30 January 2006

The CSR conundrum

Should companies invest in CSR? Of course, they should. Corporates have all the money. If they don’t, who will? I mean, the world has problems, right? Problems have solutions. But these solutions come at a price. Adopting and implementing these solutions require money which only the corporates – and wealthy philanthropists – can afford to provide. So, they should.

But ask whether it makes business sense for companies to invest in CSR, and you might get another answer. Or two. Or, perhaps, none at all. Go on, ask a corporate bigwig if he or she can demonstrate concrete financial benefits of CSR for his company, and see what happens. In spite of what you may read in the media about Indian corporates benefiting from investing in CSR by initiating programmes for children, adopting villages, saving forests, etc., the figurework for investing in CSR is inconclusive.

The fact is, there is very little evidence to demonstrate that CSR actually benefits a company financially or strategically. And, this is not just in India; it’s a global phenomenon. Of course, there is a view that suggests that investing in CSR has positive impact in public relations and the image of the company, but there is nothing that can be measured in money value to substantiate benefits that add to the company’s bottom line. Not yet, anyway.

So, is there a way out of this conundrum?

I feel there are bigger questions to be asked: For instance, do companies have a social responsibility at all? And, does this responsibility serve the interests of the shareholders? If the answers to both questions is a resounding ‘yes’, then companies could think of sacrificing business profits for doing good in this world. Because, in this case, it may not matter if the figurework for the investments is conclusive or not.

29 January 2006

CSR is selfish

Earlier this month, a leading financial daily in India carried a supplement on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The stories were interesting to read, coming from some of the largest Indian corporate houses, who proudly narrated their involvement in CSR and their caring for our country.

There is no doubt that India, with its billion-plus population, much of it still below the poverty line, and millions still struggling for their basic rights, needs caring. And, it was heart-warming to know that Indian corporates were not only aware of this, but they were actually acting in their best interests on several issues that have dogged our country for centuries.

However, when I noticed that most of the stories covered in the supplement were shadowed by advertisements from those corporate organisations, a doubt did arise in my mind on the intent of publishing those CSR stories. Wasn’t this blatant publicity? Shouldn’t they have used a little more subtlety?

Looks like, even talking about CSR costs money, let alone justifying the investment. So, what if those corporates get a little PR mileage out of it! CSR, like any business, needs a pay-off or two. The fact is, those corporates have invested in CSR for the benefit of the poor, the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, and the marginalised in India. And that’s what counts.

As the headline in the opening story suggested: CSR is Selfish. So it seems.

28 January 2006

What's the right thing to do?

Should companies sacrifice business profits for the good of the world? After all, business is about making profits. And, after all, businesses have a responsibility to their shareholders. Faced with the dilemma of doing good for the world against the pressure of handing over profits to shareholders, what’s a corporate organisation to do? Surely, corporate organisations are responsible enough to do the right thing!

Earlier this week, an anonymous visitor (whoever you are, thank you for visiting my blog) left a comment on my blog in response to my mention of ‘scenario planning’ methods used by the Royal Dutch/Shell Group in formulating corporate business strategies. While I celebrated Shell for their foresight and their planning tools, my anonymous visitor pointed out Shell’s corporate strategies in Nigeria, going back fifteen years or so – strategies which had (and, perhaps, continues to do so even now) caused severe environmental and economic damage to Nigeria.

Apparently, Shell’s oil drilling operations in Nigeria had done considerable environmental damage to Ogoniland (home of the Ogoni tribe) in the Niger Delta. The damage included oil spills, natural gas flaring, pipeline construction through farmland, destruction of fish and aquatic life, poisoning of land and water…leading to devastating environmental, health and economic consequences. When the Ogoni protested, Shell had taken a hard-line, conniving with the several interim governments in power, arresting, imprisoning and even executing many Ogonis. It had become a human rights issue.

Sadly, this is not just a problem from the nineties. The Ogonis have endured their troubles for close to fifty years, ever since Shell began drilling oil in Ogoniland in 1958. How legal and ethical are/were the ways of Shell? Why has the Nigerian government allowed this to happen? Why hasn’t the world responded to the troubles of the Ogoni?

These are important questions. And, they set me off wandering on another track: How concerned should a corporate organisation be about the impact its business has on people, the environment and the world at large? Shouldn’t this question be considered and answered much before the organisation sets up its business? And, if the answer to this question offers an outcome detrimental to the interests of the people, the environment and the world at large, shouldn’t the organisation re-work its business strategy?

There is a lot of talk about corporate social responsibility (CSR) these days, but doesn’t CSR really start when the business idea is conceived, rather than later, after the profits are made? If the business idea isn’t any good to the world, shouldn’t it be destroyed before it destroys people and the environment? Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do?

25 January 2006

In implementation lies your success

The test of a strategy is in its implementation. This may be a big blow to the egos of those who pride themselves as strategists, but it’s not enough to design a great strategy. You have to implement it and evaluate its results. In managing change, this holds the key to your success.

Strategy alone does not bring in change – or motivate it. Organisations not only need to identify the right new strategy, but have to implement it correctly so it reaches all levels of the organisation. To survive, and thrive, strategy alone is not enough. To achieve any major transformation in your organisation, you need to look inside.

The usual “looking inside” that accompanies new strategies amounts to re-organisation. And, in many cases, laying off people. Heads roll, sadly, mostly in the lower rungs of the corporate ladder. In an effort to re-organise, a top-of-line advertising agency I know, laid off several staff from their Studio (who were invaluable to the Creative Department), while promoting many of their senior executives to new positions. That’s right, CEOs and senior managers who like to re-organise prefer to keep their positions intact while cleaning up the rest of the organisation.

Don’t get me wrong. Implementing change does necessitate re-organisation, but it doesn’t have to be at the cost of someone’s job. You can energise your team to participate in the change initiative by making them understand how their work contributes to the organisation’s success and how their efforts can determine where the organisation will be in the future. By bringing your team face to face with the need to change and explaining the external pressures the organisation is facing at present. By defining the new strategies and asking for your team’s support in implementing them.

You can break the strategies into smaller parts and find team members who are enthusiastic enough to champion these mini-strategies. People who can own and drive the change – serve as role models. These could be department or divisional heads who have influence because of their positions or designations. Or others, who are leaders not because of their positions, but because they have the ability to connect with people and influence them. Encourage these individuals and support them to ensure their efforts don’t stray from the overall change strategy.

You can support the change with new tools and systems. But don’t be in a rush to implement them. Start on the premise that your team will be unfamiliar to these new technologies and systems, and may resist them. Communicate clearly how these new tools and systems will work and benefit each group or individual team member… as well as the entire organisation. Design training programmes to familiarise your team and ease the progress of implementation.

You can introduce incentives to encourage your team’s progress or on the positive results they bring in. One of the main reasons for successfully implementing change in a large Indian corporation was instituting awards to recognise change-agents, serving them as role models for others to follow. Another, an IT company, carried out a “listening exercise” and offered incentives for new ways of implementing the desired change.

Most importantly, contrary to felling heads during the change process, you can treat your team with dignity and respect. Manage their feelings. Help them deal with their emotional reactions to change and the new environment. You just can’t go wrong with this.

23 January 2006

Change is inevitable

In the corporate world, as in our lives, change is inevitable. Yet, you’d be surprised how inept most organisations, and individuals in them, are in understanding and managing change.

Don’t believe me? Then think about those thousands of dotcoms which perished because they failed to see Internet venture capital drying up. Think about those European and American, even Indian, companies manufacturing automobiles or consumer electronics or white goods which didn’t see the influx of the Japanese and the Korean models in the marketplace.

I know of a cement tiles company, once a pioneer and market leader, which got totally marginalised because it didn’t see the market demand change to ceramic tiles. Another, a consumer electronics giant, lost huge chunks of market share to Korean competitors because it couldn’t introduce technologically superior, and cheaper, products quickly enough. A multinational agro-chemicals company closed a part of its India operations under pressure from farmers and social reform groups because it misunderstood the Indian sentiment.

That’s right. Talking about it now seems easy. But, corporate genius or not, change is hard to handle. Even a new entrant in the market can change the dynamics of the entire business. Be it evolving markets, technological innovations, new government policies, environmental laws, world politics, or a myriad of other changes knocking on your organisation’s door… change can give anyone sleepless nights. It’s tough to see change coming, anticipate its force, and take steps to face its challenge. Sometimes, the best CEOs can be the worst in foreseeing the future.

So, where does this leave the rest of us? When your own corporate world is faced with the inevitability of change, what do you do?

Well, I hate to say this, you’re already a little late. Change has happened. And, it is happening this very moment as you read this blog. Since dreaming about winning over Nostradamus on your side isn’t going to help, the best you can do is prepare for what’s coming next. And, keep at it, endlessly.

Here’s a short note on how you can make a beginning:

If you’re a corporate bigwig, or a part of the corporate or a brand strategy team, you could look for new strategies. It helps to read books on the subject, attend workshops, hire a consultant or two for fresh ideas, spend money on research, and gather all the intelligence you can. Don’t get overconfident about this. Before you’re in a position to assimilate what’s happening, let alone design new strategies for your organisation or your brand, further changes are likely to envelop your world. Don’t give up. You’ve made a beginning and that’s what counts. It’s all part of the preparation.

Once this is done, you’re in a position to implement these new strategies. But, that’s another ball game altogether.

NOTE: There’s some great work on “foreseeing the future” done by Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies which I read about. As early as the 1970’s, Pierre Wack, at Shell, studied change and built “scenarios” for understanding the future. Helping to build robust business and corporate strategies. It’s called “scenario planning” and, today, is embraced by many corporations and governments. Definitely the stuff for CEOs – and, anyone interested in taking their organisation forward.

20 January 2006


Think you’re smart! So what? People with high IQs are everywhere in the corporate world. And now, with everyone pushing the EQ button, thanks to Daniel Goleman and his best-selling book on Emotional Intelligence, your IQ has very little chance.

Think you’re the best performer in the company, overshooting your sales targets for the last four quarters, and expecting a promotion to come out of it this year? Kill that idea right away. Don’t expect your future to be decided on merit.

Believe what you may, brainpower and hard work are not the only ingredients needed to get ahead in the corporate world. Sure, these things help, but there’s a lot more required to make those career moves you’ve been dreaming about.

Organisations, and people who lead them, are not always rational. While you may believe that you’re part of the team because you are the right fit, or your MBA background outshines everyone else’s, it could very well be because you’re good-looking or you’re nice to people in the office that you’re considered for a promotion.

A friend of mine – and he was told this at his final interview – was once hired by a multinational firm because of his good looks. Yes, it works for the guys as well!!!

Can being nice to people help you in getting that job you’ve been waiting for? You can bet on it. I was once hired because the interview board checked for feedback from the receptionist and the managing director’s secretary (who escorted me into the interview room) and found me to be the nicest and most polite of the four candidates for the job.

In one organisation, I was promoted, even given a performance award, because I once stood up to a particularly tough Director during a business conference. Apparently, the other directors of the company took notice of this, appreciated my ‘fighting spirit’ and rewarded me in my next appraisal, in spite of a not-so-good performance level.

Sometimes, corporate rationality actually borders on prejudice. I know of a financial services firm that doesn’t hire non-vegetarians because the CEO, a pure-blooded Hindu Brahmin, forbids it. An IT company rejects applicants who are divorcees because it believes divorcees are mentally unstable. An engineering company doesn’t hire women because the CEO feels women are bad for the business: they distract men.

Strange? But true. That’s what passes for rationality in the corporate world.

18 January 2006

Personal reputation

Build your personal reputation. A solid, no-holes reputation. At all cost.

Your personal reputation is your personal brand. Build it, single-mindedly. It helps if the main ingredients making up the brand – character, integrity, honesty – are good to start with. If you’re lacking something here, you better change your ways before people catch on. Remember the old adage, “Once a thief, always a thief”, holds good even in the corporate world.

Value-add to make your personal reputation stronger. Be nice to people. Smile. Be polite. Be grateful when someone helps you. Learn to work with people, as you can’t possibly achieve everything on your own – including building your personal reputation. Pay attention to those around you and their needs. Share their sentiments while following your goals. Particularly those of your bosses. I learnt this much too late in life and suffered for it.

Avoid pitfalls that may crash your personal reputation along the way. Be careful of what you say. Keep your opinions to yourself, especially if you have a strong point of view on anything. Never show your temper – even if you’ve had a bad day. Don’t shout in office. No matter what your point is, if you yell, you’re in the wrong.

Your personal problems are yours – don’t bring them to work. If you’re in a bad marriage, don’t discuss it with anyone in the office. Don’t bring different girlfriends (or boyfriends) to office parties. Date them in your own time. You may be the envy of a few, but you’ll be seen as unfaithful – as a “player” – unstable, and not to be trusted.

Your personal reputation doesn’t end with your next promotion or the next job, but lives with you till the end of your career. Even later. If you don’t watch what you do or what you say, others will anyway. And sometimes, they’ll be too quick to judge. Particularly, when you’re on the way to the top.

16 January 2006

Emotional intelligence

Saddled with a low IQ since childhood? Can’t perform in this high-pressure competitive world? Stuck in a groove while the other guy gets that coveted promotion? Don’t worry. You still have a fighting chance. You just have to get emotionally smart. For that, you need emotional intelligence.

Don’t know what it is? Don’t worry. Read on.

“Emotional Intelligence – The ability to perceive and constructively act on both one's own emotions and the feelings of others.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is sometimes referred to as emotional quotient or emotional literacy. Individuals with emotional intelligence are able to relate to others with compassion and empathy, have well-developed social skills, and use this emotional awareness to direct their actions and behavior.”

This definition, and explanation, of emotional intelligence from ‘The Gale Encyclopaedia Of Psychology’ had pleased me so much that I had to quote it here. If you’ve understood the concept of EI from this quote, you needn’t read further.

Much is written on this subject, but the book to read is Daniel Goleman’s ‘Emotional Intelligence’. Goleman may have borrowed the term emotional intelligence (EI) from the work of two professors, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, but he has certainly popularised it. To CEOs and HR managers looking for something to pin their hopes on, Goleman's book is godsend.

According to EI theory, IQ is no longer enough to get ahead in life. Apart from being intelligent and being good at work, you need to be emotionally ‘developed’ to succeed. Brainpower, as measured by IQ, takes you only part of the way. To complete the journey, you need to possess ‘emotional abilities’. The only drawback is, not all of us are clued-in on these abilities and know how to use them. I guess I'm a prime example of this mess.

The interesting thing is, EI is not fixed at birth. It can be learnt (as I'm learning) and can help us become better persons. In fact, we all have emotional intelligence. Some just have a higher EI score (EQ) than others. Self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, social awareness and social skills, which EI advocates say are critical in emotional development, are an integral part of everyone’s life. What was accepted as wisdom or maturity in olden days, or as interpersonal and relationship skills a couple of years ago, is now termed emotional intelligence.

No doubt EI is important. The question is, is it so important that it overshadows IQ in determining achievements in the corporate world? Although a high EQ may improve teamwork and foster leadership qualities in a person, can it contribute directly to an individual's creativity or ability to innovate, analyse or plan? Whether EI helps us succeed at work with a better position and a higher pay, or turns us into natural leaders, is still difficult to say.

Perhaps organisations should recognise that we come in various combinations of IQ and EQ. It is as important to build an individual into a performer, as it is to nurture emotional intelligence in him or her. Both aspects are important in improving that individual’s and the organisation’s performance.

In the end, an organisation is still evaluated on performance. Perhaps, emotional intelligence can be a means to that end.

14 January 2006

Hiring the right person

What’s the formula for hiring the right person?

If you’ve carried the responsibility of putting a team together, or even adding a single person to your team, this question must have dogged you along the way. Try as you might, you can never be sure if you’ve hired the right person for the job. Time is the only measure of your success.

Hiring the right person for your organisation isn’t always easy. Sometimes you get lucky and the right person walks right in. Otherwise, it can be a laborious process.

During my years in the corporate world, and while working with small businesses, I've interviewed a lot of people for jobs. Selected some, rejected ten times as many. Rejected, not because I derive a perverted pleasure from spoiling others’ job opportunities, but because selecting the right person for the job is an important responsibility and I take it seriously.

To make it easy on myself, I’ve simplified the selection routine. I’ve laid it out for you here to give you a framework to work on, should you take on the role of hiring people for your organisation.

From what is stated, as well as what is not necessarily stated but apparent, in the CV and through answers to questions during interviews, I broadly examine three aspects of the person’s background and nature. These are performance, personality and potential for growth.

Performance clearly indicates the transferable skills. Skills, the person possesses which he or she can immediately use in the new job. I also look for the person's understanding of the job responsibilities, command over his or her skills, application of skills, and achievement levels in past or recent jobs. Most of this is proof-based (i.e. verifiable) and, hence, easy to determine.

An examination of personality normally throws light on the person's mental framework: attitudes, behaviour patterns, nature. Is he or she extroverted or introverted? Logical or intuitive? Organised or slovenly? Does he or she like working with people? Does a constantly-changing environment encourage or threaten him or her? Can the person work under pressure? Overcome adversity without breaking down? Would he or she prefer a thinking/planning role vis-a-vis frontline action?

Potential for growth is not easy to determine. The idea is to gauge how the person will fit in and grow in the organisation. How can the person deliver and value-add to his or her job role and the organisation? What skills does the person possess which may not be relevant now but can be useful later? Does the person have a passion, a hobby, a special interest besides building a career in the corporate world? What are his or her dreams and ambitions? What are the person’s views of the organisation, the industry, the marketplace, society at large? Mind you, most of this is projective and can be totally off the mark.

It isn't easy to get a perfect fit for a job. It isn’t easy to find out everything about a person in a couple of interviews, group discussions or written tests. Some organisations use psychometric tests for evaluation during recruitment, but even these are only indicative. The idea is to assess the person in entirety, keeping in mind the job specifications, organisational directives (yes, some companies can set down real fussy rules!) and the organisation culture.

Even then, only time will tell how good your assessment is.

13 January 2006

Mentors and morons

You hope for a mentor, but end up with an egocentric moron. Either way, you can safely assume your boss will take credit for your ideas and your work. It’s the law of the corporate world. Some bosses are so hopeless that you have no choice but to look for another job. Believe me, I’ve filled the boss’ shoes many times.

No matter how bad the boss, be loyal. Never complain about him or her to anyone. Never criticise what your boss does or says. On the contrary, make yourself valuable to your boss by offering good advice. Advice, which, if accepted as good, will be believed to be his or her own original idea, or thrown away, depending on the mood your boss is in.

Timing is important. You have to figure out when it’s appropriate to offer advice and when to keep your mouth shut. It’s a tightrope walk. Making your boss happy and ensuring you get to do things that allow you to stand out from your colleagues are keys to your success in the corporate world. If your advice is good, and your boss shines in front of his or her boss and in the crowd, you’ll get that promotion you were waiting for.

Bosses, including myself, are narcissists. They love only what they do. They love listening to their own words. The tragedy is, they want you around when they do all their talking. And, worse still, they expect you to provide lip service to their grandiose plans. At times, I used to be so full of myself that I used to force-feed my team with my ideas, discouraging others from contributing. In turn, I alienated many members of my team and destroyed several friendships.

Most bosses are insecure and suffer from low self-esteem. They are insanely controlling. Any independence on your part equals betrayal. The worst are crackpots. I once had a boss who was actually psychotic, terrorising the entire team for close to three years until a change in the top management of the firm unsettled him and he finally lost his job.

But, once in a while, you do get a boss who isn’t an idiot. A boss who inspires – giving you that much-needed energy to do more. A boss, who can be the mentor you were hoping for and from whom you can learn a lot. A boss, who improves your performance, and your character, as you work alongside him or her.

These bosses give you sound advice and act as a sounding board for your ideas and thoughts. They help you clarify your actions and decisions, about your career and in your personal life. They teach you, counsel you, even help you look for better jobs if they feel your career will benefit from it. They become your trusted friend and guide you to perform better – to the extent of even outshining themselves. And, we all need such inspiration from time to time.

11 January 2006


Trust is the binding force in every relationship. Within the organisation, and outside.

Build trust by acting in the organisation’s best interests. Even when these interests appear to conflict with your own short-term goals. Doing so helps capture your organisation’s (and your boss’) loyalty.

Adopting a trusted route requires ethics and personal integrity. It requires understanding the organisation’s culture and behaviour. It requires conformity. It's a tough road and results are hard-earned. But such initiatives go a long way.

09 January 2006

Office politics

“Office politics is nothing more than how people naturally jockey for place and position.” Whoever said this knew office politics.

Those of you who believe you don’t – or won’t – indulge in office politics, go take a hike. You can’t escape office politics. Office politics is here to stay – so, learn to handle it. Ignoring it could be the quickest way to kill your career.

What is office politics? It’s a strategy for winning with the boss, with others in the organisational hierarchy, with colleagues and subordinates. It’s about selling your ideas to people around you, and then, getting these people to push your ideas through to others who matter. It’s about inspiring and influencing people to build support for the outcome you want. It’s a personal strategy to get ahead in the corporate world.

Most leaders use office politics to get their ideas through. In every organisation, you’ll come across those – and not just leaders – who want to get things done rather than do other people in. They believe their idea will change the organisation for the better, and not hurt others while following the course they chart for themselves in pursuit of that idea. They are achievement-oriented and ambitious. True, they may relish the privileges of power. But the fact is, they take their organisation places, and people value them for their enterprise.

On the other hand, office politics can be underhanded and dirty. There are those who pursue their own agenda, regardless of what’s good for their colleagues or the organisation. They believe they have no other route but to resort to underhanded means to achieve what they are set out for. These people are critical and self-centred; usually untalented, incompetent and insecure. They go around hatching plots to destabilise the organisation, poisoning perfectly good people, destroying all feelings of trust. They don’t give a damn so long their personal objectives are met.

What gives rise to office politics? Sometimes, the simplest of things: Too many people vying for a limited number of promotions or management positions. Seeking favour from the boss. Lack of competence in handling responsibilities. Insecurity when faced with a challenge. Encounter with a smarter, more intelligent, achieving colleague or subordinate. Plain old jealousy because the other person is better looking, or has a higher salary, or a bigger car, or a better place to sit.

It has everything to do with looking good, getting ahead with what you’re doing or setting out to do. Unfortunately, everything at work – or in life – isn’t a win-win situation. You’re bound to rub somebody the wrong way, even unintentionally. If you’re successful, or popular, you automatically create opposition. Colleagues sabotage your mission and pull you down. Subordinates block new strategies or implementation of new systems. Bosses resent achieving subordinates who undermine their position. Faced with such situations, office politics can be an effective counter-measure.

07 January 2006

Ethics and your value-system

There’s an old saying: “You can’t cheat an honest man.” If you can’t be tempted, you can’t be cheated.

In most cases, you needn’t get dragged into things you don’t want to. But sometimes, it’s unavoidable. I’ve often got it all wrong and suffered for it. So, I’ve written it down here more for myself than anyone else. What I have to say here may sound moralistic, but it’s worth reading once. At worst, it’ll make you a good human being. So, here goes:

Stay within your own ethics and value-system. Try to achieve your personal and organisational goals while staying within this system. Behave in ways you can be proud of. Build yourself a good reputation. It will give you confidence and strength in times of adversity.

Be open and honest. With yourself and your colleagues. People find it difficult to hold things against you if you’re open and honest. It builds trust – which is the essence of any relationship. And, a deterrent to office politics. But, there’s a downside: Politically-motivated people may see this as your weakness and use it to their advantage.

Interact with people as much as you can. Treat them well. Respect your colleagues and their work. Learn to see the good things in people and praise them. Always. Never shame or blame your colleagues or subordinates in front of others. If you have to, criticise their ideas, not their personalities. Don’t pick fights. If you’ve argued with someone and lost your cool, go back and apologise. Don’'t burn your bridges. Getting along well with others – at all levels and across job functions – greatly reduces chances of opposition. And, is viewed as a professional strength by senior management.

Communicate. Clearly and precisely. With everyone, without prejudice. Be a good listener, but don’t pass on what you hear. Much of it is likely to be gossip. Don’t encourage gossip. Prevent rumours by consistently communicating with your colleagues. If you can, correct false rumours immediately. Listen to whatever is being said without getting too emotional or losing your temper. Learn to read your own emotions and that of others. To avoid misinterpretation, communicate in person whenever you can. Learn to address problems using appropriate channels, and words. Identify and go directly to the source of the problem or to a manager who could address the issue.

If you find someone successful, who is particularly effective in getting things done without employing underhanded means, learn to model his or her behaviour.

06 January 2006

Enduring ideas

As a marketing consultant, I work with a variety of business firms. Looking back at last year, for instance, I see a motley collection of large corporate houses, leading advertising agencies, and smaller family or proprietorship businesses in areas as diverse as manufacturing, publishing and corporate communications. What I find most interesting about my work is not the nature or the content of the consulting assignments, but the unique value system that each organisation shares with me during my engagement. That’s where my greatest learning takes place.

In fact, it is here that many ground realities emerge and old concepts are challenged... shattering my understanding of corporate values. Take one of corporate world’s most enduring ideas: “Companies that care about ethics, trust, citizenship, and even meaning and spirituality in the workplace, perform better in the marketplace than companies that care just about making money.” In my experience, and significantly in the Indian context, this is far from the truth. I almost always find that the large profit-making organisation tends to always skimp on corporate values, while the smaller business firm encapsulating strong ethics, trust and integrity isn’t necessarily the one making money.

I also find that it’s the smaller business firm that nurtures its people by sharing knowledge, building skills and cultivating personal character. It is here that I find the beginnings of a learning organisation and organic growth, no matter how difficult it is for the smaller firm to meet its revenue targets. It is the smaller business firm that, by default, encourages “everyone in it to keep thinking, innovating, collaborating, talking candidly, improving their capabilities, making personal commitments to their collective future, and thereby increasing the firm’s long-term competitive advantage.”

Meanwhile, corporates – and this includes large advertising agencies – cash in their values in favour of fat bottom lines. Collaborating, talking candidly, making personal commitments to a collective future… are almost absent. The only competitive advantage corporates understand is the advantage of a higher profit margin. They know, in the long run, that’s the only ‘value’ that matters. It is this value that entitles them to talk about ethics, trust, citizenship, collaborating, talking candidly, making personal commitments, etc. in the mainline media. And, of course, we are there to listen. No wonder it's one of corporate world’s most enduring ideas.

[Citation: strategy+business magazine, “Our 10 Most Enduring Ideas” by Art Kleiner]

03 January 2006

Beginning afresh

How did last year go? What percentage of your life actually produced something of value? What do you want to do differently this year?

A new year always gives us something to think about. Not that these thoughts don't occur during the course of the year; but a new year is always a good time for reassessment. It gives us an opportunity to discard a few bad habits, a few unnecessary thoughts, and begin afresh. It gives us an incentive to start our lives again.

In some way or the other, we all need that. We need to reset the button and start all over. And, a change in the calendar is as good a time as any to do this. So, let's do it.