Monday, 16 September 2013

Values & Teamwork in Business and Education

To the Naval Officer with whom I had this discussion: If you are reading this, please accept my thanks for your Armed Forces training and job insights and our comparisons with organisational life and trainings; this idea came to me while we were engaged in our discussion, as you will hopefully recall...

As previously noted in earlier articles on my blog, corporate India has been shaken to its core by a recent series of scandals and scams that have cut across the entire spectrum almost; with the bad news coming from Mining, Pharmaceuticals, Banking, Telecom, Coal etc. I have previously argued in my blog of the need for introspection within the hallowed corridors of power in Corporate India, and of the need for a re-visit to the the basics to set things right. In the course of this analysis, we looked at the external environment, which has changed quite significantly, with very, very heavy competition and the resultant pressure becoming the norm of the day; I further argued that the internal processes are simply not keeping pace with the the on-ground scenario. 

To this, let me add another albeit highly contentious variable - Values. Call it what you will; Values / Ethics / Morals / Code of Conduct, or any other suitable term. (I am not being theoretically rigorous here). Values are our guiding spirit; they help us in living our lives; they help in guiding us, setting targets and directing us on the right path towards the achievement of those targets. They are the DNA on which our lives are built.

It is an inescapable conclusion that the values displayed by the list of financial scams, scandals and corporate exposes are not those we would like to see in our children. It is also true that none of us tries to develop such personality attributes consciously. And yet, the perpetrators were people like us: people from within us; people who grew up in the same systems and processes we were exposed to in our corporate lives. Where and how did they go bad? And how did things come to such a pass that no one even speaks out for fear of being victimised? These are very pertinent questions that should occur to us on reading about these scandals

It is also equally true that organisation after organisation has failed to spot the errors that have set in; the scale of the problems may be small in some and large in others - but it is there. The victim organisations span a list ranging from behemoths to small organisations. Blaming society is useless; we are the ones that make up the same society. Neither is blaming the external environment a satisfactory escape for it does nothing to change the status quo, and does not look for a solution to the tough questions being posed to Corporate India

The above was the rough gist of my argument to the Naval Officer, who was on his way to an IIM for a one-year course in management. He then made a few interesting observations during the discussion, a couple of which are highlighted below... 
a) In the Armed Forces, during our training, if one of the team fails, the entire team is punished and vice versa. This enables group thinking and teamwork. The focus is on performing as a unit, as a team - and not as an individual
b) I cannot believe that you cannot voice your opinion forcefully and truthfully; If I do that, I put the entire ship, along with the hundreds of people on it, at grave risk. Thus when I receive orders that I observe to be potentially harmful, I make it a point to object and point out the inherent dangers

Now look at the corporate sphere; it is easy to spot parallels. Perfect parallels. Group Thinking, Teamwork, Organisation above self are not on overt display anywhere. The argument that "the Organisation does not care, so who should we" also does not hold water, for our long-term career prospects are determined as much by the quality of the organisations in your career profile as by your individual achievements. 

The focus is never on genuine team performance; the focus is rabidly individual, rather than spotting performing teams. This is easy to spot in the behaviours within teams, where there is little sharing of best practices; in fact, quite the reverse. Each team member is looked at more as a rival than as a support system and as a team member. Group thinking is permeated with scoring browny points with the boss, rather than any genuine efforts at adding value. 

We corporate guys willingly and enthusiastically implement strategies that we know will lead to doom and sales disasters; and we do so without even a whimper of protest. Competitor feedback - even of seminal events - is usually tepid, and controlled. No one wants to rock the boat, no one wants to be highlighted. We willingly get into unethical practices (no point beating around the bush; we do do so) without a single second thought. And the system is simply unable to check this habit. Indeed, in some ways the system actually reinforces it, as, for example, those who rock the boat are more often than not the first to get jacked. And the biggest challenge for the Organisation -any organisation - is how to tackle this issue; how to get employees to be forthcoming; how to engage employees, and make them feel part of the larger picture. 

Where are we going wrong? Why is the inability to engage employees such a serious issue? The answer is within ourselves - as I have previously argued. Short and sweet  - this happens as we focus on results, and not the means. We focus on the short-term, and not the long-term especially in tactical execution of long-term strategies. This may explain the unethical behaviour; but it does not fully explain the lack of group and team approach. This explanation also does not fully explain why some employees choose to stay honest even at great personal cost to themselves and their families

The only possible solution, the only answer that occurs to me is that at no point during our professional lives - right from MBA - do we focus on values, the morality of our actions, the aspect of teamwork, the aspect of Organisation first. Critically, the Naval Officer I spoke to was unequivocal: He did not recall a single value-based query, question or case during the entire selection process - which is at complete odds with my experience  in the services selection board

Food for thought; that little tit-bit of wisdom. True: at no point in the entire MBA degree do we genuinely focus on team enhancement. Values are only theoretical points to be mugged up; rare is the exposure to genuine cases where value decisions are required; where the task comes into conflict with your values. The entire focus is on self, or on inhuman strategies. Same is the case in the organisation: 100% of the focus is on performance, meeting numbers: never on the basic fundamentals. And equally, there is precisely zero focus on decision making in conflict scenarios, on value decisions, on emphasising laws of the land; on the human cost of decisions etc. Even in interviews I have given and taken, the focus is on performance - never on the values that make up a person, and what makes him or her tick. It is almost as if we are hiring machines-  not human beings that think and feel. 

Where are we going wrong? And far more pertinent is the query "How to sort this mess"? I do not have answers. Not yet, anway. As I said earlier, the purpose of my articles is to engender a questioning attitude in people, and encourage them to question the status quo in their own minds...

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