Almost every company we know of have their mission, vision and set of values. Invariably, these manifest themselves as posters in the reception areas of the companies.
The putting into practice of the mission, vision and values is largely conspicuous by the absence of any concrete steps in many companies, particularly when it comes to the values. At least this is what the experience of having worked for many organisations and having conversations with others has taught me.
Some of us may recall what we learnt as children…that our parents’ biggest gift to all of us is not money, property or material wealth in any form. Their biggest gift to us is the set of values which they bring us up with and bequeath to us. I refer to them as ‘Sanskaar’.
In today’s column, I will be sharing some examples of how the senior leadership team in my IT services firm lived the values the firm espoused.
It was 2001, and I was on my way to Adelaide in Australia for the World Congress of IT. The route to Adelaide was via Sydney and Melbourne, where I was supposed to see our firm’s operations and recommend localized internal communications solutions.
In Sydney, the local business head was an Indian who had been with us for many years. The day after I arrived, he invited me to join him for dinner at Darling Harbor, the swish waterfront district in Sydney which had a huge assortment of restaurants. He asked me what kind of cuisine I would prefer. I opted for Vietnamese. Halfway through the fantastic meal, I realized that my colleague was sipping his juice and eating some salad.
Back in the hotel room, I was wondering why my colleague had eaten so frugally. Then it struck me. He was a vegetarian and there was not much choice for vegetarians. But that had not stopped him from treating me, a guest, in the traditional Indian way – ‘Atithi devo bhava’. Translated it means ‘A guest is God’.
Sure enough, when I asked him about this the next morning, he just smiled politely and said, ‘’You are my guest and since you wanted to eat Vietnamese, we went there.”
In doing so, he had made me feel comfortable, because this was ingrained in his value system.
Next stop Melbourne, a city as pretty as they come. I was to be joined here by both our CEO and our Director for APAC, both of whom were vegetarians. The local manager was not. This was information which both the CEO and the Director knew about. So, the CEO asked the local manager to take us to a place which served both vegetarian and non- vegetarian food. He also knew that I liked a bottle of beer, so he added that it was fine if the chosen restaurant served beer!
This scenario was a repeat of the Sydney one. Here it was the CEO and the Regional Director going out of their way to ensure that all in the team felt comfortable. Over lunch we started speaking about making a guest feel comfortable. That’s when our CEO said, “Guys, we have each grown up with certain value systems taught and practiced by our parents. This is the greatest learning, and not the degrees we may have earned. Try making people feel comfortable, be simple and straightforward in all that you do. There is far greater contentment and happiness by making others comfortable and happy professionally and personally, rather than trying to be one up on others. Do think about it.”
On we moved to Adelaide, and to the Congress. The organizers had laid out a massive welcome dinner for the delegates at an old estate 40 kms from Adelaide. 7 food courts with diverse cuisine and dozens of local wines.
The CEO, Director and I walked around to see what was on offer on the tables groaning with all the food. I swear my mouth was wateringJ.
After a quick recce, the CEO came up to me and said, ‘’Atul, both the Director and me are going back to the hotel. I don’t think we will enjoy all this food and wine the way you will. You stay on and let’s meet for a walk tomorrow morning around the Adelaide Oval.”
After an amazing evening, I returned to the hotel pretty late, but woke up in time for our walk. During our perambulations around the Adelaide Oval, I asked the Director about what they had eaten. He smiled and said, “We picked up some yogurt from the supermarket, ordered some steamed rice to our room, and I opened a bottle of mango pickle. It was an amazing meal of thayir sadam (curd rice)”!
In case you are wondering about me giving only food examples, let me highlight the underlying points about the value system each one of grows up with in the context of these examples. To me, the three incidents I have recounted also taught me a lot about professional life
- The values, or Sanskaar you grow up with, also help you in your careers.
- It is important to walk the talk. There is no point in having fancy posters highlighting the VMV, if you don’t live them.
- In any interaction, making the other person comfortable will help you achieve your objectives better.
- Never bring your egos into any professional situation. Stay simple, stay approachable, and stay grounded.
- It is possible to be happy and content by following the values you imbibed, and practice.
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