Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, April 8, 2011
Ram of the Ramayana is known as maryada purushottam, the one who upholds the law under any circumstances. He is what we would call 100% compliant in the corporate world. This makes Ram worthy of worship. But the scriptures are not naïve. They do not believe that obedience and compliance make for a better world.
Ram’s compliance for the law is a good thing at the start of the epic Ramayana when he obeys the decree of his father who is also the king and forsakes all right to the throne. But later in the epic, when he orders that his wife, the innocent Sita be taken out of Ayodhya simply because the law states a queen’s reputation should never be the subject of malicious gossip, we wonder if law-upholding is such a good thing.
It is in the Mahabharata, where the whole concept of upholding the law is made topsy turvy. Duryodhan, the villain of the epic, upholds the law at all times. He never breaks it. His uncle, Shakuni, breaks it; but never him. He broke no law when he invited his cousins, the Pandavas, to the game of dice; he broke no law when the Pandavas wagered their wife, Draupadi; he broke no law when he ordered her disrobing as by law, one can do anything one wants with a slave! Thus by upholding the law, one can also be a villain.
Both Ram and Duryodhan abide by the law, keep the rules, follow the processes 100% but only one is worthy of worship. The other is equated with a demon. Why? Because there is something that we cannot see – their motivation. Because in the scriptures, Ram is identified as Vishnu ; we know his motivation is the welfare of the world. Duryodhan, however, is motivated by his own welfare at the cost of every living creature. Ram follows the rule for the benefit of the organization. Duryodhan follows the rule for his own benefit. Ram is 100% compliant so that the company can achieve its target. Duryodhan is 100% mimic so that he gets his bonus. Ram believes in what he does. Duryodhan does not believe in what he is doing; he simply agrees to disagree, aligns as a good team player, and plays along because he is a professional!
The institutional model of management is based on processes and process compliance, and we consider that a good thing. In an industrial economy where workers were simply expected to finish a set of tasks and the tasks had no emotional or intellectual component, this worked well. But in a knowledge economy where intellectual and emotional contribution is critical, enforcing compliance is not easy.
Vivek wants to make sure that he gets 100% of the promised bonus. For that he has to get 5/5 on appraisal, something that according to the ‘bell curve’ of the company, less than 10% of the organization can get. So he has spent the past three months doing everything that the boss has asked him to do. He knows that obeying his boss and ensuring the boss feels like a boss guarantees him that score. He does his tasks exactly the way the boss tells him to, he makes fun of all the people the boss makes fun of, he admires everyone the boss admires, he reads the same books his boss reads, he does everything to please his boss. In his team, there are people who are much better at work, and who are of greater value strategically for the organization. But they do not invest as much time on the boss. And so while Vivek and others get a equal score on quantitative matters, only Vivek gets full score on qualitative matters. A week after Vivek got his bonus and his raise, he submitted his resignation and moved on to the next job and to the next boss. And the boss, who had told the management how committed and deserving Vivek was, felt like a fool. A victim of yet another corporate Duryodhan.