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Case Study: A Plan For Mukesh

“Young men need to show women the respect they deserve and recognise sexual assault and to do their part to stop it.” — US President Barack Obama

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Firuza Menon was entering office when Raghav Khurana, a manager in HR, sprinted up to her and said, “Ok, the compensation survey highlights presentation is ready. Tell me when and I will run it by you.”

Firuza: You wrote in your e-mail that Mini Vasan worked on this. She ok now? She has not been very dependable, Raghav…well, she has been very distracted.

Raghav: Yes. There has been that... I agree. But I have gone over her reasoning and her work. She is, let’s say, recovering….

Firuza: Recovering? You are mysterious, my friend. Tell me later, I have to leave for a meeting with Gen. Hadappa now.

Ten offices away, Mukesh Madhav walked into office to see Sameep Vaidya struggling with some cartons in the ante room. “Why don’t you get your girls to do all this, why do you do it yourself?”

Sameep, the regional sales manager for Duwell’s Western India markets, made some grunting sounds saying something about the cartons being heavy for the ladies and walked to the door with one unwieldy box, asking, “Kya hua, you had a meeting with the MD?”

“Kuch nahi hua,” said Mukesh. “What has to happen?”

Sameep placed the boxes on the coffee table and bent to examine his shirt that was now dusty and crushed. He had sensed some dust had risen over Mukesh’s personal life. Last week, he had caught him several times talking deferentially to the MD’s secretary.

It was an awkward silence. Sameep was unsure whether he should walk out and appear indifferent and disdainful, or wait and make polite noises. As he wasted time flicking fibre off his shirt, Mukesh said, “HR is trying to get a handle on me *abuse*, *abuse*… waste of everyone’s time…!”

It had taken the MD Abhiram Basu two months to fix a chat with Mukesh. “How do you talk to a guy about such horrendous things!” he said to Firuza. “It is so personal!” She agreed, but it had to be done.

What Basu tried to do and what transpired really were different. On the day of the meeting, a fire at a factory became an emergency and Basu had to rush off to Badlapur. So, he asked Prithvi Iyer, the COO, to have a chat with Mukesh.

Prithvi, surprised by the role he was asked to play, prepared his opening script. He decided that he must begin with Mukesh’s great performance review. He mentioned his role in Duwell’s penetration into new markets where it had been barricaded by competition, and the launch of the new XL 345 — “I actually used this as strategy to warm up,” he narrated to Basu later, whereas Basu would have used this to reiterate his faith in Mukesh. And then, Prithvi had told Mukesh that the company was in the know of some difficulties on his home front, which it felt was not healthy and hoped Mukesh would smarten up. And Mukesh had stood up and said, “Ya sure. Anything else?” and left.

The problem was neither Basu nor Iyer nor anyone else at Duwell felt confident handling this matter. Nobody had ever thought about things like this.

As for Firuza, she had begun to feel weighed down by their repeated exertion that this was not a big deal as far as business went. Dilip Manek, an MC member, had said to her, “Look Firuza, do not for a moment misunderstand me. Had this happened in my home I would have handed the fellow to the cops and ensured he stayed there till his last breath. But that would be justified as a family member and required, trust me. The home is the place where our relationships with each other is based on emotion, trust and things like that. Betrayal there is unforgiveable…

Firuza would later tell Lobo (about him, soon), “I thought home is where betrayal is forgiven and work is where it is not tolerated.”

She had hung on to Basu to be Duwell’s knight in shining armour. He would delay, but he would do it, she had known. In handing over to the COO, he had lost Firuza’s unconditional trust. For his part, Basu said, “Firuza, I am trying to be fair by you. I have just come back from the distributors’ meet in Shimla. And I am off to Delhi for some government meet. Where is the time?

Firuza: Meanwhile, every day he goes home, has dinner, brushes teeth, beats wife. And we continue to help him earn a living… how are you not able to see this nonsense?

Basu: I did and I do. Ok, let us have a brainstorming session… .

When they met the next day, no one’s stance had changed. Manek said, “This is not clearly entering the organisational ambit. How can you sack the guy? Yes, he has been a worm. But we cannot sack him. Organisations cannot function like this. He will take you to court, then? Do you have proof?”

Aarti Sinha: We cannot be seen to get ‘involved’ in his personal behaviours. Marriages are personal. How do we know the wife and mother speak the truth? And the wife is to blame too for keeping silent and encouraging him!

Jha: Who are we to punish him? That’s the question the world will ask!

Basu: Ok, guys, find me a multipronged solution, where we save the guy, save the company, save the wife, save society… There is something we are missing in this flurry of emotion.

Firuza was not sure where all this was going. As far as she saw, they were all simply telling Mukesh, ‘...there are people batting for you... and well, we are unsure if your action is punishable.’

When Firuza returned to her office, Jeremy Lobo, her 53-year-old secretary, walked in behind her. The thinly built man with a well-groomed appearance, usually said little. A moment passed and Lobo said all too suddenly, “Nine years ago, my son-in-law burnt my daughter. The courts could not prove his role. He had burnt palms to show that he tried to save her. He said he was a chartered accountant and a decent man. The truth will never be known....” Firuza’s head reeled. Lobo had never uttered a word all these years!

“I only took away her one-month old baby,” he said. Firuza got up and hugged Lobo. That was the best she was able to do, stunned as she was. Then Lobo said, “We often think through the filters of our fear. I ask you to drive through and think with the head only… Go, fight! Nail the monster…”

Firuza: I don’t have a personal war with Mukesh. To my mind, he is a person not befitting of Duwell’s vision.

Lobo looked at his feet for some time then said, “My son-in-law was a man of low character. When I took his child away from him, I realised that in trying to hurt my daughter’s husband, I had taken a child’s father away. More than him, Little Tara suffered….”

Firuza sat looking at him with great wonder.… how had Lobo never let out his grief all these years? How come nobody knew anything?

Lobo: I wrote to the son-in-law and said the space he vacated of his choice will never be filled. For there was only one father for a child. If he wanted to come back he needed to make his peace with the Lord. … never mind the details, but last two years, he has been cleaning the church, polishing the wood, everyday… everyday… the priest told me. Sometimes we need to gulp our ego and leave a window open for the idiot.

Firuza: Lobo, Lobo!! Don’t leave, wait. What are you saying? Explain please.

Lobo: You will send him out into the world and he will not correct himself. He will weave a fresh web of lies and find himself another job. He is an MBA, after all…. Take responsibility, however much you hate him. Keep him here and try and straighten him.

Firuza: That’s insane. Your case was about family; this is about a professional workplace.

Lobo: What is professional? Nothing. It’s in the mind. Finally, everything is God’s home… ‘profession’ is only a garb you wear upon your person. Under the professional lurks the person.

Firuza: Sorry, Lobo, I am not into this God business. I don’t look up for solutions. I look out into the world. I need a logical reason. People are humans, not Gods. They need human solutions.

Lobo: I hope you find it.

“Bad karma!” Basu had said to her. “Precisely,” she had agreed, adding, “but karma is also action and it is action that is right or wrong. Good or bad. But what precedes action is thought. Bad action is preceded by bad thought. Can we trust a mind that produces violent bad thoughts? Abhi, that is my difficulty!”

By now, Firuza had begun to see why Basu was struggling with the situation: he was not able to get a handle on the crux of the matter.

Raghav came with the compensation survey PPT.

Firuza: I want you to know that the Mukesh scenario is of utmost importance to men as it is to women as it is to this organisation. When people behave less like humans and more like animals, HR has to worry about the kind of management pool it is developing and harbouring. But I am up against an MC that is view-less.

Raghav: Managers have been trained by B-schools to separate the professional from the person, so we have become a fabulously irresponsible lot.

A call from the MD’s office informed her that the MC should look at the compensation survey at 4 p.m. Raghav quickly began to run over the presentation with Firuza.

At 4 p.m., when the presentation began, some of the MC members were surprised over Mini Vasan’s involvement in the report. “Isn’t she the one who has been absenting herself from work regularly? How did you let her work on this?” asked Sinha.

Jha: That’s right. She was regularly borrowing from colleagues, taking salary advances, terrible interpersonal relationships, picked up a fight with the gate security too…

Raghav (looking at Firuza as if to take her permission): That brings me to an important finding of this survey: the need to invest in mental health management in the organisation.

Basu: Oh, no, schizophrenia?

Raghav: No, worse. Domestic violence. I have Mini’s consent to reveal to the MC that she has been a victim of domestic violence. Her husband’s family has been the aggressor.

A horrified silence swept the conference room. Basu held his head. He never wanted to hear that term again. Never…It seemed to be chasing him.

Firuza was taken aback too. Mini’s situation was new to her. Had Raghav kept it from her? Raghav sensed her discomfort and said, “Mini is married to my cousin. I heard from family about her plight. I confronted her three months ago. I have helped her talk with Dr Thomas Eappen the psychologist — as family, not as HR — and seek help. And once she began taking help, I only supported and encouraged her to build her own life. And her working on the Survey is a part of her own determination to restore herself. She has brilliantly managed to recover her self-respect and today I told her I wished to tell the MC about it.

Basu: (to Firuza) What does he mean “tell the MC today”?

Raghav (looking at Firuza): Because I am in the know about Mukesh’s affliction. Domestic violence is a reality in all strata of society, Mr Basu, except we are too genteel to talk about it. It has health cost implications for us as employers. And we need to understand that when one person inflicts violence at home, his victim carries the pain and suffering to her workplace.

No more can a man commit crime and shut the door behind him and think nobody will know. Woman are in the workplace and when we recognise and penalise a violent man, we respect our women workers. We need to make an expression of that.

In the case of Mini, it was sheer coincidence that I found out through the family network… if not, we would never have known.

Firuza: But it was remarkable that you acted upon it professionally; that you considered her a human resource first and had the courage to address her plight.

Raghav (a trifle embarrassed): Hence I say we need to be alert to violence as a malady afflicting mankind as a consequence of the innumerable stresses for which he has never prepared himself. It is my feeling that before physical violence on the victim, there is mental agitation in the aggressor. And I feel it is our duty to be alert to mental health problems of our managers — be they as perpetrators or victims. But by not addressing it upfront, we can be guilty of condoning bad behaviours.

While the MC heard Raghav keenly, it did not translate to their suggesting professional help for Mukesh. For it meant the company’s involvement. But the matter of domestic violence stood out in every mind, vividly.

The next day, Basu called the MC into his office. “I have been thinking,” he began ominously, “ and I have been helped by Gen. Hadappa. He tells me that you are all divided in the way you feel about Mukesh’s situation. Some of you want me to sack him claiming poor performance — which I straightaway call dishonest. Some others among you feel we should keep him in the organisation, let him know he is punished and keep him in a non-job which will also give us a chance to keep a check on him. I don’t see where that takes us. And why ‘check’ on him? That is certainly not our job.

“Some thoughts have been coming to me and I want us all to think about the viability of such a plan and your faith in it.

“We have a commitment to our people. Mukesh is a mess right now, in his personal life. Professionally he is excelling. This dichotomy is disturbing. But he has served this organisation 12 years, and he has been brilliant. Yes, I begin to see a Jekyll and Hyde kind of personality… but that is because I don’t know any other correct metaphor. I sat and recollected his various chats with me on strategy, approach, method… he has been great. That same person has a very dark side. Is he only a salesperson for me or is he also a human resource? If we choose the latter, then I want to have a drink with Mukesh and hear him out. I want to know what he thinks. Mukesh needs a chance. Everyone needs a second chance. His deed is dastardly, but that is what life is about.

“Yes we will first take professional help, no doubt. But it is my feeling that a lot of us have become dulled and dissipated by the monotony of success. Our minds are ailing.

“My suggested plan has two parts to it, one that concerns us all, and the other, a plan for Mukesh.

“As part of our CSR, and the monies we want to invest in ongoing social development, you know we have identified 6-7 NGOs to work with.

“So this is my thought, Firuza; Going forward, you need to create in the performance appraisal template a provision for compulsory community service for all employees. When I appraise you end of year, I must see 125 hours of time that you have given to society consistently. We can work the details later. These NGOs are in need of management time, not money. They are flush with funds but they don’t have good minds to advise them. Everyone is quick to draw out a cheque. But no one has time to offer. We have a plan to work with six NGOs with our CSR funds. Our employees will have to compulsorily volunteer at one of these NGOs, and file a report every quarter, signed by the NGO…

“Coming to Mukesh. Recall we had identified Haqq, the human rights NGO that also works with the rights of women. We had decided to contribute a significant percentage to this NGO to further their cause.

“Suppose I tell Mukesh, that initially for one year I want him to serve at Haqq. He will have clear goals, measurable goals. He will work under Father Stanislaus who is the Chief Trustee. Mukesh will work there as the COO, enable fund raising, operations, the pending legal cases... the whole nine yards. Technically, he will be on a year-long sabbatical from here but we will continue paying him his salary. What this will do is compel him to look at the rights of women in particular and the rights of oppressed humans in general.

“Last week Gen. Hadappa was arguing with me about a criminal who is charged with rape and some years of rigorous imprisonment. Gen. Hadappa said, why doesn’t the system put the criminals to work on the field, clean the roads, clear garbage, ensure sanitation, build roads……. let them work with their hands. Do gardening! Our intention must include for a big part, reformation, not merely punishment. He said the army puts errant soldiers onto tough jobs, under vigilance, so that they learn their lessons. So, once we have given Mukesh a fair chance and he yet does not reform then we can sack him. Of course, let me state this: all this only after I have had a long chat with the chap.”

Gen. Hadappa: Abhiram, I have a correction to suggest. Mukesh cannot be COO. He can and must only be an intern. We are not trying to protect his social image; we want to help him see the errors of his ways. And working with and for the oppressed will enable that. He needs to be able to see others’ perspective and the role as intern will sensitise him to that.

Manek: Intern? How can a senior sales head be an intern at an NGO? No way!

Hadappa: We need to see this differently. Haqq is an organisation like Duwell. Why should they want a manager who is: a) Untrained and b) Comes with difficulties? If tomorrow a candidate who has been removed from another organisation for domestic violence comes to us, will we hire him? I won’t.

Basu: I agree. But I feel Mukesh will refuse.

Jha: I think so too. Then again, who are we to punish him? Are we wearing the mantle of judge and jury? Mukesh will say so: ‘Who are you to judge me?’ Then?

Hadappa: That is Mukesh’s right. Then he must kindly quit. When you discuss his scene with him, he needs to see he has a problem and he should want to seek help. That is the primary driver. If he wants to seek help, if he admits he has been in the wrong, then this option can be made available. The point is we are looking to help him and Duwell but it cannot be at disadvantage or detriment to another. As COO, he will carry his arrogance of being the provider, as Duwell’s representative. Whereas he needs to be there as an understudy. Understand, his condition today is a function of ignorance and he must climb back onto the learning curve.

Jha: Naah. This is not making sense. At the least, let him be COO… intern? Nooo.

Manek and Sinha looked at each other. They weren’t sure this was a good idea…

Read Analysis By Viju Parameshwar
Read Analysis By Shanthi Naresh
Read Analysis By Dr Achal Bhagat

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