Values – the real ‘Soul’ of organizations
Manifestation of values
Small things reflect the values being followed – whether nephews and nieces of the top person are getting freely hired to do jobs they are not competent at, whether spaces in the car parking lot are allotted hierarchy wise or are based on a first-come-first-served basis, whether the corner office has high sound-proof walls all around or is open to all to signify transparency, whether the boss is entitled to charge the company for her spouse accompanying her on a business trip, whether office stationery items get whisked off to executives’ households for use by their kids, or whether use of cell phones or social media platforms is viewed with a sense of benign resignation by a hapless human resources honcho.
One striking feature of values is that even if these remain spoken of in hushed tones and get communicated more effectively through grapevines which are embedded deep in any organization, it is leadership which sets the tone. Those down the ladder fall in line. Those who shape up, and have a reasonably good performance on the job, survive and do well. Those who do not, get eventually shipped out. The latter then try to look for other organizations where the values – theirs and those of the organization – happen to be in harmony.
When head-hunting for a CFO, Human Resources honchos know pretty well that even though the final three short-listed aspirants happen to have near-identical qualifications and experience, their personal value systems would set them apart. One would not mind being used to extensive window dressing to please diverse stakeholders, thereby raising the concern for a disaster lurking round the corner in not so distant a future. Another might admit to being open to transactions in hard cash, thereby consolidating his own power and pelf in the company, if appointed. Yet another one might take a dim view of any underhand dealings and project the image of someone who believes in transparency with the internal as well as the statutory auditors, thereby leaving the CEO and the board of directors breathing easier. If the management cares about maintaining high standards of corporate governance, the last one would land the assignment.
At the macro level, values of an organization manifest in the wisdom which underlies its actions. When it comes to achieving the heights of corporate excellence, organizations which have sound long-term values are invariably found to enjoy strong brand equity. Scratch beneath the surface and one is apt to discover the wiser ways in which it conducts its operations. Its initiatives lead to a sustainable growth of the business, giving back to society in ways which are imaginative as well as pragmatic.
Take the case of Tatas, a salt-to-software business conglomerate which has more than one hundred companies in its fold, spread over more than one hundred countries. Their businesses might be as diverse as chalk and cheese but much like beads strung together by a string, what holds all these outfits together is a common set of values which the group stands for. The name stands for dependability and better value for money. Around two-thirds of the profits of the group flow into Tata trusts which channelize these back to the society in myriad ways.
Speaking to the conglomerate’s leadership recently, Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus, said that the group has been under “fire” for the past few months due to allegations of mismanagement and “being in business for reasons other than good corporate governance”. “The spirit that we had that made us grow to $100-billion revenues has not been through mismanagement and unethical procedures,” he said, adding that it has grown by being a visionary, having a spirit of integrity, unity and doing philanthropy.
Products and organizations have life cycles of their own. Just like the human body is prone to many changes – birth, existence, growth, decay, disease and death. But values outlive these perils of life; somewhat akin to the Self which Gita holds to be eternal and deathless. Values pervade all arms of any organization.
अविनाशि तु तद्विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् |
विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्चित्कर्तुमर्हति || 2.17 ||
avināśhi tu tadviddhi yena sarvam idaṁ tatam
vināśham avyayasyāsya na k
vināśham avyayasyāsya na kaśhchit kartum arhati
That which pervades the entire body, know it to be indestructible. No one can cause the destruction of the imperishable soul.
The Purpose of an organization
Why does an organization exist? What is its purpose? Can an organization be run in such a manner as to be long-lived? Can an organization strike a judicial balance between owner enrichment and societal good?
Nikos Mourkiaginnis, in his famous book ‘Purpose – the Starting Point of Great Companies’, demonstrates that the choice between values and success is no choice at all. He argues that companies must satisfy the need for purpose – a set of values that defines an organization and inspires and motivates its employees. Rather than organization and structure, ideas are what cause companies to go from good to great. Drawing on examples from across multiple industries, Mourkogiannis demonstrates how a strong purpose is the essential first step toward lasting success.
This is a great insight. An organization’s purpose is merely not to deliver goods and services to its customers. What really matter are the values which determine the choice of these products and services. Looked at from this perspective, one would not be wrong in concluding that values, which determine the purpose of an organization, indeed constitute its soul.
An inner connection to handle myriad challenges with aplomb
Hapless CEOs face myriad challenges. There are pinpricks from customers, employees, suppliers and many other stakeholders. The directors and the shareholders have to be kept in a positive frame of mind. Regulatory agencies and government departments have to be kept in good humour. Concerns for upholding norms of corporate governance keep snapping at their heels. Only nerves of chilled steel and deep reserves of inner resilience can help them to keep performing on all the twelve cylinders. An inner connection surely helps.
In an indirect manner, Gita touches upon the importance of an inner connection for business leaders. It holds that wise are those who enjoy a tranquility and calmness within themselves. Their inner being is in harmony with their outer being. Their decision-making is based on balanced, well-considered and a holistic view of the facts of the case. They do not manage crises in business with knee-jerk reactions. They deal with people according to their nature and with occurrences in the business environment according to their force and the truth or hard reality they represent. Impartial they are. Detached they are. Compassionate they happen to be, but never at the cost of their innate wisdom and truth. And never do they compromise on their core values.
(A version of this post would appear in a yet-to-be released book authored by yours truly which connects Bhagavad Gita to Management)
Ashok Kumar Bhatia is an occasional author, a speaker, a regular blogger and content creator on such topics as Management, P G Wodehouse, Bollywood and life in general. Based on his 35 years+ experience in the corporate world, he is acutely aware and conscious of the need for high values and ethics in business. Almost all his articles and books have an underlying current highlighting this very theme. In him, one finds a fierce critic of any kind of compromises on this front. He believes that business ships which are built on a keel of sound values end up not only having a better brand equity but also yield better returns to their stakeholders. When businesses are broad minded and give back to the society at large, they serve a higher purpose. His blog posts can be accessed at ashokbhatia.wordpress.com.