I have a truth which no one will dare refute. The most successful organizations in the world are human and are powered by motivated humans.

But more often that not I hear of cases where the Individual comes a distant second to action. I am no guru and I speak from the heart and common sense…but these are a few maladies I come across everyday in high performance organizations.

You are a part of my machinery – shut up and work.

The moment you start taking your employees for granted…and start assuming that your employees should be grateful that they get their cheque at the end of the month, start planning for relegating yourselves to the dump yard of corporate failures. I have seen and been in teams which are lead by people who carry some weird notion of superhuman performance. Action above all else. Devotion to one’s job is measured by how many weekends have been “sacrificed” (shit, I hate that term), whether you take calls during your holidays, or you cut short your honeymoon. Employees are bullied into submission…and if you rebel, you get the axe. The message is loud ‘n clear. “No one is irreplaceable. You are just as good as the next one. We will get the next one.” The other underlying message is, “Be grateful you have a job. Shut up and listen to what I am saying. Do what I am asking you to do, because frankly you don’t know what to do. Get in line. Conform. I am the star…look at me and wonder why you can never be me.” Shock and awe.

Replace that with Respect instead…and see the wonders.

He is a loser.

Another thing that I have seen “high performance team leaders” do is quickly form opinions about individuals and categorize them into buckets of expected performance. Worse…they let others know about this opinion…and before you know it, whether he/she deserves it or not, the poor individual is labled “dunce” or “wanker” or “lazy” with no chance whatsoever to turn that opinion around.

I remember once I had given an interview at a large engineering company. The whole interview process (designed by McKinsey) took three days – AFTER, it had been decided that I would be hired. I took various tests which tested my leadership (even though I was just 25), my emotional quotient, my creativity etc. I learned that I would have to take similar tests every year. This was to sort out the strengths and weakness of an individual…and INVEST in a multi-year training plan TAILORED for that individual. Years ahead of anything we have in the IT industry today. (Just for information, that large engineering company has been growing faster than the market for the last 5 years, and has diversified successfully into IT services)

Nobody is a loser. Everybody needs to learn…and you being the leader and employer need to take care of it.

He is a Hero.

One thing that leaders and organizations oft fail to realize is that we were all not created equal.We all have inherent strengths and skills we learn along the way. Immature leaders fail to recognize the difference between both. They take talent for granted and they view lack of skill as lack of talent. I was reading about Pixar’s talent management processes – where Ed Catmul the president, clearly says that “Talent is bigger than the idea.” Immature organizations revolve around the big “Idea” and individual glory. Don’t they realize that an Idea is like high tide…while the ocean that sustains is talent? I have seen so many cases where the “Spotlight” revolves around ideas (and their creators)… “Hero of the month”. Individual glory will not get a team anywhere. But still team leaders think they are doing a favor by highlighting an Individual. An example for all the others to follow. Newsflash to them – it doesn’t work. It only widens the rift further.

Better way to do it? Let the talented teach. Let them bring others not so talented to higher levels. Let them earn their own respect amongst other team members – without you having to tom-tom their greatness. Because the truth is, the truly talented do not care for recognition. They do their job for the love of it – they exist to find joy in the creation of something new and original. Find such people, make them a part of everything you do – but without offering preferential treatment, or an Oscar every now and then. Most importantly, recognize that geniuses are human above all else… cherish them, give them new avenues of growth and let them (and not the whole world) know that they are cherished.

The Human Business

One of my favorite post-existential movies, V for Vendetta, has this memorable dialogue, “The People should not be afraid of their Government. The Government should be afraid of the people.” The same applies to an organization which aims to be truly unique in this world.

I am not the one to believe that we are what we do. I believe that what we are, is what enables us to do.Β  High performance leaders fail to recognize that they are in the job of managing humans, not managing output. It isn’t their fault – they are after all judged by numbers and customer satisfaction surveys. If any CXO is listening out there – this is an idea. Judge your managers by an anonymous teamwide satisfaction survey. 50% of their bonus should come from there. Because THAT is what their job is.

Motivate them. Talk to them as if they are equals – irrespective of hierarchies. If a person much lower down the order approaches you for help – it is because she respects you. Respect her back. Don’t patronize and ridicule. Is it that difficult to be a leader and nice human being? I have been lucky most of my career to be lead by amazing leaders – who have nurtured me and helped me grow. But I know far too many individuals around me who are not that lucky. I know so many who are demotivated and hate their bosses and hate every moment of their time spent at work. It is sad…doubly because their bosses do not know, and in many cases do not care, or refuse to read the signs in the fervor of action and results.

I am the first one to realize that business realities are not as easy as a blog post or an article in the Harvard Business Review. I myself do not know if I practice all the time, what I preach. But I will today make a sincere attempt to be a human first. Because thats what I will remain once the smoke goes down.