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Anecdotes That Resonate: The ‘Yes’ Men!

Yes-men have two faces: A servile one for the boss and an authoritarian one for the subordinates.

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They were on Skype.

“I am 70 now and not getting any younger, Priya. I need you here now,” he said. 

 “Yes, I shall come back Dad, but you know my conditions. I believe we can grow faster and take the company public in the next few years.  If you agree, I will make plans to return,” she said. 

“ I agree to every thing. Just come home.”

He had mellowed down quite a bit post his recent cardiac arrest episode.

Studying the existing landscape

Soon, Priya quit her job with a big four consulting firm in New York and returned to Mumbai to join her father’s pharmaceutical company as Head of Strategy. 

In her meetings with Rajesh, the HR Head, she received some disturbing news. Employee attrition was high, especially amongst the senior levels and it was virtually impossible to attract good talent. Exit interview data placed the blame squarely on her fathers’ style of functioning that stifled professionals, and the influence and power that Prashant, the sales head, wielded in the company. 

One of the oldest serving employees and her fathers most trusted lieutenant, Prashant, he had joined as a laboratory assistant. However, today, he was distrusted and feared by many. When sales targets were not met, Prashant managed to convince her father that it was some other department that was to blame. It was also rumored that during a recent stand off between the Head of Production and Prashant, her father had fired the former.  

Rajesh also informed her that attrition amongst Prashant’s direct reports was the highest compared to other functions.

Priya realized that things had to change fast if she was to make any progress with her plans for the company’s growth. The only way to change things would be to confront her father with evidence on how Prashant was destroying the company. She set about collecting this and then sought a meeting with her father. 

It would not be easy, she knew.

The confrontation

As she made herself comfortable on the plush sofa in her father’s chamber, she informed his secretary that they were not to be disturbed for the next two hours.

“ Do we need two hours?” 

“ Maybe more Dad,” she replied. “ And if I do not get a resolution today, I may just return to New York.”

She had just threatened his worst nightmare and was secretly delighted to see that the effect on him was exactly as she had anticipated and intended.

She explained her vision for the company and shared her roadmap for the next three years leading to an IPO. 

“ Post covid, we are already seeing good traction. Foreign pharmaceutical companies are already eyeing India and one of my ex-clients in the United States is interested in a manufacturing tie-up,” she said.

“ That is wonderful news Priya,” said her father.

 “But there are some major changes we need to make if all that has to happen,” she said.

“Please go ahead Priya. You have a free hand," he said. 

“ It’s not that simple Dad. We have a terrible record of attracting and retaining professionals and unless that changes, nothing will happen,” she said.

“ Oh, these professionals are pure mercenaries. They have no loyalty and will always run to the highest bidder,” he said, sounding rather annoyed. 

She had anticipated this and confronted him with the employee attrition data of the past four years, making it a point to highlight the losses in Prashants team and the fact that he was perceived as a "power center.” 

“ I have never experienced this,” he said. 

“ But these are the perceptions of mature and senior folks, Dad. We just cannot ignore that,” she said.

“ Why has someone not brought this to my notice,” he asked.

“ Who would risk doing that? They know you wear blinkers when it comes to Prashant.  And the way you sided with him and sacked the Production Head is still fresh in every one’s memory,” she said. The screw was being turned slowly.

“You say that Prashant is actually two faced and insecure. But why would he be so? “

“ It really has a lot to do with how individuals see their own capabilities.

There are those who have a realistic perception of their capabilities.  They are usually humble, very collaborative and built great teams.

Then there are those who have an inflated perception of their capabilities. These types are usually arrogant, less collaborative and always keen to steal all the credit.  

And finally there are those like Prashant who actually lack competences for their current roles and are always insecure about being found out. And to cover their inadequacies, they will be servile and say yes to their bosses. And be authoritarian towards their subordinates. “

Two birds with one stone

It took her a full three hours to convince her father that Prashant was hurting her plans.

“ He is my most loyal person. No way I am going to sack him,” said her father.

Priya sensed it was time for the kill.

“I am not suggesting we get rid of him Dad. Prashant actually reflects the history of our company, as do you. And with the profile of our company only going up, some one needs to spend more time playing a key role in the various industry associations. I suggest that you move on to that role with Prashant helping you.  Let us hire a professional CEO to work with me instead. Isn't that a win-win situation for all of us,” she said.

The slight drop in his shoulders left her with mixed feelings. 

The company's old guard is at last stepping aside, making way for a new, more youthful team. She knew that was important. And so did he.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Jayaram Easwaran

Author, Consultant, and Independent Board Director at Jindal Stainless

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