Friday, November 26, 2004

The need for a good work-life balance - WHAT THEY DON`T TEACH YOU AT B-SCHOOL

By Ronald C Sequeira, from Business Standard, November 23, 2004

If you ever want to see several happy people in one place, visit any leading B-school campus just after the placement season is over. What a sybaritic feeling. A business school stamp behind your name and a dream job ahead of you. The B-school grad has learnt all that is there to learn. Could it get any better?

Going back to my own first day on campus, we were told by the legendary Father McGrath, “XLRI is not a place but an experience and an opportunity.” Now we had been through the experience and were on the threshold of seeking opportunities to apply all the teachings that a business degree offers.

As we waited with our packed bags in the foyer of the institute to say our last goodbyes, Father Maggie (as we referred to McGrath) in a soft tone said to me “Ronnie, I hope and pray that all of you get a very good first boss.” At that time one did not fully comprehend the meaning of that message.

Look back at your own experience over the years. Identify the number of times a young career was made or shattered by the early mentor(s) who had strong influence over a new arrival to the workforce.

Research and surveys have established that the single biggest reason for loss of talent is “the boss”: not the organisation, not the compensation nor any other seemingly obvious reason. Strangely, no course on campus teaches you this, nor did any course say that in time one would need to be the good first boss/mentor.

Having left campus and arriving into the corporate world, you quickly adapt to excelling within a structure in order to earn your rewards. Despite B-school teachings, “strategy” and “out-of-the-box thinking” take a backseat and the “activity trap” takes control of your life. After all, you have joined the rat race and you learn, like Pavlov’s dogs, that rewards follow a pattern.

Suddenly, 15 or more years go by and there is a paradigm shift and no more patterns. You are now assessed on your ability to deal with ambiguity. Your free and frank views — once appreciated as “fresh thinking” from a young B-school grad — are now marked down as “lack of political astuteness”. Could your B-school education have predicted this?

Yes, they did teach you about change management, but dealing with ambiguity requires you to deal with and adapt to discontinuous change. Who do you think survives the torment of poor mentoring and transcends the Pavlovian-dog experience?

It is not the brightest (and they are all bright) but the ones who have the highest emotional intelligence, better known as EQ. This is brought out lucidly in Robert Cooper and Ayman Sawaf’s book, Executive EQ.

They refer to the emerging research that suggests “...a technically proficient executive or professional with a high EQ is someone who picks up — more readily, more deftly and more quickly than others — the budding conflicts that need resolution, the team and organisation’s vulnerabilities that need addressing, the gaps to be leaped or filled, the hidden connections that spell opportunity, and the murky, mysterious interactions that seem most likely to prove golden — and profitable.” B-schools do not measure for EQ nor do they lay much emphasis on this subject.

One item on all CEOs’ agenda is organisational transformation. Yet, the same gentlemen, when on campus, paid little heed to subjects such as organisational design and development or management of people and change. Should not B-schools emphasise the importance of these subjects?

Recently a former colleague’s husband remarked, “Work-life balance is inversely proportionate to the number of cars you see in the office car park late in the evenings.” But in B-schools, there are no marks for guessing the value of a good work-life balance.

“Son, remember, when you grow up, never be a receiver of stress, always be the giver.” No business school teaches you this either. Yet, see how easily you are able to relate to this comic strip of Hagar the Horrible in real life.

Once you leave B-school, the degree and the education you received become a thing of the past, but the network you build can stay with you for life. In time you will be able to leverage of this network in enhancing the quality of your professional and personal life.

Finally, B-schools fail to teach you the most important thing in life — the need to give back to society what you have received from it. Astonishingly, the business side to this philosophy is rarely understood on campus and almost never taught.

For instance, providing sustainable livelihoods leads to increasing the earning capacity of the poor. This in turn leads to increased spending power, which then translates into a greater demand for goods and services. Contributing to the improvement of society is a must. After all, successful businesses need successful societies to survive.

Ronald C Sequeira is vice president and head, human resources, Tata Power Company Limited. He graduated from the Xavier Labour Relations Institute, Jamshedpur, in 1984


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