By Clifford Sawhney
Thanks to an enlightened mindset, the bottom line is not the sole criterion that fires corporate thinking
The land that spawned the world’s oldest civilization was seemingly at the crossroads in mid-1991. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh had just opened the floodgates to liberalization and foreign direct investment and the cold winds of change were slowly chilling the bones of traditional industrialists. ‘Indian business is doomed!’ ‘The MNCs will take over Indian industry.’ ‘We must have a level playing field!’ That was the shrill chorus of the Bombay Club and other puritans, who feared the cutthroat Coke and Pepsi culture would inundate India.
In short, a materialistic West would make short shrift of the spiritual East.
A decade down the line, many of those fears seem clearly unfounded. No doubt the ante has been upped and some Indian businesses have gone down under. And a few dubious business practices are today accepted as part and parcel of the trade. For instance, certain foreign banks with a slick image discreetly employ musclemen to recover loans from recalcitrant debtors. An untenable practice barely a decade ago.
On the other hand, there is a clear crosscurrent based on Indian ethos and eastern spiritual values that’s quietly pervading boardrooms across the globe. The grit and gumption of Oriental nations is creating a strong undercurrent that’s holding back western domination of markets. Japan led the way. Now it is the turn of China and India.Indian IT personnel are fanning out to all corners of the globe, further popularizing not just curries, chutneys and dosas, but yoga, meditation, Vipassana, ayurveda and other holistic Indian traditions. As materialism, consumerism and an I-centric mindset spread their tentacles through the Internet and satellite channels, the spiritual eastern response spearheaded by India is inculcating traditional values and work ethics.
It’s precisely this receptive attitude to the Indian ethos that has made New Age guru Deepak Chopra such a phenomenal success ever since he began best-selling India to the West through his talks, tapes and books. As Chopra himself admits, whatever he says has already been said in our scriptures and ancient treatises. It’s just that we have ignored or forgotten this rich cultural heritage that’s a veritable landmine of wisdom relevant to all walks of life.
In Creating Affluence, Chopra opens with the parable of Lakshmi and Saraswati, Hindu goddesses of wealth and learning respectively. If you pursue Lakshmi, she flees; but if you pursue Saraswati, a jealous Lakshmi will pursue you.
Modern management are increasingly adopting Vedic precepts to stay in the race for market share. The Vedas are a systematic and formulated study of the science of life. Vedanta literally means the end (anta) of knowledge (ved). Says Anuj Bahl of Logic Control: ”Indian ethos is more vital to modern management than any other management theory for the simple reason that it takes in to account a ‘whole’ man rather than approaching man in a partial fashion as the other theories do. Each and every situation can be met with effectively if one takes time to reflect over it. Reflection with a tranquil mind helps in drawing out solutions from within. Such guidance from within helps a manager look at the perceived problem situation in a creative manner. It leads to a more coherent and complete understanding.”
Advaita Vedanta (monism) advises us that we should determine our goals, identify our capabilities and focus our actions upon the goals. Vedanta identifies key areas where man suffers on various fronts due to the ignorance of various laws of life and nature. Such ignorance leads to a loss in physical and mental energies causing tremendous damage in the effective implementation of the decisions and actions of an individual.
To comprehend how this loss occurs, we need to understand the basic human composition as described by Vedanta. The reality of a human being is Pure Consciousness, which is individualized by latent tendencies that give rise to the physical body, mind and intellect. The physical body consists of the organs of action and perception. These organs are directed by two instruments, the Mind and the Intellect.
Western psychologists make the mistake of treating the two as one and the same. They are not. The similarity they share is that both are thought flows. But their functions are different and distinct. The mind is the feeler. It entertains likes and dislikes, impulses and feelings. It has the faculty to doubt. Stimuli through the five senses flow through the mind, leading to an integrated experience. It only moves in the realm of what is already known.
The intellect is the thinker or contemplator within us. It is the seat of discrimination, judgment, reason and determination. It is the decision-making facility. Through reflection and contemplation, the intellect can discover what is presently unknown.
Our actions occur on the impulse of the mind or by the judgment of the intellect or by a combination of both, the mind and the intellect. Each individual has different behavioral characteristics, which the Vedas attribute to certain inherent tendencies called vasanas. All our thoughts and desires arise from these tendencies, which go to form our individuality and personality.
At the top of the pyramid is Pure Consciousness—an enlivening force that is within all of us. It is awareness, a life spark that keeps all of us ticking. Pure Consciousness is said to be omnipresent. It is critical to understand these Vedic principles if we seek to apply them practically in day-to-day management.
But the first point we need to understand is the importance of reducing the Ego as it fosters self-centered, separatist tendencies. A practical way to control the ego at the workplace is to emulate what the public relations company IPAN (Indian Public Affairs Network) does. Here the staff’s visiting cards do not mention their designation, simply the names. This goes for the CEO, Rajeev Desai too. In this manner a misplaced sense of hierarchy is discouraged and though every executive handles a certain number of clients only, each is in principle responsible for all.
The crosscurrents of human desires and aspirations are clearly manifest in this Internet joke. Heaven is when you have: an American salary, British home, Chinese food and an Indian wife. Hell is when you have: an American wife, British food, Chinese home and an Indian salary.
As we all know, human desires never end. And as salaries, aspirations, expectations, workloads, work hours and deadlines rise, the body and mind of employees across all levels of the spectrum are increasingly coming under strain. Putting in 16 to 20 hours a day is not uncommon in IT, foreign banking, advertising, public relations and some segments of the media. While this may boost company profits, there are unwanted consequences for management and employees alike. The primary one is that hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, nervous breakdowns, viral infections, cancer and other stress -induced ailments are making a much early appearance with more alarming frequency than in previous generations.
Author, reiki master, motivational speaker and a proponent of the fusion of management and spirituality, Anil Bhatnagar says: ”External situations only mirror what employees are within collectively. If their lives are unwholesome, distressed, imbalanced, disintegrated and out-of-sync with the laws of nature, the external situations for themselves and their organizations cannot be otherwise.”
To protect bottom line interests, corporates are hiring consultants to help safeguard and promote the well being of employees. In tackling stress-induced ailments, New Age practices such as yoga, meditation, Vipassana and prayer are finding wide acceptance in day-to-day working as ‘they are deeply rooted in Indian ethos’, according to management consultant Dr M.B. Athreya, who is credited with developing a ‘Vedic style of management’. In his words: ‘Reiki is also partly understood as it is Japanese return on the investment of the Indic civilization in the Asia Pacific.’
Bhatnagar adds: ”I am personally aware of a senior officer in the Railways who, much to his pleasant surprise, managed to strike a good rapport with some otherwise-hostile union leaders by using reiki.”
One of the front-runners in gaining universal acceptance was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s transcendental meditation. The role of meditation in calming the mind, controlling stress and creating a wholesome personality enjoys wide recognition. This in turn helps boost productivity by cutting down on absenteeism and reducing medical bills. The Maharishi Institute of Management has a separate cell that deals with corporate development programs. Companies such as ACC, Reckitt & Colman, Indian Petrochemicals Corporation, the Oriental Bank, SRF Ltd, Tata Tea and Tata Chemicals are some companies that have availed of these programs.
Another favorite is the Art of Living course of Sri Sri Ravishankar that’s gaining adherents worldwide. Many employees of Benzer, Mumbai are granted leave to attend a 10-day Vipassana program. Bhatnagar underscores the importance of Vipassana: ”Sometimes a brilliant insight downloaded from Nature through silence or ‘non-doing’ can save months or years of work.” Escotel, Oriental Insurance, Wipro, Dabur and Vam Organics are some of the companies open to such programs.
Athreya says that in many companies these workshops are open to all employees, and even unions. In fact, sometimes it is the managers and senior executives who are gyaan paapis (resisting the light of knowledge). ”The utilization of New Age principles has brought balance in the minds of union leaders about their broader responsibility to stakeholders, including society. Thanks to this thinking, at least some workers refrain from making populist demands on their representatives. Line executives acquire more compassion in their human relations. The relationship between line and personnel managers moves towards cooperation.”
Another person who uses Vedic principles in management is Professor S.K. Chakraborty of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, India. He heads the Management Center for Human Values, a research body based on traditional Indian ethos. The center is supported by the Bhilwara Group, HDFC, the Tata Group, UTI et al. Chakraborty opines that a lack of depth in the modern value system leads to a high level of stress. Some of the companies that have tapped the research of the center include BHEL, TELCO, Salora and Shriram Fibres.
Do these New Age principles affect men and women differently? ”Broadly speaking, female employees are by nature more saatvik. They accept such training with more jigyaasaa (desire to learn), but, alas, men need it more,” opines Athreya.
‘The principles that help in different areas are meditation for management of stress, yoga for fitness, purushaarthaas for work-life balance, jeevashrama model for succession planning and the guna model for refinement.’
Factories that have provided training and sadhana in New Age ideas have found a rise in productivity due to greater care of equipment, processes and materials; lower wastages; better maintenance and equipment availability, etc. At the white-collar level, there is reduction in tamas. At the managerial level, a pervasive rajas is transmuted into satva. In fact, one of the biggest Indian success stories of recent times, Maruti Udyog Ltd has incorporated Japanese concepts at their factories where workers and management sport a common uniform and share a common cafeteria.
Responsible Corporate Citizens
Dr. Athreya also says that at the top management level the ideas of organizational dharma, including social responsibility and good corporate governance, are finding global favor. Companies using such principles are the Godrej group, the Vardhaman group, Indian Oil Corporation, Lupin Laboratories, Excel Industries, Yash Paper, Eicher, et al.
This is a line echoed by Vikas Malkani, spiritual guide and author. Malkani says that the social aspect is increasingly being accorded more prominence. Whenever the me-too syndrome has consumers confused about which brand to opt for, they will gravitate towards companies that have fostered an image of responsible corporate citizens by supporting social and environmental issues. What we in India term ‘public service’ promotions. Here, the Tatas, Godrej, the Birlas and others have exhibited a high level of social and environmental consciousness.
And discounting a popular notion, Athreya says that liberalization since 1991 is changing the rules towards dharma. Companies with kaushalam, samatva, sevaa and keerti (skill, equanimity, service and fame) will thrive. Despite rivals sometimes hitting below the belt, organizations that follow ethical business practices need not suffer a dip in profits.
Two companies that have steadfastly promoted and practiced ethical precepts in management are Wipro Corporation and Infosys Ltd. It’s no coincidence that both have scaled dizzying heights and can proudly claim the largest market capitalization amongst Indian corporates. The lesson in the twin success stories is loud and clear: those who take the long, hard but ethical road to success are assured of long-term dividends that aren’t eroded with the next Union Budget. Short-cut success is short-lived success.
Athreya insists that to view ethics and business as incompatible is to take a superficial and cynically convenient view. ‘Long-term, sustainable profits can only come through dharma. Profit coming from adharma will disappear due to competition offering better value for money. In a pluralistic, open economy, dealers, vendors and employees have the choice of leaving for another organization. Lower tax rates and better enforcement make compliance and dharma more feasible.’
Bhatnagar argues that ‘the correct index of success should not be money. It should be a ‘sense of abundance’ that an individual or organization feels they are enjoying. Again, abundance does not mean resources, turnover or net profits alone. It means abundance of everything—peace, happiness and harmony within and without, not just for the top few but for everybody in the organization. Seen in the above context, ethical and spiritual principles are not only compatible with the profit motive, they are the only means to ensure it’.
THE NEW VISION
In a study done by Collins and Porras—published in their book Built to Last—the duo identified 18 visionary companies that, between 1926 and 1990, achieved a growth in shareholder value 15 times greater than the general market. Research showed that all these companies had a strong core ideology (values + purpose) and contrary to business school doctrine, ‘maximizing shareholder wealth’ was not the dominant driving force of these visionary outfits. Instead, they pursued multiple objectives of which making money was just one and not necessarily the primary one. An eye-opening study, indeed.
For this , we interviewed 20 business leaders in the Indian corporate sector who are spiritually inclined and have amalgamated New Age principles in management. The recurrent theme we discerned was that business and ethics can coexist.
Indeed, this synthesis is imperative for long-lasting success and societal well being. Corporates have realized that the pursuit of self-interest will not only destroy the environment, but our social fabric as well. The era of shortsighted corporate autocracy is gradually coming to an end. If our country, our planet has to survive, it cannot be otherwise.
Most of our interviewees were not apprehensive that Indian culture would be subverted by western thought. They felt it was too deep-rooted for this to happen. The majority of these business leaders feel that India’s image abroad is fast improving, thanks primarily to its massive contribution in the IT sector.
This being the zeitgeist, more Indian corporates are practicing New Age management principles, with the multinationals fast catching up. Which should mean a field day in the years to come for Indian ethos, practices and precepts.
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• The mind-not matter-matters. Ideas make the world go round. Realizing this truth, even a hardware and appliances giant like Sony is gearing up to diversify into service-related fields. It was not the steam engine that changed the world, but the idea that steam could be used to power the engine. Practical ideas power change.
• Foster team spirit. Control the Ego. The ego has a tendency to place one apart from the rest of the world. It encourages a self-centered, egotistical attitude that is detrimental to the common good. Such a person feels: “Only I can do a good job.” Life is a game where teamwork counts. Learn to delegate work. You are not the sole cog in the wheel. Nor are you indispensable. The graveyards are full of people who thought they were indispensable.
• Praise counts. When somebody does a good job, say so. Learn to be stingy in your criticism, generous in praise. However, the praise must be well deserved and genuine. As Dada J.P. Vaswani said, sex and money are not the most important things in a person’s life. Praise and recognition are. Human beings thrive on these and redouble their efforts.
• Take responsibility. Success has many mothers, failure none. If things go wrong, stand by your team. Do not duck responsibility or apportion blame. Take the blow squarely on your chin. Your staff and peers will respect you for it. And back you to the hilt in future.
• Share the credit. When the cash counter starts jingling, remember the role of every single player. Don’t exult, ”I did it!” Say, ”We did it!” Be humble in success and you will sow the seeds of repeated success.
• Remember—your team is human. Do not expect every employee to consistently keep up with the scorching pace that you set. We all have different levels of tolerance. Genghis Khan once sacked his most accomplished general. When queried about this strange act, the Mongol chieftain’s answer was enlightening. He was the best, the great Khan admitted. While on the march, he was oblivious to thirst, hunger or pain. But he did not realize that the 10,000 men under his command felt the pangs of hunger. Definitely the best general, he wasn’t the best leader of men.
• Welcome competition. Dvaita—duality—is the law of nature. Happiness-sorrow, success-failure, pleasure-pain are an inseparable part of life. If you fear competition, the negative emotion will sap your energy. Instead, regard your competitors as pacesetters. This positive thought will keep you on your toes and improve the quality of your product/service.
• Integrity counts. The means to the goal must be as upright as the goal. To quote Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest lessons I have learnt in my life is to pay as much attention to the means of work as to its end.;”Success achieved through dubious means comes minus peace of mind.”
• Stay focussed. There are times when your ideas or goals may be tossed around in a storm of opposition. Stay calm. Focussed. Practice meditation. This will take you to a higher level of consciousness and tap the enormous power of your Inner Self. It will teach you the power of silence when surrounded by motivated criticism. And enhance your self-belief.
• Cross the Pain Barrier. In an ultra-competitive ambiance, you will find the ante is upped at frequent intervals. The only way to survive and thrive is to go the extra mile—despite the pain in your legs. Cross the pain barrier repeatedly and you will soon be oblivious to pain. You’re then on the highway to super-success.
• Learn to have fun. There’s no better way to recharge one’s cells than to take a break. Or have fun while on the task. One man who embodied this spirit was Rusi Modi, who’d spent the greater part of his career with the Tatas. For all the hard work that he put in, Modi made it a point to take his Sabbatical regularly. Make work fun. It works!