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Creating Flow

The Freedom To Be

Category Archives: Organizational Insights

To

Dattaram Waghmare,

Procurement Manager

Jefferson Spice Extract Plant

Khopoli Industrial Estate,

Khopoli, Maharashtra

India

From

Arvind Dasgupta,

The HR Director

Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd

Head Office, 95, Kamla Mills Compound,

Mumbai, Maharashtra

India

Dear Dattaram,

I have received your letter dated August 30, 2012. I have used my discretion to keep your heartfelt expression off the record.

I have noted that you are concerned about the lack of effectiveness of testing and training to bring sustainable change in human behaviour and relations. You have made a creative suggestion that we explore honest conversations among employees to build a meaningful and effective work culture.

Your letter made me ponder, as the concerns that you have raised are some of the issues (among others) that I have been reflecting upon throughout my HR career. In particular this question:

What is the freedom available to corporate employees to be creative and honest?

Therefore, Dattaram, my response here, is as much to myself, than just to you.

Given my position as the HR Director of Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd., I was wondering what would be the most appropriate way to respond to your observations. As you may be well aware that being in HR, there is always a matter of propriety (being appropriate). Nevertheless, I was keen to respond to your letter since the points you raised triggered in me a prolonged self-inquiry, particularly your question:

“Why is it so difficult to be simple?”

Keeping all of this in mind, I am writing this letter to you, in my personal capacity as Arvind Dasgupta and not as the HR Director. I believe that only when a person is free of role restrictions can he be truly honest. I am therefore sending you this letter from my personal email address.

After giving it due thought, I have come to the conclusion, that in order to respond to your question at the very root, I will need to share with you something about my life, before I became an HR Director. Like all inquiries that seek to go to the root of the problem, this inquiry also begins with a story.

Arvind Dasgupta’s story.

I was born in a traditional Bengali family. My father, Soumendranath Dasgupta migrated from East Bengal in 1947 when he was 15 years old, along with my grandparents. After much movement and hardships, the family set base in the town of Siliguri, in West Bengal. Siliguri, located on the banks of the Mahananda river and on the foothills of the Himalayas is known for its tea and tourism. Baba through much of his own efforts educated himself, by working part-time at the reception desk of a small hotel and financing his own education. A significant part of his salary would go in running the house consisting of my grandparents and my Bua, his sister. After his graduation he gave the government exams and joined the Indian Railway. His first job was as railway guard on a train. Soon after, he married my mother Rukmini, who was five years younger to him and hailed from a nearby village called SaktigarhMa had studied upto the 10th standard, which was an exception for a girl of her background. Their’s was an arranged marriage. Even though Baba insisted on seeing Ma before the alliance was fixed, which was an exception, as it was not the custom for boys and girls to see each other before the marriage was finalised. I am told, he was finally allowed to enter the room where mother was knitting a sweater, stole a quick glance at her, came out satisfied. Three months later, they were married in a traditional Bengali wedding, spanning many days. Baba was 23. Ma was 18.

Dattaram, you must be wondering why I am sharing about Baba and Ma with you and how is this related to HR and training effectiveness in Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd?  I request your patience. Eventually you will see  how these two, seemingly distant aspects, of my family background and corporate effectiveness are related.

Baba and Ma had dreamed of having their own house after marriage. Their dream came true when Baba was allotted a small railway quarter near Siliguri Junction station. Ma told me that it was a small room and a kitchen. The room and the kitchen were separated by a curtain. The left portion of the kitchen would be used as a washing and bathing space and loft was used to store items not in immediate use. Baba had an erratic schedule, depending on which train he was deputed for guard duty. Ma would spend most of her time cooking, cleaning and sometimes talking to the women next door. Of course I was still not born, so whatever I am sharing with you is based on what I have heard from them.

I was born five years after marriage. Ma had two miscarriages before I was born. She was anxious that a normal pregnancy may never occur. Both Baba and Ma went to the Sevokeshwari Kali Mandir to pray for a normal delivery. When Ma was pregnant a third time with me, she recited the Gayatri  mantra 108 times every day till the day I was born. Baba made adjustments to his duty schedule to be present at the time I was born.

I am told that I was born on a Poornima, on a full moon night.

I received a warm reception from Thakur-da, Thakur-ma, Dadu, Dida, Bua and ofcourse Baba and Ma at the railway hospital where I was born. Everyone wanted to hold me and see who I resembled in the family.  After two days of my birth Ma returned home. On the first night of my arrival at home, Baba held me in his strong arms, looked at me for a long time and promised me something. Something that he had to struggle all through his life to achieve.

Education.

He told Ma “Ruku, no matter what hardships we have to go through, we will provide the best education to our son”. Ma smiled back and nodded her head silently. It was a pact that would have a significant affect on how my life would unfold. Even though neither of them said it, they instinctively knew at that moment that I would be their only child and henceforth their lives would have a singular purpose. Me.

“Aurobindo” said Thakur-da, my paternal grandfather. They were discussing what would be my name. Sri Aurobindo was a Bengali freedom fighter, philosopher, poet and yogi. Baba wanted a shorter name that sounded more Indian. They settled for Arvind.

“Arvind Dasgupta” announced Ma, holding me up,as though formalizing the decision.

Starting from the alphabet ‘A’ I was usually the third person on the roll call list of my class at school. The teacher would call out “Amit”, “Arijit”, “Arvind”…. There were around 35 to 40 students in the class. St. Josephs Convent and one of the best English medium schools, run by Christian missionary fathers. It was not easy to get admission there, especially not for a Station Master’s son. Baba had gradually been promoted through his dedicated hard-work and held the post of the Station Master of Siliguri Junction, seven years after my birth. Given the promise he had made to me, he wanted to admit me in the best English medium school. After much pleading with the school principal (and using some of his railway connections) he finally managed to get me admitted to a school, the expenses of which he definitely could not afford from his meagre salary. But, that was the last thing on his mind. All he could see at that moment was, Arvind Dasgupta, his son, completing school with flying colours as a “smart-English-speaking-convent-educated-boy” many years later.

St. Joseph’s Convent was a school mostly for the affluent. The school had hostel facility and children from well-to-do families came from various parts of India, and a few even from abroad. A few of us were locals from Siliguri mostly from middle class families like mine. While my grey sweaters were hand-made, most of my classmates were ready-made. I always made some excuse not to accompany them to the school canteen for Campa Cola and samosas. They wore imported shoes, mine were from the local brand. Even though I was aware of this class distinction, between me and them, I never complained.

Baba and Ma always provided for me, the best they could.

Till this day I do not know how they managed to pay my fees and take care of other school expenses. Ma had started a tiffin service where she cooked meals and snacks for a local eatery from home. There were compromises on all kinds of expenses – food, clothing, festivals, social-functions, holidays – except one.

My education.

Neither Baba or Ma, ever mentioned the difficulties they underwent  to provide me a premium education. Their only expectation was that I study hard and get good marks.

Whenever I used to get 60 marks, Baba would ask me “Why not 70?” When I got 70, he would ask “Why not 80?” and on the rare occasion I managed a 80, the question was “Why not 90?” So I was always competing with my classmates for getting the maximum marks. I once managed get 2nd rank in class and Baba asked “Why not 1st?” That was his way of encouraging me to work harder. And I kept studying hard to get more marks….and his love and approval.

The problem, as I see it now, was just that.

We had bound each other.

He had bound himself by providing me with an education way beyond his means and I had bound myself by wanting to meet all his expectations.  Of course we did it because of our love for each other. However, the love that binded us, also blinded us.

Dattaram, you may wonder how can love blind us?

You will say “After all children must meet the expectations of their parents, who give up their own comforts to provide for the best upbringing for their children.It is the natural thing to do for both parents and children.”

But as I see it now, that my friend, is exactly where the root of the problem lies.

Baba like all parents provided me the best education, so that I could excel in life and create name, fame and money for myself. So that I did not have to go through the same drudgery that he had to go through. He therefore admitted me to a system, a school, where I entered the race to excel and beat my fellow classmates. The gaping hole in this process was that no one ever checked with me, whether I wanted to run that race. And when I was made to run a race that I had not chosen to run:

I stopped thinking for myself.

My thinking became automated. I simply followed what I was told. I never stopped to think what I wanted for myself. Where did my own happiness lie?

Did I really want to get 90 marks in mathematics? Was it my dream to come 1st in class? Did I really want to study Chemistry? Did I want to follow the school time-table? Did I want to give exam? Did I want to struggle for more marks?

I had a poetic and philosophical bent of mind, just like my namesake Sri Aurobindo. As a nine-year old, you could find me writing something in my small blue diary which I carried with me all the time. I would often sit under the large banyan tree at the outskirts of the school campus and watch the sparrows and the squirrels play with each other on its old drooping branches. Other times I would visit the bank of the Mahananda river and watch the waters gushing against the backdrop of the majestic Himalayan peaks. Sometimes I would simply lie on a grassy patch of our football field and gaze at the white fluffy clouds, shaped like balls of cotton drift lazily across the blue canvas of the sky. And, I would write in my small blue diary, with my red and black striped Camlin pencil.

Once Baba saw me writing and asked “What do u keep writing in that diary of yours?”

I immediately became self-conscious and after a pause I said “Poems.”

“Hmmm…very good. All our Bengali freedom fighters have been poets.” He said.

After a moment’s silence, he added.

“But remember poems cannot get you a job. Only a good degree can. And for that you need good marks.”

“Yes Baba.” And I put my diary away.

In that moment, for the first time I felt guilty.

I was reminded of the difficulties Baba and Ma were undergoing to educate me. I felt torn between my love for poetry and my love for Baba and Ma. I felt ashamed for indulging myself in a pursuit that would not translate into anything practical. A bigger house, new clothes or more food at the table. I said to myself “How can I be so selfish, when Baba and Ma are sacrificing so much for me.”

You see Dattaram, my future was more or less charted for me, very much like the future of most men born in a Middle Class Family.

“Degree-Job-Marriage”

Later when I was to join College, I made one last attempt at being selfish.  I considered taking up Arts and pursue psychology and literature. I was always good at writing and thought maybe I could consider being a journalist or a writer. I still remember the time I shared this with Baba and Ma and the grave look on their face.

“Will psychology and literature get you a job?” said Baba.

“I think you should give it some thought?” said Ma

“Why don’t you take up Commerce. You could get a good bank job?” said Baba

“You are bright, you should give the Civil Services exam” said Ma

I realized then, as I had always known, but did not want to believe.

Education was not about learning. It was about earning.

After all, for The Middle Class education is an investment. An important investment. And like every investment, it is expected to give a good return. You see, investments are of two kinds. Financial and emotional. The financial can be repaid, but the emotional investment has no measure. And repayment can last a lifetime.

You know Dattaram, you may see me as “The HR Director”. But below this black business suit of mine I am not very different from you. What is common between us, is our love for our families. For our parents who have done so much for us. For our children who mean the world to us. But sometimes Dattaram, we use love unknowingly, to enslave ourselves and others.

I have learnt from my experience, when we are not allowed as children to be loyal to our own happiness, we give up our freedom. To think and question radically, as you have. We become followers of The Existing System, pursuing what everybody else does. Seeking happiness in a degree, designation, salary, house, car and what others say about us. It becomes irrelevant whether we enjoy what we do. It is of no consequence whether we believe in what we do. And some of us even fool ourselves into believing that all of this normal. We believe that this is how life is meant to be lived.  And it is easy to fool ourselves, because everyone else is doing the same thing. As though the only criteria for assessing what is normal is what the majority does. We rationalize it by saying “Let us be practical”.

I believe if there is a root of corruption in the world, then it is:

“Not allowing children the freedom, to be true to their own happiness”.

I eventually did, what most of the other students were doing. Graduated in commerce and did my Masters in Business Administration, from a reputed business college renowned for its Human Resource specialization.

“Which business college?” you ask

You see Dattaram, from here on the details of my life do not matter.

“Why?” you ask.

Because from here on, as you will see, my life takes the predictable pattern of most educated men and women belonging to the Middle Class. Degree-Job-Marriage.

The Middle Class calls this process “settle down in life”.

The business college was a heady experience in more ways than one.

Gradually, I began to believe, like most of my batch mates, that we were on our way to make a difference to the world and fulfill The Great Indian Middle Class Dream. Buy a house in the city. Just like my Baba and Ma dreamed of having their own house, when they got married. Only in my dreams it was a bigger house, than our humble railway quarters.  And instead of the blue scooter on which Baba would take us shopping on Sunday, with me sitting in the front and Ma behind with her big pale red shopping bag, I dreamed of a big car. When I shared my dreams with Baba and Ma they smiled with satisfaction. They felt that their hard work was paying off. I was on the right track. So what if I did not want to work in a bank or take up the civil services, I was now thinking of “settling down”, the sole parameter used by The Middle Class to consider that all is well.

The other “headiness” at the business school was of concepts and ideas. We discussed and debated theory after theory. Applied psychology, organizational behaviour, management  principles, labour laws, systemic thinking, training methodologies, psychometric instruments, recruitment processes, performance and evaluation systems. Everything and anything related to managing human beings in organizations. Human Resources we called them. As though we were talking of a large mass or an impersonal force of nature that was to be used in the most effective manner to produce goods and services.

I have realized that one can find great joy in debating concepts and theories. Creating intellectual delight! Yet life is an experience, that no theory can capture.

I realized this in my very first job.

It was with a reputed Indian Company. I was responsible for recruitment. To arrange for the right candidate to fill the vacant job position. It mostly required co-ordination between manager, placement agency and the candidate. I also took interviews. At times, I wondered when will I get a chance to use all the HR theories and concepts that I had learnt in my reputed Management College. After a year of experience, I realized one fine day, that the world of theories is different from the real world. The real world wants fast results and measurable outcomes. And if I had to survive, leave alone grow, I had to show a Return On Investment. The Company was investing in me. And, I had to prove to them that I was a good investment.  You see at the end of it all, everything boils down to investment and return.

I got lucky in my next job as Head of the HR function of a newly set up engineering multinational company. There, I learnt the ropes of managing the management on one hand and the employees on the other. It is a tight balancing act, that cannot be taught at any business school. But, balancing is a natural skill of The Middle Class. We are always to trying to find a balance between our growing needs and the limited resources available to meet them. It did not take me long to apply “balancing” at work, with good results. It was during this time that I got married. It was an arranged Bengali marriage, and even though she is not convent educated (a pre-requisite for all good middle-class Indian brides), she is slim and fair, as Ma insisted upon it. She wanted her grand children to be fair. And by God’s grace (and Ma’s sincere prayers) they are fair. Two of them, a girl and a boy.

Thereafter life has been a blur of activity. Late working hours, children’s education, meeting social obligations and two more jobs. Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) is my fifth job. I am 52 now and the HR Director of a big multinational Company. I am an example of what it means to be a successful.  Once a year I make it a point to visit Baba and Ma at Siliguri, during Durga puja.  Baba spends most of his time managing his fixed deposits and pension. He uses a stick to walk now and Ma has arthritis in her knees, but they are remarkably active even in their old age. They are immensely happy that I have fulfilled the Great Indian Middle Class Dream of settling down. They share with pride about their son’s meteoric rise in the corporate sector with whoever cares to listen. You see Dattaram, among all the Gods The Middle Class family prays to, there is only one that it truly worships.

The God of Success.

Both my children are now in America. My daughter Indrani, is pursuing medicine and son Abhijit, is doing his management in one the most reputed college there. They are the love of my life! Just like my Baba and Ma did for me, I too am offering them an education that stretches my financial resources. I have taken an education loan to pay for their college fees. And just like my Baba and Ma wanted to see me settled down, I would like to see them successfully settled in their lives. Both Indrani and Abhijit, tell me (now in their American accented English) that they would like to look for jobs in America after they complete their studies. Pursue the The Great American Dream, just as so many Indians before them have and found success. They are both intelligent children and I am sure they have a bright future ahead of them.

When I reflect on the three generations, I see the progress our family has made each generation. From Baba and Ma being middle class, me moving to upper middle class and now Indrani and Abhijit likely to become Non-Resident Indians. I sometimes wonder, what will be the fate of my grand children, if  they are born in a foreign country, with abundant resources available to them. Will they educate themselves for learning or earning? Will they be allowed to pursue what gives them happiness? Will there parents pressurize them to become successful? Or will they be confused about who they are and come back to India in search of their roots?

Of course I will come to know in time to come. Even though the mind tends to wander into the future as I come to the end of My Story, Dattaram.

Now let me share with you how the story of Arvind Dasgupta, a simple middle class Indian boy coming from a traditional Bengali family, is linked to corporate effectiveness.

But before I do that let me address your observation.

On the lack of effectiveness of testing and training to bring sustainable change in organizations?  

This may come as a surprise to you, but what you say is not new to me.

I myself have questioned many times the effectiveness of what happens in organizations, leave alone testing and training.  In my experience of working in various organizations I have often seen (and been a part of) a variety of activities that in my view were a waste of time and resources for the intent they were meant to achieve. And often, people do not always mean what they say.

I have heard about the “open door policy” where I was told that I could walk into any cabin and freely discuss whatever I wanted. Only to know that I actually had no say when it came to making decisions.

I have spent hours working on a “presentation” that was filled with colourful graphs and pie charts detailing the company vision, that left me and the audience unmoved.

I have attended “meetings” where the real issue was never discussed, because none of us wanted to risk being the one to ask difficult questions.

I have attended “training” programs in the most exotic locations, when what was really needed was to budget expenses and make important decisions.

I have created “developmental frameworks” because they looked good on paper and were easy to present, but often these did not result in any development or change at the ground level.

I have hired “branded consultants” because they offered the latest popular management concept and it was safe for me to hire them.

And sometimes I have asked people “to leave” not because they were bad at what they did, but because the Company needed to cut costs.

All of this is part of the work I do.

I see all this. We see all see this. Sometimes I speak up, sometimes I choose not to. Sometimes others speak up, sometimes they choose not to. You see it is all about “maintaining a balance”. In every organization there is something called the “mandate”. It means an authorization to act in a certain way, given by a superior authority to a lower one. There are different kind of mandates. Global mandate, Management mandate, HR mandate. In other words we all, including me, have somebody controlling our actions from above. One of the unspoken laws of the corporate world is that “one should speak only as much as the mandate he has”. Speaking beyond your given mandate mostly creates trouble for the person who breaks this unspoken law.

And no matter what happens we rationalize and find explanations to justify our decisions and actions, as long as we have the “buy-in” of the person on top. And if your boss were to pull the rug away from your feet, then no amount of explanation or rationalization works.

Let me share a secret with you.

Among all the competencies you listed for your job in your letter, there is an important competency that you missed out. Even though it is not listed, it has been a requirement in all organizations I have worked.

Conformity.

Organizations want individuals to be proactive and innovative. But within the “defined framework”. At the end of the day we have to do our task and show results. Including HR. Which means “recruit, train, evaluate, engage etc.” Keeping in mind what “recruit, train, evaluate, engage etc.” means for the top boss or the set culture. We have to follow The System that we are a part of. It changes from company to company. Management to management. And with every new job we have to adapt and maintain this fine balancing act. We do not decide how The System functions, we just maintain it.

It is not difficult for The Middle Class to demonstrate conformity. Just like balancing, it is something that comes naturally to us. In fact after a while it makes us comfortable. That we do not need to decide, and someone else can decide for us. Just as I did not have a choice in what I studied at school, we have limited choice and freedom at work. Other times we are limited by our own inability to think beyond what The System wants us to think. I like to believe I am free, but deep down I know that:

I am a part of a larger wheel.

The wheel can survive without me, even though it is doubtful whether I can survive without the wheel.

Dattaram, you speak of the need to have real conversations.  Being honest with each other to resolve our problems and achieve our goals.

For honest conversations to happen we need freedom. And the question if there is one to ask is:

What binds us?

You and me Dattaram, we may have different roles and backgrounds yet we have something in common that binds us.It is the same thing that binds every corporate employee, from the MBA educated Director at the top, to the office boy who gets tea for us, at the bottom.

Our sentimentalism.

After a while the reports, the trainings, the power points, the assessments, the meetings and the management jargon stop making sense. Jobs gradually lose their meaning. We learn to go through the motions. Or we make ourselves believe that this is how life is meant to be and seek meaning within our circle of engagement. After all happiness is a subjective transitory experience and our ability to seek happiness is restricted by the boundaries of our limited knowledge. What is real though, are the EMIs we have to pay for the loans we have taken to meet our responsibility, to the only people who truly matter to us in the world.

Our children.

We live for them and we are willing to die for them. In fact we die a thousand times for them without their knowledge. Just to see them happy and comfortable. We give away our freedom for the love of our children. Unfortunately, we take away theirs too.

They say The Buddha was a free man. He left his sleeping wife and child to earn his freedom. I do not think it is possible for you or me to do that. I rather be a sentimental slave, than a heartless free man. Infact, it is not choice I make. The choice was made for me, when as a child I noticed the sacrifices Baba and Ma made to give me a Convent education. When Baba reminded me that poems do not get jobs. When I decided to fulfill the Great Indian Middle Class Dream, to buy a house in the city and have a big car.

When I stopped thinking for myself.  

That is the story behind why I, as HR Director, does as much as I do and cannot do more than I am asked to do. I have to work within a mandate. And, I have to show results that can be seen and are recognised, like reports and trainings, even though you may find them confusing and their effects temporary. After all, honest conversations cannot fill the training calendar.

Dattaram, you ask me why is it difficult to be simple?

I do not have an answer for that, but I have other questions for us to explore.

Is honesty possible without freedom?

Is freedom given or is it taken?

What does it mean to be free?

I do not have answers to these questions either, but I feel for the first time as Arvind Dasgupta, I am beginning to ask questions that really matter. They may not impact my immediate corporate goals as HR Director. They may not even have any practical use, just like my childhood poems didn’t. But, I have now learnt through life experience, that practical solutions often result in practical problems and we keep running in circles fixing problems that would have never arisen if we had chosen to be “impractical” to begin with.

You say “Can we start being impractical now?”

I don’t know Dattaram.

Perhaps, we could.

Perhaps the time has come to experiment with impracticality to achieve practical results. Perhaps the invitation was always there. I was not ready to take it.

This letter to you is my first step towards having an honest conversation.

I hope it is not the last.

Yours sincerely,

Arvind Dasgupta

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To

The HR Director Sir,

Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd

Head Office,

95, Kamla Mills Compound,

Mumbai, Maharshtra

India

 

From

Dattaram Waghmare

Procurement Manager,

Jefferson Spice Extracts Plant

Khopoli Industrial Estate

Khopoli, Maharashtra

India


Dear Respected HR Director Sir,

Myself Dattaram Waghmare, Manager of Procurement at the Khopoli plant.  You may not remember me Sir, but I know you as everyone else does at our Plant. When you visited the plant with the Managing Director three months back you came to my cabin (third cabin from the left of the water cooler on the first floor of the administrative building) and shook my hand with a broad smile. It was a proud moment for me Sir, that you visited my small humble cabin. Hope you remember me now (I was wearing my favourite blue checks half sleeve shirt in honour of your visit). Even if you do not, I would not blame you Sir, since you visited so many cabins that day and met so many managers and workers, that it would be difficult to keep all of us in your important mind.

The reason I am taking my freedom to write this letter to you and eat your precious time, is because of what you said to me that day.

You said:

“Dattaram if you ever have any problem do not hesitate to get in touch with me. We appreciate the work you are doing and the Company believes in taking care of it’s loyal employees.” 

Thank you Sir.

Listening to you say those words made me feel high all day, that day. (When I have few drinks with my co-managers sometimes in the evenings after work, they say “Dattaram you have become high”. I do not know why they say high, when I am still on ground, but the feeling was same to same…intoxicating) This high boosted my morale and made me feel motivated to deliver my best for the Company, as I have been delivering for the past twenty years.

Apologies for getting into by-lane Sir and eating more of your precious time, let me come straight to the point, of why I am writing this letter to your esteemed self. I now have a problem. And since you said that I can share any of my problem with you, I am taking my freedom to do that with this letter.

I do not know how to start…or where to start…because it is a complex problem….like all problems this problem also has a story behind it…

Even though it had been troubling me for some time, I first noticed the problem (clearly) when I got a 360 degree report from my senior, Mr Sharma, the Plant Manager two months back. He called me to his cabin, which is much bigger than mine and made me sit on the soft black leather chair. (I wish HR could distribute those chairs to all managers… for that I will write another time)

Mr Sharma said to me:

“Dattaram here is your 360 degree report. Please go through it. We will discuss this next week. There is also a Leadership Training program next month where you will be coached on the feedback in this report by expert coaches.”

As I went through the 52 page report Sir in my cabin later, I felt lost, confused and heavy (in the head) as I was filled with so much information that I could not make sense of it. And that is when it struck me Sir, the problem, clearly.

You see Sir, in the report my good self has been divided into five categories, and each category has further five divisions. The categories are “Leading Myself”, “Leading Others”, “Leading Business”, “Leading For Growth” and “Leading ….” (I do not remember what the fifth leading is about). I have been rated by my senior manager, my peers, my direct reports on different points such as:

“Do I inspire and grow talent.”

“Do I possess entrepreneur spirit”

“Do I take my team along”

“Do I have strategic outlook”

So on and so forth….

For each of these statement I have been given marks by different people from 1 to 5 (just like it was in my school report), but the problem here is that I do not know who has given me what marks and why has he given me those marks. You see Sir the report says that it wishes to protect the confidentiality of the people giving me marks.

At the end of the report there are written remarks, from people I work with, such as:

“Dattaram is good with technical skills, but requires to focus on developing strategic outlook.”

“Dattaram needs to focus on follow-up and bring more passion to meeting his deadlines”

“Dattaram has to bring greater innovation to the procurement process and get work done from his team, rather than do it himself.”

Now when I read this report I ask my good self.

“Dattaram what do all these marks and statements mean? Who has given what marks and why? Who is writing what and why?” “What it means to be innovative, strategic or getting work from my team?”

As I ponder on all these questions Sir I get lost, confused and heavy (in the head).

So I decide to keep the 360 degree report in my last drawer of my desk, where I keep all such reports that I cannot understand what to do. As I open my drawer I see that it is already full of reports and there is no place for the 52 page 360 degree report. So decide to take out these reports and see what are these reports that have eaten up all the space in my last most drawer. As I arranged them in a pile, one on top of the other, they seemed like a mountain of data about myself. And I feel I am struggling to climb this mountain of reports.

“Your (meaning My) Temperament – August 2007

“FIRO B – May 2008”

“DISC Profiling – June 2009”

“Asessment Center Report – Sep 2010”

“Six Dimension EQ – April 2011”

“Situational Leadership – Oct 2011”

“MBTI, Step 1, Step 2, – Jan 2012”

“Jefferson Spice Extracts Global Value Based Leadership Report – Mar 2012”

These are some of the reports Sir, since I joined the procurement department as manager in 2007.  Prior to that, I was working as a deputy in supply chain and I have got more reports for that designation, that are now lying at my home in the beautiful company quarters. Looking at these reports I deeply think, how much our esteemed American-Indian Company has taken the trouble of developing me into a leader and bettering my work relationship with my colleagues. Please convey my regards to Mr. Jefferson and his family in America and also tell Mr. Jefferson that I try my best to follow his family values of “Innovation, Quality, Entrepreneurship, Ethics and Accountability”.

But coming back to these reports Sir.

“I do not understand them.”

Please forgive me to say this, but keeping in mind our Company value of ethics, I am taking freedom to be honest. These reports are full of scales, alphabets and description, very much like the 360 degree report. They highlight my strengths and weaknesses, some makes sense, some does not, some I agree and some I do not agree. But my question to you Respected Sir, with utmost humility, since you are expert in the field of Human Resources management is:

“What do I do with this mountain of information?”

You see Sir when I was born (sorry for going into flashback suddenly) my grandmother Parvati Waghmare (God bless her soul), got the village priest to draw my horoscope. You see Sir I come from a small village called Nandangaon, 20 kilometres from Satara, a district in Maharashtra. In our village Sir, there is a custom to draw the horoscope of the child as soon as he is born, just as it is in most of India. (I am sure your esteemed self must be having a horoscope too, with very bright stars, which you consult from time to time) Like you know Sir, a horoscope tells in detail about a person’s personality, his qualities, skills, behaviour, likes and dislikes. Not only that, it also tells how much he will study, when he will get married and what work he will do. Also, how much money he will make. And mind you Sir, all this is very scientific based on the planetary positions at the time of a person’s birth.  A lot of these predictions have come true Sir for me, in my life. How else can a poor farmer’s son work as procurement manager in the esteemed company of Mr Jefferson. All of this is written and cannot be changed.

Please do not misunderstand Sir. I am not a fatalist. No, No, No. Not at all. I am firm believer of hard work. I have practised hard work all my life. I would never have survived without it. But I am a practical man. You see Sir,

“I am what I am.”

After reading so much of this analysis of my good self, I feel like the “dead rat” being seen under a microscope in the science laboratory of my college in Satara. There are so many alphabets, labels and numbers given to my attitude and behaviour that I feel lost, confused and heavy (in the head).

If you ask me Sir, I still feel like I the same Dattaram Waghmare who joined the Company as a trainee supervisor in 1992. I was sincere, hardworking and believed in good relations with colleagues. I still feel the same. But lately, in the past few years, after undergoing so many tests, assessments and trainings I feel that it is not good enough to be “me” for the work I do. For every role now, there are detailed qualities to develop. There is a special name to it too. That word I find difficult to pronounce. Let me try. They call it the “Comp-e-ten-cy Framework”. And HR, as your good self would know tries it’s best to fit us or develop in us those comp-e-ten-cies that are best suited for our job. This is a new trend Sir, just like this Facebook craze on the internet. (My teenage daughter Priya is all the time on Facebook) So just like Facebook on internet there is this “comp-e-ten-cy framework” trend in Companies.  (Just between you and me Sir, I feel this “comp-e-ten-cy business” is a scheme started by some cunning HR person in partnership with a cunning trainer to fool people into thinking that they are getting developed, so that people take HR seriously and the trainer can make some money)

You see Sir, there are number of competencies prescribed for my job.

  1. Innovation
  2. Strategic Thinking
  3. Team Development
  4. Leadership
  5. Quality
  6. Communication
  7. Execution.

Sir, when I think of all these “comp-e-ten-cies”, I feel lost, confused and heavy (in the head). I do not know what to do. I am simple man Sir and I do my work, have good relations with everyone and try to go back home to my wife and children on time. (You see my wife gets very upset if I come late). These words, ratings and “comp-e-ten-cies” confuse me. Just like sometimes I feel during training programs.

Yes Sir, and that is the second part of my problem.

The problem is that the Company is making so much efforts to “develop” my thinking, my relating, my leadership so that I can give my best performance to the Company. And it is doing all this through testing and training me. But I am now beginning to wonder

“Is all this testing and training to develop my good self a waste of time and money?”

And when I say this Sir, please do not misunderstand me. I am aware of the good intentions of HR for the Company and its employees. I am sharing this with you because I get a feeling that the pure hearted and trusting HR department of our ethical Jefferson Company is getting fooled by consultants and trainers, who charge the Company good money for creating reports and training programs that do not make any difference in the long run.

You see Sir, I have also attended many training programs over the years.

“Coaching for Excellence – Aug 2007”

“Leading For Change – Jan 2008”

“Joy At Workplace – Dec 2008”

“Appreciating Self and Others – Mar 2009”

“Learning From Nature, Outbound Training – June 2010

“Building Teams That Work – March 2011”

“Learning Through Case Studies – October 2011”

“Building Learning Organizations – Jan 2012”

“Out of Bound, Outbound Training – June 2012”

As I write to you Sir, I see at all the group photos on my desk for these training programs and some are pinned on my soft board. It brings back fond memories Sir. Of the games we played, the good places we visited, the hotels we stayed in, the food we ate (some were in five-star hotels, being a poor farmers son, I almost fainted when I saw the quantity of rich type of food available) and the new friends I made from people of other departments.

The formats of all the trainings were more or less the same. Activity, game, group talking, trainer talking, inspirational video, case study, profile testing (Sir I sincerely feel if, HR or any trainer does another profile testing of my good self, I will throw up and become violently sick!), feedback, group discussion, evening party.

I have enjoyed all these trainings and felt filled up with learning and motivation at the end of each of them. Most of my colleagues have felt the same way. And we all have given good feedback in the training forms we fill at the end of the training as you would have noticed. There are few people who believe that these trainings do not make any difference and they are there just to have a good time. I did not believe them Sir. You see Sir, there are always some rotten apples in a basket of good apples, as there is saying in English language. But the problem that I am facing now is that I am beginning to start believing in what these “rotten apples” are saying.

I am beginning to question and wonder what difference have these training programs have made to me, to my relationship or to my work, in the long run. And after some very, very hard thinking I have come to firm conclusion Sir.

“It has not changed anything.”

I continue to be who I am. And my colleagues continue to be who they are. And our working relations (good or bad) is as it always was. And even if something has changed, I do not think it has changed because of testing and training.

You see Sir the impact of each training does not last for more than two days (sometimes lesser). Just like watching the movie of Mr Salman Khan. Youngsters start behaving like Salman Bhai after watching his movies like Dabang and Wanted, but you see Sir the effect does not last very long and very soon they start  behaving in the manner that their horoscope tells them to.

When I used to be young in college at Satara, I used  be a big fan of Sri Amitabh Bachanji. (I still am Sir and our entire family is keenly awaiting the next episode of Kaun Banega Crorepati. I am sure you must be seeing it with your family too.) I went to see this movie Deewar. In the movie Sri Amitabh Bachanji plays angry young man, like in all his movies. But this one had big impact on me. I felt angry at The System for making me poor. For having to work so hard to get even decent education. And for having to collect so much money to marry my sisters. The System, was the villain. And Vijay (Sri Bachanji’s name in the movie) fought The System. Just as I was a victim of The System.

After the movie I felt Vijay’s character had entered into my body. And I joined the college students union to fight The System. But it did not last very long. When the Principal called me to his office and said he would expel me from college for creating a nuisance. I thought of my poor farmer father, my aging mother, the unmarried sisters at home and I started crying. All I wanted was to earn a decent degree and get a secure job so I could get my sisters married and release my mother’s jewellery mortgaged with the village landlord. I did not want to fight The System. I just wanted not to be poor. I wanted money to buy back my village land, a house, take care of my family, get married and live happily. As I am doing now.

Training programs are like that. They make you believe some fancy notion of yourself and you start believing it for a while. But the effect does not last long. It is like filling a balloon with air. It starts bobbing and jumping in the air. But after two days the air comes out and the balloon is back to its original state. Unless someone pricks the balloon and burst the temporary high energy.

I know Sir, you must now be wondering:

“Dattaram I am understanding what you are saying, but what do you want me to do?”

 I understand your impatience Sir and once again apologies for eating your precious time. But I will request your kind patience just for little time more.

You see Sir I share, everything with my wife. (Just as I am sure you do with your wife) She is only tenth standard failed and she comes from small village near mine. (You should come to our house on Sunday and taste the chicken curry she makes, it is a truly Godly and a holy eating experience) One Sunday, I shared with Lakshmi (that is her name and it is also the name of the Goddess of wealth in Hindu tradition. She has lived up to her name Sir, after marriage I have never been short of money, I have enough Sir for a man of my background and you see Sir, I am a practical man), yes, yes I am coming to the point Sir.

I shared with Lakshmi this confused, lost and heavy (in the head feeling) Actually, she noticed even before I shared, and I told her about this 360 degree report that I could not understand. Let me reproduce to you our conversation, so that I do not miss anything. Original conversation was in Marathi, which I have translated in English for your esteemed self.

Lakhsmi: “What is the matter? You seem lost these days?”

My Good Self: “There is a report I cannot understand.”

Lakshmi: “What report?”

My Good Self: “A report where my senior, colleagues and juniors have said something about me.”

Lakshmi: “What have they said about you?”

My Good Self: “That is what I cannot understand. It is all in scales, graphs, percentages, ratings. And what they have written is general. I do not even know who has written what and why he has written it?”

Lakhsmi: “Have they not written their names against what they have said?”

My Good Self:  “No. Because their identity has to be protected?”

Lakhmi: “Why?”

My Good Self: “Because…..that is the way it is, as per the report.”

Lakshmi: “Why?”

My Good Self: <silent>

Lakshmi: “So you are saying, that to tell each other something at work, you do it through a report that you cannot understand?  And none of you writes his name after what he is saying?”

My Good Self: <Head nodding> (Indian way of saying yes)

Lakshmi: (stirring the chicken curry) “Why don’t you simply talk to each other?”

That is when it hit me Sir. Like a sudden FLASH of Lightning!

“Why don’t we simply talk to each other!”

After all Sir we work for the same esteemed Jefferson Company. And we all are in the Company to meet our needs by meeting the Company’s needs. We know each other well. Then why do we not talk to each other.

We can talk about what we feel about our work, about our policies, about our leadership, about what we think and feel about each other, about our differences, about our strengths, about other departments, about EVERYTHING! And all this talking can help us work effectively, with greater motivation and team work.

What I have noticed Sir, is that we never seem to have conversations that matter. We waste so much time and energy in maintaining appearances? In generating reports and doing trainings that do not bring any meaningful long-term change? And most importantly Sir I feel we have complicated everything, simply because we wish to appear knowledgeable and learned.

Most conversations are about what does not matter. Most conversations never touch the core of the issue. Come to think of it the most important and honest conversations happen over a cigarette or a cutting chai (or even in the bathroom), in unguarded moments, not in the conference or the board room.

I am now wondering how to get these bathroom conversations into the board room?

I feel when we can talk freely among ourselves then we will not need reports, tests and trainings to complicate matters.

I am not sure though if people will talk so easily. Will they trust each other? Or will we start fighting like little children? Or will it be, like some people say “Opening a Pandora’s Box”. (I wonder who Mr. Pandora is and why do people keep opening his box, without his permission?)

I do not know for sure Sir. But what I am certain of Sir, is that these reports and trainings are eating our Company’s valuable time and energy and not delivering anything worthwhile.

What we need Sir perhaps is someone like the wise old man in our village. Whenever people had a problem in our village, they would go to him. He would get both parties to talk to each other, sometimes more than two parties. Everyone got a chance to share what they wanted, everyone got a chance to hear what the others had to say and invariably when people were honest with each other, they found their own solutions. There was no need for any politics and manipulation.

What we need Sir, perhaps is not consultant and trainers, but a wise old man (like the one in my village) who can encourage people to talk and share and find their own solutions. Simply, without all this complexity. They even have a term for this Sir. I checked with Mr. Sharma and also saw it in the dictionary.

It is called facilitate.

We need someone who can facilitate meaningful conversations among us. Like that old man, never taking any sides, of the richer or the poorer, of the powerful or the weak. That is why we trusted him. He simply let people talk to each other. And he shared his views whenever needed. And let me tell you Sir, the views of the old man were very valuable indeed. For he could see what neither of us could see. Since we were so close to the situation. He saw from the outside and having learnt from life’s experience, he also saw from inside of us. And what he had to offer was truly valuable.

I do not know Sir, where we can find such a old man, for old men are not produced in MBA colleges. Neither are all old men wise.

What I do know, is that we need someone (young or old) who can facilitate honest conversations among us. Someone who we can trust, like the old man in our village. And who can work with our company for a long enough time. I feel just as every family has a family doctor, every company must have such a old man.

I believe Sir, if we really search we will surely find. There is a saying in Hindi Sir “If you try hard enough you can find God”

My apologies once again for eating your time with this long letter. But I do feel it is in the best interest of our esteemed Company to invest our valuable resources of time and money wisely, in these hard times. And as you know there is a saying in English:

 “A stitch in time, saves nine.”

Even though I am not quite sure of what it exactly means Sir, it just feels right to use it now. Finally I am left with a question that has been playing on my mind for these past few days. It keeps revolving in my head and I do not have any answer. I would like to share it with you Dear Respected HR Director Sir and I am hoping you will be able to offer me some wisdom from the vast ocean of your knowledge. Sir the question is:

“Why is it so difficult to be simple?”

I await your response to the question and my letter with great anticipation.

Please forgive any mistakes of my good self, while writing this letter to your esteemed self.

I remain your faithful employee of Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd.

Dattaram Waghmare

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There is a story I wish to tell, except I do not know the story. It could be your story, my story or anyone else’s story. It does not matter. All human stories are essentially the same. The characters and settings differ. The pursuit remains the same. Happiness.

I heard from him and others that he had a humble background. Faced difficult financial conditions in the early part of his life. I really do not know the details. They are not even necessary for the story I have to tell. Yet this part of his life is crucial. For he made up his mind one day he would have enough. Not only for himself, but also for his family. He was particularly close to his younger sister. His father sat him down one day and told him “She is your responsibility. You have to take care of her.” Those words went deep. Very deep. The son became the father.

He started his career in the ranks. He was good at selling. They said he could even sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. He was hardworking, sincere and led from the front. Over time, he rose in the ranks. His colleagues and juniors always looked up to him. He was someone who could be trusted. He was and would always be there for them. After all, he was the father. Then salesman, boss or friend.

One day his sister gave him an idea. To start a Company. It does not matter for this story what that Company did. Like all companies, it sold some product or service. He liked the idea and left his high paying job. As he had always done in life, he began again from the scratch. Humbly. A small room and five employees. Just as himself, his employees had humble beginnings. He could not afford to employee MBAs. He did all there was to do himself. He not only did it himself, he showed others how to do it. Gradually the Company grew. He was a conservative leader. He painstakingly added one brick at a time. It was a gruelling process for him and others. Yet they did it. They knew there was no other option. They all knew what it was to be humble. The only way out was hard work and sincerity.

As the Company grew, something else happened, which neither of them realised.

He became their father and they his children. After all, he had picked that card of destiny that said one word. Father. All other roles of guide, caretaker, supporter, protector, provider and nurturer were a subset of that primary role. Of course, he did not know any of this consciously. In his own mind, he ran the Company professionally. He adhered to the Company policies just as anyone else.  He led from the front. He could not ever imagine being unprofessional. Little realizing that the heart of professionalism is little about complying with policies and rules set by your own self. Professionalism is an adult state, not a parental state. An adult will set clear roles and responsibilities based on agreed terms and conditions. An adult will allow others to take their own decisions within the boundaries of their role. An adult will hold others accountable for not meeting their targets. An adult will explore options collectively. An adult will make clear choices and communicate these choices clearly, leaving no scope for ambiguity. An adult will hold another adult responsible for his own growth, even though as a leader he may provide the conditions for that growth.

Just as what happens with most family run organizations, the company became a family. He was the father and they the children.

They were efficient employees. Hardworking and sincere. They did exactly what they were told. Rarely questioning, rarely disagreeing, rarely thinking for themselves. They had lost touch with their own capacity as individuals to think and feel, independent of him. Hence, the question of expressing their own true selves never arose. Whenever they tried to make some feeble attempt, he convinced them why his thoughts made more sense. His explanations were comprehensive.

Sometimes he lost his temper and shouted. When costly mistakes were made. Perhaps that scared them further, to voice themselves. They called him Sir. Out of respect. After all, they owed him everything. They had learnt from him. Earned from the Company that he had created. Had gradually risen from their humble backgrounds from their earnings in the Company.

They also craved for his attention and approval. Like children wanting the only parent available to take notice of them. They did all they could to get his approval and to be close to him. Sometimes even fighting amongst themselves. It lead to jealousies. Allegations of favouritism were made against each other. Of course all this, was not voiced. This was the undercurrent of the Company. On the surface, they were one big family. Which they were. The father and the children.

As the family grew, things were beginning to get unmanageable. He could not be everywhere and manage everything, like he had done earlier. He designated some of his close employees to take charge of operations. They had grown with him. With the company. He wanted them now to manage and lead, so that he could look at things more strategically. Yet the most essential quality of a leader is to think independently. To constantly be in touch with his feelings. To communicate as an adult. How could they? They had never done any of this. They had always been children. He simply could not fathom what was blocking them. Little realizing his own role in their story. The father creates the children. It is never the other way round.

By now, he was at his wit’s end. The Company had grown in capacity and in people and there was no other leader, other than him, to manage them. What was he to do? He did not believe in getting new people in senior positions. He believed in grooming people who had stood the test of time with him. Who had given their sweat, blood and tears for the Company. Yet they lacked the capacity to lead independently. He hoped to groom them in time. Not realizing that the need was not of grooming, but of allowing children to make their own choices. Reap the benefit or pay the consequences for their choices. For themselves and for the Company.

This is where I enter the story.

Nothing in life is a coincidence. Yet life is made up of coincidences. I met him through a friend. It was for a project she wanted to do and requested me to help her. We interviewed few employees across his organization and presented the information to him. Everyone loved him. They disliked the managers who came between him and them. After all, it was a patriarchal set up. And everyone wanted be close to the Head of the family. To be like him. And to be liked by him.

He decided to employ me as a consultant. My work partner and I decided to interview his leadership team and create a safe space for them to have real conversation for two days. They spoke about looking up to him, their optimism to lead, their jealousies and how people at large were not being managed well. A few employees spoke hesitatingly that they wished he were open to more perspectives. It was the first voice of a child wanting to be an adult with the father’s permission. Unfortunately, nature does not allow that. The child can only become an adult when he leaves home. To experience and explore himself in new circumstances. Allowing his own uniqueness to flower. Making his own choices.

Unfortunately, they did not have that luxury. They had to become adults without leaving home.

The two days began with us sharing what we had heard from them about each other. For the first time they saw themselves in others mirrors. He continued being the father. Encouraging, guiding, telling others what to do for their own betterment and the Company. This was what he had done since the time he had laid the first brick of the Company. It was what he did. Be a father.

Yet when I told him that he was not being professional, more a father, he denied it. With the force of all the explanations available with him. He repeated his explanations. And when he could not take the charge of being unprofessional anymore, he walked out of the room.

I wondered how this story would turn out.

Just as in most stories, a character mysteriously appears in the end and turns the tide, just when you thought that the ship would sink. It happened here too. His sister, who was never meant to be part of the dialoguing process initially, was included last minute, since she was the co-founder of the Company. She convinced him to come back to the process, no matter how difficult. He did.

As I said earlier, there are no coincidences.

As we resumed he continued being the father. Whenever we gave him feedback, he resisted. His body became stiff. His answers short and crisp. “I disagree. Yet I will look at it later.” Unfortunately, in human transformation there is no later. There is only the Now. The alive pulsating Now. Life happens in the Now, not later. If he did not allow the feedback to penetrate his heart Now, it was of no value later. Mind the trickster, fools us into thinking that it can transform itself, by analysing itself later. The problem is the mind. No solution of human transformation can come from the problem trying to solve the problem. Like a dog trying to catch its own tail. It was not his problem. It is a human condition.

By the end of day two, we were beginning to tire of giving him feedback. It was like hitting yourself on a brick wall. We decided to stop giving him any more feedback. It was beginning to hurt us. We thought this would not happen now. It will happen in the Now, but many nows later.

The last feedback session was his. Where we would read what others had to say about him. We read what they had to say. In the midst of great admiration and gratitude, were small hesitating voices. “We wished he listened others perspectives, we wish he was not stubborn at times, we wish we are not scared of his temper, we wish he did not say somethings personal at times.”

We asked him how he felt. He said, he felt that “why did they not tell him all this earlier”. He felt that “the show must go on”. He felt that “he could not afford to let this come in the way”. He felt “as a leader he could not allow this to impact him”. He felt after all “he was responsible for steering this ship and all who were on board it”. He felt that “if he let it affect him he would fail others”. He felt “he would fail himself, if he failed others”.

We pointed to him these were not feelings. These were thoughts. “What do you feel?” we asked once again.

Slowly he said one word “Disappointed.” Ah! We saw the first glimmer of hope. Like a small spark of light far away, when you are in a deep dark tunnel. We probed more. How strong was his disappointment? He said 3 on a scale of 1 to 5. That was strong enough. The spark became a small glow. We probed further. What part of his body felt the disappointment? He said the head. Ah! The glow became bigger. What was his head saying now…

We went deeper and deeper. The light of the Now becoming bigger and bigger with every step of the psychic excavation. Until, we came across two sides of him.

The Head.

The Heart.

We heard each one talk.

The Heart said, “I am love. In its myriad forms. In this heart I reside as the father

The Head said, “I am what society has made me. Conditioned by experiences. In this head I reside in the belief, “I cannot allow my vulnerability to show or break me. If I do how will, I fulfill my role as the father. The meaning to my existence.”

He did not say these exact words. This is how I heard them.

By now, the light had grown large enough and pervaded every corner of the room. An empty silence descended on those who were present there. There was no more to say. No more to hear. The silence completed everything. Erased all roles. Consumed everything. It was the Now, in its sparkling brilliance. The creative space from which all life springs forth. The fertile soil from which the first tender green sapling emerges, to greet the first rays of the morning Sun.

I would end this story here, for every story ends, when a new story is about to begin. Yet I cannot. For I witnessed a miracle. Which is why I got inspired to tell this story in the first. It touched me beyond measure. Like a small colourful butterfly perching itself on the palm of your hand in your darkest hour.

Towards the end, we requested each person to share their feelings on the two days of real conversations. Each one had extraordinary moments to share of deep insights and transformation. Miraculous as they were, they are not the miracle I am talking about. The miracle happened when we asked him to share at the very end.

I can see it happening even now, even as I write. In slow motion.

He said, “I will share with my eyes closed.”

And then…he closed his eyes.

He got in touch with his heart and spoke. His voice was soft. Searching. Looking for the right words to express his feelings, as best as he could. Slow and tentative.

And That was the miracle!

It gave me goose bumps. He had resisted us all through. As the father he had given advice to others all through. For the first time I saw the small innocent child in him speak. Softly and searchingly just as innocent children do. From pure feeling. Feeling lost when they have to use words to describe that purity to others.

In that moment the roles of father and son merged into pure feeling of The Child. Free of roles. Only pure feeling of the Now.

It did not matter what words he used. It did not matter what he said.

The miracle touched me.

The universal light of the Now permeated my being.

 ***

 

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“What do you do?” We are often asked. The question leaves us stumped. Depending on who’s asking, our answers may range from – organisation development, HR consulting, leadership development or team building. Some people end up thinking we offer life skills. Well the actual answer is peculiar. We do neither of the above, yet all of the above. Let me explain.

First, why is it difficult to explain what we do? Second, what we do and what emerges out of it.

My work is purely experiential, hence difficult to explain. It is like asking someone eating a chocolate ice cream what does it taste like. He will say “it tastes like chocolate ice cream”. Now, if you have tasted chocolate ice cream you will recall that taste from memory. But if you have never eaten it before, then chocolate ice cream are simply words and you are as clueless as before.  Since what I do is not something I have experienced others do, I don’t really have words to explain it. In which case I use common words that people will relate to – OD, HR, Training, Coaching etc. Of course these have so many connotations based on the listener’s association with these words, that he simply puts my work under one of these buckets, and is quite satisfied thinking he has understood what I do. But that is not what I do.

So what do I do? Simply put, I engage people in conversations. With themselves or with each other. It is my belief that all that is manifest in the outer world is on account of the inner conversations of people. These conversations may comprise of beliefs, values, ideas, notions, concepts, theories, philosophies, prejudices, perceptions, views, opinions, judgements. Call it what you may, all these form part of our inner conversation, that becomes our self-identity. When this personal inner world relates to another person’s inner world it creates a relationship. When there are more people bound together, it creates a culture. Cultures gives rise to systems, processes, policies – stated or unstated- to manage a social unit. Be it a family, organisation or a nation.

In the work we have done, I have observed that engaging people in facilitative conversations brings awareness of mindsets, values, strengths, weaknesses, cultures, roles, systems. It also highlights how these are related to each other and helps to identify what is functional and dysfunctional in a particular situation. These conversations are very real. By that I mean pertinent to the person’s current life situation. Since neither of this is intellectual or cognitive, it impacts people at a feeling level. These conversations have the capability to impact mindsets and beliefs, during the course of the conversations itself. Even views the person may hold about himself. Quite unlike intellectual learning, where concepts are gathered, to be put to good use later. Which in my experience rarely happens. It only adds to the concept bank of a person, without creating any shift in consciousness.

So what use is this? The beauty of it is, that it can be put to any use. Ranging from helping individuals get in touch with themselves more deeply, facilitating full self-expression to building organisation cultures. The outcome is mostly a by-product of these conversations. A recent interview and interactive process we did with the leadership team of an organization to my mind built individual and group self-awareness, opened communication blocks, examined individual styles to organizational roles, identified key organizational blocks, built ownership to the organisation brand and vision and identified the next strategic initiatives for organizational growth. Did we start with these objectives? No. We simply started and ended with facilitating conversations that were unarticulated. Bringing multiple perspectives to awareness for exploration and enhancing the gestalt of an individual to experience himself and another. Whatever objectives were achieved, were an outcome that of that process.

I often tell people, what I do cannot be told or sold. It can only be experienced and recommended. People who have experienced our work and found value in it, become our brand ambassadors. We recently did a group coaching exercise for young adults, as a part of a two year leadership program called Gandhi Fellowship. Enclosed below is a testimonial from Tripti, the Head of that program. It was one of the most fulfilling assignments and the comprehensive testimonial is reflective of how we work. Even though the focus in this assignment was the individual and not the organisation, our approach in all cases remain the same. Facilitating the unsaid.

In conclusion I am reminded of the saying “The proof of the pudding lies in eating it.”

And, knowing what Flow does lies in experiencing it!

Testimonial from Kaivalya Education Foundation

{http://www.gandhifellowship.org}

Flow conducted a five day Personal Reflection process for the fellows of the Gandhi Fellowship program. The brief to Flow was to design a process that would enhance the fellows’ self-awareness, get them to systematically begin exploring the question, “Who am I?” and thus be able to reach clarity about themselves so as to enable each fellow to articulate to herself his/her early version of their ‘private dream’; which is a the pivot around which the Gandhi Fellowship program is designed.

 Flow had to design a process that explored the innermost questions of each individual but it had to be done in a group and it had to be designed for 40 people. How to design a standard process that can be customized to the needs of each individual? And most importantly how to do this an environment that is emotionally and psychologically safe? These were the issues around which Flow had to work.

 Added to this was the challenge that these were no regular corporate employees, who would do a process simply because they had been asked to. The Fellows are individuals who will not do anything only for the sake of it and they are people who will ask questions and demand reasons for what they are getting in to.

 Flow Consulting designed a process that effectively and intelligently worked around the above-mentioned challenges and constraints. The design of the process was accurate to the last minute and yet left room for ideas and emotions to flow when needed. Within a tight design there was room for adaptation, participation and even co-facilitation. The beauty of the process was that by the second day fellows themselves had begun to contribute to the facilitation process.

 The process stretched the limits of all, the fellows and of members from Flow Consulting too. A process of such intense nature that extends for five days can be a emotionally and psychologically draining but Ajay, Payal and Jaya flowed through the ebb and flow of intense emotions with consummate ease.

 What I appreciate most was their ability to connect with, respect and appreciate the uniqueness of the Gandhi Fellows. This attitude percolated to the fellows and so they were able to draw  real appreciation and respect from the Fellows.

The most evident outcome of the process has been that the Fellows have learnt how to accept the emotion they are feeling at a given moment and  then give word to their emotions. This ability to connect to the ebb and flow of one’s emotions is the first step towards taking responsibility for one’s feelings, which in turn is a giant step in reaching true maturity. Flow has made a huge contribution to this growth in the journey of the 40 fellows.

Tripti Vyas

Head: Gandhi Fellowship Programme

Kaivalya Education Foundation

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The room was well lit. The air, conditioned. The music, gentle. People in coats and ties, some sitting alone, others standing together. Quick handshakes, half smiles, polite conversations. A taste of corporate India one summer morning at the banquet hall of a star city hotel.

The banner read “Learning Conference”, a get together of HR and learning professionals. Practitioners and consultants. To learn about learning. Some eager to share what they had learnt. Others keen to learn from their learning. The power point ready to assist in the learning process.

The proceedings began with a talk. It answered- Why we are here? Why it is important to be here? What we can achieve by being here? A quick speech, delivered with eloquent flair. The audience reminded of their importance now seemed willing to learn.

The first slide flashed “Understanding Psychometric Instruments”, the topic of the day. “What is psychometric?” asked the sari clad elegant looking presenter. A senior executive of a leading consulting firm. A few hands went up. Each answer anticipating being the right response. The second slide flashed “psyche + measure”. A tool to measure the mind. Effectively employed while recruiting, training, assessing, developing human talent in an organization. Larger the numbers, easier the sifting process. Removing the chaff from the grain.

As the slides moved, the room seemed to be divided into vertical and horizontal lines. Square shapes everywhere. Boxes for everything. Measures. Outcomes. Performance. Talent. Growth. Each well explained, well sorted into its own box. The audience seemed satisfied. Things were becoming clearer. Knowing what went where. What cause, lead to what effect and vice-versa. Mental shaped problems fitting into conceptual shaped solutions. Learning seemed to be happening.

Yet another shape emerged within the boxes of that room. A wiggly wobbly hole. A gaping hole inside of me. As though devoid of soul. Seeking human touch. For no reason and no outcome.  Yearning for creativity and relating without any measure. Longing to speak a physical language, without words and numbers. The wiggly wobbly hole began wondering what was its place in a world full of concrete hard squares? Getting no answer it felt sad and disillusioned.

I carried the hole with me that day. Was humanity wrong? Or was I wrong, to question the working of the whole human race? A corporate machine, measuring every action and sorting people into buckets.  Every bucket to be poured into the ocean of organizational outcomes. The abstract had consumed the physical. Result had overpowered relating. Profit had overshadowed people. Index had depleted individual.  Every instinct in me cried, humanity was wrong. It was a lonely place. Being pitted against your own race. Seeing something, which others did not seem to see?  Yet something did not seem right. Making them wrong. Making me right.

As I sat watching the sea that night, the wiggly wobbly hole grew bigger. The isolation felt stronger. Each wave brought a new question, painfully lashing into the recesses of my being. What is the purpose of my life? Is there any value for my values, so distinct from the world at large? What am I to do?  What is my destiny? Each question left me feeling empty and hollow. Another part of me felt as though I was judging the world, putting myself on a higher pedestal than others. I felt lost. Was their a middle path, of holding onto my values, without being self-righteous?

The moon was full that night. Gazing luminously at the frothy sea.  Clouds like unrolled cotton balls, kept changing shape. The waves washed the sands, leaving new imprints with every sweep. The sea breeze carried its salty sticky flavour to the shore, with a differing force each time. The canvas kept moving changing. It occurred to me that everything in nature is wiggly wobbly. No concrete shape, unlike a man made world. No boxes, no squares, no triangles. Shapes keep changing, merging seamlessly into each other, giving birth to new shapes. The moon, the sea, the sand, the breeze and the enveloping blue darkness are all one. Doing a cosmic dance ordered by a supreme intelligence.  With a deep conviction that the immediate now, whatever its nature, is the goal and fulfillment of all living.

Perhaps we humans are a part of that cosmic dance too, only we don’t realise it. As though suffering temporary amnesia and forgetting our oneness with existence. And the perfection of what Is. Even when it seems imperfect. Cutting the physical world into pieces through the scissors of the mind, using dual blades of number and words. Finding fault with it. Then trying to rectify it with effort and outcome.

Suddenly in that moment, words began to crumble. Corporate, non-corporate, values, right, wrong, me, them, squares, holes. All of them. The concrete inner world of concepts became wiggly wobbly. It gave way to an empty silence, in touch with physical sensations alone.

In the silence, all wrong become right. Infact there was no wrong or right. Just IT. An intense impersonal aliveness of the now! IT, was the simplest word to describe a wordless reality.  All purpose became purposeless. Things were the way they were. The way the world functioned and what I felt about it was part of  IT. They were not separate. They were part of the same dance. There was a silent acceptance of them, of me and our disagreement. Also the acceptance of the illusion that separated us.

This was the isness of life.

This is IT.

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