Mother Teresa- An Inspiration For Social Responsibility

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” Mother Teresa

This week the world celebrated Mother Teresa’s birth centenary. She lived a life of sacrifice, love and kindness. She showed a commitment to uplifting society which very few leaders have been able to demonstrate in the last century. I thought the best way to celebrate it would be by building awareness on a subject closest to her heart.

This post is dedicated to learning lessons from her personal commitment to social responsibility. It highlights that her work needs to be continued on a larger scale as a quarter of Indian population is still below poverty line.  I hope by building awareness we can encourage individuals and corporate to commit to social responsibility and do their bit for the world.

Lessons From Mother Teresa

Commitment to a  cause – In 1950, Mother Teresa branched out from the main church and started her own diocesan congregation which subsequently became Missionaries of Charities. In her own words the purpose of Mission of Charities was to care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”  She built the foundation from scratch and in her lifetime there were 610 missionaries operating in 123 countries being managed by more than 4000 nuns. She dedicated her life and energy to providing loving care to the homeless and sick all around the world.

Crises of faith – In her letters to the mentors of the church she had written about her self-doubt about her mission and the existence of God.  In one of her letters she wrote “Where is my faith? Even deep down … there is nothing but emptiness and darkness … If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul … How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, … What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.”

These letters show her despair on the task she had set out for herself. In India, in those times 90% of the population was below poverty line (according to World Bank estimates). After seeing so much suffering and pain on a daily basis her efforts to do good for humanity must be appearing minuscule to her. Her courage and commitment carried her through all the doubts. She despite the crises of faith continued her efforts to give relief to the poor.

Persevering through criticism –Mother Teresa was bestowed many awards in India and internationally. She received the Noble Peace Prize and Bharat Ratna (the highest civilian award of India) for her humanitarian work. Gallup polls indicated she was the single most admired person is USA for a number of years in 1990’s and the most admired person of the 20th century.

With the recognition came the criticism. Her critics blamed her for lack of transparency and mismanagement of funds, stating that the funds were used to create more convents instead of eradicating poverty. Other allegations were that she accepted donations from people with questionable reputations, did not provide proper medical help to the patients, ensured nuns compliance through punishment, etc. Some people even questioned her theology and stated that she fantasized poverty. Without doubt as any other human being she may have made some incorrect decisions in her life. She endured all the criticism and persevered by doing humanitarian work. Her actions spoke louder than the words of her critics.

Considering that Mother Teresa dedicated her life to improve the life of the poor in India, the question comes up – How is India doing now?

Some Hard Facts About India


 Forbes Magazine compiles an annual worldwide list of US dollar billionaires. As per list published for 2010, India has 49 billionaires. As a country India stands fifth in world ranking.

Further, the 2010 list of Forbes Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy contains four Indians. India was ranked fourth in the 2009 list of Asian countries increasing importance towards social responsibility. This was released by Forbes magazine in October 2009 and the listing was done according to the social enterprise CSR Asia’s Asian Sustainability Ranking (ASR).

 Income disparities are extremely high in India. As per the 2005 estimate, World Bank has stated that 42% of Indians are below the international poverty line. In numbers this equals to 456 million Indians.   The Planning Commission of India estimates indicate that 27.5% of Indian population was living below the poverty line in 2004-2005. The discrepancy in the World Bank and Planning Commission of India is explained by the purchasing power of dollar and rupee.

The Economic Times (Indian financial newspaper) study showed that total donations by listed companies were US$ 170 million in financial year 2009. This indicated an 8% growth in comparison to previous year.

The figures clearly indicate that Indian business houses and high net-worth individuals are not contributing a significant portion of their wealth for charity and social causes.

A Recent Inspiration

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet amongst the world’s richest men are partnering to create the world’s highest funded charity. Warren Buffet will be donating to The Bill & Melinda gates Foundation funds amounting to approximately $30 billion. They are inviting more American billionaires to publicly commit more than 50% of their wealth to charity before or after their death.

A 2001 study indicated that “the assets of the three richest people in the world was more than the GNP of the 48 least developed countries, and the three richest officers of Gates’ Microsoft had more assets (upwards $140 billion) than the combined GNP of the 43 least developed countries”. In 2009, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated USD 300 million to health causes which was higher than USA’s donation as a country. This clearly indicates that people can do more than the countries since they are not bound by the political protocol. They just need the heart and spirit to share their wealth.

We need organizations and people to join hands to work towards a better world. With the disparity in incomes increasing, we need to learn Mother Teresa’s generosity of spirit. Our effort might be just a drop in the ocean, but it counts to the person who received it. So let us not get discouraged by how small our effort is. The cumulative sum total will be huge. In Mother Teresa’s words- “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

A final salute to the woman who showed the world what a person could do to improve the world if he/ she sets his/her mind to it.

Buddhism in Corporate Life

Symbol for Noble Eight Fold Path

I enjoy reading about Buddhism although I have never been formerly inculcated in it. In my lay-person’s opinion the Four Noble Truth’s and Noble Eight Fold Path are the basic premise on which Buddhism is based. These in my opinion provide a methodology for living a principled, ethical and emotionally intelligent life. These teachings focus on providing guidance to minimize personal suffering and stress by applying wisdom.

I decided to explore the application of Noble Eight Fold Path in corporate life. By applying this methodology what benefits will the corporate world achieve.

I am covering two perspectives in this post:

  • Application to organization
  • Application to employee

 Background of Noble Eightfold Path

The Four Noble Truth’s define the essence of Buddhism and the Noble Eight Fold Path define the procedure for practicing it. The path is designed to lead a spiritual life and end suffering from its source.

The Buddha has defined that suffering commences with the physical process of life involving birth, aging and death. Suffering is caused by our emotional reactions to disagreeable situations (death and sickness), attachments (love for family and home), desire (material possessions, power and status), aversion (towards specific people or things) and delusion (mental sickness).

To reduce suffering we need to cut at the roots. This indicates that we master our emotions and control our mind. The Noble Eight Fold Path enables us to bring wisdom to us by enhancing our consciousness on suffering. The eight steps are building blocks for leading a principled life and have to be worked on simultaneously. The concepts mentioned below on Buddhism are extracted from the Noble Eight Fold Path written by monk Bikkhu Bodi .

 Now let us explore how these are connected to our working life and organizations. This post contains my personal opinion and inferences I have drawn. So please bear with me.

Noble Eight Fold Path

1.      Right View

 Buddhism: Our views indicate our perspectives on reality, attitudes, personal values, objectives in life and outlook of the world. Views are the driving forces in our life and have far reaching consequences. The two different kinds of views are- right view and wrong view. Adopting right views will lead us towards positive actions and principled life. Developing wrong views will result in negative actions and unprincipled life.

Organization: The vision, mission and strategy of the organization determine the path which it takes.  The organization culture and tone at the top indicates the sincerity with which the organization will follow business ethics. Incorrect vision, mission, strategy, organization culture and tone at the top are considered the major reasons for downfall of an organization.

Employee: Organizations value employees with positive attitudes, high level of integrity, adaptability to different cultures and people and those who see the bigger picture. Employees with negative attitudes, deceitful natures, narrow mindedness and small thinking generally are not successful in the corporate world. The deciding factors are always on how the employee views himself/herself, the organization and the world.

2.      Right Intention

 Buddhism: “The Buddha explains right intention as threefold: the inten­tion of renunciation, the intention of good will, and the inten­tion of harmlessness. The three are opposed to three parallel kinds of wrong intention: intention governed by desire, inten­tion governed by ill will, and intention governed by harmful­ness.”  

Organization: Organizations with right intention focus on profits while fulfilling corporate social responsibility. They adhere to laws and regulations, corporate governance and follow ethical practices. Organizations with wrong intention achieve profits at the cost of social environment, adopt unethical and fraudulent practices, disregard corporate governance and breed unhealthy competition.

Employee: Employees with right intentions attempt to achieve growth through performance, team work, and follow constructive management practices to succeed. Employees with wrong intentions attempt to achieve growth form silos to safeguard their positions, sabotage colleagues work and adopt destructive management practices to succeed. Developing wrong intentions in the long run results in psychologically damaging the employee by fostering ego, anger, jealousy, hatred, anxiety and depression.

3.      Right Speech

Buddhism: “The Buddha divides right speech into four components: abstain­ing from false speech, abstaining from slanderous speech, abstaining from harsh speech, and abstaining from idle chat­ter.” Impact of speech is significant as verbal and written communication has long term consequences and hence extremely important.

Organization: The present day mantra for organizations is to build brands by positive communication. Internal communication is also critical to build the organization culture.  Communication which is seen by customers, employees or public as deceitful ruins the image of the senior management and the organization. Organizations indulging in slanderous speeches regarding competitors or announcing fictitious information as facts are viewed negatively. Incorrect communication in the long run ruins the reputation of the organization.

Employee: An employee who is honest is considered trustworthy, reliable and capable of maintaining confidentiality regarding sensitive information. An organization values an employee who weighs his/her words carefully, does not indulge in office gossip and spreading rumors. Employees, who spread malicious rumors and gossip, lie frequently, are deceitful and cunning, destroy the grounds for trust and are viewed with suspicion.

4.      Right Action

 Buddhism: “The Buddha men­tions three components of right action: abstaining from tak­ing life, abstaining from taking what is not given, and abstain­ing from sexual misconduct.” Taking for what is not given includes theft, fraud and deceit.

Organization: Organizations focused on right action formulate and implement business ethics code of conduct and adhere to good corporate governance practices. The present day environment protection laws, financial rules and regulations (e.g. SOX) and employee protection laws (e.g. anti-in discrimination, sexual harassment), clearly indicates the importance of right actions. Organizations which do not focus on right actions, contravene these laws and regulations, and suffer legal and reputational risks. This results in significant financial and reputation damage.

Employee: Employee focused towards right action adheres to the code of conduct, works in best interest of the organization and protects the assets of the organization. Such employees do not harass, bully and mistreat colleagues. Employees who adopt incorrect practices, indulge in fraudulent activities and breach the code of conduct. Hence due to their actions they are generally considered a liability to the organization.

 5.      Right Livelihood

Buddhism: “Right livelihood is concerned with ensuring that one earns one’s living in a righteous way. For a lay disciple the Buddha teaches that wealth should be gained in accordance with certain stand­ards. One should acquire it only by legal means, not illegally; one should acquire it peacefully, without coercion or violence; one should acquire it honestly, not by trickery or deceit; and one should acquire it in ways which do not entail harm and suf­fering for others.”

In this section I am not covering my viewpoints on organization and employees as “Right Livelihood’ section of Buddhism has three sections – rightness regard­ing actions, rightness regarding persons, and rightness regard­ing objects. As extracted from the document, they define the past and the present organizations and employee life.

Rightness regarding actions – Workers should fulfill their duties diligently and conscientiously, not idling away time, claiming to have worked longer hours than they did, or pocketing the company’s goods.

Rightness regard­ing persons– Due respect and consideration should be shown to employers, employees, colleagues, and customers. An employer, for example, should assign his workers chores according to their ability, pay them adequately, promote them when they deserve a promotion and give them occasional vaca­tions and bonuses. Colleagues should try to cooperate rather than compete, while merchants should be equitable in their dealings with customers.

Rightness regarding objects– In business transactions and sales the articles to be sold should be presented truthfully. There should be no deceptive advertising, misrepresentations of quality or quantity, or dis­honest maneuvers.

As can be seen, a code of conduct for business organizations was defined in 483 B.C. also. 

6.      Right Effort

 Buddhism: Effort is driven by energy which can take wholesome or unwholesome forms. Energy fuels desire, aggression, violence, and ambition on the one hand, and generosity, self-discipline, kindness, concentra­tion, and understanding on the other. The exertion involved in right effort is a wholesome form of energy, but it is something more specific, namely, the energy in wholesome states of con­sciousness directed to liberation from suffering.

Organization: Organizations are required to gear their efforts towards legal activities and refrain from indulging in illegal activities. They are required to focus on social responsibility. Organizations are required to build constructive work cultures instead of destructive and aggressive work cultures. Those who focus their energies on illegal activities are required to close down their business operations. 

Employee: For employees effort is crucial and perseverance is the key to success. Without the right kind of effort, growth will be unsustainable. Performance is achieved through hard work and dedication. Employees who are dull, restless and unenergetic generally block the path of progress for their teams.  

 7.      Right Mindfulness

Buddhism: Mindfulness is presence of mind, attentiveness or awareness. The mind is deliberately kept at the level of bare attention, a detached observation of what is hap­pening within us and around us in the present moment. In the practice of right mindfulness the mind is trained to remain in the present, open, quiet, and alert, contemplating the present event. All judgments and interpretations have to be suspended, or if they occur, just registered and dropped.

Organization: The economic environment is such that organizations have to operate in an extremely dynamic scenario. They have to ride the changes while mitigating the risks. The senior management cannot afford to be caught in psychic traps and show knee jerk reactions as situations unfold. Organizations which are not geared with proper attention to detail are generally crashing and frequently facing crises situations.

Employee: Attentive employees who can view the bigger picture, analyze the changing scenarios and prepare the organization for them are rewarded. Employees without vision, understanding and analytical capabilities do not grow up the ladder.

8.      Right Concentration 

Buddhism: Concentration represents an intensification of a mental factor present in every state of consciousness. This factor, one-pointedness of mind, has the function of unifying the other mental factors in the task of cognition. It is the factor responsible for the individuating aspect of conscious­ness, ensuring that every act of mind remains centered on its object. This is focused on developing deep meditation techniques.

Organization: Although one cannot apply meditation techniques to organizations, but there is some sense in stating the organizations which concentrate on building a uniform culture and are focused on goals are more successful. In the present world, we see business groups divesting businesses which are not aligned to their core business. Organizations which are diversified in culture and operations have a far more difficult time achieving their business objectives.

Employee: An employee’s ability to concentrate on the objectives in chaos and crises is considered a major plus. Concentration brings about a capability to deliver accurate results with speed. Employees who are distracted with various activities like internet surfing, office gossip, and personal issues are generally not considered good performers especially under stress situations. Secondly, meditation techniques can be applied by employees as a stress buster.

As we can see, comparisons can be drawn between the present day needs of the organizations and employees with the spiritual guidance note defined in Buddhism. We have to consider the possibility of its applicability.

Great Stupa at Sanchi, near Bhopal

The adjoining picture is of an ancient Buddhist monument in Sanchi, a town situated in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. I spent quite a few years of my childhood in Bhopal, a city around 70 KMs away from Sanchi. Visiting Sanchi always gave a sense of peace and serenity. The carvings on the monuments are unbelievable. However, what is unique about this city of Buddhist monks are the sign posts. There is no sign post which says “No Parking”. The sign post following right speech principle does not hurt the sentiments of the visitors. It says “You are requested to park the vehicle in the designated parking area as your vehicle may cause inconvenience to passersby”. Rather long but very sweet.

Invite you to share your thoughts on this post.

Maintaining Personal Values At Work

Includes an interview with Elizabeth Doty the author of the book- “The Compromise Trap- How to Thrive at Work Without Selling Your Soul”.

In the last century Mahatma Gandhi said -“Work is worship”. Some of the present generation employees while working in known and good organizations say- “My job sucks, my boss is a devil and I am working in hell”. Strong statements there but sometimes the employees believe that they are selling their souls to the organization to earn their salaries. Organizations remind employees of war zones and battle fields, in which they are the foot soldiers continuously facing the firing line. These instances are no longer a one off case, and the numbers of complaining employees are increasing

When employees feel this way, they believe their personal values are compromised at the altar of organization’s success. The psychological wounds are burnouts, stress, depression, anxiety, anger, damaged personal relationships, lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. The belief is that organizations have become such a dominating force in the life of the employee; they do not have any personal choices to make. The scars run deep when they feel that they have compromised on their personal values to retain their jobs. For example, when they compromise on work-life balance which reduces time for their kids and spouse, their guilt is high.

This got me thinking, about compromise. In general, compromising is a good way to get ahead but compromising on fundamental values and principles is destroying the human spirit. Gandhi’s principle was – “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is surrender. For it is all give and no take.”

As I see it, these compromises have a negative impact on the employee, family, society and the organization. The questions which come up are-“Why would we make compromises that are effectively a surrender? What is the impact on employees, families, society and the organization itself? And what other options do we have, given the intense pressures we can sometimes feel on the job?”

I have outlined my understanding of the issue below. I have also obtained the opinion of Elizabeth Doty, author of the book- The Compromise Trap–How to Thrive at Work Without Selling Your Soul.

Reasons employees compromise personal values.

The working population consists of traditionalists, boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. The perceptions are that traditionalists’ compromise because they respect authority while Gen Y wishes to get ahead in their careers. However, on exploring the inner psychology, the reasons are somewhat different.

When employees feel compelled to compromise their personal values, it is typically as they believe that without following orders he/she will not survive in the organization. They think their sphere of influence is limited and should not say “No” to the orders, as this will have negative repercussions. There is a level of learned helplessness due to which they misconceive that they cannot make choices and the organization controls their life.  Hence, they are irresolute in their decisions and follow authoritative instructions blindly without questioning their merit

According to Elizabeth Doty, certain misconceptions increase the chance of falling into unhealthy compromises- “Professionals under pressure tend to underestimate the negative impact of unhealthy compromise, lose sight of what really matters to them, and exaggerate the risks of saying no.”

Impact of compromises on employee, family and society

The clip of the movie Network when Howard Beale stands up and says “I am mad as hell and I won’t take this anymore” describes the emotional frustration and psychological trauma of the employees.

Every human being has the right to lead a happy and fulfilling life. As individuals our basic requirements from  life is to be professionally successful, have a happy family, have time for hobbies and contribute positively towards the society. In the present scenario employees to be professionally successful have to compromise on other aspects of life. Examples of some of the sacrifices employees are making:

  1. The employee’s work-life balance is deteriorating and employees find reduced personal time. The Center of Work Life Policy has reported that in 2009 the average working hours has increased to 49 per week from 40 in the previous year. 69 percent of participants in the survey said they wouldn’t have left if their companies had offered one or more specific work-life balance options, such as reduced-hour schedules, job sharing, part-time tracks, short unpaid sabbaticals, and flextime.
  2. The working mother’s dependency of income has increased and the time off period for child care has decreased from 3 years to 2.2 years. This will definitely have an impact on society as mothers are generally the best person to raise psychologically balanced and socially intelligent children. Women are finding it tougher to re-launch their careers after a break.

While the above are very visible cases of compromises made by employees, there are a significant number of not so apparent cases.  Incidents like bullying, harassment, workplace aggression etc.  also cause strain on the employee emotionally and psychologically. The cumulative toll on employee well being is high due to these compromises.

In The Compromise Trap, Ms. Doty outlines seven “costs of compromise” to the individual when they go along with unhealthy compromise:

  1. The stress of betraying one’s values (including the costs to our health);
  2. The psychological blind spots we develop as we “tune out” the compromise;
  3.  The tendency to escalate our efforts to “win” to prove the compromise was justified;
  4. Increasing dependence on external validation from bosses and promotions as we lose touch with internal self-approval;
  5. The tendency to attract more bullies as we cave under pressure;
  6. The loss of reputation and trust when we betray other commitments (such as commitments to our families), and 
  7. Inability to focus on the core of our jobs and responsibilities because we are busy “making things look good” in response to pressure.

Impact on organizations

To emotionally protect themselves from the psychological pressures, employees disengage themselves from the organization goals and activities.  On the face of it, these pressures may appear beneficial to the organization, however have monumental side effects which harm the organization.

Gallup’s research on employee engagement indicates:

  • “In world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is 9.57:1.
  • In average organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is 1.83:1.

Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line while breaking the spirits of colleagues in the process. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.” The disengaged employee is also considered the toughest customer for change management initiative since he/she is simply disinterested.

From an organization’s risk management perspective, employees perceiving that they have to compromise personal values, indicates an unhealthy organization culture. This shows that when seniors ask/order employees to perform unethical/ illegal activities, employees will not significantly resist or object to it.

For example, a recent survey conducted by Reuters/Ipos indicated that sexual harassment is at dangerous levels in the workplace. The finding was that 1 in 10 workers have been pestered for sex by a senior employer. This increases the organization’s reputation and legal risks.

In addition to employee disengagement and increased risk, Ms. Doty identifies several other costs of compromise to the organization, including poor quality and execution, increased rework, lost customers, higher turnover, brand erosion and missed opportunities to innovate.  She also points out the tendency to increase leadership overload as employees exert less initiative and need more direction.

This clearly indicates that there is a need to change course and build better solutions from employee and organization perspective.

The solution: Employee self-empowerment

I asked Elizabeth Doty-What strategies do you see employees adopting to deal with pressure to compromise? How can they make their lives happier? She replied, “Generally, the root of the problem is assuming that ‘playing along with the game’ will get us what we want. But when we realize the full costs of compromise – to ourselves and our organizations – we see this is a losing proposition. To reclaim our freedom – and our ability to truly add value to our employers – a better strategy is to ‘redefine the game’: deciding for ourselves what we count as winning and losing, what we will and won’t do, what really matters and how we keep score’. 

As described in her book, redefining the game is one of five strategies employees tend to adopt in response to pressure to compromise:

  1. Playing to win –Employees focus on obtaining power and money by making work the center of their lives. They defer their personal dreams till they get the desired position.  The downside of the strategy is that it satisfies for the time and can result in personal crises, damaged health and lost relationships due to compromised values.
  2. Playing to live– Employees fulfill their responsibilities, however they also set priorities and limits at work and don’t get too caught up in the ‘hype’. They consider their life outside office equally important. The negative aspect is that organizations may consider the employee not being sufficiently competitive for crucial positions. In addition, this strategy can leave employees feeling they are “wearing a mask” at work.
  3. Playing for the good guys- These employees specifically choose to work for organizations they trust and believe in. They are focused on external customers, social benefit and/or responsibility. Yet even these organizations can create unintentional pressure to compromise, which can leave employees feeling even more disillusioned.
  4. Rebelling or dropping out- The employees leave their organization to protect their integrity. Sometimes the employees lose faith in the corporate world and leave it completely. This requires the person to sometimes take significant reduction in income and standard of living, and work through questions about their impact in the world.
  5. Redefining the game – The employees retain their ethics and values under the toughest circumstances by clearly defining for themselves what they consider winning or losing, what their work is serving, what they will and won’t do, and how they keep score. Their belief is that the corporate world needs to change, and they are a critical part of helping the right thing happen. They develop an internal reinforcement system to keep themselves psychologically strong and keep limits on material requirements in order to preserve their freedom. 

While many of us assume that a few gifted people are capable of redefining the game, in fact that strength arises from investing in the six personal foundations which create an internal reinforcement system:

  1. Reconnect to your strengths: The ability to access confidence, creativity and self-awareness to guide your choices.
  2. See the larger field: Sustaining a broad perspective so you recognize choice-points, act on your true priorities, and see all your options.
  3. Define a worthy enough win: Having a sense of mission and a reason for courage to help you focus your efforts and weigh hard choices.
  4. Find your real team: Having strong relationships with your family, close allies, and other professionals to give you well-being, perspective, and reinforcement.
  5. Make positive plays: Having a broad range of constructive actions you can use under pressure – including the ability to say no. This means investing in the skills for saying no constructively, without triggering retaliation if at all possible.
  6. Keep your own score: Developing internal guideposts to evaluate your progress and determine what is “enough”.

By investing in these six personal foundations, individuals increase their courage, skills and awareness so they can weigh healthy and unhealthy compromises and take effective action when they feel pressured to compromise on fundamental values. From this vantage point of strength, employees can then ask the following questions in any difficult situation:

  1. What is causing me to believe that I have to compromise my personal values?
  2. What whould I be personally gaining by the compromise (evaluate the importance)?
  3. What would I be giving up by the compromise (include the long term and short term consequences)?
  4. Overall, do I view this as a healthy or unhealthy compromise?
  5. How can I retain my personal values while achieving organizational goals?

Reading The Compromise Trap, I realized that employees do have personal choices. They mostly are unaware of them or do not realize their full potential. Each employee has the right and duty to focus on personal happiness and well being, and this is in fact the best way to help our companies succeed.

A new beginning has to be made on this road to life. I encourage you all to have the courage to make meaningful personal choices and share your experiences. You might wish to take the free Personal Foundation Test available on . The report is useful in assessing our inner strengths and strategies which we adopt for survival at work. Please do share your stories; this will enable you to discover your options.

Management Lessons From India’s Freedom Struggle

On the eve of India’s Independence Day on 15 August, I cherish the freedom and celebrate India’s growth towards global recognition. Going back in history, Indian freedom struggle lasted nearly a century. The last 25 years of the struggle was lead by Mahatma Gandhi on the concept of non-violence. India is one of the unique countries which gained freedom without much bloodshed.

I think there are lot of management lessons which corporate world is implementing presently which were prevalent in the freedom struggle. In this post I am exploring Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership and management style, and linking it to the current management practices.

1. Walk the talk

Mahatma Gandhi preached the concept of simple living and high thinking, although he came from an affluent Indian family. He came up with various austere living standards and requested his followers to adopt them. His kept his life open to public scrutiny. People may debate regarding his personal choices but no one would raise questions on his ethics and integrity. Irrespective of the difficulty involved, he always was able to take the high moral ground and never compromised on his personal values.

In the present corporate world we respect the leaders who are able to walk the talk, demonstrate ethical and principled behavior, and lead by example.

2. Think out of the box

The strategy and tactics adopted during the Indian independence struggle were unlike any other country’s revolution. Some of the concepts were:

  • Non-violence – A war fought on the basis of principles without any bloodshed.
  • Civil disobedience- Court arrest if the British officials are threatening imprisonment for demanding your rights.
  • Non-cooperation- The message given was maintain your jobs with the British empire, however do not support it regarding its practices against Indian people.

Managements today are advocating out of the box thinking and competing strategically. The organization which implements a unique strategy generally wins the market.

3. Brand building

Mahatma Gandhi’s personal brand has lasted 60 years after his death without any investment. He created a brand of a simple moral man living life on the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence). His home spun cotton clothes, wooden shaft, leather slippers, vegetarian meals and home at the ashram all embodied his personal brand. His character and communication depicted his core values to the masses. We must acknowledge that fact that very few leaders in history have as strong a brand image as Gandhi.

The corporate world is spending huge sums on advertising to build the corporate brand. We hear Tom Peters and other management gurus talking about building the “Brand You”. The focus now is on developing a personal brand.

4. Competitor’s size doesn’t matter

The Indian freedom struggle gained ground with the idea of a few committed individuals who wished to bring about a change. They envisaged taking on the might of British Empire which had the resources, funds, weapons and management capability. The Indian leadership team acknowledged the strengths of the British Empire and devised a strategy which minimized those strengths. They built a strategy on the following:

  • Non-violence which required no weapons;
  • Asked masses to contribute for the independence and live frugally, hence survived on minimal resources;
  • Developed local leadership across all regions under Congress banner.

Using a similar strategy, Barrack Obama won the American presidential elections when he had no funds and support. Recently corporate world has witnessed small IT companies (e.g. hotmail)  developing into big names just by pioneering a unique product and leveraging the market properly.

5. Build dream teams

Indian Congress Party besides Gandhi had a number of other accomplished leaders. Namely,
C. Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose and others. These leaders all had different personalities and ideologies, however worked for a common cause. Gandhi and Nehru complimented each other tremendously and mostly operated as two in a box. Senior leaders acted as mentors for the younger generation. The party had leaders at grass root level, and people were encouraged to develop leadership traits.

Business world is focusing on building dream teams with leadership at all levels. The Human Resource Departments are focused on concepts of two in a box, alternate leaders, chief mentors and succession planning.

6. Engage and empower people

Mahatma Gandhi in his speech on the eve of Dandi March said -“Wherever there are local leaders, their orders should be obeyed by the people. Where there are no leaders and only a handful of men have faith in the programme, they may do what they can, if they have enough self-confidence”. He encouraged common man to show leadership and commitment under the overall umbrella of Congress. He united the people by specifying the mission, vision and code of conduct of Congress. The masses were committed to the cause and in all his symbolic protests he involved people participation.

The corporate world’s biggest challenge is of disengaged employees due to actual or perceived lack of empowerment. It is becoming apparent that success or failure of the organization is increasingly dependent on a healthy organization culture which encourages employee participation.

7. Accept and encourage diversity

The British are generally blamed for implementing “divide and rule policy” in India. On the contrary, India already was already divided into various regions, religions and castes before the British rule.
Mahatma Gandhi in his struggle for independence attempted to unify the country. He encouraged the princely states to join hands, brought Hindus and Muslims on the same platform and removed caste barriers for joining the freedom moment. He supported gender equality and encouraged women to actively participate in the movement. His wife, Kasturba Gandhi played a pivotal role in getting women’s participation.

With less than 10% women in senior management positions in the corporate world, the mantra today is to bring more women on board. With globalization the concept of accepting and encouraging diversity has taken hold.

8. Don’t make it personal

In the Quit India speech in 1942, Mahatma Gandhi stated- “Then, there is the question of your attitude towards the British. I have noticed that there is hatred towards the British among the people. The people say they are disgusted with their behavior. The people make no distinction between British imperialism and the British people”.

Deal with the issue and not the person; this is the corporate mandate today. Mahatma Gandhi pioneered this thought process. In all his communication and dealings he stood up against British Imperialism. He however, had friendly relationships with Britishers and never made a personal attack in his speeches. On the other hand, he continuously advocated decent and humane behavior even towards ones enemy. His thought process was- address the issue at hand and keep a positive attitude towards a person from the competing camp.

In nut shell, there is a lot to learn from the Indian freedom struggle for the corporate world. It had unique dimensions which are gaining hold now as corporate best practices. History is the best teacher, if we are willing to learn from other people’s successes and failures. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Wishing you all a very happy Independence Day.

The Business Enterprise Magazine published this article in its August 2011 issue.

Ethics Cloak On Politics

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.” – Ernest Benn

Mark Hurd, CEO of HP lost his job over the allegations made by the board that he breached the code of business ethics of the organization. Initially, the investigation was for sexual harassment charges leveled against him. Subsequently, the explanation given is that he is all clear of sexual harassment charges, but had submitted incorrect reimbursement bills for the meetings he had with the contractor. HP board is said to have taken a high moral ground and terminated his services. The value of these expenses would be insignificant in comparison to his salary and perks.

There seems to be more than what meets the eye. While it might be considered speculation, it appears that Mark Hurd usefulness as CEO had expired and the board was looking for a way out. Possibility exists, that Mr. Hurd may have objected to leaving his job, hence the allegations were framed. He may have realized that instead of washing dirty linen in public, it is better to quit and it is not worth salvaging the relationship with HP board.

So the question comes up, is HP board really being ethical and demonstrating good corporate governance, or are they using it to camouflage personal agendas. Time will tell whether the decision to terminate Mark Hurd’s services was beneficial for HP.

Interestingly enough, if one considers the financial crises, very few CXO’s suffered the same fate as Mark Hurd. The Citibank from being the largest bank in the world needed a government bailout. The CXO’s and the board have retained their positions. There was much flak regarding Vikram Pandit’s performance but over time everything appears to have been rolled under the carpet.

If you recall in 2008, the French bank Societe Generale had reported a fraud of $7.14 billion, the history’s biggest. A single futures trader Jerome Kerviel was blamed for it, and subsequently it was stated that it was due to lapse of internal controls. Mr. Boutan the CEO then, was asked to remain initially and stepped down in May 2008. Jerome Kerviel’s contention that seniors were aware of the transactions he was entering into holds some ground. In each bank there is a system of MIS and reports which seniors review periodically to monitor profits and performance. The bank would have very dubious internal control systems if one middle level employee could supersede them to enter into such transactions over a period of two years. In this case also, most of the senior management was reshuffled but retained their seniority. It again appeared that politics was covered in a cloak of corporate governance.

If we see these cases, Mark Hurd’s sins of business misconduct appear negligible. He still lost his job while showing a tremendous performance and growth for HP. Although this appears cynical, when compared to the other cases, the message comes across that it is alright for CXO’s to completely run down the company and make it bankrupt; however an immaterial amount of bills supposedly submitted by them can make them lose their jobs.

One has to question here, is HP really showing good corporate governance when its previous CEO also left under a cloud. Can we consider this sound business ethics or has it opened a can of worms?

Is it really possible to separate corporate governance from the board politics of the organization? Is corporate governance a useful tool to dispose of unwanted CXO’s as it is comparatively easy to find some scope of misconduct? Will the board of major organizations continue to provide lip service to corporate governance and the public has no other recourse but to accept this reality?

Welcome your opinion on this topic; do you think HP board did the right thing?


Human behavior is complex and unpredictable. Although we claim that logic is the prime driver of actions, in 80% (am I quoting a low percentage?) emotions drive human behavior. Emotions again are positive and negative, and it is the negative ones which cause most grief. Warren Buffet aptly described it when he said:

“The fact that people are full of greed, fear, or folly is predictable. The sequence is not predictable.”

If we study in detail, the unpredictability of negative human behavior causes the maximum risks. HP CEO Mark Hurd lost his job for submitting fraudulent bills for dinner dates. With his kind of salary and perks he could very well afford to pay his dinner bills. Logically, we will find no explanation for his desire to fudge the bills.

While conducting risk management, we focus on controls but not on the unpredictability of negative human behavior which is the root cause of damage and destruction.

Should we not be concentrating more on studying human psychology for enabling risk management? Welcome your thoughts on it.

Deviant Organization Culture

The British Petroleum saga continues with the CEO Tony Hayward stepping down and Bob Dudley replacing him. Although senior management claimed to be taking a hard look, Dudley denied culture had in any way contributed to the spill. Those outside of BP hold a different image. Democratic Congressman Ed Murkey stated “A total culture change of this company is necessary.” Analysts and critics viewpoint is that BP’s encourages greater risk taking. With the history of violations in safety and environment norms, one can safely say that BP does consider itself somewhat invulnerable and takes risks which may not be required or necessary.

Going back to the Enron debacle, it was stated that the staff at the corporate office were aware of the unethical practices. They remained silent as Enron had a policy of annually cutting of 10% non-performers and those who did not comply to orders appeared in this list. Kenneth Lay was known to have a charismatic personality and an image of leader was projected which he wished others to believe. His name is now associated with corporate abuse and financial frauds.

The question comes up is how does the organization culture of the corporate play a significant role in adopting unethical practices? Do the risk management teams conducting transaction based auditing fail because the corporate inherently does not believe in following ethical practices.

In this post I am writing about deviant organization culture, what it is, how it is formed and what needs to be done to address the situation. If recognized in the formation stage itself, it would be easier to manage and restrict the growth. Hope this post helps you in recognizing the traits and addressing the issues.

What is a Deviant Organization Culture?

Organization culture is defined as the sum total of the psychology and attitudes which are communicated by the leadership team to the employees and the ethics, values and beliefs which are incorporated for execution of work and obtaining business objectives. A deviant organization culture is where leadership communicates to the employees that participating in criminal and unethical practices is normal. The management and employees rationalize that participating in white-collar crime and illegal behavior to achieve goals and targets is perfectly justified. Effective controls to restrain the management and employees from undertaking immoral, illegal and unethical activities are absent.

What is the cause of it?

Generally this occurs when a charismatic leader takes over the organization. The leader has a dark side, basically a narcissistic personality, characterized with a desire to pursue personal pleasure for self-gratification and ego. The company’s reputation, ethics and goals are completely disregarded to achieve personal needs and self-interest. The leader has little empathy, and uses coercive power to maintain his/her position. The transactional leader, rewards his/her juniors in financial terms for being “yes-men” and prefer the philosophy of no questions asked. There is little effort into building trust or emotional connections with the team. The leader shows blatant disregard for the social norms and tends to develop a corporate cult of blind folded followers. The leader’s success is dependent on the members who have low self-esteem and have a high need to be associated with a group. The members derive their identity and self-esteem from the group, hence are not willing to raise any objections to immoral social behavior or demeaning acts which the leader is subjecting them to.

Why does it continue?

Group think develops where members relinquish responsibility for their own actions and consider group consensus as prime objective of existence. The group members are generally in Kohlberg’s pre-conventional stage of moral development and look towards the leader to satisfy their sense of personal belongingness and security needs. As the group conducts more and more criminal acts the need for conformation to group norms increases. There is safety in doing what group is expecting out of the individual as the person is likely to face a backlash from the group if he/she disagrees. Hence, even when each member may disagree to some aspects they do not voice it, as the attitude is going along for getting along.

Outside influence and information of the external environment which is contrary to the group’s direction and objectives is discouraged. Leaders yes-men spread rumors and do propaganda to brainwash the members to complying to the leaders requirements. Any voices raised against the leader or group norms are severely punished. Coercive power is utilized, the corporate provides a high level immunity from detection and prosecution. The mindset is manipulated by the pleasure-pain theory. If one complies, then member is rewarded and if one desist, then the member is punished. Hence, to avoid pain, the members show complete loyalty to the leader and continue to do demeaning and criminal acts without questioning the moral sanctity of it. As Aristotle said “Evil gets men together.”

Who become members?

According to Tittle “The person must have a predisposition to deviant behavior. A situation must arise in which the individual can exploit the situation to engage in deviant behavior. Third, an opportunity must present itself for the person to engage in the deviant behavior. The fourth condition pertains to constraints. Should an individual engage in deviant behavior, how likely is the environment to constrain that person’s actions.” This very clearly indicates the employees who have less of a self-identity and self-esteem are likely to participate in deviant behavior to obtain recognition amongst peers.

What is the solution?

A form of cognitive therapy is required where the leaders and the group faces up to the issues and takes responsibility for their behavior. A need is there to set up a healthy corporate culture where management is seen as open to ideas, walking the talk and practicing ethical behavior. The culture should be re-established with a vision and mission statement, followed with a code of business ethics, policies and procedures. The bad apples need to be removed from the organization as a signal to the others that their behavior is unacceptable to the organization. A formal training process should be established to deal with abrasive managers, bullying and work place aggression. Last but not the least, multiple channels should be provided to the employees to report such cases and the employees should be protected from retaliation by others.

Re-establishing a culture is a time-consuming task and may take a couple of years. It is worth the effort as rewards are high. The organization is the long run will recover its reputation, have happy employees and loyal customers.

As E. Bruke said “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” . To build a healthy culture the power should be with the good men who actively participate in incorporating ethical practices and beliefs.

Welcome feedback on the article. Please share your stories where you had to deal with deviant organization culture and how did you address it.