26.11 Mumbai and Harvard


 Recently, I chanced upon a report about Harvard Professor Rohit Deshpande’s research on what empowered the exceptional display of heroism by the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel staff during the 26/11 terrorist attacks inMumbai,Indiathree years back. Of incredible tales of hotel staff forming human shields to protect guests, some of them losing their own lives in the process.

Prof. Deshpande has found three HR practices relating to recruitment, training and staff recognition to which he ascribes the many uncommon acts of employee valour. But as I reflect on the report, I sense that the findings could be mere tip of the iceberg. Has the research truly been able to drill down to the reasons behind this clearly contradictory conception of human behaviour?

As I reflect some more, I wonder if it all comes down to how organisations think and act, how they relate to their employees. To most of us, an efficient organization is all about “command and control”, a heritage harking back to the industrial revolution. As organisations have continued to ramp up efficiencies, technology has taken centre stage with jobs getting more segmented and even expendable. Low qualification jobs have created disqualified humans. And the attendant social costs of a mentally dissatisfied and spiritually impoverished population are visible all over.

Other symptoms are there to see. Of organisations losing their life blood of core personnel and entrepreneurial energy.  As they try to meet future challenges by using a    “fix-it back to how it was” mindset. A mindset of a command and control Management which has become increasingly misaligned with today’s environment and technology evolution.

And how does all this look like at a macro level? The old economy “brick and mortar” structure which served us well over the last century in terms of standardisation, assembly line productivity, modular approach and cloned processes is in crisis. A crisis fuelled by uncertainty and unpredictability. Of an environment that is getting increasingly disconnected from the past, difficult to comprehend.

So I have this vision. A vision born of hope and positivity. Of organisations who believe in the strategy of the moment. Of a culture where creativity and flexibility replace detailed planning and control. Of the realisation that constant internal regeneration is necessary to keep up with rapid changes and discontinuity. Of managers with conviction that problems are but symptoms of needed change and not something that has “broken” and needs repair. Of leaders who know that things would never get back to the way they used to be but would change faster and faster.

So how can this vision be achieved? By dispensing with rigid job and task definitions and replacing these with strategic “positions” aligned to objectives and results. By empowering people to create their very own evolving job definition, pulsating with a changing environment. As gas fills up vacuum, as the cytoplasm fills up a living cell. And so no two job descriptions would be alike just as no two personnel are alike in terms of their thinking, values and beliefs they bring to the table.

So could this be the way we, the people, reclaim back the “heart of work” from clicking, repetitive technology? As we develop a messianic vision of our role and transform the organisational ethos to say that if one does not take initiatives, one simply does not have a job.

I believe in some unique way, the management of the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai has been able to instill the above radical context of “work” into its employees. And have created a shared deep commitment to service and humanity. But has this been achieved through training and personnel development as the Harvard research opines? Or has it come from a moral energy at the core of the organisation consciousness? From a “caring and serving” value system flowing from the top and percolating through all levels? From sustaining a heritage that empowers people to “get out of their boxes” to creatively enrich, enlarge and connect?

No doubt, the world would be waiting to learn………………

In Learning……………………….

Shakti Ghosal

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Democracy: The way ahead


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore
Gitanjali, 1912

 

I sit comfortably ensconced, watching disparate events in News Top 20.

From Arab spring incidents to the Euro zone crisis. From dissent against health care reforms in the USto sit-in dharnas against nuclear power plants inIndia. From strident social activism against corruption by Anna Hazare and his citizen group to Wall Street protests.

The kaleidoscope and colour of humanity, its endeavours and its challenges are so very dynamic, it never ceases to fascinate. But could there be a common thread through all this? Are these seemingly unconnected events but symptoms of some deeper unified malaise?

As I set about making sense of it all, I am confronted with myriad aspects. Those that range from democratic yearnings of the disenfranchised. To anger against increasing disparity.  To democracy itself struggling to sustain itself in the face of a fast changing twenty first century world.

But is Democracy the ultimate panacea to deliver quickly on all things desired for the new aspirants in the Arab world? And as the  fiscal deficits start biting, would the much vaunted democratic freedom of the  developed world  in fact allow it to climb down to the economic and social levels of the developing world? Or would democracy be hijacked by activist groups to further fuel unrests and force Governments to hold onto status quo which they can ill afford? Are we not seeing this happening in the recent political developments inGreece,Italyand elsewhere? I reflect on all such and other questions.

Thoughts flit through my mind. Could our challenges be stemming from a democratic deficit? The issues are many. First and foremost, is Democracy in a position to cope with technology empowered individualism of this century? How do we sustain democracy when people lose contact with their elected representatives? What can make-up for Governments’ loss of control and decision making in the face of Globalisation? And how can Governments come to terms with the increasingly powerful role that media can play?

I am no political pundit but nonetheless would risk offering the following “helicopter view” recipe.

  • Get back to the roots of Governance and face to face      interactions with people. Be it through panchayat empowerment, community      hall meetings or tribal jirgas.      We need to recognize one size or shape does not fit all.

 

  • Foster values to re-connect people to Democracy and      the political process. And how does one do that? By giving equal standing      to Citizen groups for proposing policy options and shaping dialogue. We      need to create those spaces which would allow people to get fearlessly involved      and know that their thoughts are respected.

 

  • Shift our perspective of Media from its perceived      “Government challenge” role to that of a democracy enabler facilitating      information availability and public involvement in policy making.

 

  • Inculcate attitude in the Government to actively      listen to and acknowledge the individual. The challenge is huge but encouraging      online communities may be a way forward.

 

At this point in History, a millennium beyond the Magna Carta, can we provide the next scallop by accepting the paradigm that Democracy continues to be a work in process?  Until we are able to awaken ourselves in Tagore’s “heaven of freedom… where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”?

 

 

 

 

 

Wall Street protests and beyond: winter of our discontent?


 

 

Now is the winter of our  discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York;

                                                                                                                                         Richard the Third, Act 1, Scene 1


 

The Wall Street protests have now  gone viral to more than eighty locations globally. Different places, contrasting  paradigms but same underlying issues. The protests are focused on corporate greed, on rocketing wealth and income inequality, against booming bank profits  post Government bailouts, about average folks struggling to keep their heads  above water in a tanking economy. Banners read: “We are not merchandise in  bankers’ hands!” in Lisbon, “Why am I not  economically represented?” in Dublin. A mix of anger, frustration and disconnect are palpably on display.

As I watch the flickering images  on the news screen, my mind’s eye goes back to John Steinbeck’s “The Winter of Our Discontent”. It tells the story  of Ethan Allen, a former aristocrat, now fallen on hard times. As he struggles  to make two ends meet, he maintains high integrity and honesty. But family and  peer pressure makes him resent his lowly position, forces him to give up his  long cherished values and embark on a dangerous and corrupt path……

I ponder. Is the society at large similarly headed? Is this the twenty first century denouement of Capitalism? Or a clarion call for a deeper change inside each one of us?

To the detractors, Capitalism is a fundamentally flawed model with the sole focus on profiteering. Numbers take over from morality; we get obsessed with what is monetarily productive but socially destructive.

As Aristotle had said, “Man by nature is a social animal…………… and anyone who does not need to partake of society is either a beast or a God.” We have been genetically wired to share, care and give away but this runs counter to the capitalist theory of economic progress. We are thus getting re-wired to reward selfishness but punish altruism. So what are we morphing into- Aristotle’s Beast or his God?

Our sense of purpose and values get subsumed and even contradicted by those of our organisation. We get hijacked into believing that our life’s purpose is to be successful within the corporate world, achieve that beautiful house on the lakeside or aggrandize a stable of top end cars. Such externally imposed beliefs take centre stage and drown out our true values. Our thoughts and behaviour become hostage to these underlying beliefs and as we wallow in our self created materialistic cocoon, we can no longer “hear” our true inner self. We may have once held dear the value of “environmental sustainability” but may now have become reconciled with our organisation’s growth plans of iron ore mining requiring degradation of a virgin environment. In our youth, we may have believed in “equitability of society” but as CEOs, may be perfectly willing to maximize stakeholder returns by retrenching employees through automation and out-sourcing.

While a knee jerk reaction may suggest increasing taxes on Corporates and individuals, excessive taxation endangers initiatives and aspirations, the fountainheads of progress. Clearly a shift in our perspective is needed. Could we reward and support a culture of direct benefit flows to the immediate society and the environment? Can we create a great corporate culture with Purpose over Profit? Can we re-align corporate values more with our own individual ones? Can we light up the corporate sector with glorious values as under?

  • Express love and care
  • Service to others
  • Pursuit of truth
  • Quest for excellence and perfection
  • Improve the World

In the October 2011 McKinsey Quarterly report on “The second economy”, author W. Brian Arthur speaks of how the emerging digital economy is causing large sections of human jobs to disappear, never to reappear. How the future economic challenge would be to shift from producing prosperity to distributing prosperity, how it would become increasingly difficult to apportion future wealth through jobs.

As stakeholders, could we shift our perspective to accept corporate valuation based on non-profit values as above apart from profits? Do we have the conviction to change winter of our discontent to the glorious summer, upholding our core values of universal inclusiveness and fairness? Or would we choose to go along the path taken by John Steinbeck’s Ethan Allen?

“There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet. Jesus discovered it centuries ago. Mahatma Gandhi of India discovered it a few years ago, but most men and most women never discover it……………. 

And this morning, I think of the fact that our world is in transition now. Our whole world is facing a revolution.”

Martin Luther King, Jr
.

 In learning…………                    Shakti Ghosal

The Ballad of Steve Jobs- What take-aways?



Steve Jobs is no more. An icon of our times passes on. Gigabytes of eulogies, outpourings and videos are all that remain to remind us of him.

As I sit on the keyboard, I wonder what is it that compels me to add my own tuppence about the Man. I did not know him personally. I have never met him. My only connections are two devices that I own- an IPod and an ITouch. But wait! There surely must be some other connection. I revisit the video of his Commencement Address at the Stanford University Graduation Ceremony delivered six years back. And I see myself clapping in front of the monitor as the last video frame fades out.

I set out to determine what really made the man. Not what I could draw inspiration from. But more a curiosity about what made Steve tick, what were those inner moorings that made him go on the path that he did.

To conform to the expectations of his foster parents (who had adopted him at birth), Steve went to college but dropped out soon after since as he himself put it, “I saw no value in it”. Clearly Steve’s values and associated beliefs lay elsewhere. Which brings us to our Lesson number One. That no matter how hard you try to achieve goals set by other people, you are bound to  under-perform or fail if they are not aligned with your passion, your own underlying beliefs.

Even after dropping out of college, Steve continued to attend classes where his interest and curiosity lay. It was then that he did a course in Calligraphy, something which his heart proposed rather than his mind. Steve goes on to tell us how years later, he could use this competence to build beautiful typography into the MAC computer.So Lesson number Two. Listening to your heart is listening to your inner values and beliefs. And this unleashes high energy, great feelings and ultimately terrific results. To use Steve’s expression, “…. when I look back in life, I can see unrelated dots connecting…” This is the power of positive beliefs.

Steve believed that getting fired from Apple, the company that he created, was the best thing that happened to him. The event allowed him to gain awareness of his own self on a much higher plane. It also allowed him a deeper understanding of two other aspects about himself.

One, having become a hugely successful entrepreneur at a young age, Steve developed damaging inner beliefs like, “My creative passion is essential for the organisation, I know best etc”. These led to the display of negative behaviours of arrogance, overbearing know-all attitudes etc. Clearly this was not conducive to organisational harmony and development. As Steve himself puts it, “sometimes life hits you on the head with a brick” to bring you back to your roots- your values and passion.

Second, his getting fired allowed him  to positively confront and overcome his self doubts of  “not being good enough”, to face  his fear of “ being perceived as a public failure” which almost made him “ run away from the valley”.

As he fought pancreatic cancer, Steve acknowledged that a constant awareness of death allowed him to powerfully clarify his priorities and make the big choices in life. As he remarked, “almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. ”

What a fantastic shift in perspective! Such self awareness surely has the power to change our beliefs and thoughts and become a powerful driver of behaviour change harnessed for great forward motion and success. Are we willing to take the baton and move forward? Are we ready to re-unleash the requisite creative energy and passion for the NEXT- PIXAR? And this remains our final lesson number three.

As Steve remarked, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.