The past half-century has been an era of professionals, professionalization and professionalism. It is the latter that could do with some introspection. Perhaps, several of the attitudinal, perceptual and value shifts may find their roots in them. Although relatively very, very short-spanned in comparison to human civilization, it has been fairly dramatic to turn around age-old fundamentals. Many bearing their first generation fruits now – unfortunately sour than sweet, bitter than big. Let us take a backward stroll in time following a few strands.
It all began with human resources in marketing field. Branded as ‘marketing executives’ in the beginning and ‘management gurus’ a bit later, it saw, first, the decline of the hitherto unchallenged concepts about long-term, permanence or loyalty. The marketing field personnel had self-assumed licence of ‘jumping’ from one company to the other, as frequently as six months to two years. Every time one changed a company, one got a raise, or rather, for every raise, one would jump the company. This was again self-appropriated as smartness. If one were at the same place for longer, it would be construed as discredit and incompetence. This was the most damaging paradigm shift shaking the undisputed value of long-term bond and loyalty. It felt so absurd to find the salesperson vehemently trying to sell brand ‘A’ till yesterday, revisiting today to sell the competitor’s brand because one jumped to a new company. In fact, now with no tinge of guilt, one would even describe innumerable problems with earlier brand ‘A’ which till yesterday was described to be the best.
The companies hired these jumping species, not always because they were ‘Einsteins’ of the field, but largely as they were ‘insiders’ to the competition, and the company was cashing in on the dual benefit of weakening the competition while garnering secrets. Often, there is a mass migration of the entire sub-pyramid along with the pyramid head. This means the breach of the second, long upheld, value of integrity.
The very concept of transiting every now and then means prioritizing short-term achievements over long-term goals. There is an implicit attitude of higher visibility in shorter time rather than the long-term latent, yet effective, alternative; a preference for tangible and visible projects rather than addressing issues at the root level of systems. A syndrome similar to short-duration postings of government officials, or even portfolio ministers. Improving paper credentials and personal CVs overweigh company’s good and collective spirit.
Quick and visible have trickle-down effect on valuing targets as important rather than the means. Only the targets achieved are noted, rather than the means to achieve the same. Bribing for favour gets seen as business sense and economic equation rather than corruption of values. In fact, gradually it gets legitimised and any tinge of guilt gets erased.
Overspecialisation and precise job assignments begin to create numerous verticals for what earlier would have been termed as integrated tasks. This means disconnect from the overall vision and chain of processes. Multitasking abilities get threatened and become gradually extinct and so does creative involvement with multiple skills. It leads to mechanical engagement rather than multilateral pursuits. Predefined gets predominance over process-driven. Often, incidental opportunities get lost out. Sub-breaking of tasks and teams also means weakening of team spirit and reduced awareness of company’s charter and pride in the larger goals of the company. The sense of belonging even for the largest manpower unit remains myopically limited to the most immediate spheres of engagement (often to confidential reports and immediate bosses) rather than identifying as a proud employee of the company’s brand or concerns.
Was this the way things have always been in company parlance? No, there have been more humane models which were quality- rather than quantity-driven, ethics- rather than economy-driven. The company was known as a single group rather than CEOs as individuals. Even though sounding feudal, the clerk or the worker worked with utmost intensity and integrity to the master as a member of the larger team where everyone was visible to all and concerned with overall. Long-term association and loyalty was seen as a virtue and was upheld against all tempting offers. The definition of employment was total commitment and unsaid mutual bond. Unilateral acts to break were perceived unethical. In turn, master had unwritten reciprocations to uphold. The wedding of the clerk’s daughter or a worker’s ill-health was company’s own responsibility. There was humaneness, personal bond, team spirit, pride in place, charter of ethics and above all, full and self-induced total involvement. Have we bred viruses of ethical and human deterioration through the recent market and management evolved models?
The writer is an Ahmedabad-based architect.