Surrogacy – A Boon for Working Women?

A surrogate mother and delivery of a child costs approximately US$12,000 (Rs 720,000) in India. A mid-level female professional’s annual salary is more than twice this amount. Add to it the salary loss a female has post-delivery is she takes a break. Then consider the opportunity loss she suffers for the year she is pregnant and post-delivery, and the long-term impact on her career. The idea of surrogacy appears cost-effective.

If profit and loss analysis is done, surrogacy is the best option for working women. However, not all decisions can be based on money alone. So let us talk about the ethical, emotional, and social dilemmas of surrogacy. Maybe then surrogacy doesn’t sound like that great an option.

1)     Surrogate Mother’s Perspective

In India poor women who have one to two children opt for becoming surrogate mothers. They earn Rs 500,000 to Rs 600,000, which is equivalent to 8-10 years of their salary. The reason they consider this venture is that they can provide for their own children. For them it is good money since they do not have any other viable and legal means to earn a similar amount. It is a way out of extreme poverty.

However, in most of the clinics, surrogate mothers stay at a special accommodation and are provided food, lodging and medical facilities. They are allowed to meet their own family but not stay with them to reduce risks. Hence, the children of the surrogate mother suffer separation and lack of motherly care for 9 months of delivery time. They are forced to make that sacrifice, as their parents are concerned about their future. Is it right for the society and parents to ask children to make this sacrifice for their future?

The next issue is that the surrogate mother goes through a cesarean operation to deliver. She is taking all the delivery risks and health risks to deliver a child of an unknown couple. She carries the child within her womb for nine months and then hands it over to strangers. Doesn’t this amount to exploitation due to poverty?

2)     Child’s Perspective

unborn babyAs such a child has no say in how it is conceived. However, a question needs to be asked to child born from surrogacy – would they have preferred natural birth?

According to medical studies, a child recognizes the voice of the mother from the womb. It also develops physically according to the food provided and psychological stress of the mother. A study showed that the children born to mothers pregnant during the Dutch famine in 1944 ( known as Hunger Winter) developed health problems later in life because they survived on scarcity in the womb. Their bodies developed physically to survive on scarcity. Later on in life when there was abundant food supply their bodies couldn’t adjust.

Considering this, the child will develop physically and psychologically according to the stress and health levels of the surrogate mother. It will get attached and look for security in the voice of the surrogate mother. It will want milk from the surrogate mother.

As a society we are concerned when mothers abandon their children. However, in surrogacy, a child faces physical and psychological separation from the surrogate mother on the day it is born. A study shows that children born through surrogacy face higher level of depression and suffer from emotional issues. Hence, the question is – will they face lifetime abandonment issues due to surrogate birth.

3)     Adoptive /Genetic Mother’s Perspective

A professional women’s biggest dilemma is to have a child or not. If she does, she has to sacrifice her career, if she doesn’t she has to sacrifice her basic need of feminine fulfillment. While a man is not  questioned about his professional competence after becoming a father, a woman has to face doubtful superiors till her child becomes an adult.

The modern day medical science has provided her with an option to go for surrogacy. Nevertheless, will these nine months really have a long-term impact on her profession when she will be questioned every time she asks for leave because her child is sick.

Is it ethical for organizations and society to expect a woman to make a choice between professional success and personal happiness? When professional women talk about guilt of leaving the child home, won’t she feel guiltier on not having her child biologically?

Moreover, will she be able to form a strong relationship with her child born from surrogacy? Will the relationship be that of a mother and adopted child? What will be the long-term psychological and emotional impact on the mother when a child withdraws from her or she feels guilty because she didn’t physically bear the child.

The situation is different if the mother suffers from health issues and there is risk to her child or herself. Then she is fulfilling a dream through someone because she herself is incapable. However, when she is physically fit, the issue takes different proportions.

4)     Biological Father’s Perspective

A man’s biggest psychological insecurity is that he doesn’t know whether the woman is carrying his child or has he been fooled. Before DNA tests, men compensated this insecurity by falling in love, getting married and demanding fidelity from the mother of their child. The social norms were geared to ensure that a man doesn’t bring up a child, which is not his.

To this day, men are willing to sacrifice much for the mother of their children. Even when they don’t get along, they bestow respect and care to the woman for bearing their child.

Now contrast this with the option that they are bearing a child from a woman whom they don’t know and is not their wife. How is the man supposed to psychologically shift gears, care for his wife while ignoring the surrogate mother? He has to change generations of social thinking built into his psychologically.

Moreover, is his wife is healthy enough to bear children, then he has to struggle with the fact that she doesn’t want to physically trouble herself by having his child. She is not willing to make any sacrifices for him or his children. In such a situation, will the man feel loved by his wife, and will he be able to continue to love his wife? What will be the long-term impact on the marriage if a woman chooses to use a surrogate mother without the willingness and consent of the father? Moreover, will the man be able to have the same relationship with the child or will he feel like an adoptive father?

5)     Social Perspective

Presently, the number of children born through surrogacy is low. However, with the strides in surrogacy, cloning, and medical science, it is possible that in the next couple of decades surrogacy becomes more prevalent.

Then a couple of social behavior and culture issues need to be thought about. If the number of surrogate children increase will social conflict and disturbances occur on lines similar to ethnicity, race and color. Will the surrogate children feel discriminated against and should there be special guidelines formed to deal with the issue?

Will the society suffer from lessor level of social bonding? What will be the effects on altruistic nature of humans because childbirth is considered altruistic – a mother sacrifices and risks her life for it. Will the generation become more detached from their parents and face issues of isolation, abandonment, and depression. Will it suffer identity crises?

Closing Thoughts

To some questions there is no easy answer. Humans may be able to justify surrogacy when the mother suffers health issues. However, it is difficult to justify surrogacy from a monetary perspective when the moral, emotional, and psychological cost is so high for all parties concerned. It is not a onetime cost, it is a lifelong cost that each family member has to pay. So do you think surrogacy is an option for working women? Share your views here.

 References

 

Innovative Approaches to Fraud Risk Management

The Javelin Strategy & Research Identity Theft Report 2013 states that 5.16% of US customers suffered from identity theft amounting to US$20.9 billion. Moreover, Tablet users had the highest probability of fraud at 9.6%. Victims of data breach had a 22.5% likelihood to becoming fraud victims. Hence, it is clear that while organizations are deploying more processes, technology and resources to prevent fraud, the fraudsters are having a ball. One thing fraudsters do, is to think outside the box. So we have to take a leaf out of their book and be innovative in our approach to prevent and detect fraud. Below are some ideas on the same. Share with me your thoughts on what you think about them.

 1)    Voice Print Analysis

Presently, in most of the banks, a call center agent asks a set of questions to verify the identity of customer for telephone banking. Internal employees, external fraudsters and organized crime groups can easily steal information about date of birth, place of birth, address, secret questions, and card number.

Now voice-printing software is available for authentication of voice. The system automatically verifies the caller voice with the customer’s sample voice to identify fraudulent callers and protect the account.

Secondly, maintain voice records of earlier fraudsters. When system detects a fraudulent caller, it automatically checks against the previous fraudulent call records. Hence, the system will flag if a fraudster has previously conducted a telephone banking fraud. With this, it will be easy to nab the fraudster, if the police had caught him/her in a previous case.

A new voice identity technology is available  that captures the tone of the voice and the type of communication. The software can monitor quality of calls and customer satisfaction from call center agents’ conversations with customers. This will cut manual quality control checks significantly and result in savings in quality control department costs.

2)    Track through Photographs and Location Mapping

Besides having voice-printing software, use a system similar to WhatsApp to identify of customers. WhatsApp sends text messages, images, video recordings, audio recordings, and the location. If banks invest in a similar application and allow customers to download the application on their mobile phones and tablets, the number of telephone and internet frauds will reduce.

If a fraudulent caller is flagged, then the call center agent can request the customer to send a selfie or video. If it is the wrong person, usually the caller will cut the conversation and drop the attempt to commit a fraud.

If the caller is able to circumvent this control, the application will also track the location. Applications track the frequent places a customer visits or calls from. If the caller is from an unusual place, then s/he can be tracked immediately. For example, if a British customer is tracked to a place in India, the call centre agent can ask the caller to verify their location.

3. Track Spending Behavior

Sometimes high value fraudulent payments are processed resulting in huge losses. A study done by Vivek K. Singh*, Laura Freeman*, Bruno Lepri, Alex (Sandy) Pentland for “Classifying Spending Behaviour using Socio-Mobile Data” determined the spending behavior of customers from the social interaction patterns on mobile phones. For example, it showed that more social couple and couples with diverse business interests tend to spend more.

Using big data, insights on spending behavior of customers can be analysed based on personality traits. Tracking social patterns and payment patterns can flag out anomalies when the payment is not in line with the spending pattern. Moreover, a location map can identify the location of beneficiaries of previous payments . Hence, fraudulent payments can be identified at the time of processing itself.

Another advantage from this technology can be for processing retail loan applications. If prospective customers are willing to give the data of mobile phone transactions, then at the time of processing the application itself, the bank can identify which customers are likely to overspend and default in future. The bank can ask for additional securities and guarantees.

Moreover, if the application is installed in the loan customer’s mobile after loan disbursement, the moment s/he is about to overspend which might result in default of EMI, the bank can send the customer an alert to pay the EMI first.

 4. Fraud Risk Conversations

According to psychological studies on emotional intelligence, Negative Emotional Attractor’s activate defense systems and build resistance to change. On the other hand, Positive Emotional Attractors (PEA) activates parasympathetic nervous system and makes a person more conducive to listen and change behavior. An effective team has a 3:1 ratio of PEA:NEA. Another study shows that improving peer-to-peer conversation increases productivity of the team by 30 to 40%.

However, risk management reports are mainly critical hence activate NEA. Moreover, the communication, training material, and code of conduct are all geared towards creating fear and guilt. Hence, it is not surprising that attempts to educate business teams on fraud risks fail.

Fraud risk managers can build a positive interaction model using technology platform. A study conducted by Erez Shmueli_, Vivek Kumar Singh_, Bruno Lepri and Alex ”Sandy” Pentland on “Sensing, Understanding, and Shaping Social Behavior” enables tracking of human behavior through big data analytics. The analytic helps in understanding the behavior, the tone of the conversation and the trust relationships between people.

Using this technology, an organization can use a social networking platform to communicate fraud risks through blogs, videos, and stories. The write-ups and stories should be from the business teams. From the comments section, the application can identify the key influencers and trust holders to bring about change. Thus, change the conversation to change the behavior.

 Closing Thoughts

 The days of holding a gun to rob a bank are nearly over. Fraudsters use social engineering to obtain sensitive information to conduct account takeover frauds remotely. Hence, organizations need to use socio-physics, social networks, and technology to beat the fraudsters in their own game. Being a leader in adopting the latest technology to prevent and detect frauds has an additional advantage, the fraudsters have not discovered the antidote to it. Hence, fraud risk managers have the right weapons to fight. The right tools can make a hell of a difference.

References:

  1.  Javelin Strategy & Research Identity Theft Report 2013
  2. Classifying Spending Behavior using Socio-Mobile Data - Vivek K. Singh*, Laura Freeman*, Bruno Lepri, Alex (Sandy) Pentland
  3.  Sensing, Understanding, and Shaping Social Behaviour – Erez Shmueli_, Vivek Kumar Singh_, Bruno Lepri and Alex ”Sandy” Pentland

 

 

The Misconstrued Likelihood

Source: Lancashire Resiliency Forum

Source: Lancashire Resiliency Forum

 

Have you ever thought of stopping the use of “likelihood” in preparing a risk matrix? The shocked reaction is – “how can we calculate risk without likelihood?” But seriously, how competent are we in calculating the probability of each risk. As risk managers, don’t we just check the box based on our judgment? The thought process is – earthquake – rare, hurricane – rare, data theft – occasional, and we don’t need data to make these judgments.

 1. Inaccurate Calculation

My claim is that all this is hyperbole and we draw inferences from inaccurate information. To substantiate my argument, here are two statements of the EY 13 Global Fraud Survey 2014 and Kroll Global Fraud Survey 2013/2014.

EY 13 Global Fraud Survey 2014 quote:–

“More than 1 in 10 executives surveyed reported their company as having experienced a significant fraud in the past two years. In fact, the level of fraud reported by respondents has remained largely unchanged over the past six years: from 13% in 2008 to 12% in 2014.”

 Kroll Global Fraud Survey 2013/2014 quote:

 “The incidence of fraud has increased. Overall, 70% of companies reported suffering from at least one type of fraud in the last year, up from 61% in the previous poll”

The EY report does not define “significant fraud” .Kroll report does state that “the economic cost of these crimes mounted, increasing from an average of 0.9% of revenue to 1.4%, with one in 10 businesses reporting a cost of more than 4% of revenue.”

 Now assume you do not have historical data on incidence of fraud in your organization and have to infer the likelihood of fraud from the above-mentioned statements.

 

Please share the logic you used to determine the likelihood in the comments section.

 2. Unidentified Representative Bias

Implicit in our judgment is representative bias, which only a discerning eye can decipher. For instance, read the following lines from the EY 13 Global Fraud Survey 2014.

“The survey results show a correlation between executive roles and willingness to justify certain activity when under pressure to meet financial targets:

CFOs are more likely than other executives to justify changes to assumptions relating to valuations and reserves in order to meet financial targets.

General counsel are more likely than other executives to justify backdating contracts in order to meet financial targets.

► Sales and marketing executives are more likely than other executives to justify introducing flexible return policies in order to meet financial targets.”

How is this news worth reporting? Aren’t risk managers aware that employees are more likely to conduct frauds within their area of job responsibility and authority?

It would be interesting to know the probability of other departments (excluding sales and marketing personal) introducing fraudulent flexible return policies. Without that information, while conducting a fraud investigation we are likely to assume the fraud in sales department was conducted by sales personnel, whereas it is possible that another department personnel had done it.

Now if you want further proof of representative heuristic, here is a classic example of a study conducted on women’s propensity to conduct fraud by Steffensmeler. He concluded:

“There is reason to believe that over time increasing the number of female CEOs would reduce corporate corruption because women tend to promote a more ethical business climate rather than one that promotes personal and corporate profits at all costs, no matter what the potential societal costs or harms might be.”

Then he further states that lower rate of fraud might be because men do not conspire with women to conduct frauds and women may not have access to higher echelons of management to do big frauds.

However, it still does not explain how he has made the above statements. According to child psychology reports, both girls and boys in childhood have nearly equal tendency towards anti-social behavior though it reflects in different ways. For example, boys bully directly, girls bully indirectly.

So, are we saying nature and nurture have less impact on girls than boys because they are somehow hardwired to be more ethical? Alternatively, do you think that social conceptions are at play here because women are the weaker sex and therefore nicer. Wouldn’t it be interesting to study the tendency to commit fraud by giving equal opportunity to both genders to steal without fear of punishment and then find who is more likely to do so? It might show that women commit less fraud not because they are more ethical, but more fearful.

Closing Thoughts

Risk managers must ask themselves – “What is the worst that can happen if they do not check any box of likelihood? It is possible to create a bucket list of known risks, with undetermined likelihood and impact?” Adopt an alternative method or procedure, since inaccurate calculations lead to misguiding the management and implementation of wrong risk mitigation plans.

If we do not know something, why pretend to have a magic wand and claim knowledge. What is the harm in admitting that we do not have all the answers?

 

References:

  1.  EY 13 Global Fraud Survey 2014
  2. Kroll Global Fraud Survey 2013/2014
  3. Women still less likely to commit corporate fraud 

 

 

 

 

The Unreliable Expert Advisers

Let me start by asking you a question – How many times have you written the word “expert” in your resume. Were you, like me, obsessed about becoming a subject matter expert or a thought leader? Are you an ardent devotee of people who profess expertise and give expert opinion in the media?

1.  Experts Know Better

If the answer to the above questions is yes, then let me ask you another question. If a political scientist and an astrologer are giving predictions of the political scenario in India 20 years from now, whose judgment will you rely on?

Philip Tetlock studied 300 experts over a 20-year period and concluded that experts were just slightly better off than the novices were. The expert group consisted of economists, political scientists, academicians, journalists and Phd. Another study showed that a rat was able to predict the location of food in a cage better than Yale students were.

Started believing in astrologers yet?

2.  Experts Perform Better

The counter argument is Malcolm Gladwell’s study, that to become an expert 10,000 hours of practice is required while continuously enhancing the skills to become an expert. Against this backdrop, one would assume that expertise matters and experts would perform better.

Below is a question, choose one of the options.

 

A study conducted by Eric Schwitzgebel showed that old and rare ethics books in the library were missing at twice the rate of other subject’s old books. That meant ethics philosophers were more likely to steal books than other lecturers were. Their expert knowledge on ethics did not prevent them from doing something completely unethical when it was in their self-interest.

Hence, all the knowledge and teaching of ethics would go waste if it were not incorporated in the behavior and personal value system. Does it not raise the question in your mind as to what is the point of teaching ethics in the organization? Maybe it is worth conducting an organization survey to measure the results.

 3.   Risks Can Be Accurately Predicted

After the financial crises, the bamboozled regulators were grappling to figure out why the idyllic scenario collapsed. All the posturing and ping-pong battles by the self-proclaimed risk management experts could not explain how they were caught napping.

The reason is simple. Risk managers and business managers can only predict risks based on their experience and information. For instance, in David versus Goliath battle, Goliath was well prepared. He was strong; he had a shield and a headgear to protect him. However, he was not aware that a slingshot could kill him. Hence, he did not mitigate that risk.

The risk managers and business managers do not have complete information about the present and the future business environment. Business managers normally take decisions when 70% of the information is available. Complete information is not available and the future is unknown. Hence, the next big disaster is always waiting at the next blind turn.

4.  High Performers Take Lessor Risks

Another assumption is that under-performing managers who are at the risk of missing their targets take higher risks than high-performing managers do. A study conducted by Ping Hu on mutual fund managers showed that both low and high performing managers are likely to take higher risks. The high performing managers do not face any employment risks, are comfortable in their positions; hence, take more risks. The under-performing managers take risks to achieve their goals. Hence, risk taking of managers is a U-shaped curve and highly dependent on the employment risks of the manager.

Therefore, the question arises what is the benefit of all the training given to managers. It allows managers to do proper risk mitigation and enables them to take higher risks.

Closing Thoughts

The above-mentioned studies shatter the fallacies and assumptions of confidently relying of expertise. An expert’s opinion may not be worth the paper it is written. So what is the advantage of having trusted advisers within the company?

The key is not to rely on insiders only. Have a panel of outside experts to give impartial view. Moreover, the experts shouldn’t be attached to their own opinion or view. The higher the levels of constructive confrontation within the organization, the better are the chances of doing effective risk management. Additionally, incorporate risk management processes within the business processes, and integrate them in employee behavior, practices, and reward system.

References:

  1. Philip Tetlock’s book, “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?”
  2. Do Ethicists Steal More Books? - Eric Schwitzgebel, Department of Philosophy, University of California at Riverside
  3. Fund Flows, Performance, Managerial Career Concerns, and Risk Taking - Ping Hu Risk Analytics, Corporate Finance, Wells Fargo, Charlotte, North Carolina

 

 

 

 

God, Sex and Money

Swami Shobhan Sarkar dreamt of a 1000 tonnes of gold lying beneath King Rao Ram Bux Singh’s ancient palace. Now, in the latest dream the quantity was revised to 2500 tonnes of gold. Indian archaeology department is conducting a survey, and the story is getting rampant coverage from the media. Seriously, why doesn’t someone dream of 2500 tonnes of tetra paks and plastic bottles lying underneath a field? Recycling it would make quite a bit of money and is an environment friendly option.

Then, luxury addicted Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg spent Euro 31 million (USD 41 million) on refurbishing his house. Praying to God, following vows of celibacy and simplicity, requires that kind of expenditure! Does anyone know how much George Clooney, the most desirable bachelor in the world, the ultimate sex symbol, spends on redecorating his house? If one spends this kind of money in an Indian slum, all the slum dwellers will pray 12 hours a day without complaining.

Then, a teenaged girl has charged an Indian Godman for rape. After the disclosure, quite a few women have lodged similar complaints. The tragedy is that these dubious personalities attract many followers. These followers have to deal with moral injury. Jonathan Shay, the originator of the concept of moral injury defined it as –

Moral injury is present when (1) there has been a betrayal of what’s right (2) by someone who holds legitimate authority (3) in a high-stakes situation. Factor (2) is an instance of Shay’s concept of Leadership Malpractice.”

The religious leaders have moral authority over us. Betrayal of  trust results in cynicism and with it, faith in God, right versus wrong path, disappears. Lowering personal ethics and morals, effects business ethics. It is unrealistic to partition a person’s ethical behavior into a C drive and D drive like a computer. Hence, corruption and illegal activities flourish.

Let us look from another lens. If a child puts his textbooks on a table, draws a rangoli across, decorates it with flowers, and bows his head for five hours daily, will he gather the knowledge in the books. What a foolish thought! However, worshiping God involves the same practice. From childhood, we worship and show our commitment to God by giving money and gifts. If God gets happy with the money donated at various places of worship, then professionally, he has to be a chartered accountant or a banker.

Then, why is the public so gullible and falls for such tricks? Is it because, it is a shorter route, it makes a person feel good without much effort. Alternatively, a person doesn’t need to dwell on shortcomings and wrongdoings. Not really. Religion gives people a sense of belonging. According to psychology studies, a sense of belonging gives humans meaning in life. A person’s physical and psychological health improves when they believe life is meaningful. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people exploit the need of social belonging of human beings.

Hence, distinguish the fake from the real. A rose blooms on a thorny stem, but not every thorny stem has a rose. The sun and moon don’t publicize their worthiness; air and water don’t need to broadcast their usefulness. Choose your moral leaders wisely. Read and reflect on the scriptures to understand the deep philosophy behind it. The right learning can be achieved only through practice, be it behavior or subject matter expertise.

Closing Thoughts  

Following a culture is must for happiness, respecting other’s culture is a must for humanity, but sometimes questioning a culture becomes a necessity. Lord Buddha said – question everything. Explore an idea, experiment with it and then adopt it in daily life. Don’t let other people’s immoral behavior stop you from pursuing a moral and ethical life. A cynic is an idealist with a broken heart. Mend your broken heart, and remain an idealist.

References:

  1. Indian government digging for gold after swami dreams of buried treasure
  2. (Reuters) – A German bishop under pressure to resign for spending around 31 million euros ($42 million) on a luxurious residence said he had been heartened by a private audience with Pope Francis in Rome on Monday.
  3. Asaram Bapu: The fall of a godman
  4. Johnathan Shay
  5. Sense of Belonging Increases Meaningfulness of Life

 

Humility – The Gandhian Way

gandhi king

Gone are the days of Gandhian simplicity and unpretentiousness. The rush for materialism and economic progress has robbed Indians of their humility. Arrogance and egoism has taken centre stage.

Now, household help count is a status symbol while Gandhi preached self-service. He weaved the clothes he wore, and currently wearing high-end fashion brands is a social necessity. Whether in personal life, interviews, or jobs, we present a flawless image as drilled by the personal branding consultants. Admitting to weaknesses is a no-no. Our leaders are picture perfect till their names become media headlines for some scandal. Where are we heading with this behavior?

Mahatama Gandhi’s two autobiographies “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” and “Satyagraha in South Africa” reveal the humility of the great man.

1.  Humility in Personal Life

“The Story of My Experiments with Truth” sounds more of a confession of wrong doings and mistakes from childhood to adult life. Gandhi ji admitted to smoking cigarettes, eating meat, acting like a sex-starved teenager with his wife and visiting brothels a couple of times. He basically did what all youngsters do in the name of adventure, rebellion and growing up. However, very few leaders take the trouble of writing them down to share it with their followers,  to enable the followers to learn from the leaders mistakes.

Nowadays, doing so at the peak of the political career is considered suicidal. Our society needs a reality check. It needs to accept that failures are a part of life, no one is perfect, not even our greatest leader. Alas, others look akin to a clown, a circus joker, a pathetic beggar, a disreputable character, a corrupt greedy man, a ruthless psychopath, a loose woman, a calculating witch, but prey why do we miss seeing all these in self.

2.  Obsession With Titles

A title is the ultimate hallmark of supremacy, be it Lord, King, CEO, President. If you have an exalted designation on your visiting card, all character flaws, deficiencies and short comings are wiped clean. People must bow down in front of you and you get the right to treat them inhumanely with disrespect. Contrast this with Gandhi ji’s attitude towards the title of Mahatma bestowed on him. He mocked and ridiculed it. In the introduction of the book  “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” he wrote -

“My experiments in the political field are now known, not only in India, but to a certain extent to the ‘civilized’ world. For me, they have not much value; and the title of Mahatma that they have won for me has, therefore, even less. Often the title has deeply pained me; and there is not a moment I can recall when it may be said to have tickled me.”

About his second visit to Kashi Vishanath Temple he indulged in some good-natured self-depreciating humor –

“Since then I have twice been to Kashi Vishvanath, but that has been after I had already been afflicted with the title of Mahatma, and experiences such as I have detailed above had become impossible. People eager to have my darshan would not permit me to have a darshan of the temple. The woes of Mahatmas are known to Mahatmas alone. Otherwise the dirt and the noise were the same as before.”

Ask the question “Who am I?” If the response is a designation or a degree, then there is confusion in identity.

3.  Grandiosity of Leaders

Everyone desires to be a leader as it makes them look grand in eyes of others. Aspiring leaders avoid contemplating whether they actually inspire their followers, work on improving the world and add value to the society. The aim is to get the perks and privileges of leaders without the responsibilities. Even the spiritual leaders, swamis and yogis, the embodiment of austerity and simple living, are sitting on golden thrones. During investigations or after death, shocked followers see the display of hoarded cash and jewellery.

The servant-leadership followed by Gandhi ji showed his true leadership mettle. In the book – Satyagraha in South Africa – he described himself as servant of the public. He wrote -

“A public meeting of the Indians was called in Durban. Some friends had warned me beforehand that I would be attacked at this meeting and that I should therefore not attend it at all or at least take steps for defending myself. But neither of the two courses was open to me. If a servant when called by his master fails to respond through fear, he forfeits his title to the name of servant. Nor does he deserve the name if he is afraid of the master’s punishment. Service of the public for service’s sake is like walking on the sword’s edge. If a servant is ready enough for praise he may not flee in the face of blame. I therefore presented myself at the meeting at the appointed time.”

Further on, he expounded servant leadership in the following words -

It has been my constant experience that much can be done if the servant actually serves and does not dictate to the people. If the servant puts in body-labour himself, others will follow in his wake. And such was my experience on the present occasion. My co-workers and I never hesitated to do sweeping, scavenging and similar work, with the result that others also took it up enthusiastically. In the absence of such sensible procedure it is no good issuing orders to others. All would assume leadership and dictate to others and there would be nothing done in the end. But where the leader himself becomes a servant, there are no rival claimants for leadership.”

These are fabulous examples of role,  accountability, and responsibility of leaders. Just a handful of leaders can be so humble and fill these shoes. Autobiographies of great leaders show that leadership is a long hazardous journey requiring great deal of personal sacrifice, hard work, and vision. It is incorrect to assume business titles automatically bestow leadership traits. Queen Marie Antoinette’s immature and inconsiderate statement – “If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake” – didn’t get her dedicated followers, it is Napoleon who is respected for leadership qualities. . Earn the honor of being a leader. Ask yourself – Why should others follow you?

Closing thoughts

Wishing all my readers, a very Happy Gandhi Jayanti.  As it is a holiday in India, let me end this on a humorous note.

A donkey twisted his leg, so the owner put him in a red Ferrari to take him to the vet. On the way, the owner stopped at a car wash. The car cleaners said – “Wow, what a body, such a dazzling color.” The donkey joyously brayed. The cleaners remarked – “Sounds fabulous”. After returning to the  farm, while walking on the mud path, the donkey was extremely disappointed and thought – “Why is no one appreciating me, as the car cleaners did?”

Price of a Soul

Soul

At fourteen, I read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and fell in love with it. It is one of my favorites and last week I read it again. I still found it mind-blowing. This time, Toohey’s character got me thinking.

In the last few chapters of the book, Ellsworth Toohey speaks about his devious plan to portray mediocre people in the media as supremely talented to gain power over public. He planned to rule the world by ruining the thought process of the public, demolishing the careers of great thinkers, and glorifying stupidity.

His conversation with Peter Keating, who was one of his experimental puppets, reveals the crux of human behavior and our vulnerability for exploitation. He said –

“It is only about discovering the lever. If you learn to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It is the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That is why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it – the man is yours. You won’t need a whip – he will bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse and his own mechanism will do your work for you. Use him against himself.”

Isn’t this what our education system and media done to us?

When was the last time our teachers taught us – “Lie down on the grass and let your tensions drain away. Look at the vast expanse of sea to be at peace.” They teach students – “Own a lot of land and you will be rich. Get a ship to cross the ocean with your merchandise.”

Our education system on the pretext of teaching fundamentals and preparing us for life, teaches us that conformity, obedience and pursuing a career for success are the greatest virtues. How many schools teach children that creative thinking, being different or spending extraordinary time on hobbies just for simple pleasure of life, is something worth pursuing and achieving?

By teenage, the fashion magazines decide the length of hair, size of waist and color of dress that are suitable for the season. If a teenager refuses to follow, others label the poor kid weird.

As we grow older, the competition becomes of the gadgets we have, than our thoughts and principles. The neighbor has an iPod, Mercedes and x, y and z. So I also want the same. Have we every compared ourselves to say “the neighbor has such excellent thoughts for humanity, works diligently for the benefit of humanity and always  walks the high road on principles, hence, I want to be the same.”

If we aren’t thinking in these lines, then I would say Toohey’s words are correct, our education system and media took our souls not the devil. Moreover, if we are questioning how it has happened, then the following quote of Toohey’s captures the problem though said with a different slant.

“Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an ideal in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against itself. Direct it of a goal destructive of all integrity.”

The key is – “Kill integrity by internal corruption.” From childhood, we are taught success matters. Success is equal to money plus position. Organization position gives power. That puts you in top bracket of society. This idea of success destroys all integrity within us. For the sake of money or position, we are willing to make compromises one after another. Without it, we feel small and useless. The drive for money makes the man poor in character and principles. At the start of our careers, we willingly hand over a part of our souls for a few dollars. By the time we retire, we are uncertain whether we have a soul left.

Then we lament on lack of ethics and profess horror on breach of ethics by the people we have put on the pulpit. In most of our adult age, when we haven’t had a serious thought on ethics or made an effort to learn ethical behavior, can we really assume it will occur by itself? We want to delude ourselves into thinking we are a good people, living a principled life because not thinking in those terms will destroy our self-image. . We cannot face the fact that 99% of us have conducted some crime or the other sometime in life. We cannot afford to face reality if we want to live.

Closing thoughts  

Ayn Rand aptly put it – “Enshrine mediocrity and the shrines are erased.” By putting money as a standard for measuring success, we have enshrined mediocrity of character. Nobility of character lost its glory when money epitomized the crowned king of success. They why show surprise, anger or disgust when our much hyped heroes breach ethics. Should we punish them or the society for teaching them the wrong definition of success? Can we punish a person for doing a better sales job on selling their soul than the rest of us?

 

References: 

Free download of the book The Fountainhead.  

iGate’s Failures in Risk Management

phaneeshiGate fired its CEO Phaneesh Murthy for sexual misconduct after Araceli Roiz; an American employee accused him of sexual harassment. As per media reports she has claimed that the relationship started soon after she joined the organization in 2010 and is pregnant with his child.

Mr Phaneesh Murthy has the dubious honor of facing two similar charges while working as a senior manager in Infosys in 2002. Reka Maximovitch and Jennifer Griffith had both received huge out of court settlements previously. Now he faces the similar charges from Araceli Roiz. Mr Murthy has acknowledged that he had sexual relationships with Ms Roiz. However, it was with her consent. He has alleged he is being defamed and this is an attempt at extortion.

With the limited information available in the media, one cannot comment on the details of the personal relationship.

However, this disaster teaches a few lessons. iGate could have prevented this reputation damage and legal risks if it would have taken a few timely steps.  iGate board and senior managers failed to take due care of the following risks.

1.     Pre-employment Background Screening

Mr Murthy has an excellent academic and professional achievement record. He was credited for taking Infosys turnover from $ 2 million to $ 700 million. However, when he was hired by iGate in 2003 he was in the news for all the wrong reasons. The sexual harassment cases were all over the media.

iGate needed a CEO who could deliver results. My guess is the board looked the other way or considered Mr Murthy’s infidelities small or insignificant. However, if a junior or middle manager had the same reputation, his career would have been over. No organization would have hired him.

Hence, when generally senior managers background screening is more stringent  than junior or middle managers, iGate board took the opposite stance.  It appears that the same yardstick isn’t being applied for background screening or it is being given lip service.

2.     Failure to Monitor & Control CEO Behavioural Risks

iGate board and senior managers chose to ignore the CEO behavior  As per media reports, the relationship was known to the staff. However, it appears no action was taken to guide or coach Mr Murthy.

Read these statements of Mr Murthy from prior interviews at the time of Patni takeover.

The National – “Everyone says that M&As are about ego. I’ve been a salesperson for 10 years. For every 100 doors that you knock on, 98 get shut in your face. That has knocked away most of my ego. I have two teenage boys who whip my butt in every game. They have gone from wanting to be on my team to not wanting to be on the loser’s team. Because of that, I have no ego left.”

Livemint – “Not at all. I am basically a conservative, middle-class south Indian Brahmin. As it is, we don’t like debt, and I am very uncomfortable with a $700 million (around Rs 3,180 crore) debt.”

Ms Araceli Roiz is 31 years old and Mr Phaneesh Murthy is 53 years old. In conservative South-Indian Brahmin families “divorce” is taboo. With two teen aged boys at home, he started an affair, if Mr Roiz version is true, when she was in her late twenties.

From a psychological perspective, it is a classic case of a talented man unable to deal with his own fallibility and mortality. Mr Murthy is a competitive man and the yearly success in his career may have made him feel invincible and powerful.  He is raised on Indian middle class values that look down on promiscuous behavior  He competes with his own children in games. He was heading an Indian IT organization where the average age of employees is 25-26 years. Does it look like he was suffering from mid-life crises?

The board members and other senior managers could have identified the emotional baggage he was carrying around and addressed the issue. The question arises, when the board knew about his weakness and character problem, was he provided any coaching or mentoring? Or did the board take the view, that as long as he is delivering the numbers, everything will be tolerated.

3.     Lack of attention to work culture

The board and management knew that Mr Murthy had a marked reputation in respect to female employees. Secondly, it appears that is relationship with Ms Roiz was an open secret. From his own words, it doesn’t seem that he took sexual harassment or company policies seriously. In the interview, he stated:

“It was a personal relationship. The company policy states that any two employees having a relationship have to inform the superiors. It is a small note in an employee handbook. I did inform the company about the relationship. Though it was a question of timing from my side as I disclosed this only a few weeks ago, only after the relationship was over.”

According to him, “it is a small note” in the company handbook.  He didn’t believe in walking the talk in personal ethics or corporate code of conduct. Hence, the question arises, what attention iGate paid to maintain the corporate culture.

With previous cases of sexual harassment against the CEO and an on-going affair, did iGate management ensure that the sexual harassment policies were implemented in spirit? If a woman, as per Roiz’s claim, was forced into a sexual relationship by the CEO, what effect did it have on other female employees and work culture? Did it not set the stage for the hostile work culture where women would feel insecure to report cases of sexual harassment? Let us say, another female employee was harassed by a male senior manager, what options does she have when she knows that the CEO is doing something similar? How seriously was sexually offensive behavior taken by the management?

 The organizations pay a heavy price in respect to sexually harassing culture. The direct costs are of course legal penalties and cases, however, the indirect costs are absenteeism, disengagement, high turnover and lower productivity. The iGate management appears to have ignored these aspects while hiring Mr Murthy and during his tenure.

4.     Ineffective Crises Management

iGate public relations team issued the statement – “The investigation, which is on-going, has reached the finding that Murthy’s failure to report this relationship violated iGATE’s policy, as well as Murthy’s employment contract. The investigation has not uncovered any violation of iGATE’s harassment policy.”

It gave information on the interim CEO and search for the new CEO, to rest fears of the investors.

This appears more of an attempt to limit legal risks. According to US laws the company is responsible for sexual misconduct by its employees. Subsequent to the above news, the company has not made any statement or explanation on what it did to prevent such incidents.

According to media reports, the Indian employees received an explanation from the senior managers on the incident and were instructed not to talk to people outside and within the organization. An instruction not to communicate with the media or put comments in social media is sound. However, not to communicate with fellow employees sounds like an attempt to silence. Can management stop the discussion outside office hours between the employees?

In such instances, various stakeholder expectations need to be addressed. It is a sensitive issue that gets the attention of public, bloggers, activists, women lobbies etc. Even the employees psychological stress levels increase and they need to be managed. However, from the information available in the media, there isn’t much effort being done to manage the crises.

Closing Thoughts

Sexual harassment cases cause huge reputation damage and legal risks. I am not sure whether after Mr Murthy’s previous cases, iGate got proper insurance coverage for directors and senior manager liabilities. Implementing sexual harassment policies and holding everyone to high standards of conduct is something organizations need to concentrate on. The issue was taken lightly previously, but now women workforce is increasing and so are the cases of harassment. Unless companies wish to have their name tarnished, they need to take the right steps.

References:

  1. Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/business/technology/rise-and-fall-and-rise-again-of-it-star-phaneesh-murthy#ixzz2UBKIGikk
  2. http://www.financialexpress.com/news/phaneesh-murthy-i-will-fight-sexual-harassment-charges-vigorously/1118857/1
  3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/careers/job-trends/Murthy-scandal-iGate-staff-gets-social-media-code/articleshow/20222185.cms

Risk Managers – Tone Down That Report!

This week three renowned figures – Angelina Jolie, Larry Page and Christine Quinn – disclosed their medical problems to the world. They discussed battle with breast cancer, paralysis of vocal cords, and struggles with bulimia and alcoholism. Jolie, a woman famous for her beauty bared her mastectomy details. They talked about fear of death and handicap, and frailty of human character. They risked high-profile careers by being candid. One word describes their actions – Courage.

However, the corporate world wants to hide behind lies and window dress their weaknesses. The corporate leaders sometimes threaten risk managers and auditors to tone down their reports. The messengers of bad news get shot. Risk managers face bullying, retaliation and threat to their jobs for showing courage to speak the truth. If they refuse to bow down to pressure, the business teams label them as politically dumb or difficult to deal with. Question is – should risk managers tone down their reports to please the business teams?

I want to discuss a couple of scenarios here and you decide the course of action.

Scenario 1- Don’t report correct facts to avoid giving bad news

Let us say, you are a CXO of an organization. You have a heart problem and visit a doctor who is a good friend of yours.

The doctor realizes your heart condition is bad. You require a heart surgery for four bypasses. The doctor doesn’t want to deliver the bad news to you, because he doesn’t wish to hurt your feelings.

The doctor tells you  – “You just have too much stress. You need a vacation to relax and have some fun.” He prescribes you some vitamins and discharges you.

You follow your doctor’s advice, take a vacation. You swim and jog for a couple of days and have a heart attack. You arrive at the hospital with a survival chance of 5%.

Did the doctor do the right thing by not telling you the truth?

Scenario 2 : Don’t report correctly to protect a friend

A civil engineer responsible for doing quality and inspection checks of a bridge notices that sub-standard quality of material is used. There is a high risk of bridge collapsing. However, he issues a clean report to his seniors because the engineer-in-charge of the bridge is a friend of his.

An organisation’s senior managers drive daily across the bridge to reach their office. One day all of them are on the bridge and it collapses. All die.

Would the families of the senior managers be happy with the quality control engineer’s for not disclosing the risks?

My guess is most of the corporate readers would have answered no. You would have preferred the truth when it is a question of your own life being at risk.

Corporate Scenario

So why don’t corporate citizens hesitate when they put other people’s life at risk. See the Bangladesh factory fire, Japan’s nuclear disaster or US banks home foreclosure and mortgage mess. Employees, customers and public lives or life savings were put at risk.

Wouldn’t a few honest risk management reports helped in fixing the problem in time to prevent the disasters?

The corporate world maintains double standards on reporting risks. They want full disclosure of the risks to them but not to others. Before setting these expectations, corporate citizens should answer these questions:

1) Isn’t it a risk manager’s job to identify the health problems of the organization, prescribe a cure, suggest amputation where required and nurse the organization back to health?

2) Is it right to compromise professional ethics and code of conduct to keep a few people happy?

3) Aren’t risk managers responsible for calculating the direct and indirect cost to others for non-disclosure of risks?

4) Shouldn’t risk managers hold their ground and stick to their independent advise as you will benefit from it in the long-run?

Closing Thoughts

Moral courage is one of the most difficult qualities to acquire. Larry Page, as CEO of Google fulfilled his responsibility to the investors by publicly disclosing his medical problems. Now the investors can make an informed decision. One has to admire Page for taking such a difficult call. It takes guts. Disclosing personal weakness makes one feel vulnerable, exposed and fallible. He has shown the path for corporate leaders to follow.

Justin Bieber’s Lesson For Risk Managers

Surfing through Twitter one gets deep insight of human behavior. I am sharing a couple of tweets that got me thinking on our (risk managers) approach. The hat tip goes to Justin Bieber and Mark Robinson for the post.

 1. Get a tribe

 Justin Bieber tweeted the message below and it got 119,562 retweets and 62,959 favorites at the last count.

“Live life full”

— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) May 10, 2013

Now you might say, what is so original in this message. Nothing remarkable, except that Bieber has 39,087,920 followers.

The message for risk managers is that if we want business team to listen to us, then we need to get a tribe of followers. Sitting in a corner or a cabin, writing reports isn’t going to help us. We need to be on the floor  interacting with the business teams daily.

2. Connect with a popular leader

Then Mark Robinson tweeted this message:

“Justin Bieber got 100,000 retweets for tweeting “Live life full”. That’s just 3 random words. I’m going to try now.

Nipple squirrel ham”

— Mark Robinson (@robboma3) May 11, 2013

The message was retweeted 26,972 times and favorited 4379 times. Mark has 23,694 followers. While Bieber’s message was tweeted by just 0.3% of his followers, Mark’s message was tweeted more than the number of his followers. Isn’t that fascinating.

This is a trick which risk managers need to learn. Even the most mundane message of a popular leader will be followed more ardently than their sanest advise. People don’t follow bosses, they follow leaders whom they like. Hence, risk managers need to identify the popular figures in office, ask them to give their message or link up their own version to the popular person’s message. Risk management advise is going to spread faster then, rather than with all the technical stuff.

I am dedicating Justin’s song to all of you. We need to believe it too – “I got that power”.