as a management guru, the hapless guys/gals have to not only keep coming up with newer tissue restoratives but also to keep recycling the older ones and offering the same in dazzling new bottles. 

Like all other realms of knowledge, management continues to be an ever-evolving field, in tandem with the evolution of our economies. With rapid advances in technology, all segments of this knowledge are undergoing major changes. There is a dire need for futuristic business leaders who can achieve goals in a sustainable manner, backed not only by hard core analytical prowess but also by such soft skills as compassion, empathy and equanimity. Leading business institutes are increasingly depending on literature and fine arts to groom aspiring managers whose heads are screwed on right, thereby giving them a better chance at tackling the rise in the entropy of the business environment.   

Despite an evolution of managerial thought, over the last century, the fundamentals of organization management and leadership have not changed much, though the delivery of those concepts has been reshaped to service the needs of a new economy. Rigid hierarchies have slowly given way to flexible organizations. With the advent of a work-from-home style, many organizations have become dispersed in space and time. In a similar vein, Plum’s works remain frozen in time, using the eccentricities of the British aristocracy as a fodder. All over the world, his fans keep churning out pastiches, thereby keeping his works alive. Several societies in different countries keep organizing various events, keeping the Wodehousean flame alive.

The underlying messages in his works continue to be relevant in our contemporary times. However, their timelessness lies in keeping the human race away from getting depressed while facing the harsh slings and arrows of fate.

(Inputs from Prof Satish Kapoor are gratefully acknowledged.)

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  1. Introduction

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of the work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for Inaction”. These are some of prominent verses of Shri Bhagavad Gita, which essentially convey the most significant human values that we must inculcate within us throughout this journey of life.

In this era of 21st century, where employees in the organizations are in a constant competitive space, trying to fulfil their individual and organizational goals, basic values which make up the human are often getting ignored. As Samuel Johnson, one of the prolific English writers quoted, ‘The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good’, explains the true quality that every human being should possess.

Values are basically the beliefs that refer to desirable goals that drive action. Our values are extremely important as they help us to grow and develop in the desired way. They help us to create the future we desire to experience. Every organization and the individuals working there are involved in making hundreds of decisions every day. These decisions are the reflection of our own values and beliefs and they are always directed towards a specific purpose. Thus, this purpose serves as the satisfaction of our individual or collective needs.

2. Present context in organizations

Technology is now ingrained at each and every step of our lives. Organizations have been keen on leveraging the maximum usage of these technological advancements and, thus, are looking out to a better diversification of their businesses. Start-ups have been rising at a tremendous pace, not only creating a competition to the established entities but also offering wide opportunities to the working employees’ segment. Thus, with such hustle and bustle in the outside world, most of the employees at any level or designation are today being compelled to only think about the results and achieving recognition in the market. While achieving the results is, undoubtedly significant, but focussing on processes is equally important. Today, in the quest of achieving more, higher managements can often be seen setting goals which seem impractical to achieve and employees while striving to achieve the same are seen as being being ruthless to their subordinates. According a study by Gallop across 27 million employees and over 2.5 million work units, it was seen that only 30% of the employees in US are actually engaged at work and only around 13% around the globe are engaged in the work at their workplaces.

3. Significance of Human Values in Organizations

Values are significant as they guide our beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. Realising, understanding, and staying true to our values is, therefore, one of the most important efforts that any human being can make. The same applies to our work places where the importance of values cannot be ignored.

When we say values in organizations, these can be perceived through two perspectives. One belongs to ‘Leadership Values’ which pertains to values possessed by the higher management in the organizations. The second one is the ‘Employee Values’ which is associated with the values possessed by the employees working in any organization.         

a. Leadership Values

i. Compassion and Patience

The higher management and managers in the organizations, today, should necessarily inculcate a sense of compassion and patience within them. Though the company’s goals and targets are equally important, at the same time, leaders must also realise that the employees working towards it should not get overburdened. A true leader must always have an understanding of employee capabilities and interests and thus taking these factors into account, one should shape one’s expectations from them accordingly.

Patience is another human value which gets ignored these days while getting the things get done. Leaders should precisely consider the work efforts required for a particular task and should also consider the employee constraints while working on it. Thus, having a perfect balance of compassion and patience, leaders in the organization will be able to achieve the results as desired without disturbing the employee morale.

ii. Self Confidence and Trust in Employees

In this rapidly changing technological environment, leaders often come across situations where they need to adopt or develop a completely new emerging application based on the requirements. In such cases, the leaders have to rely upon their past experience and have to find out ways in which the new application can be developed.

A sense of trust has to be built among the employees and higher management, where it is ensured that the employees do not feel exploited by the company. At the same time the management has to also ensure that they express their trust towards employees by offering them the required and expected rewards and entitlements.

b. Employee Values

i. Adaptability and Inclusivity

The value of adaptability can be seen as one of the most influencing factors in the organizations. The ability of any employee to adjust with his/her fellow colleagues drives not only that particular employee but also the overall team. Employees, when they join a new organization or a new team, often find it challenging to bond with the new colleagues. But the quality of ‘accepting people as they are’ is extremely necessary in such cases.

When it comes to solving the problems in the organizations, the value of inclusivity ensures every team member is given the required value and their opinions are equally respected. This provides a freedom for the employees to express their views and promotes the feeling of ‘every thought is precious.’

ii. Love, Care and Respect towards Subordinates

Staying competitive in business is obviously important. However, the value of loving, caring and respecting the subordinates is no less important and critical. Today, it can be seen that employees, either to mark their prominence, betray their subordinates by taking the credit or create hurdles for them in achieving their goals.

The values of love, care and respect for employees, will not only help their subordinates in achieving the goals, but in turn, they themselves will be benefitted in their work, as a sense of positivity will be running through their veins

4. Conclusion

As conveyed by Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita, ‘the human intent behind any act always matters’. It follows that employees should always posses the intent of accomplishing their tasks in the best possible way, while helping anyone whom they meet in their journey. Employees in the organizations, today, should not develop a sense of either “I am Everything’ or ‘I am Nothing’. Instead, they need to develop an attitude of ‘I am Something’, which induces the self-confidence within them and also at the same time reminds them that there is lot of scope for them to learn and grow.

Having these essential values makes the working environment very conducive to new ideas and innovations, where every employee does not only feel valued, but they work at their fullest potential in order to make their organizations reach newer heights. Thus, in this era of fierce competition, human values combined with right skills to work will not only make the organizations thrive and be successful, but also add much required strength to humanity and make this planet a much better place to live.

Introducing the Author:

Ankur Sharad Mahajan is 27 years young and is currently pursuing my MBA in Operations at K J Somaiya Institute of Management, Mumbai, India.

He is an Instrumentation Engineer and worked at Tata Consultancy Services before joining his MBA. His hobbies include writing articles and poems, chanting Sanskrit Hymns and playing cricket, table-tennis and chess. Participating in various article writing competitions has always been his core interest. He is happy to have availed the opportunity provided by SPANDAN of expressing his views on a topic that he believes is most relevant and important in the present context.

Notes:

  1. Permission of SPANDAN to reproduce this essay here is gratefully acknowledged.
  2. This essay is a winning entry in an Essay Contest organized by SPANDAN recently.

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“Carrots and sticks are well alive and well within the change canon, and some businesses forgo the carrots”

The dominant paradigm, particularly in today’s world, is that organizations are there to principally generate shareholder value and profit. When profit is threatened, laying off workers; and when profit is surplus and so is demand, then skill-scale-speed followed by HRs as an optimum variable in the recruitment, has become an uncontroversial norm. In both of these cases, human values take a backseat and that won’t do. While this archetype has been further reinforced by the pandemic, it doesn’t hurt to reevaluate the same while visiting some of the catastrophic consequences in the 20th century that coercion and neglect of human rights had on organizations and nations at large. While the unions and strikes against some marginalisation and enslavement based on extreme structures, like that of the US Plantation Economy or the Atlantic slave trade, have resulted in the enactment of labor laws, formulation of code of conduct and structuring the blueprint of corporates, methods inculcating humanistic values including self-actualization, dignity and purpose are still a far cry.

Organizations might have evolved around structure, policy, culture and technology but the need to centralize business through human intrinsic values still holds relevance. Now is the time that we start devising structural plans to align the present day organizations with human values and most importantly take cognisance of its relevance in all kinds of setups.

The stepping stone to understand the relevance and eventuate the same would revolve around redefining the role of HRs, understanding the core values that remains the same irrespective of the changes in organizational set up, the importance of adhering to the human values in the ever changing world around AI and envisioning the implications on stakeholders outside the organization while formulating any plan.

HR = Human Resilience

Industry stalwarts like Ajeet Bajaj are now defining resilience as an important attribute of HR. In this ever changing dynamic and diversity of the business world, employees are expected to emerge as a winner no matter what. They are expected to manage boundaries, conflicts, transitions, and deliver sustainable results. In short, they are expected to be resilient along with holding competence. However, more than physical and mental strength, resilience is a person’s emotional response to the situation, says Former MD & CEO of National Skills Development Corporation. And to harbour that level of emotional resilience, we can’t expect this term “HR” to be merely referred to as “Human Resources” but there is a need to redefine it as “Human Resilience”, there is a need to see humans as more than just well-oiled machines. HR is a profession that identifies the potential of people, nurtures the talent, facilitates self discovery and incentivises talent multiplication. And all of this is imperative to an organization’s success.

The pandemic however has made HRs respond reactively rather than proactively that further libeled them as “Termination Trays”. To break this notion, it would require organizations to diverge from “profit maximization to value maximization” and to bring about the change, HRs remaining at the very apex of it. This would involve HRs to undertake fundamental research about people in the context of governments, societies, corporate sector, villages, districts, talukas, so that they have a shared vision and value with humans coming from all walks of life. This, in turn, empathetically guides them towards the path of passion-purpose-positivity and revert back the setback brought in by the COVID-19 pandemic through a knack of bringing out the best in them amid crisis situations. And in this process, the resilience and adaptability fostered by human values remains innate as a key functionality in the ongoing digital revolution, an era that surely demands even more inclusivity, employee engagement and innovation. In short, it demands us to be more human.

THE CORE REMAINS THE SAME!

In recent times, we have seen massive changes in the corporate scenario which is an amalgamation of reconstruction driven by the digital revolution. Needless to say, the dimension and scope of hybrid culture, remote work, and most importantly startups gets much larger.

Having said that, there is a greater need for organizations to enhance competitiveness everyday. But, the core principle that makes an organization competitive remains the same regardless of the dimension and its setup. It is mostly a reflection of human characteristics such as adaptability, ethics and resilience.

The increased number of startups and ventures has made the stakeholders enamoured and obsessed with the products and services but the rate of success still revolves around business intent, customer connection, and employee experience. This requires us to make work more relational than transactional. When investors at times push a firm to professionalize and strive to fulfil market demands, companies tend to take a superficial approach and neglect what truly matters to the venture. But the successful examples of ventures like Nike, Netflix, Study Sapuri has taught us that the root of successful businesses can always be traced back to Employee Experience, customer satisfaction and organizational spirit.

The most consistent and flexible of them has been Netflix. It worked relentlessly to retain its soul of helping best content creators around the world get a wider audience and became the best global distributor. It epitomizes the concept of human values and organizational profit going hand in hand while perfectly complementing each other.

And some recent examples like that of the Google employees demanding the tech giant to shelve plans to stifle dissent in China in 2018 show that organizations and employees are still willing to place human values above profit even for the stakeholders outside the ambit of organization. And in today’s world of automation and digitization, we surely need more such examples to set precedents and instill a sense of oneness.

CHANGED MANAGEMENT (AUTOMATION AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE)

While the world is leapfrogging towards Artificial Intelligence and Automation, it is incumbent upon us to practice it with utmost care and for the service of humanity and not against it. Some of the notable uses of AI for wildlife conservation or climate change through unmanned aerial vehicles and Machine Learning informatics are truly praiseworthy. But, we need to exercise wariness when we bring AI to the organizational setup. Taking a human centric approach would help the use of AI and automation intelligibly and proportionately. For that, it’s important that we have open and inclusive discussions about human values across diverse communities so as to avoid reinforcing unfair bias and create more innovative and representative uses of AI.

CONCLUSION

All of the three stepping stones including redefinition of HR’s role, Core values, Changed Management and automation help us to delve into the deeper trenches of the relevance and applicability of human values in present day organizations. To further augment all the three, there is a need to democratize businesses in order to envision the implications of our decisions that the stakeholders even outside the immediate sphere of an organization face. This would help us reevaluate some of the disastrous decisions including patent policy, jacking up the prices of life saving drugs and working against environmental protections that the organizations took lately in the light of shareholders profit.

While a transition to this self realization is surely difficult, observers suggest the main deterrence to the transition is our own mindset which is informed by a set of global narrative of how business is supposed to be. It has deepened the narrative of “dog eats dog” as a successful model of business. But, successful models like”Twin win” and “human chain” can be the silver lining to the ever evolving relationship between an organization’s success and the human values it professes.

And let’s remember that business and organization are the places where experience and insights came first and theories later. And in order to keep evolving and formulating new successful theories it is important to treat the significance of human values as being foundational, so as to solidify the ever evolving superstructures including business models and organizational cultures.

REFERENCES

www.investopedia.com/insights/history-of-us-monopolies

Harvard Business Review : https://hbr.org/2019/07/the-soul-of-a-start-up

Uses of AI: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery

SHRM, South Asia,

https://blog.shrm.org/sasia/blog/resilience-an-attribute-important-to-hr

  • Human Dignity and Welfare Systems: Chicago University Press
  • Wilson, On human nature: Harvard University Press
  • Humanizing Business : EY
  • Kelly Sikkema-Medium.com

https://medium.com/swlh/have-we-overlooked-our-human-values-in-the-business-of-valu e-creation-dc52ef8ff26c

Introducing The Author:

Shreya is 21 years young and a 3rd year Chemistry (Hons) student from Patna women’s college, Bihar. She has been active in the field of debating and speaking and has won awards at both national and international levels.

Some of these are:

1. “international conventional debate, Nimbus, DU” 2020

2. Jashn e abhivyakti, National debate competition, Satyawati college 2021
3. JIMS Kalkaji National Debate, 2021 
4. Evaluation contest winner, Toastmasters International 2020

Besides, she is an avid reader, writer with experience in the field of management, education and writing. She aspires to form a community of like minded people while always striving to learn more. 

Notes:

  1. Permission of SPANDAN to reproduce this essay here is gratefully acknowledged.
  2. This essay is a winning entry in an Essay Contest organized by SPANDAN recently.

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UNDERSTANDING HUMAN VALUES

Values can be defined as abstract and conceptual beliefs which act as a guideline in the lives of humans and influence the ways in which people and events are evaluated. The values of honesty, integrity, love, and happiness are termed as destination values whereas the values of health, status, intelligence are path values which help attain destination values.

While the destination values remain constant and act as a guiding light towards higher order goals, the path values are temporary and help achieve lower-order goals for humans. Humans are a mix of both types of values which are reinforced by the culture and environment in which they grow.

Where Do Values come from?

Values cannot exist in isolation from society. Every value can be referred to as a ‘goodness’ that exists in one’s mind, which in turn, exists as a sociometer construct that guides both collective and individual action.

Values can be formed biologically, determined by human needs, wants, and desires, and following one’s birth, they are formed from particular social groups, whose core values are determined by its purpose.

HUMAN VALUES AND ORGANIZATIONS

One can hardly glance at the front page of a newspaper without being confronted by a story of misconduct or unethical behavior in organizations. With this world becoming more and more profit centered, the relevance of value-based lens in this world of materialism is getting blurred.

For a vehicle to perform efficiently, it needs both an engine for power and a steering system for guidance. A similar analogy can be applied to any organization as well; the purpose or vision is the engine that propels it forward and the human values act as the steering system which guides it.

Just as it is important to be able to identify with an organization’s purpose, it is also important to align with its values. Organizations that authentically define their values show employees how to align their behaviors with the things that matter to the organization.

MAKING VALUES EFFECTIVE

An organization’s core values only have power when – and to the extent that – the humans in and around the organization feel a connection to them. When human values and organizational values overlap for employees, that’s when they are truly connected to their workplace.

The three ingredients that actually make values effective in an organization setup can be termed as follows:

Make Values Operationalized: Every organization can come up with a fancy set of value system that they follow. However, in order to make it effective it is important that similar values are reflected in the way the organization, its departments, teams and individual employees’ work on a day to day basis, propelled by actions and decisions.

Start from the Top: Leadership group of every organization must live up to the values that they stand for. Developing such value driven organizations always flows from the actions and decisions at the top level. An employee always idolizes his boss, so it is important that people at the top level are able to practice what they preach.

Communicate Values: Using content to communicate one’s value helps to develop a virtuous cycle. The content connects the organization to its values, keeping the values at the top of the mind for each team member when they are making decisions or crafting processes as a part of their daily tasks.

HUMAN VALUES AND RELEVANCE FOR ORGANIZATION STAKEHOLDERS

Values are an indispensable component of a healthy workplace culture. These provide a framework within which the organization can test its decisions, accomplish tasks, and interact with outside stakeholders.

Values and Organization: When organizations explicitly define their values and beliefs, they provide immediate clarity for decision making. Upholding human values helps create boundaries that show staff and clients where the organization is headed to.

A recent study conducted by the World Economic Forum highlighted how the organizations that nurtured a value system making it a part of their brand appeal without being single-mindedly focused on profit making were the ones which actually generated the most value and attained market leadership position.

The best example within the Indian context is that of the Tata Group. The guiding principles of the TATA group evolve from its rich value system and traditions of trusteeship as a way to redistribute the wealth created by the industrial society kept aside exclusively for the benefit of people at large.

Values and Leadership: Many leading thinkers and business practitioners advocate that true leadership is best expressed through the lens of values and beliefs of an organisation’s senior management, which serve to mould the broader organisation’s core identity and mindset. Values distinguish an able leader from a mere instructor.

As per the definition given by Busch and Murdock (2014), value-based leadership is considered as goal-setting, language-creating, problem-solving, and value-developing interaction, which is an integral part of any organization’s human values and very high ethical standards.

Following a value-driven path not only brings about clarity but also facilitates better decision making and goal accomplishment on the part of a leader. Value-driven decision making makes the leader standout and leave an everlasting imprint.

Values and Employees: Any business is as value-driven as the value systems of its individual employees. Value-driven employees not only turn into a long-term asset for the organization but also end up doing well in their lives and careers.

According to Maslow’s Need Hierarchy theory, human needs can be broadly categorized under five categories. Of these, Self Actualization needs come at the top of the pyramid. This clearly highlights how an employee – being a social animal – wants much more than monetary satisfaction.

Various studies show how employees are positively impacted when involved in CSR initiatives or when they follow their value system, rather than when driven by greed. Human values can act as a guiding light towards a better professional and personal life for an employee.

FINAL REMARKS

Business Ethics is a recent buzzword in modern organizations which constitutes the different human values and goes much beyond the materialistic business objective of profitability and growth. As most of the organization decisions are based upon values, the long-term sustenance of any organization is not possible without a robust value system.

With the increasing needs of different stakeholders, the modern organizations demand a more value-based approach of decision making. Value alignment not only helps in better decision making but also help organizations develop a feeling of trust with external stakeholders – like customers – ultimately leading to improved business performance.

Human Values can be considered as the soul of any modern organization. These act like the binding thread that integrates the organization with individual employees leading to holistic growth of the organization and the associated stakeholders.

Introducing the Author:

Vasu Garg (22 Years) is a 2nd-year student at MDI Gurgaon specializing in the field of Finance and Marketing. Prior to this, he completed his B.com (Hons) from Hansraj College, University of Delhi.

Despite no past experience in a corporate environment as a full-time employee, he has gained a certain level of exposure to the corporate world through a range of internships with organizations like Nomura, PharmEasy, UrbanCompany, IIFL, etc.

In terms of hobbies, he is passionate about participating in social work and playing cricket.

Notes:

  1. Permission of SPANDAN to reproduce this essay here is gratefully acknowledged.
  2. This essay is the top winning entry in an Essay Contest organized by SPANDAN recently.

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