21 November 2007

Employee Engagement and the New Age KarmaYogi

(A version of this piece appeared in The Economic Times, Nov 16, 07)
Beauty packages for diwali, karva chauth on office terraces, weaving in sports and games into work lives and presence on Second Life… increasingly, employee is consumer and employee delight is part of talent recruitment, training and retention. But is it making any real difference? Are organisations missing the woods for the trees in the search for employee engagement?

A Towers Perrin study in 18 countries (including India), among 90,000 workers reports that only one in five employees were engaged. The study defines engagement as the degree to which workers connect to the company emotionally, are aware of what they need to do to add value, and are willing to take that action. Higher engagement led not only to retention but also increased profits. And, most importantly it was senior managers that drove employee engagement, (not just feel-good HR activities). India, incidentally, emerged the third most engaged country, next to Mexico and Brazil!

So what exactly do leading edge employees in India want? The Power and the Glory, a recent JWT Brand Chakras study on the global Indian, revealed the complete centrality of work is worship. But these new age karma yogis are clear: work is worship, but only at the altar of power, fame and money. Four very clear desires and demands emerged.

One: Work is an avenue of creativity and innovation, therefore organisational backing of ideas is imperative. This needs to be seen in the light of: a) growing unwillingness to work for others and need to get credit for one’s own work and not give it to the company; and b) a disdain for large organizations even though they work in them, and a belief that individuals and the wisdom of the crowds is faster on the innovation curve.

Two: Work must help to “build my name larger than the organisation”. Careers should provide adequate scope for personal evolution and growth, even while offering monetary rewards. And must, sooner rather than later, bestow a larger-than-life status, leading to social and professional influence and clout.

Three: Work must lead to opportunities to be part of the Indian badge on the world stage. Work is part of their celebration of living, and a keen desire for enriching experiences. So they expect continuous broadening of horizons, skill enhancement, early positions of power and responsibility, and opportunities to ride the crest of technological advances – so that they can evolve a larger world view. Through work, they “want a name for boosting the country’s economy” and satisfy the thirst to play a role in the global impact India is going to have; create jobs, wealth and technology.

Four: Eventually, enriching spiritual and emotional experiences – so that they can “give back”, positively influence others’ destinies and be put on a pedestal. They feel a certain responsibility to make India a better place. Twenty eight year olds are already talking of “going back to my village and doing sericulture”. Or “I’m earning two lakhs a month as a surgeon, so I give free medicines on Sundays at home. My patients say I’m God. I tell them no, but they can put me next to him.”
On his part, his personal strategies are in three large areas.

One: invest intellect and energy in work, seize the initiative in any situation, be open minded and adventurous with respect to exploring career opportunities - not letting geographical boundaries or cultural differences come in the way.
Two: get spouse and family to buy into his vision of his career; spell out the rewards at stake for them – compensation for not making them the fulcrum of his life. “My wife must actively help and support the search for glory. She is second to career, and she knows it and it is to her advantage, because my success will brings her also greater social respect’. Equally, working women want husbands to “be a source of inspiration” in their own similar quest.
Three: cultivate the power of networking by shrewd choice of friends and contacts because “ you never know when they’ll come in handy”.

Underlying all this, are two fundamental shifts in corporate life.

The first is a reduction of distance to the leadership. Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar, in his book The Indians, cites the GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organisational Behaviour Effectiveness) study as confirming that “what younger managers in India most dearly wish for is a reduction in the power distance between the leader and the led”. He goes on to draw a curious parallel in the transition of father-son relationships in middle class family life – from the formality and restraint of the authoritative joint family patriarch who struggles to express his love for his children to the more involved playmate of today, available to both sons and daughters.

The second is a greater demand on the leadership for inspiration, collaboration, communication, and nurturing. Again, Sudhir Kakar points out the basic Indian tendency to idealize the leader, avoid realistic evaluations and ignore his weaknesses. But not any more. Young global Indians too are revising their expectations of their leaders.The JWT Brand Chakras study showed that younger people like to use their talent to have a hold on their leaders, while older managers say dealing with younger people is one of their key challenges.
Will Indian senior management move quickly to harness the power of the new age karma yogi? Or absorbed in their own worship, expect mehendi, kickboxing and film screenings to do the trick?

Here are a couple of ads that reflect different aspects of work is worship.