Published in Corproate Dossier ET, Feb. 11, 2011

On visiting a temple, a devotee noticed something very peculiar. Atop the door leading to the sanctum sanctorum, on the centre of the arch was a face glaring at devotees and sticking out his tongue at them. “What is that?” he wondered. In response, the deity in the shrine said, “He sees what I cannot see. He sees what devotees don’t show me. I see the pious behavior of all those who enter my temple. But he sees what is in their hearts. I see the visible and the tangible. He sees what is invisible and intangible. Ultimately what he sees is what matters.”

The devotee was familiar with the concept of saguna Brahman and nirguna Brahman. The former meant divinity with form, or divinity that is tangible while the latter meant divinity without form, or divinity without tangibility. All his life he had been told that the deity in the temple is saguna Brahman and only a gateway to the invisible intangible infinite divine, the nirguna Brahman. Now, he was hearing that even the deity was seeking the nirguna belief of the devotee not the saguna behavior that was displayed in the temple and was demonstrated for all to see.

Business depends on how people behave; how the market behaves, how the customer behaves, how partners and vendors behave; how the organization behaves. But underlying behavior is a belief. Unfortunately, belief cannot be seen; it is not seen,hence cannot be measured and it cannot be managed. However,it is vital to the success of an organization.

Beliefs lead to behavior but behavior does not mean belief. A man who respects you will be polite to you but a man who is polite to you need not respect you. Politeness is behavioral; it can be seen. Respect is belief; it cannot be seen. Management restricts itself to the saguna. Yet, what everyone yearns for is the nirguna.

Yeshwantrao has been managing hotels for the past twenty-five years. He is obessed with processes. There is a process for everything from receiving guests to bidding them goodbye, to cleaning toilets to washing vessels to serving drinks to clearing bills to sorting linen to solving employee disputes. And yet, despite all these processes, which are regularly audited by the many managers he has trained over the years, he knows the great hotels are differentiated by that unknown and non-measurable parameter that people can bring to the table. “I don’t know what it is. It is a magical intangible thing, which customers seek and people can deliver. Processes are but hygiene. You cannot live without processes but if people do not believe in the work they do, greatness will remain elusive.”

Yashwantrao equates that magical element to cooking. Given the same recipes and the same ingredients, two cooks cannot make a dish that tastes exactly the same. The difference is the nirguna that separates one cook from another.

Behavior which is saguna can be taught and enforced. But it is that intangible belief which is nirguna that enables an organization to make that giant leap from good to great. Shift in behavior can be brought about by domestication. Shift in belief demands inspiration.