February 2016 By Punya Srivastava Punya Srivastava talks to Arjun Shekhar, founder of Vyaktitva, a successful HR company that infuses Eastern spiritual principles into their management policies Happy bonhomie: Team Vyaktitva We facilitate ‘self to society’ journeys, in order to assist an individual to grow and evolve,” says Arjun Shekhar, founder of Vyaktitva – a Delhi-based HR consultancy firm working with a psycho-spiritual approach in the demanding world of corporate management. Founded in 1997 by him, Vyaktitva offers organisation development, HR consultancy and training to professional organisations, ranging from small and medium enterprises and NGOs, to corporate giants like Pepsico, GE, and Vodafone. Admirably, it has earned its success through infusing Indian wisdom and perspectives to the largely Western discipline of management. Expectedly, the more holistic methodology is leading to the all-round growth of the individual and the organisation, while creating a more empowered and happy work culture. The five elements Vyaktitva operates on the panchatatva model derived from Indian philosophy. The panchatatva or ‘the five elements’ of sky, air, water, earth and fire form the foundations for a self-sufficient and holistic ecosystem within an organisation. Sky stands for vision, earth represents the structures within the organisation, water represents the processes at play, air stands for its values and culture and fire for the warmth of shared leadership. “Each individual is a world of his own. Within a company there are hundreds and thousands of such worlds, each having their own vision, aspiration, goals and values. When these micro worlds get together in an ecosystem (company) defined by a different set of panchatatvas, there is bound to be a clash. Vyaktitva helps in aligning these various sets of tatvas together,” says Shekhar. Dressed in a green pullover and a blazer, Shekhar sat comfortably sipping his post-lunch tea in his office from where he is currently running his latest initiative, Community – the Youth Collective. Accompanying him is Gagan Adlakha, an HR professional, and one of the three senior partners in Vyaktitva. Vyaktitva comprises three senior partners, six associate partners and six consultants. Oriental wisdom Shekhar cites the implementation of faulty Western management models within Indian companies as the main reason for starting Vyaktitiva. “Post-liberalisation, most of the emerging enterprises and their leadership and management models were completely based on the ethos of the West, and Japan, at some places,” he says. When companies blatantly transferred the management models of ageing economies like the US and Japan into the work culture of a young economy like India, trouble started and many of them met with premature death. “Those models were hierarchy-oriented while India is a very democratic, bottom-up kind of a country,” says Shekhar. This clash of the work ethos inspired him to build something Indian, something which is steeped in the reality of the region. Sharing details of a successful intervention, Shekhar says, “We were working with Frito Lay on their work culture, focussing on problems and issues using our own methods like storytelling, which has always been an indigenous part of the Indian culture. The whole team would sit together and share their experiences, their happiest moments, and the whole atmosphere would be appreciative, unlike in the US where the top management decides the needed values and hands them down to the rest of the employees to learn. Here, we celebrated the existent values first and foremost with the whole team, and then worked our way towards the next set of values needed.” A new beginning Vyaktitva also favours a long-term perspective when it comes to policies. Says he, “Capitalism as a whole is in a stage of decline because of its self-sabotaging rules, like profit at any cost, and unprecedented continuous growth. It does not include the environment in its balance sheet; that gives an impression of making profits at the cost of the society. Such companies profit for some time, but die out in the long run. A mere 25-30 years back, Indian companies had three-to-five years rolling plans. Today, the time given to a CEO to show profit in the balance sheet is six months, maximum one year,” he shares. The need of the hour is to come out of the quarterly-profit-review thinking and embrace strategies with long-term sustainability. Shekhar also affirms that Indian companies need to shift from being money-driven to passion-driven. “Today, almost every professional in the corporate is only working for money and wants to retire by 40.” He blames it on the cookie-cutter facilitated mass generation of output, which downplays creativity or innovation and a sense of ownership, leading to demotivated and bored employees. These shortfalls could be rectified by viewing employees as human beings instead of as mere resources, suggests Adlakha. “Instead of motivating an employee only through monetary rewards and mandatory fun activities, the focus has to be on working together in a fun and exciting way by assessing the needs and requirements of an employee. This ensures the individual’s steady growth, which in turn helps the company grow,” he says. Psycho-spiritual approach Vyaktitva’s HR policy focusses on three categories: organisational development (OD), people management and leadership training. With regard to OD, the focus is on creating a system which commands a certain behavior from its employees. Says Adlakha, “A person flouts around five driving rules in India on an average. But the same person will follow each and every traffic rule in the US. This is because the two different systems command two different set of behaviours. He points to the fragmented and contradictory systems advocated by the West, adding,” Since the last 10 years, there has been an avalanche of team-building exercises, especially in corporate management. These generally include offsite sport and leisure activities to create bonhomie and interdependence. But the moment the same employees are back at work, the system demands them to compete with each other to achieve their targets, based on which they get individual rewards and increments.” Bridging the gap Arjun Shekhar: Infusing western management models with Indian values According to Shekhar, the need today is to fuse the left-brained, analytical, conflict-resolving Cartesian methodology with the right-brained Indian approach of viewing the conflict in its wholeness. One needs to intuitively go beyond the book to seek solutions that are innovative. “This approach is akin to holistically looking at yourself because the Self is a very important part of any intervention. For example, when you look at your Self getting angry, you go deep within to know the reasons and causes behind that anger. In a similar way, in an organisation, the strategy needed for conflict management is not to propose ways to dispel symptoms of conflict, but to dispel its root causes,” explains Shekhar. This same fusion approach informs their leadership training module. Adlakha explains, “In a programme titled, Get Real, individuals at leadership levels go deeper within. When leaders transform and become better, the system improves simultaneously. Hence, these are not just three- or five-day workshops but a nine-month journey which facilitates self-inquiry and self-knowledge and also the sensitivity and empathy needed to work with others. ” Shekhar advises, “Let us not just change the world but let the world change us too.” He sums up their approach: “We are good at handling the paradoxes, at viewing the multiple facets of a story.” And there lies the key to the creation of a vibrant and energised work environment, emerging with products and services that benefit the larger good, produced by an enthused and motivated workforce. Where doing good for the community translates into growth and satisfaction for every employee.
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