Corporate India : The Self-Perpetuating Vicious Conditioned Response

A LinkedIn Question on Managers, and their attitudes towards employee’s mental health triggered a thought process; Do managers really care about employee’s mental health?

No, they dont. I dont think this can be an argued, with; neither is this open to question. There are several documented surveys in existence that bear the proof : that disease of every kind is rising, and fast. Question is, does anyone care? No. Also true. Next question : can anything be done? Answer : No. Concluding Question : Why? Answer : The stupid idiot who tries to do something gets sacked, regardless of level. Statement of simple fact. 


It doesnt take a genius to figure out that you run everyone under incredibly high stress combined long with 14-hour days - there are going to be cases of burnout, breakdown, mental disorders, heart attacks, diabetes, Asthma, etc. That is basic 10th standard Biology. Everyone should and does know this. Still they dont care. If they did, things wouldnt be as they were. That is also an unfortunate truism. People at the top – some of them, at any rate – are also well aware of the range of issues, but shy away from doing anything about it. Why should this be so? And why is bucking the system so damned tough for even a top manager? 

But first, the proof. As proof, in May 2013, The ET carried a damning indictment of Corporate India and its work culture. { Analysed on my blog here : Corporate India, work stress and employee dissatisfaction. } It holds an interesting divergence, and a hint of the key. While the Employer view was that employees value Career, the Employee view was the e.x.a.c.t opposite : they value job security. Another sector specific survey identifies rising mental illness in Corporate India. A third has clearly delineated abnormal and rising rates of sickness – especially lifestyle diseases. Just reading these surveys makes clear the TOTAL disconnect between Top Management and Middle-Lower-Frontline Staff. 

At core of the issue lies a bunch of cowardly middle managers, who are too scared to speak; brow-beaten frontline and firstline managers who know that if they speak, khatam, finish. And at the core of that lies a disturbed authority-responsibility matrix that gives power to people who dont deserve it, or dont train people for the higher responsibilities. And it is this self-perpetuating matrix that is in effect a vicious circle, breaking out of which is virtually impossible. 

This vicious circle is actually indicative of a deeper systemic malaise: the internal systems and processes are not coping up with the changed business reality that is confronting the corporate scenario. And that, to my mind, is the core reason for what we have seen above. HR systems, fist of all, need to be strengthened to cope with the new reality. This has to go hand-in-hand with a more humane treatment to employees, with a receptive ear to their manifest and genuine concerns. 

And the proof of that {malaise} is simple; all you have to do is look, ask the right questions – for example, in the sales function,  just trace sales, cost of sales, distributor and team instability, cheque bouncing, customer complaints, vendor issues etc : all are directly proportional, whereas logic and experience both dictate they should ideally be inversely proportional. This is basis practical experience of tracing numbers. The problem : The PMS does not measure anything except the first parameter, which means that there is no reason to do anything about the rest. Result? Also simple to trace. Trace the brand failures, their number and rising incidence. {To those, esp HR people, who lay claim that the modern PMS does measure other parameters – my rejoinder; no, it doesn’t, but that is another story, for a different blog post. Stay connected}


At one level, people are just plain dumb, and too scared of chucking their jobs; that is admittedly a part of the problem. To that, I can only say  : come on, everyone! You are educated, a post-graduate {at least a graduate}, qualified, intelligent... dont you have confidence in yourself? Just because someone threatens you, you back down and do something against your nature, or the law, or plain common sense, or something that causes a loss to your team or the organisation or both? What that means is that you are good for nothing except what you currently do; that outside that comfort zone, you are a total failure.  

The second level is the rampant and completely one-sided belief that people who stay and compromise are resilient; nothing could be farther from the truth. Resilience does not mean compromising on the virtues and good values that differentiate a human from an animal. True resilience is standing up for your beliefs, and fighting it out. Staying and admitting defeat or compromising is admitting that you are incompetent, that the system has changed you! And, as we shall see later, this is the compromise that actually deepens the problem; it is this compromise that creates a vicious cycle.


What you see is a conditioned response; a response conditioned by organisational policies that are as harmful to the organisation as to the employee, policies that, acting in concert, create a vicious cycle, strengthening one message, and one message only. These policies, acting in concert, selectively build unhealthy competencies, simultaneously undermining the organisation's internal strengths and capabilities. This is a matter that lies at the door of the CEO, HR heads, OD Teams, Line Functions VP's and above, requiring deep-rooted policy level action and lots of time to correct. 

The policies in question the entire breadth of the organisation, and together coordinate to co-create what we see, what is evident in the various surveys, suicides, murders, pink slips, anger, heart attacks and lifestyle diseases cropping up. For example, the moment you promote based on end-result alone, without looking at the underlying factors, you are sending a strong message that reinforces the learning that anything goes. 

Even during hiring, the same message : with the focus being on your achievements, not how you did them; background checks also just check the veracity of the written documents, when they should in reality be talking to all concerned to get at the gist of the real performance of the person : has this person left behind a sea of problems, dissatisfied customers / team members etc? The proof is the ease with which people who are sacked for rampant financial irregularity get hired.


The same reinforcement goes into the people during meetings, with the focus being on achievements, with no serious questions being asked as to how these were done. Fact of the matter is that all of us know that there is no hanky-panky / short-cut that cannot be revealed in a set of targeted questions at the so-called high-achiever. Any fool with experience can expose the reality; it doesn’t require either intelligence or extraordinary levels of skill to pull that off.

This message is further reinforced when someone who has not performed is pulled up, usually in public, with no attempt to analyse the reason for the non-performance. This is actually a serious business risk- as a lack of competitive ability in the organization and its products first shows up in the non-performers’ numbers; the so-called performers, skilled as they are at getting numbers any which way, hide the erosion in competitive ability of the offering in the market. Result? Organisation after organization is taken by surprise as the entire edifice crumbles… when all you really had to do is put some time and energy understanding the non-performing areas in terms of strategic offering, not a purely tactical view. 

But this isn't done - sending, yet again, an exceptionally powerful message. A conditioned response is created. The same thing happens as leaders try to inculcate a uniformity in companies, leading to a team that thinks along a defined line, lacking the perceptive and functional in-depth skills that are built up by diversity. Yet again, the same message. This is further deepened when people compromise, and say “this is the way it happens”…

The exact same thing happens when people hire for stability, or for deep skills in one skill area; you are building a team that can and does crack open under pressure; these so-called stable, or skilled people, in reality have never seen adversity, or have no exposure to other areas, knowledge sets and experiences; this is a vital and needed parameter that builds a vital and strong organisation. In each and every case, a strong message is going : to succeed, this is what you have to do…


Each  and every policy and step taken, rather than engender a positive attitude and out-of-the-box thinking, further deepens the problem in a self-perpetuating cycle.

I have said it before; I say it again... 

In 16 years and counting, in a full 100% cases of failed products and launches, the frontline teams have predicted the outcome with 100% accuracy. Organisations regard them as not having knowledge; my experience at front, first and second line tells me they know more about the business realities than anyone else in the company; this is across functions as well, with faulty policies being rightly called as such in 100% cases by the people who are not listened to. You ignore them at your organisation's peril. No one speaks for the simple reason that speaking up is not encouraged; I have been told on occasion : teraa aadmi bahut boltaa hai, chup karao yaa nikaalo! Yet again, you are gving a message... a reinforcement...


This requires deep-seated change, and can only happen when people at the bottom start saying no, and give a push-back; which can only happen in a crisis period for the industry, when the bloodbath begins... Examples abound. Sad part is, in the bloodbath, many innocent careers are sacrificed. Hansa chugegaa daanaa.... etc etc... how to change this in any other way? I have no idea… if you do, drop a comment, and educate me! Cant be more honest than that.  

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