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Case Analysis: Give A Second Chance

Reforming the employee in this circumstance is the right choice for a company instead of taking no action or worse, sacking him, writes Viju Parameshwar

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This is the analysis, click here to read the case study titled A Plan For Mukesh

The management committee meeting, where the MD, Abhiram Basu, suggested NGO work for all employees and also for Mukesh Madhav, is the first step Duwell India has taken to resolve the issue sensibly. Giving employees a second chance and attempting to reform them is the right choice for a company under the circumstances, compared to either sticking to the legally minimum needed (no action), or taking the wrong, unfair and, as the MD said, dishonest route of sacking Mukesh for poor performance. Clearly, the story of Mini Vasan and possibly that of Jeremy Lobo’s son-in-law (if it was shared by Firuza Menon, the HR head) have made some impact on the MD.

Mukesh’s reaction to the chat with the COO Prithvi Iyer — “Ya, sure. Anything else?” — clearly shows that he sees his position as unassailable and he is not going to change. Further, his comment to Sameep Vaidya, the regional sales manager, that he should ask the ladies to carry the cartons while Sameep considers them too heavy for ladies, shows insensitivity and a male chauvinist attitude. Given these attitudes, Mukesh needs to be shaken up to force the realisation that he needs to change.

The process of genuine behavioural change requires recognition and acceptance of a problem, then repentance, and then the reformation can begin. All behavioural change methodologies start with trying to break the smug confidence of the individual — possibly the most difficult breakthrough needed. T-groups do this one way while yoga or Hindu philosophy courses always include a significant amount of Sewa — cleaning the ashram, cooking and serving food, and washing dishes. This is to break the ego and make everyone feel equal to everyone else. Servant leadership is a term that in a different way tries to focus on a similar need to suppress one’s ego. Mukesh needs to work as an intern in the NGO to achieve this, not as COO.

Will Mukesh accept this suggestion? Unfortunately the culture in the organisation does not seem prepared to accept anything different. The management committee members continue to battle any suggestion other than doing nothing and Mr Basu has shown weak leadership by not talking to Mukesh for two months, then dumping the chat on Iyer, the COO, at the last moment. The latter, in turn, spent most of the chat praising Mukesh on his performance and at the end just slipped in a sentence on “some difficulties on his home front, and that the company hoped he would smarten up!” Mukesh has got the message that everything is basically fine.

Japanese managers regularly take their subordinates out for drinks and dinner. The juniors are able to give their true views on issues in a socially acceptable milieu which would not be possible in the office given the strict rules regarding hierarchy. The boss is then able to incorporate all views into a decision before it is taken, ensuring full buy-in and hence whole hearted implementation. This is called Nemawashi which literally means “preparing the roots before transplanting a bush/tree.” Duwell has not prepared the ground for the acceptance of the planned NGO work, hence there is a major risk of refusal by Mukesh, even after the long chat with the MD. Equally, there is a likelihood of adverse reactions from all employees to the 125 hours of compulsory work in an NGO to be part of the performance evaluation.

The MD should first do some town hall meetings where he should explain his view that everyone has become dulled and insensitive to human issues in society hence the need to create an opportunity to work on social causes. Then, Firuza could conduct some workshops that bring out the need for such NGO volunteering and finally announce the 125 hours scheme making it much more acceptable to the employees as an outcome of their workshops.

The MD has to have a long chat with Mukesh, making no bones about the possible criminal nature of his behaviour, how it is completely unacceptable, offer him professional counselling and simultaneously tell him that he must do the year’s sabbatical. The benefits over long term to him as a person, his home life and his career should be sold to him while also making it clear that the alternative would be his having to quit.

The writer is a CEO in the Freudenberg Group in India. Prior to this he was MD of The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation. Starting with the TAS he has run businesses for 39 years including 17 years at Hindustan Lever

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 11-01-2016)

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