Strategy or Stratagem



I have spent about a decade in the corporate world in various capacities – as a junior person, as a mid-level manager and as a consultant. One aspect that has struck me always is the DNA of any corporate of ‘doing time’ i.e. spend hours and hours at the work desk – weekdays, weeknights, weekends etc. This perhaps is more evident in those fields where the outcomes are somewhat intangible. The assuredness is lacking if the final objective is neither a number nor a percentage.

A case-in-point, an acquaintance of mine works in one of the top banks in the country. Thankfully, he stays at about 10-minute drive from his workplace. The mention of the travel time assumes importance because the very next statement. Dutifully, he leaves home every day at 9 in the morning and comes back at about 9 to 9.30 pm. That includes the week-ends too – where in the come-back time contracts to about 6.30-7 pm. A straight back-breaking 12 hours every-day amounting to about a crazy 65-70 hours a week and he is in sales function.

This got me seriously thinking – what has brought about this Frankenstein-esque DNA change in our corporates or was it this way always? Why then spending 12 hours a day is a norm rather than an exception in today’s work place? My observations are thus.

The way any corporate ticks tells a lot about how there is a trickle-down effect on the workplace. Any corporate worth its salt is governed by numbers – the top line and more importantly the bottom line. A corporate gone public is shackled and follows the diktat like a bull with a nose-ring attached. The basic raison-d’être then for any corporate is earnings – earnings that have to necessarily progressively grow. Never matter whether the consumer doesn’t want to buy, doesn’t matter if the client doesn’t want to spend and never matter whether the economy is under a heavy recession. This very primary foundation is shaky. This very objective – of wanting to grow at a compounded rate of x% over a 5-year period irrespective of the milieu – is seriously flawed. It depicts some kind of a voracious greed. A greed that is insatiable, that is unmindful of the existing situation and definitely indifferent to the manner in which it is being temporarily fulfilled.

This objective aka greed then is transplanted in to the employees in the form of a deep inherent insecurity i.e. about their own competence, about the take-home packet, about the next promotion, about the close-ness to the immediate boss and so on and so forth. In fact this very insecurity is the prime mover which oils the corporates wheels – that enables the corporates to have the carrot and stick policy – perform and you get attractive numbers added to your personal bottom line or else you become one of the numbers which are benched.

This DNA is aptly characterized by the Mahabharata war. The kind of culture (for want of better word) that was present at Hastinapur and Indraprastha. At one end was Hastinapur which symbolizes the current corporate thought process – top down approach, unnatural focus on bottom line, develop a deep insecurity among its employees/subjects and above all an adharma (untruth) approach to situations i.e. getting the job done never matter the means/consequences as opposed to Indraprastha which focused on a collaborative approach, believed in the well-being of its subjects and above all believed that dharma (truth) should be the focal point to its approach and decision-making.

I must admit that I haven’t come across a single corporate – neither directly nor indirectly following on the footsteps of Indraprastha. Perhaps, I sincerely hope that my decade long experience is short enough to bring me across such organizations because needless to say we all know which kingdom survived at the end.

In conclusion, I sense that there is this superb African proverb which aptly encapsulates the life in a corporate world. I just couldn’t help but associate it with the corporate life across the board –

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t much matter whether you are the lion or the gazelle, when the sun is up, you better start running.


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