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Case Analysis: Lead From The Front

When we decide on an action, we should blank out the name of the employee by K. Shankar

Photo Credit : Bivash Banerjee

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Clearly, the culture of an organisation is defined by these ‘moments of truth’. Whatever posters that may be up on the walls, people see culture as actions taken by leadership. These actions form a narrative about the culture of an organisation. Therefore, leaders have to be more sensitive to these key moments so that the right actions are taken to bring the company values and culture to life in an organisation. Take for instance, the action of Freida on listening to Ananya’s complaint, and the actions of CEO Desai; these reinforce and script the culture at Kayplas. And it can well be said that these actions were prompted by an understanding of what the organisation’s culture will permit!

The dilemmas at Kayplas are symptomatic of an organisation that has not laid down strong guidelines for dealing with such situations. And there also appears to be a strong old boys’ network with a small group working together for long. Both these are extremely dangerous.

There are two broad themes to ponder on: One, the role of the CEO in building the culture of the organisation. Has he understood what people experience as the culture atKayplas, especially newcomers? Is building the right culture for the future employees a priority for him? Has he looked at refreshing his leadership team so they are diverse, inclusive and future focussed?

Two, the key role of HR, and what leaders need to do to have an effective and empowered HR function; so that HR may appropriately drive the actions to build the right culture and climate. A strong HR voice is critical to ensure this.

Now, the case specifics. Kayplas needs a clear well-communicated process for dealing with such issues – a whistle-blower or complaints process, a transparent investigation process and guidelines on what kind of consequence actions should be taken. And senior leaders in the reporting chain should not be a part of the investigation process.

Post investigation, any consequence action should be  dependent on the severity of misdemeanour, not on the personal situation of the accused! My boss once told me, “When we need to decide action, we should blank out the name of the employee and decide action.”

CEOs of companies have been found guilty of sexual harassment or other such misdemeanours and have been sacked. A recent case in point is the host of a top talk show on Fox News, where even advertisers joined in a demand for his removal. And last year, the channel’s Chairman was removed for charges of sexual harassment. Charges were that the channel ignored the growing malady for years. But when a larger group including advertisers struck, Fox had to heed.

Kayplas needs to act decisively and fast – as this involves a senior manager. If they drag their feet, the grapevine will have all kinds of stories, which would be deleterious to the culture of the organisation.

Coming to the case – we should separate JD’s retirement benefits from the punitive action that is appropriate. The leadership should decide the right punitive action and go ahead with that – even if it means that a person has to leave the organisation. The organisation’s processes should treat every employee as a human being, neither demonising nor deifying him/her. The value of clear and transparent processes become so important here.

In such situations, the leader has to lead from the front. Where is Desai? In the first meeting with Ananya, his idea of bringing in external lawyers was completely daft! He did not show empathy and respect, nor the serious statesmanship needed in such a situation. He was defensive, and took the crutches of lawyers and law firms. This also signalled that he was not open to listening to the perspective of the victim. I see this as a big lapse of leadership. Openness, sensitivity and empathy could have done wonders here!

To conclude, there is much to be said for clearly laid out and transparent processes to guide actions in such issues – lest the leadership lurches from one bad decision to another!


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