Commissioned Article – Code of Conduct

It’s a Wednesday and you are just gearing up for your afternoon cup of tea. You walk to the vending machine and just as the tea mix pours into your cup, your phone rings to tell you that your best friend is calling. “Vivek, It’s going to be a great weekend!”, he exclaims. He informs you that he has procured four passes for a concert that your families were planning to attend. The concert is almost a weekend getaway, it involves driving to the nearby hill station and spending a night at a premium resort at pretty affordable charges. 

How long would it take you to say yes to your friend? 

Now, let’s replace just one phrase in the above-mentioned scenario. Instead of your best friend, this offer is given to you by a well-reputed vendor of your team. His performance and conduct have been exemplary in the organization and you have a professional and friendly working relationship with him and his team. 

How long would it take you to say yes? And would or should you say yes to such an offer? 

Fast-paced professional life presents us with certain situations which become dilemmas if not dealt with immediately. A lingering decision on a matter of yes and no creates the scope for a maybe to come in. And these “may-be’s” can lead to a lapse in judgement and perhaps action in contravention to an organization’s values and ethics.

The Code of Business Ethics and Conduct is the guiding light for our employees and all stakeholders with respect to the ways of doing business with us and our associates. The code comprises six principles that can encompass behaviour at the workplace, dealing with business partners, company assets, regulatory compliance and environment and corporate responsibility. The code also safeguards employees against workplace harassment.

The document in detail describes each aspect of our code in detail and also provides illustrations that help employees resolve their dilemmas. The case studies provided are real life-like and can be understood quite easily. The document also provides a resolution matrix/ route for the ethical dilemmas that an employee can come across on the job

Commissioned Article – ESG

Our planet The Earth is a priceless entity. With its natural resources, flora and fauna and unique position in our solar system, the Earth is the only planet to be able to sustain the life of such diversity. Yet Mother Earth has been taken for granted by the Human Race countlessly. Resultantly, we are now faced with frequent disasters like climate change, unprecedented and untimely heat waves, flash floods, earthquakes etc, that pose risks to human life and property apart from the accelerated decay of our natural resources that are vital for the sustenance of life on the planet. 

Over the last decade, the awareness about climate change and its risks has evolved exponentially, with both society and the corporate world actively taking steps to mitigate the risks to the environment. For corporations around the world, an actionable strategy that nurtures a relationship of give and take with the environment creates trust in the ways of doing business and ensures the development of the community and society at large has become a part of their existence. Widely abbreviated as ESG – standing for Environment, Social and Governance, the ambit of this portfolio encompass important steps being taken by international corporations to ensure a positive impact of their operations on the world. 

ESG has taken shape as a portfolio under the leadership of our directors. Our annual report of FY 2020-2021 describes how ESG is our way to a nature friendly, socially driven and transparent organization. It is important to realise here that we started this journey a few years back. We’ve made some strategic investments into technologies and initiatives that have a positive impact on the way we conduct our business. By ensuring our products are compliant with various product quality certifications, we’ve ensured our customer’s safety remains our top priority. The implementation of improvised water treatment systems in our production process has saved us 8 million litres of water and 80000 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy. Though in the initial stages, our usage of cashew nut shells in place of synthetic and petrochemical products has enabled us to reduce around 10% of our phenol use with natural products. The use of biofuel has offset 1.16 million tons of CO2 emissions and our solar plants generate 0.3 million megawatts of energy. Our waste management strategy of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle has saved us over 8000 fully grown trees. 

We’ve put a firm step in the corridor of ESG. We need to hold hands together to ensure we adhere and grow the levels of collective compliance to higher levels in the times to come to conserve our natural resources and create a better Earth for the generations to follow. 

Commissioned Article – Trust

The essence of human life is the effort of our minds and hearts to create a judgement of what is important in life. The history of humanity is full of people, who have been known for their ability to choose a path of righteousness. Each day, each of us chooses to respond to situations in a specific way. These lamp holders of response are our values. 

Value-based decision making is vital for success that is pristine in nature. The belief on an entity – be it an individual or an organization depends on the values they demonstrate in their transactions with the world. Hence organizations dive deep into their legacy, ambitions and beliefs to define a set of values that become the cornerstones of their existence. 

Let’s take a closer look at our first value and the most basic emotion of all living or non-living interaction – Trust. It is the base of all transactions, many times latent in nature but ever-present. As our dispatch trucks are loaded, a commitment is fulfilled. When a new policy is rolled out, a belief that it is in the goodwill of all is pervaded. Instructions of work are passed on the sublime belief that they will be carried out. Requests to reporting managers are made on the premise that they would be heard. 

But how does this value manifest itself in the organisation? 

M Kumar, Vice President – Commercial and Head, believes that while trust is a two-way process, it begins from the top. The management has this inherent belief that everyone will do their best to fulfil their commitments. This deep-rooted belief then leads them to enable and promote an open and interactive culture where employees express themselves freely. Haja, Head of Corporate Operations, adds that trust brings in the all-important emotion of appreciation in a relationship and when this extends to a company – customer experience, it stands to transform the brand value of the organisation in its market. 

But is trust a unilateral value? The Head of IT, Gopal Dass says that trust is inspired when an employee is allowed the room to make and admit mistakes while working towards a common goal. It manifests itself when an agreed deadline is pushed ahead on the reason that by pushing it we are delivering better on our commitment. 

Any behaviour requires an instrument that expresses it. Our diligently framed policies, SOP’s and their provisions enable us to achieve our targets within given timelines. Says Haja, “The experience of a customer receiving their orders as committed has an entire set of instructions behind it. In the perceived waiting time, the customer is thinking that we will follow those instructions to the T.” He adds, “Our efforts to achieve globally important quality certifications, is a proof of our value system, that right through the raw material to finished product, we adhere to the highest standards.” 

 It takes years to build a reputation of reliability and a minute to manifest it. MK experienced it when a vendor, in spite of his immense push and pull capabilities decided to adhere to our empanelment process on MK’s one line that we stick to processes and if found in merit, the vendor would get the contract. The vendor told MK that his reputation was such that there was all reason to believe him and not exercise his ‘push and pulls’ 

When you read this, rest back on your seat and think about our value of Trust for a moment. Think of it in your daily work life or perhaps life in general too. Think how it is ever-present, how latent is it. And how are we experiencing or exhibiting it in our daily lives? 


Surya woke up before the sun rose today. The night had been warm despite it being middle February. Her eyes wide open, she dazed at the curtains of the window, trying to assess what the time could be. It was dark outside and the street lamp was still burning bright. Wanting to indulge her mind, she played a tiny riddle – 5.30 or 6? It wasn’t bright and it wasn’t dark. It wasn’t cold, neither was it hot, everything was just in the middle, making her think and making her uncomfortable. That she was thinking. 

She didn’t realise when did she go back to sleep to wake up again, this time in daylight. The lamp was still glowing like it usually does the entire day but now looked feeble in front of the brightness of the day. 

The Colour Of My Dreams
©Kartikaya Nagar

Not wanting to risk her time, Surya looked at the table clock on her side. 8.15. Surya dazed again, this time at the clock. That strange feeling of discomfort returned. It was neither here nor there for her. The passenger train she boarded on Wednesdays was at 11. And unlike the other days, today is a weekly. It’s a slow and stumbling block of vans, that train. Takes a big rumble to reach Rova in all of 2 hours. And then she would have to take the daily mail back home. An hour and a half later than her usual time. And then the 15 minutes back in darkness. 

A mental huff collected Surya’s thoughts. Her eyes grew blank as she ventured into the experience of the past. Recollecting the same day week before a week, a second thought overtook the first, “Why cant the mind imagine something, instead of replaying the routines?” Suddenly her eyes widened. Flashbacks of the mind had not played Ravi.

Ravi liked Surya, she didn’t. He is just so ignorant. The best he did to woo her was come up with quick lines, fast ones. They also weren’t too original. Often she had seen memes of the same lines he used. And he could be a pest. You don’t love pests. You love pets. 

An hour later the pest Ravi accosted Surya on her way to the station. “Don’t work too hard, what have i built my muscles for?”, exclaimed Ravi when she saw Surya making her way to the station. “Would be better if you had built some muscles in your brain, at least you would have thought of something better to say.” Not looking back at him making a poker unhappy face at her retort, Surya walked continued to walk towards the main crossroad. The mood was dim. As she crossed the temple on the left, a slight bow completed her prayer. That’s what she felt obliged for today. 

The passenger mail steamed in literally. Just as Surya was about to board the AC 3 tier, she spied Chawla afar. “Add to the day!”. She thought to herself. Chawla could make things difficult. Not because he would give her a tough time or that he would look at her from top to toe, nor did he ask for cuts or freebies out of her tray. He was a stickler. For rules. Unkind to unlicensed hawkers in the compartments, he was known for shooing them away, sometimes not letting them climb the trains as well.

The train started chugging as soon as Surya entered the AC compartment. She noticed Chawla coming in from the other end and wanted to get off, but today the Mail picked up speed quite quickly. She stood near the door, contemplating jumping off with her bag and items in hand. Surya weighed her options – if she jumped now, would she hurt herself or would she just break the products? What if she hurt herself and break the products as well? Deciding that neither was a good result to a rationale, Surya decided to brace the storm. She entered the cabin and started calling out people to buy her pillows, cheap earphones and magnifying screens for mobiles. With a pillow in her left and the earphone and magnifying screen in her right, she called out, “for 100/- for 100/-, pillow for 100/-, earphones for 50, screen for 150!” Like the song of the cuckoo, she could go about singing this incessantly and now had three different tunes for it. When bored of one she would shift to another. 

Surya tried ignoring Chawla as they came closer. Every moment that the distance between them reduced, she tried to hurry up, her movement broken in between by a vague enquiry and hands and legs of people, their slippers or kids. What was with today? Why was it such a drag? Was it even a drag? Chawla wasn’t even sitting today, he just moved from one cube to another standing and asking for the occasional proof of identity. Surya’s heart was beating faster with the perspective of the forthcoming irritation as the distance between them got lesser. 

“How much is the pillow for?” A baritone from her back made Surya turn. As her natural action of thrusting the pillow slightly ahead started mobilising, she looked at the two men sitting on the lower berth trying to identify who had called out.  The one near the window looked about seven years older than Ravi. He had a crop of set hair flowing from left to right on a squarish face. His white t-shirt and black track pants were shouting that he had boarded the train perhaps from Delhi or a station after it. His cross-legged seating stance near the window confirmed it. Besides him, near the aisle sat a curly haired, as old as Ravi, stumbling out of the charms department with elan. In the seconds that she looked at the two of them trying to make up her mind, her eyes stuck at his lips for a nanosecond that she wanted to go on forever. Broad and curvy, they fit just so well on his handsome triangle face below his curly hair and wide black eyes. The slight stubble around them made them the crown of his looks. Surya hadn’t seen anything like this before. 

Having made up her mind that the enquiry had come from the curly, her hand thrust the pillow towards him, her eyes in a gaze. Expecting him to take the pillow from her hand for an inspection, her wrist started loosening its grip on the pillow, when two things shook her world out. 

Curly hair, thick lips swung his head towards his right in a half no – half-point towards the man on the window. At the same time the baritone sounded again, “no, I want it” coming from the side of the window. 

Surya’s gaze shifted reluctantly from the curly to the middle-aged man on the side. He was bespectacled and a decently protruding tummy defined his middle age. He peered at Surya, from between his square chashma frame and wondering why she was peering at him incredulously, he asked again, “how much is it for?” 

“Sau rupay”, Surya replied, almost half willingly, her eye darting from the curly to the uncle. “Saab” The pillow changed hands – in a swift one-hand pull, the glassy took it out of her hands to his. 

“Accha hai?, kaam aayega?”, the glassy asked. 

“Haan sir, aayega, acchi cheez hai”, came the reply from this girl whose eyes were still flickering between the curly and glassy. 

“Yar, things like these are so important in a journey. As it is the berths are so uncomfortable, on top of it, they’ve stopped providing pillows in Indian railways. A man wants to sleep, he should sleep comfortably at least. We run about so much in our life, at least these few moments in the train can be full of peace and comfort….” After this Surya lost the chain of what Glassy was rambling. Her eyes were stuck on Curly, who was busy looking at his phone screen, his headphones on. He hadn’t noticed this mild commotion and seemed least interested in the going on’s of the world. If only he could look up, and see her standing, looking at him. If only, he asked her what the price of the pillow was and whether she would discount it a bit? She would happily reduce a huge Rs 20, and perhaps another magnificent Rs 5 if he insisted. After all, she would have melted, one couldn’t blame. And then he might have asked her what the mobile screen enlarger would cost? Or perhaps she would have pushed it, after all, it was something he needed, life is simpler if you have a screen expander, if you don’t have a big screen that is.  

But he didn’t. Instead, he preferred looking into his stupid phone. And left her to build these castles that weren’t really even in the air. 

“But this really isn’t a pillow!”, Surya gradually walked back into consciousness and she saw Glassy’s face emerge from the blur of her vision. “Isn’t it?”, he asked again. “This really isn’t a pillow. It’s something else.” He said. 

“Sir, its a pillow only, you can test it”, Surya replied feebly. 

“Test I will, it looks like a pillow, but..”, Glassy took the pillow and put it behind his head in the sitting position itself. He tried adjusting his head in various positions against the pillow, then took it behind his back and tried the same. “It is comfortable for sure..but”, his baritone sounded amongst the wrinkles of his face. “What is it?”, he asked Surya with a tone of finality, holding it in his left hand in front of her. 

“It’s a pillow sir” 

“Accha..?”, With every passing moment, Glassy’s interest appeared dissolving into confusion. Just like Surya’s intent. For the first time, she wasn’t interested in the sale, she was interested in the man beside one where the sale could be. She just couldn’t understand what was happening. 

“What is written here?”, she came back out of the same blur to see Glassy closely inspect the pillow, top to bottom, vertically and then turning it in his hands. “Sir, I don’t know, we don’t make them, we just get them from the boss.”

“But, if you are selling, you should know na!”, Glassy said looking at the pillow and then glancing at the woman sitting across him. “We are spending money, at least we need its worth” he carried on. 

“Sir I really don’t know, how would I, we are not that educated”. “Besides, it’s a pillow, it works well as a pillow, we also use it at home.” 


“Yes sir” 

“This seems like…”, Glassy and Surya both turned their necks to the woman on the berth in front of them. “It seems like a…”, she seemed amused, her eyes fixed on the pillow. She looked young, perhaps the same age as Curly, in shape, only that the shape was round. She mumbled something and started to smile at the pillow almost condescending it now. Surya and Glassy continued to look at her as they waited her to spell out her verdict. “It’s a swimming tube!”, she shrieked loudly bursting into laughter. 

“A what?”, Glassy asked her again looking at her first and then the pillow

“A swimming tube! they are selling Swimming tubes as pillows!” 

 So it’s used in swimming?”

“Yes! It is given to beginners to stay afloat in the pool. I guess they must also be using it as a life saving instrument in other places.” the Rotund replied. 

Glassy and Surya were now gazing at each other. Then they gazed at the pillow and finally again looked at Rotund on the opposite berth. Her laughter had subsided but that look remained – that one look of amusement. She was now looking at Surya and in a few seconds, Surya felt Glassy was also looking at her. She turned to see, Glassy was looking at each other. 

“I don’t know sir, we don’t make these, we only sell these,” Surya exclaimed. 

“Kamaal it is, what all people can do to earn money.” Glassy’s baritone was now starting to sound like noise to Surya. “Everything in the country is a jugaad, I tell you. Do anything, sell anything, all is jumla.” Rotund laughed briefly and kept oscillating her eyes between Surya, Glassy and the pillow, waiting for the next to happen. 

“You don’t make it doesn’t mean you should not know what it is, and if you don’t know what it is then why are you selling these? I mean there has to be some sense of responsibility, isn’t it? How can you sell a swimming tube as a pillow?” Glassy started a tirade. 

Surya stood transfixed. More than Glassy’s tirade, and its perspective on the ethics of sales and its process, Surya was concerned that by now, Curly had taken off his headphones and was looking around to assess what the commotion was all about. He looked at Rotund smiling, Glassy speaking, the pillow in Glassy’s hand waving as he spoke and then finally at Surya who was standing in between the two berths with stuff in her hand.  He saw Surya looking at him, unable to comprehend what had been happening. 

“Tell me, does it seem proper to you?” Everyone looked at Glassy who by now had assumed the air of someone who was just got saved from being robbed. “Does it seem proper for you to ask people to part with their hard-earned money like this? I mean where are we going as a country? We work so hard and at least we deserve to given products that stand the test of quality.” 

Surya saw Curly look at him, the pillow and then at her in one swift glance. He kept looking at Surya as if waiting for her to answer. Surya was looking at Curly and her heart was beating louder than the wheels on the rail track. Completely dumbfounded, Surya didn’t know what to say, from some corner in her heart, she imagined a voice telling her, “izzat kharab nahi honi chahiye (honour shouldn’t suffer).” But then the same voice inside her didn’t tell her what her answer to Glassy should be. She didn’t know what swimming tube was. She just knew this was a pillow, it could be deflated and inflated as and when the user wanted. Like she did sometimes at night for her mother and sister back at home. Like she did for the customers who bought the pillow before today, from the time that she had been selling them. 

“Haan ji!” Surya came back from the blur again, Glassy was looking at her with a beam on his face. “What do you say, sister?” His eyes darting from Surya to Rotund and back. 

“Sir, I don’t know what a swimming tube is, I only know that this is a pillow,” Surya mumbled. 

“Pillow only, it is not”, Glassy said, repeating it, “Pillow only it is not Madam!!! Pillow is different, it is different. This is not pillow.” With the last statement, Glassy dealt a heavy blow, he looked at Curly who was now smiling slightly. Glassy offered the pillow to Curly in an attempt to take him on his side. Curly took the pillow, saw it front and back, inspected it and handed it back to Glassy. 

He nodded his head into a slight no, a wry smile emerged on his face at the context of this entire conversation and looked at Surya. 

Surya heart sank. 

Curly’s eyes had a disinterest, in the pillow, in Glassy, in the train, in the sun and the moon and the sky. His eyes had a disinterest in Surya.  

“Take this”, Glassy extended the pillow towards Surya, “I can’t decide whether to take it or not.” 

Surya started to take the pillow, and completed the transfer with her right hand. She was too feeble to fight back now. A sale was lost, a look was lost. Her heart ached, more from the disinterest that she saw in Curly’s eyes than the fact that the sale had not happened. Her turn around just about to start, she stole a glance at herself in the small rectangle mirror on the cabin wall in front of her. She was looking at herself, and her sad black eyes. Her sad, black eyes took her to her own heart. The heart that was now full of despondency, despondency that questioned her being. Why was she Surya, the girl who sold pillows and keychains and screen extenders in a train? Why was she the daughter of her mother? Why was she born here? Why wasn’t she anything but what she was right now? 

“Buy it, sir, it’s a nice thing, gives a lot of comfort in long journeys.”

Surya was suddenly woken up from her self inflicted stupor of self pity.

“And you still have a long way to go.”

Surya completed her turnaround to confront this new voice. As the words sank into her mind, she was surprised, “a benefactor?” Her turnaround complete, she came face to face with Chawla, the TTE, who was now looking at Glassy, smiling, his black coat, tad dusty and hands full of paper reams and a pen. 

“Accha!” Said Glassy. 

“Haan”, replied Chawla. 

“But its not a pillow!”, said Glassy to Chawla 

“What difference does it make, it works well as one and you get good sleep. The quality is good, it wont tear easily. The best part is you can customise it, fill it as much as you want. Later deflate it and keep it in your bag. Very handy for the future.” Chawla said, looking at Glassy and the berths turn by turn. 

“You seem to be so if you also use!” 

“I have two..”, Chawla smiled. “And besides it’s just Rs 100/-. What is Rs 100 for days of comfortable sleep? Sleep should be without compromise.” 

“That’s right” 

“Plus sir, it will help her, it’s as it is so difficult to survive these days”, Surya looked at Chawla saying this. Her mind went into a daze. 

“Han that is there. This is a time of good days, its good if you even survive, leave alone grow”, said Glassy and burst into a laugh joined by Chawla and Rotund. Curly just had a smirk on his face. 

“Ok, how much did you say it is for?”   

Surya mumbled, “Rs 100”, to be rebuked by Chawla, “Say it loudly girl! SAU RUPAY! Should I sell for you now?”

“Sau Rupay”, Surya said looking at Glassy. 

“Fresh piece!”

“Yes sir”, With this Surya looked around for a place to keep her stuff, so she’s could take out a fresh pillow and air fill it. Space was now a constraint, the berth was full of people and the alley with Chawla. A slight movement was about to become a commotion when Curly got up and walked towards the door. 

Now there was ample space to complete the sale. But Surya didn’t have the heart for it. She sat on the berth, pulled out a fresh pillow and pumped air into it She handed it over to Glassy and he started inspecting it. Satisfied with it, Glassy took out his wallet and with his right hand fished for a Rs100/- note. When he found one he handed it to Surya. 

Surya got up and bent to pick her stuff up, when she heard, “I’ll also take one”, She knew this voice. She turned back to see Rotund looking at her, smiling. “It will be a good qissa to share, I just need proof.”, she said blinking her eyes at Surya naughtily. “Yes, didi,” said Surya and sat down again to pull out a fresh piece. “No no, give me the one that you are using it is I won’t use it. This is just for memory” Surya handed over the pillow in her hand to Rotund, who handed her a Rs 100/- note.” Surya nodded her head and as she started to walk towards the door that Curly had gone towards, she heard “la beta, give one to me also.” 

Surya turned to see Chawla taking out a Rs 100 note and extend it towards Surya. “Keep it on 49 in A3. You will go there now na?”, Chawla said as dryly as he could. Surya nodded her head. 

“Now toh you must be happy! Rs300/- from one cabin!”, said Chawla smiling at the reams of paper in his hand. 

Surya didn’t know what to say. 300 was a good start.  

“Ok, go now and get off the train at the next station.” Chawla said with a stricter tone than earlier.

Surya nodded in agreement and looked at the door through which Curly had walked out. She saw him standing at the door looking outside. His hair flew in the gentle wind of the train, his eyes were dreamy and his lips parted just a bit. Surya looked at him and knew she had lost her heart. It was confirmed, sealed and stamped now. What needed to be thought of was how to reclaim it? 

As Surya looked at Curly, she suddenly felt that he had turned his head at her and in a nod signalled her to come to him. Not able to believe her eyes, Surya squinted them a bit and then saw him raise his hand and signal Surya to come towards him. Surya’s heart leapt. “Go go fast!”, it told her. As Surya walked towards him, she thought of the things she could tell him, and the things she wouldn’t. While walking towards him, she fixed her dupatta and her hair in a quick flick of her hand. He was just a couple of paces away, she wished she had a perfume. She swore to keep one with her from here onwards. As her hand extended it self to open the door, it crossed her mind that to clear her throat before speaking. 

Surya stepped out of the AC compartment into the open area. Curly was standing, in all his glory, one hand on the door rail and the other holding his phone.

He looked straight into Surya’s eyes with his own beautiful black eyes and squeaked, “didi, how much is the screen magnifier for?” 

Surya’s gaze turned from Curly to the scene outside the door. The train was slowing down; a station was about to arrive. 

On Employee Engagement

I reprise an old note from 2009, while I was employed as an HR Professional in a big corporate in Delhi. The thoughts remain relevant even after a decade of writing these.

“I am tempted to present a few thoughts on the subject of employee engagement. I am now working with a company which builds, operates and maintains telecom towers in the northern, North Western and Eastern parts of the country. We have around 700 employees, growing by the week and structured into hierarchies of corporate office and circle offices. One of the key activities and challenges of our HR team is to have employees who contribute to the system wholeheartedly and have a sense of belonging towards the organization. We need them to feel engaged. Simply put, an engaged employee is one who feels that the organization is his own and willingly puts in efforts to the best of his ability and sometimes ore than his ability for the achievement of the organizations targets and goals.

I have experienced the feeling of being engaged in varying degrees in my limited experience. Reflecting back, I sense that employee engagement may not only be an HR responsibility. The direct managers of employees are as much responsible for their team members being engaged to the business of the organization. In my first organization HR was a department that came into being after the company had been operating for a year and half. So the HR was pretty nascent and yet the organization had extremely strong induction and training processes. A lot of opportunities to learn were provided to the new joiners with the ones with potential, put into client facing roles and given responsibilities of account and people management. Ideas were heard and encouraged. The reporting managers would spend time teaching, mentoring and listening to their team members. Saturday lunches became quarterly movies and picnics and friendships were encouraged. As the HR formalised, these activities became more and more planned and organised; as new employees came in the organization started to lose its flexibilities, but the old school employees still stuck to the pillars of mentoring and friendship. My evolution as an individual and a professional has been the result of 4.5 years in an environment like this.

In my next second organization, which is an IT services company, I observed engagement to originate from the free flow of information, communication and easy available data. Employees liked being a part of the organization since they had a say in deciding policies and food and activity clubs. They did not have to go anywhere to pursue hobbies, they had clubs and activity groups available in office. They did not have to be scared of the hierarchy, they could walk into any of the office bearers cabins and talk about any thing – controversial or otherwise. The organization communicates its plans freely and sets a deadline to them. Those deadlines are adhered to and if there is a lag then the management freely communicates its inability to meet the same and sets a new one. The employees at all steps knew what and how was the organization planning to grow and what would be there roles in it.

So some thoughts that come to the fore from the above thoughts are –

1. Employee engagement, at best, is an activity that the HR can facilitate, but cannot champion. HR can at best be a great change agent, but driving engagement is anytime more of a functional KRA. Until and unless a reporting manager does not make a serious attempt to keep his team members involved in the functioning of his department, the essence of engagement will be reduced.

2. The management involvement and commitment to engagement activities has to be complete. Engagement is at its strongest when the employees know what are they supposed to do and how are they supposed to do it. Engagement is also strong when the employees know what is the organization planning to do and in the timelines in which this would be done. How will they get affected by it? And what is the role that employees can play in this evolution. This is achieved by an environment of openness and communication – seamless…where an employee has the forums and the courage to ask a question. For this the top management needs to communicate – freely, fairly, regularly and needs to practice motivation and encouragement on a daily basis.

3. Engagement needs to be propagated by constituting forums. activity clubs and events. An employee is engaged if whatever he wants to pursue, but does not have the time for it, is given to him in the workplace where he spends most of his time. He will feel engaged if his opinion is sought on the kind of food that he got in the lunchroom and gets to tell everyone about the movie that he saw last week and can talk freely about they way in which a policy affected him and more importantly benefitted him. Friendship at work develops when he is put into a room to learn guitar with his colleagues who he does not know for 30 minutes a week. When he exchanges DVD’s with fellow workers and enjoys having movie discussion sessions with them.

4. HR has a relentless role in being the change agent when it comes to employee engagement. Its a lot of hard work – communication, endorsement, practising, listening, speaking, training. Listening is critical – employees have so much to say and tell, so much to comment on and appreciate – and they need a person or a group of persons to talk to. An HR function must understand that it cannot champion engagement. That’s the USP. When you don’t champion something, you are away from the pressure and evaluation of appraisals and performance. The friendship that HR then creates with employees is not natural…its has the flavor of selfishness to it. Engagement can never be just professional, its personal. Engagement cannot be a one person role, its the role of all the people who work in an HR department.

5. Engagement will be an activity that will show results in long term – may be a couple of years after a series of activities are initiated as a part of the engagement calendar. Annual surveys may not be the best indicators of the same, no matter, how expert an organization is in measuring such activities.

6. Engagement needs to collaborate – with functions, with technology, with training, with recruiting, with vendors and most importantly with employees. Engagement activities need to be planned meticulously, organised to the T and be grand in terms of their scale and treatment. Any employee who is feels special is engaged for the moment and its a collection of such moments that constitute employee engagement.”


In a recent flight from Bengaluru to Pune, mild tremors of turbulence took me back to a time when I was travelling extensively for work. Most of this travel was on small flights in the North-Eastern part of India. I reproduce that note to record my thoughts on something that a frequent flyer would always encounter.

From a note back in 2008 –
“I have been travelling continuously for the last 15 days and most of this travel has been Air Travel. And all the air travel has had one thing in common – Turbulence.

All the sectors that I flew recently had turbulence. Invariably the plane would get into either a cloud or a dust storm and rock and roll the passengers till such time that even non-believers like me thought of a higher force. In a couple of journeys, we felt turbulence when we were flying above the clouds and in a true blue sky.

Around 50% off this travel was in ATRs – a small 37 seater plane with 2 huge fans like propellers on either side. When an ATR starts, the fan on the left side works first. The right one starts working as the plane taxis onto the runway. After a 2 minute halt, which is used to bring the fans to full speed, the ATR makes a dash across the runway and takes off suddenly. As soon as it reaches a certain height, the engines are brought to normal speed – for the faint-hearted or new passengers, it seems as if the engines have been shut down.

I have written earlier about plane journeys. The reason why I write again about them now is that my book of experiences just got richer in the last 3 weeks.

I understand that planes fly at a certain altitude which is given to them by the folks in the control towers. What I don’t understand is why can’t they go back to the control tower and say that there is a lot of clouds here, give me another altitude. While the pilots & crew and the control tower guys might be ok with the bumbling tumbling, I was not & neither were the passengers.

By no means am I a guy who gets scared easily. But the fact that you are a certain thousand feet above sea level, and you can’t see any reasons for the bumbling & tumbling and yet you are bumbling & tumbling makes me think of some questions that need answers. At every instance of turbulence a small “ding!!” sounds and everyone is told to fasten seat belts. Another “Ding!!” accompanied by a small word from the pilot about the impending disturbance and whether it’s normal or not would be nice.

Communication is the key. A week back on the Indigo flight from Guwahati to New Delhi, prior to deplaning, the hostess informed us of the belt at which we would get out luggage. Simple & effective. Yesterday on the IC flight from Ranchi to Delhi, the AC was not working while the plane stood at the Ranchi Airport. As the passengers took their seats, the cry for AC went up. The pilot made an announcement that the Auxiliary unit had gone bad and now the AC would work once the engines came on. As soon as he finished, someone asked the question to the hostess and she curtly replied”Sir an announcement has just been made.”

Back to turbulence. So ATR’s or Airbus, all are hit by turbulence. Yesterday at dinner with family, I shot the topic and realised that everyone has faced turbulence recently. And all agreed that there was too much turbulence. My brother thought that I am scared. But he is neatly mistaken. I am not scared, I just look for answers. If I pay money for a smooth ride, and when the stakes are of life, I expect to be told that we will fly into rough weather & what it could mean.

On a flight to late evening flight to Lucknow last week, the plane was in a clear blue sky and flew into rains and black clouds. The pilot did some circling, the hostesses were asked to return to their seats immediately, and the passengers just bumped and jumped. On landing did the pilot say something about landing from another direction because of the dust storm. What’s the point??? Hardly anyone listened to him.

I have another week or so more to travel. Let’s see what else gets added to the already existing turbulence.”

The Bell Curve

Any person with experience or interest in performance management would have experience, interest & thoughts on this fantastic phenomenon called Bell Curve. I call it fantastic because a bell curve is the perfect analogy of a bitter sweet pill or the two faces of a coin or any other compelling contrasts that exist in life.

I have had the opportunity of drawing a bell curve multiple times. Usually, it’s a mixed bag of emotion, but enriching in terms of the experience – the journey more arduous than the result.

So in the younger days, I would question a Bell Curve, why does one need to be rated/ slated/ slotted. Why should two performers be compared & levelled up or down? Is it not cruel to rate two people who have different targets? And is it all objective? Does it serve the organization if we slot performers? And if the slotting is incorrect, then don’t we run the risk of losing someone who has been a good performer?

The answers to all questions lie in a simple statement – Greater Good Of All. I tend to associate this with spiritualism but guess that is how I can understand it.

Increasing competition (one word for all words, phrases, sentences to explain our professional lives) demands clear & robust segregation of performers into various categories. These categories form the basis for the allocation of all organizational resources – physical & intellectual. The ones who deserve the most get the maximum. Categorization also helps in ascertaining the critical workforce & planning their escalation & bench strength. The bottom performers realise (by design or structure) that they do not belong to this clan. Overall, the organization experiences a collaborative surge in its abilities. Visualise this as a batch of 40 pilgrims moving from one line to another in a temple queue.

n a recent education on bell curves, two focus points came to light – the context in which the curve would stand & its rigidity.

A perfect curve always stands true to the context of the times that it is being drawn in. The context indicates directions & these have to be used to shape up the curve & draw relevant comparisons. As we get deeper these comparisons make it easy for the Managers to plan their talent.

Rigidity – I’d like to quote an example someone used sometimes back to explain to me the philosophy of the bell curve. The Olympics Games is the most prestigious sporting event in the world. Top athletes from multiple countries compete for glory. These athletes are the best from each country & are the outcome of a rigorous selection & practice cum performance schedule. At the games, they are the best their countries could send.

Still, when the game event takes place, the result is a sequence of performances – 1st to Last. Best of the Best; Survival of The Fittest?? Take your pick.

There are many criticisms of this concept of marking performance. Making curves in a small workgroup may be looking not so intelligent. Individuals are not free of biases & sometimes they may creep in while making a curve. The rigidity beyond a point seems ridiculous. After all, how much of a difference would one number make – up or down (usually is up). It’s heartless, harsh & difficult to execute especially when the effort of a whole year is being assessed. Context may be understood simply as the business projection for the next year thus negating longevity.

These are my thoughts & my thoughts drawn from my interactions with folks who I call friends. They draw no inference/ references from/ with the organizations that I have been/ am associated with.  

Making The Customer Right!

I am not a sales person, but I’ve figured out what helps me build my business. Sharing some thoughts using a famous management mantra.

An important experience that I’ve gained ever since I started Monks In Happiness is, creating customer experiences and managing their expectations. Both are important elements of the age-old saying that “the customer is always right.” The first I heard of the saying was during my MBA. I didn’t agree with it as much then, as I don’t agree with it now. Literally at least. 

I believe that a customer needs to be educated so that they gather what their “being right” should feel like.

So what is this “right”? Based on my experiences both as a customer and a service provider, I feel “being right” is that feeling of fulfilment, of having received more than what one expected. Of course, expectations in themselves are an ecosystem of their own and need rationalisation for the “right” to be a good fit. Years back, all of 26 years old, wanting to purchase a car for me, I had a first-hand experience of becoming right. In those days, the internet wasn’t as offering as it is now and pre-buying research involved footwork. So I travelled from one showroom to another, till it became a trudge, manually collecting brochures and writing comparisons in a notebook. That entire Saturday is marked in memory as I met one salesperson after the other. They bragged about their cars and rattled off features. I would have a few questions and as soon as I went from the 4th to the 5th question, they would seemingly lose interest and start quizzing me on my abilities to make the purchase – how much did I earn, did I plan to take an EMI etc. I realised I spoke more than them and it was almost like I wanted to know more than what they wanted to tell me.   Each meeting was turning out to be a half baked experience and by the time I walked into the final meeting of the day, my enthusiasm had dampened. In that final meeting, the salesperson started by asking me what my requirements were, what other models I had seen and what my budget was. As I blurted out my ill-used knowledge, he cut me off and said, “Sir, all cars are good, it depends what your requirements are.” For the next 5 to 7 minutes he enlisted the strong facts about his competition and then came to talk about his own product. Eventually, I bought the car from him. 

The experience has stuck with me. It made me realise that sometimes more than the product it is the salesperson who is the experience. 

So over the years, I’ve consistently found merit in educating the customer to a position of them being right. If an interaction with a business leaves you enriched with the experience that the entity has thought about you, worked for you via their knowledge and processes and delivery mechanisms, you become right. Primarily about your choice to have engaged them.  

Circa present day, I operate in an ecosystem where creativity is the product. A portrait, a video presentation, a book of pictures, all need to be unique, sometimes rare, as well. Add to it, the complexity of my own artistic ambition of what can I do with the client. I used to find it tough to manage conversations where the customer would ask for something that I wasn’t sure of. I would nod in agreement, making my life hell and spoiling the customer’s final experience with my services. Till one day in the middle of a customer interaction which was turning irritating, I detailed my process and clarified what all could be done, if I were to do it. I told them of our background and history, our creative sensibilities, our process, people and what the spending of the revenue we earned would look like. I also spoke to them about our expectations from the client – the level of collaboration and input we needed to make something memorable for them.  I partly expected to lose the assignment; to my surprise, I didn’t, in fact, the relationship we created has sewed in multiple projects now. A few days later, in a second conversation with another customer, I modelled my conversation on an educational pitch and the colours started flying. Ever since I have tried to bring in this part of me that educates the customer in each interaction where it is needed and I always see trust building up consistently. 

I do want to lengthen this note to mention another experience I had as a customer recently. I started using a new age investing platform and was stuck at a certain point while making an investment. I called customer care and realised that the good human I connected with was a mature person, knowledgeable and experienced in managing stocks. Though my queries were of a very basic nature, the manner in which my queries were resolved gave me a sense that I was using a professional, learning-based and secure platform. I felt “right” about my decision to use the platform for investments.   

Relationships that we create in business interactions are achievements because some of them spill into our personal life. The experience of walking customers to a position where they become right works well here. It has, for me. Customers need to be told what they are buying, and whether they are buying from the right place. They need to be informed of the limits of the product or service and how the money they will part with, be used in the creation of the experience that they are about to get. Make it simple, educate them and help them succeed. The customer then trusts and invests in you. 

Then the customer is always right. 

The views mentioned in the article are personal. 

AudioVisual Project – Wonderful Memories

I battled the COVID-19 virus in April 2020 and was confined to my room for a period of two months. Company in my isolation was in the form of a box of watercolor paints, a brush, and memory.

Butter Lamps

Golden light streamed in from the sole window on the 2nd floor of the monastery. The window was huge, parted in the middle in a framework of six square panes, each having its own share of dust and spots. The light created a soft yellow and red hue in the room, with the shadows as dark as the color black in a moonless night. In the center 10 butter lamps burned brightly emanating a humble glow. 

She’d seen him looking at her since the time that she stepped out of the bus. She had noticed his blue eyes and boyish face go rose when she abruptly made eye contact with him when perhaps he was least expecting it. In a split second, his gaze turned away from her, all flush with awareness; of the fact that her beautiful dark eyes were following him. Blood inside him turned cold and gave him a nervous twitch. He stood uncomfortably on his two feet for a moment or two before the guide called him out. 

The group listened attentively to the guide. He was speaking about the legends, of mythical birds and animals, of saints who flew and subjugated demons at will. He tried imagining the tiger that flew carrying Padmasambhava from Tibet to the cave. He visualized the fight between the demon and Padmasambhava and the swish swash of swords, the blades of which were on fire. He was broken out of his reverie when he heard footsteps moving out. The guide finished his discourse and lead the group out in a politely chaotic exit. Everyone jostled a bit as they moved beside him. He stayed back a minute; he wanted time to look at the lamps for that little longer. As the last pair of feet were leaving the room he seemed to notice a slight movement in the dark. He stood just a bit longer to make sense of it. The next two seconds were spent in a vacuum of expectation. Just as he was about to make that first movement to exit, she emerged from the shadows. 

The window streamed golden light on her face. He could swear that he saw the lamps in her eyes. His eyes widened by their own choice and as if all life had frozen, nothing seemed to move. She looked at him standing still, unable to move, unable to run, unable to look away. A couple of seconds passed and life had spent an eternity. 

Something told her what had to be done. She moved close to him and took his hands in hers. She turned her face up towards his face and realized that he was tall. She stretched herself, and in a moment, found herself on her toes, still falling short. She pulled his hands down with her hands to get whatever elevation was required. 

Her lips touched his lower lip, her eyes saw his eyes close slowly in disbelief, but ever so keen. They opened again to look deep into hers and he swore he could see the butter lamps in the middle of the black iris. They took in each other’s warmth and perfume.  

The soft bells of the prayer wheel kept singing in a distance. The window streamed golden light. The butter lamps burnt brightly.      

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