Friday, April 20, 2007

52. Look Back In Joy

In ACNielsen and I suppose in other multinational companies, corporate plans are expressed succinctly in numbers. Revenue growth, margins, market shares, head-counts, productivity gains, collectible ages, employee satisfaction scores and more numbers efficiently tell the state of the business without emotional descriptions to muddle the account. What is not eloquently reported in our presentation of corporate reports and plans are the travails of the working men and women who were on almost infinite overtime hours, the relentless business building efforts that eat up on time that should have been spent with their families. Of course we allude to these in our presentations but these are in terms of effectiveness measurement scores, overtime rates, shorter turnaround of projects, productivity hikes and stepped up employee amelioration programs. These are not expressed in the manner told us by our associates… like missing their seven-year-old’s birthday party, not being there for a son’s graduation exercise, not being able to care for infirm parents, missing a favorite TV program for months now… not seeing the sunset on the way home. There are no sections in the supplied presentation templates that would include these. They are the real reasons why we achieve our business targets. How long can a company sustain ever increasing productivity levels? How much more can one spend on team building sessions and in reward and recognition programs to keep associates’ enthusiasm and energy to produce more? People’s physical and emotional stamina are less finite than monetary resource. There will come a point where no amount of coaxing, bucking and flogging can elicit a response from a tired and numbed work force. They would have joined the legions of men and women who numbly trudge to work everyday and to return home to lead lives of repressed and unexpressed hopelessness.

Suspension of pleasures when young is a good thing. It helps build character and sets one’s feet solidly on the ground. The time for assimilation of knowledge and honing of skills is when you are young. It is also the time for hard work because you are physically able. The reward of this is that you will not probably have to work as hard in your old age. Nobody dies of hard work except for those who, by circumstance, still have to do it when they are old and infirm. This was what I believed in throughout my working life but towards my retirement I found it difficult to give this advice to the young managers in the organization for I have been a witness to the distressing trade-offs that had to be endured.

How many opportunities for shoring up marital relationships did you miss out on? How much joy did you let pass by when your young children yearned to be with you before they went off to become teenagers? Were you able to experience the pleasure of assuring and guiding them when they faltered as young adults? And for yourself, did you allow your natural creative talents to become stillborn or stunted because it had to wait for you to find time to nurture them. It is sad to have opportunities for joy expire on you…any bit of joy.

This is no indictment on any particular organization. There are only a few companies who do not have a resolve towards business dominance. Career people latch on to and swear by company visions and become driven lemming-like in their pursuit. Their falling prey to it is instinctive…an unambiguous statement of the human condition.

Life is a paradox. You are able to achieve a dream only to find out that this has been a phantom purpose all along. There is no real success, only delightful moments to reminisce. Go ahead pursue a dream but delight in the trivial milestones…relish the scenery…the smell of roses along the way…only then can you look back in joy.


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