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.  

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Political Strategy For Risk Management

A recent report published on Harvard Law School blog stated that in 81.2% of manufacturing and 73.6% of the non-financial sector companies have not appointed Chief Risk Officers (CRO). Interestingly, 83.3% of the financial services organizations have appointed a CRO with direct reporting to the CEO. This indicates, that unless mandatory, the risk managers do not have high visibility. Though their role is important in all sectors, they are unable to leverage themselves among the senior management. This issue is not new, and most complain at not getting a seat at the table.

 1.     Develop Political Skills

We need to look this issue from another lens. We need to develop a political strategy for the risk management department. Reason being, technical expertise on a subject takes one up only to the senior middle-management level. At senior management level organization politics dominates decision-making. Hence, risk managers need to develop political skills and astuteness to survive and thrive at that level.

However, the challenge is that though risk management job requires high political skills, very few work at developing them. According to an organizational study, ~ 65-80% employees avoid politics, ~15-25% indulge in negative politics and ~5-10% participate in positive politics.  Risk managers need to develop skills in positive politics to influence senior management.

The positive politics players have win-win, ethical, organization focus, enlightened self-interest, collaborative and best interests of the business mindset. Indulging in negative politics will be harmful as the group has  win-lose, non-ethical, upward focus, self-interest, competitive and personal gain mind-set. Viewing politics as dirty and avoiding it, isn’t an option. Politics prevails in organization DNA and one has to choose how to play it.

 2.     Implement a Political Strategy

Another aspect to look into is that risk managers have to influence the organization to build a risk culture. The concerns of the junior managers differ from those of middle managers and senior managers. Moreover, different business units have clashing interests and priorities. Stumbling from one person to the other and trying to influence them on a random basis will not benefit the organization or the department. Therefore, to influence each sub-group positively, risk management departments need a political strategy.

After developing the political strategy, risk managers need to implement and run with it consistently over time to reap success. It will involve getting supporters, appointing campaign managers, forming coalitions and doing some secret handshakes. Risk managers of course have to walk a fine line of maintaining independence and objectivity while implementing the political strategy.

 Closing Thoughts

Success in organizations depends on how well a person manages their own expectations by understanding the political game. Corporate world is a jungle. One cannot expect that people will make rational and logical decisions in the best interest of the organization. Risk managers will remain on the side lines unless they learn to trapeze the political web. The good news is one can learn political skills.

References:

  1. Risks in the Boardroom – Harvard Law School
  2. Investigations in Organizational Politics

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

Missing Men of Honor

royal disgrace

The Story of Disgrace

A wave of shame and disgrace washed over Indian Premier League’s (IPL) Rajasthan Royals team. Three players of the team – S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan – were identified as part of the spot fixing racket. Eleven bookies were involved. Investigators have found some evidence connecting it to underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.

As per police disclosure Chavan was paid Rs.60 lakhs by the bookies, Sreesanth and Chandila got Rs.40 lakhs each. By the number of matches they have played they would have earned a few crores each. The bookies lured the players by throwing parties and providing female escorts.

It is shocking that players with such international repute and excellent career opportunities would take a criminal route to earn money. One wonders what they were thinking. Were they joyously throwing up their hands in the air and dancing with happiness. Did they think that for a few millions they would be breaking the hearts, trust and expectations of billions of people, starting with their family?

It is reported that Rahul Dravid, the captain of the team suspected something. He made Sreesanth sit a couple of matches and the team managers asked him to leave the team. How painful it must have been for Dravid, a man reputed for gentlemanly conduct.

This isn’t the first time followers hearts have been broken by their idols.  Now the cancer has spread through all facets of life. Indian politicians – Gandhi, Nehru, and Azad – were known for their impeccable behavior  Congress leaders fought for Indian independence. They spent years behind bars to fight for a cause. Now Indian politicians spend time behind bars for corruption and fraud. Instead of feeling shame or humiliation, they get back into public life with renewed vigor to mislead people and make money.  Over 30% of Indian politicians have a criminal track record.

The new breed, who have joined the infamous bandwagon are senior managers of Indian corporates. After Satyam and 2G telecom scam, their names appear frequently for being interrogated by CBI and spending time in jails.

Valuing Honor in Our Lives

So where has honor disappeared? Previously, the mark of distinction for a man was when people referred to him as – “he is an honorable man”.  Having a dishonorable reputation was disastrous socially and professionally. Now, honorable men among leaders can be counted on figure tips.

As a world civilization, we need honor back in our bloodstream. Without it, humanity will reach new levels of depravity. We require men and women to work dedicatedly to get it back for the sake of next generation, though it is a challenging task.

The cynics will say it is a pipe dream and point out various flaws. The idealists look at the times gone by and wish the same could somehow come back. The practical breed has learnt to work like an automaton to earn a living and look at nothing else.

So where do we get our heroes who will change the world for us?  The heroes have to pay a price. Lincoln, Gandhi and King – were all assassinated because they dared to bring about change. From the first step to the end of their journey they made personal sacrifices. They repeatedly saw failures, their hearts sank with despair and somehow they gathered their strength to walk on thorns again.

In the present world, who would wish to trade the high life, luxuries and comforts for a life full of dynamite?

But unless we do so, we are bestowing the next generation a dangerous life.

So our choice is between our generation and the next. Do we want to look that far ahead?

Closing Thoughts  

When we talk about change, our hackles rise. Even when it is obvious that we should change, we don’t want to. That is a human failing which 100% of us have. Our best excuse is that we can’t change the world, who would listen to us, how can all the people change? But if we study change, we just need 10% of the people to believe in our cause. That is, we need to influence just 1 in 10 people in our life. That doesn’t sound very difficult; all of us are capable of doing it. So why not give it a shot, and bring honor back in our lives. I leave you with words of Dorothy L. Sayers from Gaudy Night:

“If it ever occurs to people to value the honor of the mind equally with the honor of the body, we shall get a social revolution of a quite unparalleled sort.”

References:

IPL match fixing 

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.

Leadership of Dead Bodies, Stones and Flowers

leadership imprint1

In April, two Air India pilots handed over the controls in auto-pilot mode to two female cabin attendants to take a short nap. They decided that their sleep was more important at 33,000 feet while flying the 160-passenger flight from Bangkok to Delhi. They returned to the cockpit after 40 minutes when one of the cabin attendants accidently knocked off the auto-pilot mode.

The angry Twitterate asked for pilot’s license suspension, removal from job and legal charges for culpable homicide. Everyone questioned their work ethics and shock at their irresponsible behavior. Air India investigated the incident, suspended the pilots and sated that passengers’ safety was never compromised. Unbelievable, how can passengers be safe without any pilots at the helm?

1.     Double Standards in Evaluating Corporate Leaders

 The pilots were crucified for risking the lives of passengers. However, surprisingly the pilots of the corporate world do not suffer the same fate. The wizards and titans of the banking industry crash landed the world economy, but they didn’t lose their CXO seats.

Look from another lens. Did any senior in Supplier Company or the multinationals lose their job in the Bangladesh factory fire? In Foxconn, the Apple contractor, 11 employees committed suicide, four died in an accident and one collapsed after continuously working for 36 hours. However, Steve Jobs was rated as the second most popular leader by the CEOs in a survey conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers. The first and third were Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi respectively.

Now this is going to rattle my readers but let me say it. Steve Jobs was a great inventor, designer, strategist and marketer. However, when it came to people, his employees considered him rude and manipulative, and his competitors found him uncivil. Though Apple achieved great heights, he paid low salaries to the employees in the Apple stores, paid no dividends to the shareholders, pushed down suppliers to manufacture at lowest possible rate and didn’t believe in charity or corporate social responsibility. His behavior and actions weren’t people centric or humanity oriented. So my question is – do we consider him a great leader because he managed to put Apple on top? That makes him a great CEO, not necessarily a great leader.

2.     Misconceptions of Leadership

 The problem arises due to the definition of leadership. Read the dictionary meaning:

Leadership is “organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal”.

– We don’t focus on how the group of people were gathered; by inspiring them or arm-twisting them.

–  We don’t focus on the nobility of the goal; was it to exploit others or liberate them.

–  We don’t focus on the method adopted to achieve the goal; was it by breaking the rules or a journey of virtue.

In the present world we see leaders leaving dead bodies in their path, walking over people as if they were stones and sucking the life out of them. Great leaders create leaders not followers, they make others blossom like flowers.

Be it a corporate leader or political leader, we don’t wish to question the leadership methods. Our thinking is, how it matters to us, we have nothing to lose. We have everything to lose, and Martin-Niemöller-Foundation words at Hitler’s time still resonate:  

“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Our own silence will kill us and the society we live in. When humanity is at stake, can we close our eyes and say nothing is at stake.

3.     Leadership Training

The Institute of Strategic Change reported that – “the stock price of ‘well-led‘ companies grew by over 900% over 10 years, compared with 74% for poorly led companies”. Warren Bennis in 1998 said – “The Truth is that no one factor makes a company admirable. But if you were forced to pick the one that makes the most difference, you’d pick leadership.” However, how many companies train on leadership or do a performance evaluation on leadership qualities?

Quite a few would be saying we do it. So let me clarify. In organizations bosses tell the juniors what to do and how to do it. They give rave reviews to the employee who completes the task as they had stated. They promote that employee and now he becomes a boss. At best, he will be a good manager, not a leader.

Corporate world determines success rate by title and salary.  Neither guarantees leadership skills. Employees aim to become a boss, not a leader. The terms are not synonyms.

According to Malcolm Gladwell,  all outliers practiced their talent for over 10,000 hours to achieve greatness.  In the corporate world, how many hours are dedicated by each employee to learn leadership? Learning leadership is a by-product of the main job, till CEO level. Then isn’t it surprising that we do not have many great leaders in the corporate world.

 Closing Thoughts

Maximum damage in the world was caused by people who got powerful positions without good leadership qualities, be it Hitler, Jeff Skilling, Bernie Madoff or Lance Armstrong. The biggest risks in the corporate world are leadership risks. It is the leaders who make the decisions, so unless we have a system of putting the right people in leadership positions we will continue to have these disasters. Hence, our job is to develop good leaders, select good leaders and continuously monitor the leaders.

 Wishing my readers a Happy Mother’s Day. Being parents is the toughest job in the world,. They are responsible for raising the next generation of leaders.

References:

  1. Air India Pilots Story  
  2. Deaths in Foxconn
  3. Price Waterhouse Coopers report on best leaders

 

Human Rights Risk Management Process

Bangladesh Building Collapse

The fire in a nine-story factory building in Bangladesh killed 400 people. More than 600 people remain unaccounted for. It housed five garment factories that supplied to international brands – J.C. Penny, The Children’s Place, Dress Barn, Primark, Wal-Mart etc. The workers were asked to come to work even when cracks appeared in the building the previous day.

Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothes and the workers get the lowest compensations. Just around USD 37-40 per month. The question arises why are the multinational organizations not following the UN Guiding Principles for Human Rights protection. The reason is simple; they want to show higher and higher profits to the investors.

In Delhi, in Munirka one will find numerous small factories full of workers making export garments. A friend of mine also ran one. I had bought a few shirts from her at cost price ranging from Rs 300-500 (USD 6-10). In one international visit, I found the same shirts selling in range of USD 15-30. The fivefold increase in price was because of the brand tag attached to the shirt.

The multinational buyers push the prices down and some supplier gives a rock bottom price. The others are forced to match that price to get the business. End result is that basic facilities are not provided to the workers and they work at really low wages. Unknown workers are paying with their lives in developing countries to satisfy the growth targets set by CEOs to earn their bonuses and keep investors happy.  It is the dark side of capitalism which organizations want to hide.

In most companies, human rights risk management is not a focus area. The 2013 Global Risk Management Survey conducted by RIMS identified seven risks related to human resources among the top fifty risks. Though worker injury and harassment were included there was no specific emphasis on human rights risk management.

The risk management team can conduct annually or bi-annually a human rights risk management assessment. It requires attention not only from human resources perspective but from operational, financial, legal and reputational risks perspective. Any breach can result in huge losses.

Here are some of the steps mentioned in the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and guide “Investing the Right Way” issued by Institute of Human Rights and Business.

1.     Review the Human Rights Policy Statement

Human rights risk management is emerging as an important issue, especially with multinationals entering emerging markets and developing countries. They are expected to protect and respect rights of workers, communities and society. Investors can play a crucial role by influencing companies to promote human rights relating to gender equality, child labor, rights of indigenous people, land acquisition, mineral processing etc.

Hence, companies need to publish Human Rights Policy Statement on their websites. The UN Guiding Principle 16 states –

 “As the basis for embedding their responsibility to respect human rights, business enterprises should express their commitment to meet this responsibility through a statement of policy that:

(a) Is approved at the most senior level of the business enterprise;

(b) Is informed by relevant internal and/or external expertise;

(c) Stipulates the enterprise’s human rights expectations of personnel, business partners and other parties directly linked to its operations, products or services;

(d) Is publicly available and communicated internally and externally to all personnel, business partners and other relevant parties;

(e) Is reflected in operational policies and procedures necessary to embed it throughout the business enterprise.”

As a first step risk managers need to check whether the organization has a human rights policy statement and the above mentioned steps have been adhered to.

2.     Human Rights Impact Assessment

The second aspect of UN Guiding Principles is for companies to establish human rights due diligence processes. Guiding Principle 17 states:

 “In order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their adverse human rights impacts, business enterprises should carry out human rights due diligence. The process should include assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, integrating and acting upon the findings, tracking responses, and communicating how impacts are addressed. Human rights due diligence:

(a) Should cover adverse human rights impacts that the business enterprise may cause or contribute to through its own activities, or which may be directly linked to its operations, products or services by its business relationships;

(b) Will vary in complexity with the size of the business enterprise, the risk of severe human rights impacts, and the nature and context of its operations;

(c) Should be on going, recognizing that the human rights risks may change over time as the business enterprise’s operations and operating context evolves.”

Human rights risk management is complex and challenging. If ignored, they can increase political risks and deteriorate relationships of the organization with the government. For example, Tata Motors wished to establish Nano manufacturing plant in Singur, West Bengal. The government allocated agriculture land using 1894 land acquisition rule, meant for public improvement projects, to take over 997 acres farmland. The farmers protested with help of activists and the then opposition leader Mamta Banerjee. Tata Motors moved out of West Bengal and established the factory in Gujarat. Multinationals looking for large tracts of land to establish factories are facing similar challenges in India.

Another aspect to look into is that scrap, waste disposal, sewage, environment pollution etc. from factories can impact food, water and health of local communities.

Decision needs to be taken whether investments should be made in countries or states with poor human rights record. In India, the Naxalite area is extremely conflict prone and business operations can have severe human rights impact.

Risk managers should evaluate the strategy and operations of the company from human rights, environmental, social and governance factors. The companies can face operational risks (project delays or cancellation), legal and regulatory risks (lawsuits and fines) and reputational risks (negative press coverage and brand damage). The impact assessment should be done from investors, customers, employees, society and supplier perspective. Identify business owners for the risks and devise appropriate risk mitigation plans to address adverse impact.

3.   Grievance Mechanisms

UN Guiding Principles state that victims of corporate related human rights abuse should have access to judicial or non-judicial remedies. Companies should provide some remedies themselves and cooperate in the remediation process.

UN Guiding Principle 29 states –

“To make it possible for grievances to be addressed early and remediated directly, business enterprises should establish or participate in effective operational-level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted.”

However, this isn’t followed by the companies in true spirit. “A Vigieo analysis of human rights records of 1500 companies listed in North America, Europe and Asia revealed that, in the previous three years, almost one in five had faced at least one allegation that it had abused or failed to respect human rights.”

Ideally the investors in the company should ensure that grievance mechanisms exist and address human rights issues. The transparency and disclosure of the same in annual reports would highlight the financial, legal and reputational risks. However, the investors don’t seem to be bothered by it.

See the case of Apple. It reported  Gross Profit Margin – 42.5%, Net Profit Margin – 26.7%, Revenue Per Employee – $ 2,149,835 and Net Revenue Per Employee – $ 573,255. It has 43000 employees in US and 20,000 outside US. However, Apple contractors hire an additional 700,000 people to engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products.

An Apple supplier in Taiwan, Foxconn was recently in the news for its workers attempting suicide. As per reportsWorkers are required to stand at fast-moving assembly lines for eight hours without a break and without talking. Workers, sharing sleeping accommodations with nine other workmates, often do not know each other’s names. They do not have much time to get to know each other. The basic starting pay of 900 RMB($130) a month – barely enough to live on – can be augmented to a more respectable 2,000RMB ($295) only by working 30 hours overtime a week.”

See the difference the company earns per employee and the payment made to the supplier’s employees. Apple shows profits at the expense of lives of Taiwanese workers.  The workers don’t have much of a grievance mechanism in China as the government stated that the suicides are within the normal suicide rate. Can Apple investors sacrifice some profit margin for safety and security of the contractual workers?

Another old example is the class action suit since 2001 on Wal-Mart Stores that involved 1.5 million current and former Wal-Mart female employees. It is the largest workplace bias case in US history.

 4.    Human Rights Reporting

 The biggest challenge is that most of the human rights abuses are not reported. The victims of human rights exploitation hold little power in comparison to the exploiters. They can hardly take up the might of powerful businesses when they are struggling to get basic food and shelter. Secondly, in the developing and emerging countries, corruption levels are generally high. Hence, media, law enforcement agencies etc. are bribed by the power players to silence the victims. However, with internet and social media, things are gradually changing. People have a voice and collectively they can fight.

UN Guiding Principle 21 lays out the requirement for companies to communicate human rights impact externally. It states –

 “In order to account for how they address their human rights impacts, business enterprises should be prepared to communicate this externally, particularly when concerns are raised by or on behalf of affected stakeholders. Business enterprises whose operations or operating contexts pose risks of severe human rights impacts should report formally on how they address them. In all instances, communications should:

(a) Be of a form and frequency that reflect an enterprise’s human rights impacts and that are accessible to its intended audiences;

(b) Provide information that is sufficient to evaluate the adequacy of an enterprise’s response to the particular human rights impact involved;

(c) In turn not pose risks to affected stakeholders, personnel or to legitimate requirements of commercial confidentiality.”

 As per the UN principles, the reports must cover appropriate qualitative and quantitative indicators, feedback from internal and external sources including affected stakeholders.

Risk managers can evaluate the reports and the reporting process to ensure that all risks are properly addressed. They should evaluate whether cautionary steps are taken and nothing is being done to exacerbate the situation. They should highlight severe or irreversible risks to the management to ensure appropriate decisions are taken.

Closing Thoughts

 Inequalities in income are the main cause of human rights abuse. The rich want to get richer at the expense of blood and sweat of the poor, and sometimes life. The diamond manufacturers and sellers took the right step to publish that they do not source blood diamonds. Since 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), supported by national and international legislation, has sought to certify the legitimate origin of uncut diamonds. Trade organizations – International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) – representing virtually all significant processors and traders – have established a regimen of self-regulation.

Other industries, be it technology, electronics or textile manufacturers,  need to come out with similar steps to stop human rights abuse. The risk managers have a vital role to play in it. If we do not do anything, we are cheating this and the next generation of their right to live happily.

References:

  1.  Investing the Right Way – A Guide for Investors on Business and Human Rights – By Institute of Human Rights and Business
  2. Singur farmland-  Tata Motors conflict
  3. Apple financial ratios
  4. Foxconn Case Study
  5. Diamond industry sales clauses
  6. 2013 RIMS Global Risk Management Survey

 

Employee Selection and Background Screening in Ancient India

Would it be fair to assume most of us believe that employee selection and background screening processes were formed in the 20th century? Do you think soft skill evaluation of employees is the latest management mantra? Will it come as a surprise that in India these were formed in 4th Century BC?

Kautilya’s Arthshastra, written in 4th  century BC, lays down rigorous process for selection and background screening for ministers, priests and government employees. It is more extensive than that employed in the present-day corporate world. I am doing a comparison of the two below. After reading, tell me whether we have progressed or deteriorated in 25 centuries.

1.      Selection Process

Let us first see the qualities senior level people require according to Kautilya:

“Native, born of high family, influential, well trained in arts, possessed of foresight, wise, of strong memory, bold, eloquent, skilful, intelligent, possessed of enthusiasm, dignity, and endurance, pure in character, affable, firm in loyal devotion, endowed with excellent conduct, strength, health and bravery, free from procrastination and fickle mindedness, affectionate, and free from such qualities as excite hatred and enmity–these are the qualifications of a ministerial officer (amátyasampat).”

If you look at them, he covers intelligence, professional capability, personal character, strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, social and business connections, soft skills and physical fitness. In the 21st century words and terminologies are different, but attributes are the same. Hence, not much change.

2. Background Verification Process

Now I am giving a table below comparing the two period’s process of background verification. For detailed methodology of the current period refer to my article – Pre-employment Background Verification.

Background screening

Doesn’t it make you think? Over 25 centuries, the basic concept and process of selection and background verification has remained more or less the same. However, Kautilya’s selection process doesn’t stop here. He mentions a few additional processes and I am amazed at the insight.

3. Detailed Character Verification

In the Arthshastra, Kautilya asks to ascertain the character of employees by offering temptations and instigating them against the king. Senior level ministers and priests should attempt to lure the employee to test him for four allurements- religious, monetary, love and fear. He suggests creating situations to test whether the employee will defy the king for the sake of religion, money, sex or under threat. Then he states, that whosoever is lured by a certain aspect, should not be in-charge of it. For example, if someone fails the test of monetary allurement, he should not be responsible for managing finance. The tests were conducted to ensure that people in critical positions were incorruptible.

In present times, we select senior managers on various aspects but their loyalty and character aren’t as thoroughly checked as in the ancient times. In my view, quite a significant number will fail Kautilya’s tests for “purity of character”. How many CEOs check whether their direct reports will betray them for bribes and rewards?

Closing thoughts

In India, around 25% candidates submit false or inaccurate resumes. The background screening processes aren’t fully established in most of the organizations. With high risks of hiring terrorists, hackers and fraudsters the organizations are susceptible to financial, legal and reputation risks. Isn’t it surprising that even after 25 centuries the process and procedures aren’t fully implemented.

We now say we are living in a fast changing world. So, do you think background-screening processes will become efficient in this century, if they haven’t changed in 25 centuries?

Indian Attitude Towards Time – A Strength In Future

We Indians jokingly refer arriving late for a meeting as arriving ISD (Indian Standard Time). However, if you, my reader, are an Indian, you would have heard a question from a western colleague – “Why are Indians late for meetings?” If you are a westerner, you desperately want to know the answer to bring your stress down and figure out whether the Indians actually want to do business with you. However, whether you are an Indian or a westerner, have you ever thought of Indian attitude to time as a strength in the future chaotic world?

Let me delve into a little bit of detail before I answer that. The attitude towards time divides people into two cultures – monochronic people and polychronic people. According to Wikipedia the definitions are:

Monochronic – A monochronic time system, people do things one at a time and segment time into precise, small units. Under this system, time is scheduled, arranged and managed.

Polychronic – In polychronic time system, people do several things simultaneously, and take a more fluid approach to scheduling time.

Indians follow the polychronic time system whereas most of the western countries believe in monochronic time systems. The general perception is that people following monochronic time system are better organized. Hence, monochronic system is superior.

1. Attributes of the two cultures

Below is a table of attributes the people of two cultures show with the current business buzzwords and applicability to Indians. Check it out and tell me whether Indians attitude towards time is going to be strength in future?

No Monochronic People Polychronic People Buzzwords Applicability to Indians
1 Do one thing at a time Do many things at once Single task v/s Multitasking Multitasking
2 Concentrate on the job Can be easily distracted and manage interruptions well Single task v/s Multitasking Multitasking
3 Take time commitments seriously Consider an objective to be achieved, if possible Task oriented v/s goal oriented Goal oriented
4 Are low context and need information Are high context and already have information Direct orders V/s Subtle communication Subtle communication
5 Are committed to the job Are committed to people and human relationships Task oriented v/s people oriented, People oriented
6 Adhere religiously to plans Change plans often and easily Predicted & scheduled v/s Chaotic & complex(Fixed project schedules v/s Flexible planning) Chaotic & complex
7 Are concerned about not disturbing others; follow rules of privacy and consideration Are more concerned with those who are closely related than privacy Individual V/s social communities(Privacy and security v/s social networks and internet) Social communities
8 Show great respect for private property; seldom borrow or lend Borrow and lend things often and easily Ownership v/s credit lending Credit lending
9 Emphasize promptness Base promptness on the relationship Time v/s relationship Relationship
10 Are accustomed to short-term relationships Have strong tendency to build lifetime relationships Transactional relationships v/s Long-term relationships Long-tern relationship

2. Link with current management trends

Now let us discuss the latest management mantras:

a)    Impact of  technology

Advancement in technology and telecommunications has globally connected the world with little segregation possible in work and home life. Managers do multiple tasks now and Gen Y are mentally geared to do so from childhood.

Advantage – India: Indians traditionally do multiple tasks and have a huge population of Gen Y.

b)    Effect of  globalization

Globalization and outsourcing has ensured that managers are not physically available on site to monitor tasks. Secondly, work-life balance is encouraging more people to work from home. Hence, success depends on delivering results and not on completing tasks.

Advantage – India: Indians do not have mindset for process adherence and adopt flexible approaches to achieve targets.

3)    Influence of social networking

In the age of social networking, communication is taking center stage.  Senior managers face the challenge of communicating with a global workforce of different cultures.

Advantage – India: Indian communication style is subtle, layered and non-aggressive.

4)    Demands due to complexity of business 

The space of change in the world has increased due to technology and globalization. The business environment has become complex and chaotic. The long-term planning is not possible because parameters change in a short time.

Advantage – India: Indians managers are used to dealing with adversity and chaos. They are comfortable working delivering results with minimum infrastructure and support.

5)    Finding meaning in relationships

The western organizations have realized that in the long run transactional relationships result in dysfunctional organization culture and reduce customer loyalty.

Advantage – India: Indians believe in long-term relationships even in business. They conduct business after establishing trust and respect in the relationship.

Closing thoughts

I do not know whether I am on the right track. Nevertheless, in my opinion we definitely need to relook, as the risks are high. For instance, presently the western organizations are developing their organization structure, processes and framework according to monochronic thinking. On the other hand, as the business environment requires polychronic behaviour, there is going to be clash in the system. Employees will be confused and unnecessary conflicts will occur. That results only in one thing – lower profits and higher risks.

In Indian organizations, we need to be clear that we do not adopt behavior patterns and change the culture according to our perceptions. We need data and analysis to assess the culture that will be suitable in future. It is possible, that a polychronic culture is better.

The Indian Management Model

I am asking my readers – Have you heard about the Indian Management Model. If not, then why not? India has a rich history of baniyas (business community) who excelled in trade. India controlled one-third to one-fourth of the world wealth in the classical period (1AD to 1279 AD). So why do we not have Indian management principles?

Indian business schools and colleges teach management concepts formulated by Peter Drucker and Fredrick Taylor. Granted America had a dramatic and glorious history of business growth. However, presently the media headlines proclaim just one thing – American business environment sucks! Indians have made great strides in adopting the American money market principles but shouldn’t we stop and redefine them.

Indians managers may think it is not possible, but Bollywood has taught us it is possible. Yeah, Bollywood has chosen the best of both worlds. Aamir Khan’s Lagaan reached the Oscars with dirty dhoti clad Indians singing, dancing, and playing cricket. Even Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire had a song and dance sequence. Bollywood movies contain high-octane emotional drama, no-brainer jokes, head over heels in love stories, superman fight sequences, songs and dances. Bollywood adopted the Hollywood technology, marketing and financing strategy, and retained the cultural core of Indian cinema. It presented itself to the world in various award functions without attempting to incorporate Hollywood sensibilities and tastes. It is now so popular that even US dance reality shows have with Ballad and Hip Hop, Bollywood dance form.

We need to do the same with Indian management rather than blindly adopting western best practices. Below are some of my rather radical thoughts on how we can do it. Read it and tell me what you think.

1.     Holistic Business

The stupendous success of American capitalism in 20th century resulted in making the money market model popular. India initially after independence followed socialistic model but after liberalization in 1990s is foraying into hard-core capitalism.

Now, after witnessing the pitfalls American business concept is undergoing change. More and more people are questioning the basic premise that business is for profit alone. People are propagating that business has responsibility to all its stakeholders – investors, customers, employees, suppliers and society. It cannot profit while harming the society.

From ancient times, India propagated the concepts of holistic business. The stories in Indian history repeat the same message. A businessman is required to conduct business ethically and responsibly and has to give back to the society.  Unlike the west, Indian philosophy focuses on balanced life and not the concept that more is better.

Hence, while the west was struggling with high CEO salaries, until recently, India was not having this problem. The Indian CEOs salary increases have occurred in the last 6-7 years. While the western public is protesting against these high salaries, Indians are acquiring the bad habit. The Indian business leaders need to look what they are copying from the western world under the guise of management nuggets, best practices and benchmarks.

2.     Non-violent Competition

Once a friend remarked – “You quote Mahatma Gandhi and profess to be a follower of non-violence principles, but you are always fighting”.

I responded – “When was Gandhi ji not fighting? He fought the British Empire for half his life. He just did it non-violently. He based his fight on humane principles and values.”

We need to introduce the concept of non-violent competition in the business world. The financial crises in the west showed that cut throat completion, aka dog eat dog world results in organizations with dysfunctional cultures. The banking regulators’ reports prove it.

Indian principles of non-violence (ahimsa) state – “do not harm anyone”. It does not say – “do not excel”. Indian business leaders must focus on achieving great heights based on knowledge, ideas, innovation and strategy. They must not focus on running down their competitors through industrial espionage, illegal acts or negative publicity.

The same applies to Indian employees. Excel on merit and not by creating misfortunes for your colleagues.

One thought to keep is – Non-violence and success aren’t two mutually exclusive terms.

3.     Teach Ethics Through Indian Philosophy

When I started blogging, an American blogger gave me feedback on one of my articles – Buddhism in Corporate Life. He said that in US they don’t mix religion with business ethics. Though I understood his point, I couldn’t see how Indians could adopt it. In India, religion is entwined with Indian philosophy in every aspect of life. The values and attitudes of a country’s population define its culture.  We cannot segregate business ethics from the whole piece and teach it in isolation.

The pujas, fasts and festivals of various religions of Indian sub-continent would account for 300 days in a year. There is a moral story behind the folk tales of numerous gods and goddesses. The western world is now talking about “storytelling” to give messages and sell concepts. The Indian mythology did just that. Then why not use it to educate on business ethics?

Let me put it another way. How many Indians would know the Utilitarian Approach of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill or the Rights Approach of Immanuel Kant? My guess is less than 5%.

Now how many Indians have heard of the Hindu philosophy of Karma? My guess is more than 70%.

Which ethics philosophy would be easier to sell to Indians? The one they are familiar with, and connect at emotional and psychological level.

Unfortunately, in India political parties create a ruckus whenever Indian concepts are included in the school course syllabus stating it is favouring some religious group. They don’t object to the introduction of western concepts. We need to stop being apologetic about Indian heritage and proudly learn from it.

4.     Inclusive Workforce

The term “Diversity Management” sends one clear message – “You were not welcome and we are doing you a favour by inviting you”. It applies to women, LGBT group and minorities.

In the last few years, LGBT rights have taken centre stage in the western world. Let me touch a bit of Indian history.  The British in 1862, introduced section 377 of Indian Penal Code prohibiting homosexual activity as British soldiers had sex in the ships travelling to India.

d5c60e9c0c1f11e1abb01231381b65e3_7Before British rule, Indians accepted homosexuality without aversion. Homosexuals were not considered inferior or abnormal. In Hinduism context, every person has a masculine and feminine side and the percentages vary in each human. No one is completely male or female. Hence, some pictures depict gods in the conjoined half-male half-female form.

My guess after reading the Da Vinci code is that Christianity propagated the concept of women being inferior to men. Before the Moghul rule in India, Indian women enjoyed equal rights. Hindus pray to their gods along with their soul mates – Ram- Sita, Krishna- Radha, and Shiv-Parvati. Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati represent power, wealth and knowledge. Ramayana and Mahabharata, depict king Ravan and Dhuryodhan respectively, as evil for sexually harassing women.

Before the misrepresentation of caste system in India, a community was defined according to the nature of work they were doing. And not on basis of religious inferiority or superiority.

Hence, in India we need to go back to 1 AD to understand the concepts of inclusive society to develop standards for inclusive workforce.

5.     Social Communities and Soft Skills

The American social concept is that an individual’s needs are superior over family and society needs. However, the Indian concept propagates superiority of family and society needs over personal needs. With nuclear families in the last twenty years, Indian society is transitioning towards American concept, thinking it is better.

Though if you read the latest American management mantras, they talk about:

a)  Building relationships – Transactional relations do not work in the long run, hence the use and discard policy is losing ground. Indians work with business partners after building a relationship of trust and respect.

b) Collaboration and teamwork – Being able to work with teams is a key strength. Employees are rewarded for collaboration. Individual star performers no longer enjoy the prestige of the last decade. Indians work well in groups as they have numerous members in family to cater to and learn in childhood to meet different stakeholder interests.

c)   Service leadership – Arrogance, over-confidence and extravert behavior in leaders is rewarded in America. However, now service leadership or level 5 leaders are valued. Indian leaders, be it Gandhi or Nehru, were known for their humility and service leadership. 

Closing Thoughts

Indian civilization is one of the most ancient civilizations in the world with a very rich history. The Vedas, Arthshastras and various philosophical texts provide a vast reservoir of knowledge on life, business and society. Even Steve Jobs and Beatles got that. Indians needs to go back in time to understand those principles. While the west offers a lot of knowledge, it has been tested only for a century or so and fatal flaws are showing.

Adopting the western principles blindly is not the solution. One of the biggest risks is when a company copies or adopts something without evaluating the feasibility. It holds true for management models also. Choose the best of both worlds and devise a new management model suitable to India.