Genuine relationships or fairweather relationships?

True_Colours

This poster, sent by a friend, set me thinking.

Do we treat everybody with about the same amount of respect and consideration?

Or do we give immense amounts of respect and consideration to people only if they are wealthier and/or more powerful and/or better connected than us, and little or no respect and consideration to people if we are wealthier and/or more powerful and/or better connected than them and we are definitely unlikely to need their help in any way in the foreseeable future?
Worse, do we maintain relationships with people only when they are wealthier and/or more powerful and/or better connected than us, and end those relationships when we become wealthier and/or more powerful and/or better connected than them and we are definitely unlikely to need their help in any way in the foreseeable future?

Do we have genuine relationships? Or do we have fairweather relationships?

Others should be ethical. ‘Leaders’ will be ‘practical’.

Some years back, I worked with a company that was sales and service agent of a European manufacturer of machines used to produce high-precision parts. One day, the manufacturer’s Sales Manager and I visited the factory of one of India’s most reputed manufacturers of high-precision parts to finalise an order for a machine.

The machine to be ordered would be the first machine to be purchased by this customer from this machine manufacturer. My company had introduced this manufacturer’s machines to this customer about 6 months earlier, and had provided a lot of technical and commercial information to this customer prior to this visit.

We finalised the price and terms of the order in a meeting with the customer’s GM – Manufacturing, GM – Engineering and GM – Materials that lasted about 2 hours. The GM – Materials told us that the Purchase Order would be released after obtaining the approval of the company’s Board of Directors. He then invited the manufacturer’s Sales Manager and me to meet their Chairman.

As we were seated outside the Chairman’s office, the Chairman’s secretary informed me that their Maintenance Manager wanted to meet me immediately in his office to discuss an urgent service matter pertaining to another machine supplied to them through my company earlier that year. I proceeded to the Maintenance Manager’s office, had a discussion for about 10 minutes, and returned to the Chairman’s office. By that time, the manufacturer’s Sales Manager and the customer’s GM – Materials had completed their meeting with the Chairman.

As we drove back to my office, the manufacturer’s Sales Manager informed me that the Chairman had told him that they wanted to buy the machine directly from the manufacturer without involving my company (the sales and service agent) and wanted the manufacturer to reduce the price by the commission payable to my company. The manufacturer’s Sales Manager had replied that he would discuss the matter with his management and would revert to the Chairman the next week. The Chairman told the manufacturer’s Sales Manager that this matter should not be revealed to my company. He also added that, if the machine manufacturer did not agree to supply the machine directly to the customer without involving my company (the sales and service agent), they would not buy the machine.

I was shocked! The Chairman was a highly respected businessman, an office-bearer in various national business associations, and had delivered a number of powerful speeches on the importance of product quality and business ethics!

The manufacturer’s Sales Manager told me that he did not want to lose this order. However, he assured me that, in accordance with the agency contract between our companies, his company would protect my company’s interests. 50% of the usual commission was sales commission, while 50% was service commission. Thus, if we booked an order from a company in India for a machine to be installed in another country, we would be paid sales commission, while the sales and service agent in the other country would be paid the service commission. He proposed that, on this order, and on all subsequent orders from this customer, his company would pay my company the sales commission. He would not disclose this arrangement to the customer, but would tell the customer that no commission was paid to my company. His company would proceed with this arrangement only if my company agreed to it. If we did not agree to it, he would inform the Chairman that they could not supply the machine directly to them without involving my company. He was willing to lose this customer’s order, but he was not willing to dishonour the terms of the agreement between our companies.

My company’s management agreed to the manufacturer’s Sales Manager’s proposal.

The European machine manufacturer finalised the order with this customer a week later.

The customer’s GM – Materials informed us that their Board of Directors had not approved the purchase of the machine.

The machine was supplied to the customer two months later. After they received the full payment from the customer, the manufacturer paid the sales commission to my company. The machine was installed and maintained by the customer’s Maintenance Department.

Over the next 3 years, this customer bought 4 more machines from this machine manufacturer. My company was paid the sales commission on all these 4 machines.

The customer’s Chairman continues to occupy important positions in various national business associations, and continues to deliver powerful speeches on the importance of product quality and business ethics!

Obviously, he believes in preaching business ethics, but not in practising! I wonder whether his commitment to product quality is as hollow as his commitment to business ethics!!

This is common among many ‘leaders’ in India. They pontificate about ethics, but they believe that it is not necessary for them to walk their own talk!!

Personal Integrity and Trust

In his Guest Post, The Trust Factor, Sikandar Sardesai had concluded, “If we are to get rid of the “Scam India” image, that’s where we need to start – with personal integrity and trust.”

I am re-posting, with a few changes, Can we eradicate corruption? Yes We Can!, which I had originally posted on Sep 12, 2013. This is a true story of one Indian organisation that successfully introduced a culture of personal integrity and trust.

In many companies, employees who undertake outstation travel for work are reimbursed conveyance and travelling expenses in a manner that enables them to claim more than they actually spend. Thus, the employees get ‘tax-free income’. In fact, this ‘tax-free income’ is taken into account while negotiating salary packages, particularly in case of sales and service personnel.

This system is so widespread that most people do not even consider it unethical. In fact, about 3 years back, there were reports that a prominent anti-corruption crusader had claimed inflated travel expenses from some organisations for attending programmes conducted by them. In some cases, Business Class fare was claimed when actually flying Economy. In some other cases, full fare was claimed even though discounted fare tickets had been booked. This was not denied, but it was explained that the ‘savings’ were used not by the individual, but for the benefit of the crusader’s NGO. I personally believe the explanation given by this person, but can you blame people if they say this is just a ‘story’?

A few years back, I was part of the senior management of a start-up. We had decided that we would conduct all aspects of the business in an ethical manner. Among other things, this meant the company’s employees would not get ‘tax-free income’ from conveyance and travelling expenses. Obviously, we offered compensation packages that were higher than the rest of the industry to make up for the loss of this ‘tax-free income’.

This had a very positive effect on all employees. Since the management was totally transparent in all other matters as well, the transparency was reciprocated by the employees. How transparent, one may ask?

PS, our Service Manager had to undergo 2 weeks’ training at a manufacturer’s factory in Taiwan. We had booked a room for him in the hotel where all visitors to that factory usually stayed. On the first day of his training, PS informed me that the manufacturer’s Sales Manager, a bachelor living alone in a 2-bedroom apartment, had invited PS to stay with him since he had a spare bedroom. PS was keen to accept since this would save our company the hotel expenses for the remaining 12 days, but he wanted to know if I had any objection to such an arrangement. After ascertaining from him that this arrangement had been initiated by his host, and that the spare bedroom was properly furnished, I replied that I had no objection. I also made it very clear to him that, while I fully appreciated his desire to reduce our company’s expenses, I would be extremely upset if he compromised on his food expenses during his visit.

There was no need for PS to do what he had done. He personally did not gain one paisa. Why did he do it? Because of organisation culture!

What is the ‘culture’ of the ‘organisation’ called India? What can be the ‘culture’ of a country where people think that most of their ‘leaders’ are corrupt?

Can we change this ‘culture’? I believe we can. If many, many of us believe we can, and if we work hard and work persistently, we can surely make it happen! What was achieved in one Indian organisation can be achieved in the entire country. Yes We Can!

The Trust Factor

Guest post by Sikandar Sardesai, an experienced editor and teacher, currently engaged in spiritual care of the elderly.

Twentyfive years ago, I travelled abroad from India for the first time. After a chance meeting with the Executive Director of a news agency in Hongkong, I’d been invited there to work as an Editor. The offer was verbal. I had no written contract. Also, I’d been told I didn’t need a visa for Hongkong; that I would get it on arrival at the airport. Hongkong then was still a British territory.

I approached the immigration official at the Hongkong airport with quite a bit of trepidation. Would I be allowed to enter Hongkong? Would I be allowed to work in Hongkong? I soon discovered that my fears were unfounded. The British immigration official listened to my reasons for visiting Hongkong (employment at a news agency) and stamped my passport with an entry visa.

In the weeks that followed, I filled in the requisite forms, had them countersigned by my employer, and without further ado I was able to get a Hongkong identity card that allowed me to reside and work in the territory. How often did I have to go to Immigration Department? Just once.

I marvelled at the trust I was accorded. I felt good about myself and my new temporary home. I was happy to live and work in Hongkong.

Fast forward a few years and I was back in India. While in Hongkong, I had used some of my earnings to buy India Development Bonds — India was entering a new phase of growth with Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister. I saw it as the patriotic thing to do. However, back in India, when the time came to redeem the bonds, I was in for a rude shock.

It was my money after all, I thought. There shouldn’t be any problem cashing the bonds. I had forgotten that I was not in Hongkong any more. Bank officials and others I approached to redeem the bonds treated me with suspicion and indifference. They expected me to “pay” them first. I had to jump through any number of hoops before I got my money back. It was an experience of what Prime Minister Modi today calls “Scam India”.

On reflection, what distinguished the two experiences was the “trust” factor. In one instance, I was trusted. I was accepted for who I said I was. It reinforced my sense of integrity. In the other, the basic assumption seemed to be that I was “untrustworthy” and needed to be treated accordingly.

Do we, Indians, I ask myself, assume that we are not trustworthy? Is that the basis of our dealings with each other — at least, our financial and business dealings? Do we assume that we lack personal integrity?

My experience has been that trust begets trust. It’s noblesse oblige.

If we are to get rid of the “Scam India” image, that’s where we need to start – with personal integrity and trust.

Confidentiality: 2 extremes

A few years back, my ex-colleague informed me that he and his wife were going through a bitter divorce, and that his wife had been spreading unpleasant rumours about him among their common friends. He requested me to inform him if any unpleasant rumours about him reached our office. He also requested me to keep this information confidential.

I did not hear any rumours about this ex-colleague. His divorce proceedings were completed 7 months later.

One day, this ex-colleague happened to meet my senior. He informed this senior about his divorce and also mentioned that he had spoken to me about this matter 7 months earlier. My senior was extremely upset. He said bitterly that he was probably the last person in our company to learn about this matter, and asked me why I had not shared the information with him. I pointed out that this was my ex-colleague’s personal matter, and that he had explicitly told me to keep it confidential. As far as I was concerned, ‘confidential’ meant I should not share the information with anybody else. My senior was not convinced, and cold-shouldered me for the next few months!

***

A few days back, I met a neighbour at the supermarket. As we were chatting, my friend, whom my neighbour knows quite well, joined us. My friend excitedly told us that he wanted to give us some very good news, which was extremely confidential. My neighbour immediately told my friend, “Unless it’s absolutely necessary for me to know, please do not share any confidential information with me. I’m not very good at keeping secrets. Don’t worry! I will not be offended that I was not among the first few persons to know.”

***

Some people are like my neighbour. They respect the other person’s confidentiality.

Most people are like my senior. They have an intense desire to be among the first few persons to ‘know’. Some such persons are so keen to show others that they ‘know’ that they circulate confidential information among as many people as possible, taking care to tell each person to ‘keep it confidential’!

Would you like people to be like my neighbour or like my senior?

Among your personal and professional contacts, are more people like my neighbour or more people like my senior?

Are you like my neighbour or like my senior? (You need not share your reply to this question!!)