Values that make a business tick

Vinay Kamath | Updated on September 27, 2020

Title: Above And Beyond How to Build Impactful Businesses Authors: R Srinivasan, Shrihari Udupa & R Mukund Publisher: Notion Press Price: ₹600

The authors use their experience to show that business should be about ethics, dharma and more

“I passionately believe that companies with purpose last, brands with purpose grow and people with purpose thrive in uncertain times.”

This quote by Leena Nair, the chief human resources officer of Unilever, from the book, Above and Beyond: How to Build Impactful Businesses, pretty much sums up the zeitgeist of the times. That is, it’s purpose that has to drive organisations and the earlier dictum of the three Ps — planet, people and profit — has to necessarily be accompanied by the fourth P of purpose.

The three authors of the book, R Srinivasan, Shrihari Udupa, and R Mukund, take pains to emphasise that a company vision that focusses mainly on business-related goals and strategies does not normally include the interests of all stakeholders. At best, it addresses the shareholders’ interests in growing business and profits. But, organisation vision, which is limited to growing business, is somewhat ‘telescopic’. It needs to become wider to encompass people and the common good.

For an organisation to thrive and excel, they say, the full participation and contribution of all stakeholders, including the critical and most obvious one, the employees and suppliers, is important. And to that, one can add, the community as well.

“When people see themselves working for a larger and common good, they bring motivation and involvement to work energetically to meet business goals,” they say. And, to get them to do that, organisations need to develop a comprehensive vision.

The three authors spent long years in machine tool company Widia India, of which R Srinivasan was the managing director. It’s in this melting pot that their ideas on values, ethics, leadership, purpose and vision were shaped and practised as well by the company as it evolved. Whether it was in relationships with the employees or with their customers, Widia, the authors say, strove to achieve on a higher plane.

Apart from achieving a higher level of performance, the company looked to redefine relationships with customers. The book talks about how Widia started making tools for HMT’s upcoming watch factory.

Rejected a few times by HMT as a supplier for its tools division, finally the Chairman, SM Patil, told the Widia team they could supply for the watch factory for which tools were being imported at high cost.

At that time, watch-making tools were quite complex and outside the scope of Widia’s manufacturing capabilities. Also, commercially it was not making sense. But, the Widia team took this up as an import substitution challenge and made the tools and won deep appreciation from the HMT senior management and opened doors for Widia to supply the standard range of tools to HMT’s main business.

Widia, the authors say, viewed customer orders not merely from a profit angle but focussed on meeting their needs in a true sense of partnership. Widia’s sense of purpose to improve productivity for a customer was not the best decision in a commercial sense but it helped pave the way for a sustainable growth in business. It earned a reputation for the company as a reliable partner.

Many companies articulate and put up their core values, but at Widia, the leaders believed that business ethics alone was not enough to bind people. They broadened their horizons to include concepts like basic human values and dharmic values to be practised and ingrained in people.

Basic values, imbibed from families, school and friends are honesty, integrity, respect and care while dharmic values, the authors say, come with maturity of the individual and organisation. They are: selflessness, spirit of service, compassion and empathy.

Follow the right path

While one can argue what is dharma or righteousness doing in a business environment, the authors hasten to add that a dharmic code is nothing about spirituality but a code of conduct to follow a righteous path, especially when organisations are expected to be ‘good corporate citizens’.

Leaders can steer dharmic values through their conduct and it then becomes the culture of an organisation and helps people steer through various situations and make principled choices.

The book goes on to talk about inspired leadership and culture of organisations, all key to building an impactful business. The authors coin a phrase called psychic safety which great organisations offer.

A holistic set of values recognises them as capable individuals and the transformative leadership gives them the freedom to express their views, to raise questions and operate as an intrapreneur without fear.

An alignment of larger purpose and individual’s goals provide a strong alignment. A combination of these, they say, creates a work environment that provides psychic safety.

“Organisations that have a clear, comprehensive vision have identified their larger purpose and are able to provide psychic safety and offer people a way to connect the larger purpose with their own life vision and purpose. In this kind of environment people feel they are an intrinsic part of the organisation and are willing to give their best to the workplace and rarely think of leaving,” say the authors.

Above & Beyond has woven in several anecdotes and stories, including those of several Widia employees, and it makes for compelling reading. Though, to this reviewer, the excessive use of explanatory charts and tables in the middle chapters, though will appeal to practitioners, began to give the book an academic feel, detracting from the pace of the narrative the book sets in the earlier chapters.

The book gives many examples of organisations that have been impactful, but apart from may be a Tata group and a reference to Azim Premji, most of the examples are of organisations abroad. More anecdotal references to Indian organisations would have helped for a better connect and context.

The book has obviously been written in better times. In these pandemic times, organisations have been pressured like never before; profits have been deeply impacted and in many firms people have been let go. Many CEOs have been shown to have feet of clay. One wonders how the tenets that the book propounds, on how to build an impactful business, can be adhered to. But, that’s not to say that the bad times will last; when the good times return it’s the firms that have stayed the course and stayed true to their purpose, will be the impactful organisation.

Published on September 27, 2020

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