The first feeling I had after finishing Livemint managing editor Sidin Vadukut’s enormously entertaining book Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin “Einstein” Varghese was one of overwhelming relief.
He hadn’t used events at Mint, or its parent HT Media Ltd as source material for his book, instead relying on happenings at a consulting firm that shall not be named here. Since he has told me there will likely be a sequel, and then another—yup, trilogies are back in fashion—I am sure he will have enough opportunity to do this, though.
After all (and with due apologies to Peter Drucker), an organization sometimes forces rational people to do the most irrational things. And this holds true for all organizations.
Some of these, of course, could well be illegal as well, which could explain why corporate frauds and scams happen.
Most, however, have to do with the daily workings of an organization.
I have worked for or met with people in organizations where: the chairman’s framed photograph adorns every table; the promoting family walks through the office on one particular day of the year in a sort of procession-of-deities, and be garlanded by the head of each department; a senior executive wanted the IT department to come up with a mouse-free operating system for everyone because he found that people were replacing the devices at least once a year, thereby wasting HUGE sums of money; and the human resource (HR) department installed card-punches for people to swipe their entry and exits, but decided not to connect these to a back-end system in the Pavlovian belief that pings and flashing lights would ensure compliance.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
It’s usually the HR or administrative department of a firm that gets the rap for these seemingly intelligent, but actually hare-brained schemes.
In one company I know—it is a large apparel manufacturer of multinational parentage that is based in south India—an executive was promoted to a level where he would be eligible for a company car (non-airconditioned). The problem was that all cars available with the company were airconditioned. So, the HR manager simply had the air conditioner of a car stripped before it was assigned to this person. (A year and a half later, when he was promoted again, they simply refitted the airconditioner.)
In another story narrated by a fellow editor, an executive at a large consumer products company—it too is of multinational origin and is based in Mumbai—was promoted to a level where he was eligible for a cabin (but no wall-to-wall carpeting). Unfortunately, the only cabins available were all with wall-to-wall carpeting. So, the HR manager sent across a team to cut and fold up the edges of the carpet.
It wasn’t just Vadukut’s book that reminded me of these, but an article in a recent issue of Fortune—I just caught up with a bit of my reading backlog—on the best companies to work for in the US. The article was about SAS, a small software company which, it turns out, was the model for many of Google’s people policies and whose campus was, again, a model for Google’s.
And what makes SAS special?
Suffice it to say that the company believes in treating employees as people who want to come in and work and not felons in an Alabama chain gang who need to be “encouraged” to work.
India has its share of best company surveys, including one—the first of the lot—that I helped start in a magazine where I used to work. I noticed in a recent issue of the magazine that this survey has now grown into more of a “best employer brand” survey, which is welcome because no one rates companies as employer brands in India.
Still, I believe there is room for old-fashioned employee surveys—the basis for the better best-companies-to-work-for listings, in India and elsewhere. What else can capture the angst of disappearing toilet paper (water is free; paper isn’t); flowers; and free soup.
Then, maybe, everyone could go out and write a book like Vadukut’s.