Monday, May 23, 2011

Jobsworth, Tata and the Indian Work Ethic

Actually, this post is about none of the above. Its just triggered by a mind map that had the abovementioned stops. Early in the morning, i was considering writing a post on the professional Blog "5 Consulting Myths: BUSTED". Then i read THE Tata interview in the paper, where he has accused Brit managers of Jobsworth (a word i learnt from a similar article a few months ago) , and one of the lines struck me particularly : "Now things are better. Now no one leaves at 5, and we have bosses who call for meetings at 5." I went in my head "Hullo??!" One of the Consulting Myths i wanted to bust was "more hours = more work." Fact: An Employee is someone who can sabotage your project, while getting paid for it.(the sabotage, not the project, though you might think you are paying for the project).
And then i thought, Why is it that we Indians think nothing of taking work home? Where, in the first place, did this magical figure of 8 hours come from? A little thinking answered that - most probably, from the Industrial Revolution. It was not possible to measure your productivity on the assembly line, so we measured and said "Spend at LEAST this long at work" and over time, that magical figure became "Spend At most this much time at work." Way back then, there were supervisors whose only job was to ensure that you do spend that time working, work was easy to see and monitor (your hands either moved or they didnt) and it was ok.

And then i thought, "How did we measure performance before the Industrial Revolution? What was the traditional Indian way of measuring performance?" Then a story came to mind - of Jayadeva (the author of Geeta Govinda) using 2 lamps on his desk - one for his work, and the other for meeting personal guests. "Ohhh... even way back then, it was assumed that one would bring work home. Indians!"

And THEN it struck me - in the Vedic period, we identified so much with our professions that our most basic social and religious identification - the much maligned VARNA system, was based on what? The PROFESSION of the person!! The teachers and the knowledge workers were the Brahmins, the warriers were the Kshatriyas, the traders were the Vaishyas, and the menial labour people were the Shudras. Our work was not just what we did, it was what we WERE!

In Sanskrit, the word for duty and religion is the same - Dharma. It takes some commitment for a civilisation to actually do that without even thinking of it. While that might explain how India manages to play the Phoenix over and over again, there is another side to it. It also explains why most Indians just dont understand why people have to spend time away from work with their families.

Performance Management in Ancient India
Was simple. An astrologer( Raj Pandit) was judged by how well he predicted the future, not by how many hours he spends at the Court. A farmer was judged by the crop produce, not by the no. of hours put into the farm. The mathematician was judged by the quality of his writing, not by how many years he put into the research. The Minister was judged by how well he advised, not by how much he attended court. The trader was judged by his wealth, not by the working hours of his shop. In short : In almost all knowledge efforts, results were rewarded,not effort, and most certainly not hours at work.

The Indian Concept of Work Life Balance
You see, the family was completely involved in the work. it was a family profession. The children followed the father's profession, and since they had to be trained early, the entire family was also a work unit. Which means that there was no concept of a family life separate from work. Couples were hired to work together, and together they stayed. When children were born, they were inducted as early as possible too.

And that, Mr. Tata, is why 5 o' clock meetings are not ok. This is not the Vedic period. Indian companies do not do Family Days. Families are not a part of the profession or work any more.

And last, but not the least: Lack of Planning at your end does not constitute crisis at my end. 8 hours a day is not too little time to work and bring a company out of the financial mess.

Disclaimer: I am not in his shoes. Perhaps they pinch really bad for him to take a stand like this. I have never before heard him be vocal about something like this.


BK Chowla, said...

Let us understand. Ratan Tata with his status and standing, will never make a loose sattement.-Every word these people has has a msg-may be for their share holders, thier compititors or could for the Govt.
One has to be in his shoes to appreciatehis statements

kj said...

what a great post! this is the situation in america too, no doubt all over the industrial and information world.

i love every point you've made. i have a background in helping people choose careers and i know for certain the most important thing is having satisfaction and some degree of control from a job well done. to expect anyone to view work as a larger priority than family, than self even, is a problem for the individual and for society.

matthew fox: it's not WHAT you do, it's HOW you do it.

thank you, friend, it's nice to read your thoughts, always