People@Work

Seduced by success

KAMAL KARANTH | Updated on January 16, 2019 Published on January 16, 2019

When organisations ignore the behaviour of their top performers, culture deteriorates

When I saw the Hardik Pandya episode break out, my first thought was not about the way he got carried away. I felt it was lack of awareness of the heady world he had been exposed to suddenly that had made him open up about the personal side of his life in the wrong forum. Success, if at all, was making him seriously vulnerable.

You never know if the Kumble-to-Shastri cultural transition in the cricket team has caused by-products beyond just a winning cricket team. Professionals in organisations too have similar challenges of curbing their behaviour once they are deemed successful.

We all want to be successful in our careers. So much so that we want to be the best. If we are a large organisation we expect to be at the top of market share, profits, ROI & Best Employer award, etc. etc. Let’s say we are a start-up, we want to be funded by marquee investors and become a unicorn at the earliest.

As an employee, we obviously want to be growing fast, earning healthy hikes, bonuses, coveted roles and, most importantly, being recognised as the top talent by our employer. As organisations and leaders encourage internal competition, we are also always up against somebody else within. On top of it, there is this threat of job loss, skill upgrade asks and staying relevant in your organisation or specialisation.

In this context, if your hard work or luck gets you success, there is a reason to celebrate.

Lowering the guard

If you are celebrated as a success by your organisation it is quite natural for it to go to your head. You lose some of the natural alertness and humility. In some organisations that have a higher mix of sales workforce, aggression is feted and achieving numbers takes precedence over behaviour.

Leaders tend to ignore the cultural erosion if sales metrics are met.

I was once in the corridor of a highly successful FMCG firm where you could hear the usual hum of a sales office. As I waited for my HR friend I could hear the abusive conversations over the phone from a nearby cabin. Also, the way a couple of colleagues were hurling expletives at each other was difficult to ignore.

When my friend finally walked in he smiled at my bemused expression and said “This is one of our most successful regional offices and it’s a demanding atmosphere out here. Not for the weak-hearted.” There were hardly any women in the office, which too had created this atmosphere. “We are used to this profanity” he concluded nonchalantly.

Padding up

Many MNCs have a policy of only allowing one leader to talk to the press and even when they do they sound boring in their statements. It is not that the leaders are not capable of delivering newsworthy tongue-in-cheek comments. They deliberately read out prepared statements which protect the carefully built reputation of their brands.

Once they are in the public space they have to maintain the boundary defined by their organisations.

Many CEOs don’t even have Twitter accounts or active social media presence as they believe it is an invitation to controversy.

Once, Anand Mahindra, the famous chairman of the Mahindra group, was asked why he is not outspoken. He said he is paid by his shareholders to run the business and not make controversial statements.

Large organisations rightfully curb individual expressions to protect the interests of the organisation. They conduct many sensitivity-training programmes for senior leaders in order to avoid Hardik Pandya-like episodes. Start-up founders are generally more outspoken but once they are funded you can see a subtle change in their tone and statements, which become more responsible.

Enter millennials

It isn’t easy to have a culture or atmosphere that would attract free-spirited millennials yet also curb their behaviour.

Isn’t it normal for millennials to comfortably engage with the opposite sex conversing about their looks, dress, accessories and even dates?

It is a big challenge for HR to work around this behaviour that is acceptable for one generation but not for another.

As it happens we are always one incident away from something happening.

When organisations create an atmosphere for talented people to be creative and expressive, there will be outages in behaviours. After all, organisations are dealing with human beings. Responsible organisations list out a code of conduct to their senior leaders in advance so that there is clarity and consequences are spelt out, should there be a deviation.

As kids, our parents disliked us being with certain friends whom they thought were not suitable company. Koffee with Karan Johar is one of those TV shows which BCCI should have listed to its national cricketers as a no go.

Talent, success and humility rarely come together. Yes, there was a Dravid and a Tendulkar.

However, they are few and far between. Times have now changed to the more expressive millennial superstars who live in the seductive world of social media.

Kamal Karanth is cofounder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing firm

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Published on January 16, 2019
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