An open letter to the Delhi rape protestor

Dear protestor,

I applaud the commendable courage you demonstrated braving the cold and the omnipresent Delhi pervert to gather and show solidarity to the victim of brutality. Sacrificing your precious time, that too on a winter weekend, is a sacrifice like no other. I got goosebumps when I heard that you faced the wrath of the Delhi police and their water cannons and yet, you stood strong. And when you did all that, people noticed, and the country watched.

I asked a good friend who was with you on what the protest meant for her. She walked for hours around India gate holding a placard that read, “We want justice.” She wants justice to be served to the victim; she speaks with so much passion that I can hear a voice from inside her crying “death to the accused.” It struck me- death for them while the other pervs roam around free? “No,” she says, “this is symbolic; it’s about sending a message to all those other perverts that this will not be tolerated.” And then I read- the pervs were right there! Among them, roaming around, and groping around. Delhi police received approximately 42 calls of harassment during the first day of protests. Apparently the pervs saw this as a free-riding opportunity of a lifetime. Ah Delhi!

I’ve been living in the city now for over 10 years now, 6 of which in the coveted satellite town of Gurgaon. I graduated from a small town in Assam with an engineering degree, post the 2001 global slowdown. Like most others in my batch, I graduated on an indecisive note- without a job and no clue of what to do with life. And like most others, I knew I had to move out of home. I faced the tough choice of deciding between Delhi/academic opportunity and Bangalore/employment opportunity. While I wouldn’t get into what tilted the balance toward Delhi, my next phase in life was the pursuit of a Master’s degree from a DU establishment. I remember my first ride in the city from the New Delhi railway station to my accommodation in Kingsway Camp near Delhi University. I saw big roads, fast moving cars, DTC buses, and good looking people. One thing, in particular, struck me- the hoardings. Apparently the Delhi government was engaged in some kind of austerity drive at that time to educate people on the ills of dowry. On my way, I saw at least 3 large hoardings written in Hindi with messages ranging from “humaare betiyan humaara bhavishya (our girls are our future),” to “dahej lena kanooni apradh hain (taking dowry is illegal).” Who on earth needed these? This kind of stuff happens only in movies.  Why on a hoarding? Hoardings are for detergent powder and life insurance ads. Needless to say, I was creeped out.  What kind of a place looks at women like that?

With time, dawned the realization of how the creepy eve-teasing-skirt-hunting-molester brain worked. I had many among me. And no, the molester wasn’t just the young lad cleaning my toilet, or sweeping the road in front of the house. He was in my class, he was the middle-aged landlord of the private girl’s hostel next door, he was the old guy in the queue. It wasn’t about social stature, economic condition, or occupation, it felt like an association. A secret society with standard operating procedures and a sense of camaraderie and collusion like no other. He had predator instincts and knew exactly when and how to pounce on the prey. He could see and identify another of his kind and nothing, absolutely nothing, could daunt him from doing what he did. It was in his DNA, a kind of a response to stimulus like wincing after touching a hot cup of tea.

So what are you trying to achieve through these protests? Do you think a conviction will stop him from looking at women like objects? I doubt it! Capital punishment and life imprisonment are not alien terms for the society. But has it stopped murder? Is it about strong policing? C’mon be serious! Why, with every stray incident, so I get convinced that this is a vent for you? You’ve been reading about it, you’ve seen the suffering of a friend who has gone through the trauma, you’re subjected to some form of assault every day; and your anger has now imploded. The people in power know that; don’t let them use this as your weakness. And for the almighty’s sake, have a cause! There is no point wasting a single candle from your box or a single ounce of calorie if you don’t know what you’re fighting for.

But fight you must! Fight for the root cause. Fight for education. Take that mass of people and go around. Tell a parent how to give the lesson of civility to his/her child. Ask the government to introduce civic living as a part of the school curriculum. Teach people the meaning of stopping at a red light. Show how a civilized person stands in a queue. And above all, teach people the lesson of spirituality. After all, your protest is not against the system. Remember, the system is what you create of it.

Listen boss- You’re fired!

So the organization has lost talent over the last 2 years. Some of the loss was expendable. And like any other resource investment, some of the attrition was ‘regrettable.’ Talent loss, like any other capital investment, is part of the cost. True?

Maybe not! It’s not about the cost of replacement being 2.5-3.0 times the cost of the employee. The organization can afford it. The job market has shrunk, which means more skilled people are fighting for fewer jobs. Great, the organization will replace the loss with equally good (maybe better) talent! It’s also not about lost productivity or time to train a fresh hire. The organization has sufficient resources for contingencies. If all of that is true, does the organization really need to worry about some lost (and perhaps, easily replaceable) talent? The answer is an emphatic―yes, in a big way.

Let’s find out why. In times when talent scarcity has become a real problem, organizations have started realizing that when people leave, they take with them not just their aptitude but also a great deal of organizational knowledge. Tacit knowledge retention is never an easy task. And on top of that organizational knowledge means not just knowledge about systems and processes, but also about what’s not going right with the organization. An organization lets go an employee, not worrying about what word s/he will carry to the talent market outside, oftentimes ignoring the fact that every present and future employee is a brand ambassador. In the era of Glassdoor and professional social networks, such an attitude can potentially have a devastating impact on the organization’s employer brand. The potential long-term implication of a bad employer brand extends far beyond short-term attraction and retention. A bad employer finds itself difficult to gain access to key talent in critical markets thereby hampering the overall growth strategy and revenue.

Much too often, exit interviews are merely seen as a formality by HR and the organizational leadership. The leadership is not serious about investigating the real reasons for employee departure. A few days back my colleague and good friend who is an HR industry observer wrote an article on why people leave jobs. It is common knowledge that people don’t leave organizations; they leave managers. The key question for the organization remains― is there a way to identify bad managers who contribute to loss of reputation of the employer brand?

Identifying a bad manager is not an easy task. For an organization’s HR, knowledge about an individual is oftentimes limited to the annual performance assessment report. Behavioral studies reveal that it is human tendency to avoid skewed feedback and a manager’s direct report will more often be inclined to balance bad feedback by outlining some good attributes. The performance assessment gets even more “normalized” when there are multiple direct reports providing feedback to one manager. The consolidated assessment report, therefore, is a normalized aggregated report that smoothens out any alarming spikes reflected in individual feedbacks.  To add to that, most often the manager’s boss is responsible for aggregating individual feedbacks with the final authority to regard/disregard any individual feedback. If the manager has a good rapport with the boss, there is a further chance of dilution in the performance management process. It’s not an uncommon occurrence to see a manager flourishing professionally under a patronizing boss who covers up red flags and highlights successes. Oftentimes, teams with higher attrition rates show instances of a patronizing manager-boss association.

It is human nature to have favorites and develop positive biases. Managers usually develop favorites based on previous experience where an individual demonstrated stellar performance. A bad manager, however, is one who fails to acknowledge that business challenges and situations change and therefore past successes cannot be accurate indicators of future effectiveness.  A manager, however may bias his decisions about individuals based on biases and gut feeling, rather that accurate mapping of individual skills and project requirements. Such decisions include selection of individuals for high-profile critical projects and nominations to the HIPO pool. Bad decisions can have adverse effects on team morale and engagement, where individuals feel cheated and powerless.

Some typical commonalities exist among bad managers. An organization can look for the following characteristics to identify signs of a bad manager.

Early career advancements under remote leadership― If an individual has served most of his/her early career under a remote manager, the weak exposure to everyday management might imbibe in an individual a strong sense of invincibility. Most employees remark that a bad manager is one who regards his/her decision as final and is averse to questioning.

Remarkable personality difference between professional and personal life― Many remark that it is common to notice a remarkable difference in personalities between a bad manager’s professional and personal lives. The otherwise stern and bullying manager at work transforms into a docile and amiable personality outside of work. The difference in personalities is often driven by a professional approach that heavily conflicts with the manager’s personal characteristics, such as insecurity, acquired perceptions of effectiveness, and prior exposure to management styles.

Less diverse experience in 2 or lesser organizations― A common attribute among bad managers is the lack of professional diversity. Owing the lack of experience and exposure to different management styles and organizational cultures, a bad manager has uni-dimensional and siloed views about performance and professional effectiveness.

Restrictive associations― A bad manager is usually inclined to restrict his/her associations to people at the same or at higher levels of the organizational hierarchy. S/he is not usually seen having lunch with his sub-ordinates, sharing a light moment with the team, or participating in non-work discussions with his/her direct reports.

Organizations fervently look into engagement surveys and other forms of corporate forensics to identify the bad apple that leads to disengagement and turnover, oftentimes overlooking the possibility that a manager, in fact, can be the bad apple. While there are numerous research studies indicating that managers are the single largest reason for people leaving an organization, there are very few that outline the organizational response of having a bad manager. Many believe that there really is one organizational response― fire the manager! And make a big deal out of it. Not just because it eliminates the bad apple, it sends out the right message to the organization― of empowerment, of equality, and of corporate integrity.