A Requiem for our Fellow Professionals, Corporates, Business Schools, and Parents. Are you listening?

Date:   Friday , August 01, 2008

Seventeen long years ago, I launched into this profession of Personnel Management, which I chose deliberately. My career began amidst ring frames, spindles, speed frames, textile laborers, bureaucrats, politicians, union leaders, and people from different walks of life. Looking back, I see that we have come a long way from personnel administration, moving towards Human Resource Development and Management. We continue to grow even today in terms of knowledge and competence.
Life has taken us through a variety of jobs, challenges, and never have we felt tired. We found our way through internal difficulties, politics, and threats; sometimes life threats, failures, and most importantly mistakes, small and big.

When we look around today for youngsters who would be able to have the commitment, loyalty, and a yearning for learning very often we end up disappointed. I have also tried to debate this problem with my friends. Some evince concern, some acknowledge, and some exude apathy!
In India, a day in the campus for hiring is enough for us to understand the changing priorities. Being a part of several of those campus drives, I am quite used to hearing salaries being discussed. When many of our genre graduated, we did not talk of salaries much, but talked about how we could fit into the organization and harness the practical experience in an attempt to become a better professional. It almost seemed like a journey to perfection which no one has achieved, but never gave up with a firm understanding that it was a long journey. The entire context of my writing is to focus on the average Indian student who is a product of our society and its systems.
In the name of harnessing potential, we pitchfork this stock of young unbridled talent into the thick of things, hoping that they would learn. Their primary focus is not on acquiring skills, but on salary. Invariably, I find the younger lot unable to show the willingness and patience to learn and reaffirm their knowledge of the fundamentals. They look at everything with a shortsighted wisdom. There is no denial of the fact that they are better placed in terms of their exposure and opportunities to learn. They listen to the experienced as though it is a narration of fiction. I would never blame these youngsters. They are completely untapped potential, with wrong fundamentals of life and profession.
Having said this, I admit that the system has also brought out some outstanding individuals with fantastic commitment. They are the ones who dared to think beyond and ones who clearly understood that success is not a short term commodity. The current professionals need an awakening. The aspiring professionals need to come out with a greater purpose in life and profession beyond the monetary aspects. The urge to excel and be the best in whatever we do must keep ringing in the minds constantly.
Let us address the three major focus areas:
The Industry: The Industry hires young professionals. The students expect unrealistic salaries and the youngsters who come in with a lot of enthusiasm are soon found unwilling to think beyond clinging on to some routine tasks. They are unable to think beyond and the speed of cruising in the corporate leave very little time for them to be patiently groomed. Sadly, the young individual is oblivious to the fact that he has to begin the task of acquiring skills to last a life time of his or her profession. He or she is so engrossed in his or her tasks that they become mechanical and short term driven. Free time propels them to the new found addiction, whether it is the cell phone, the Internet, orkut, emails, or online chats. In the review meetings we ask fundamental questions on the tasks completed and there is always a gap. A few more questions and we find that we are well and truly exploring the ignorance and not knowledge. What every youngster must understand is that everyone looks up to him or her to bring in some innovative thoughts and ideas to work. It can combine very well with experience and create wonders, and redefine the paradigms of business.
Organizations need to focus on the learning of the individuals and really expect the managers to create professionals. Failure is not to be looked upon with contempt, though it is easier said than done. Driving this culture of failing to succeed and manage a high performance enterprise is a tall order. The key lies in identifying the strengths and coaching them to succeed.
Education: A vast majority of the folks I came across in the HR space across the country have been the ones who have not succeeded in other fields and joined HR as a last resort with the well rehearsed statement,” I love working with and dealing with people.” The problem is even deeper. It is the inability of individuals to acknowledge failure. I will address this in detail when I write about parents; fair enough. How many of them really understand the theory behind each of the topics that are taught? Like my fellow professional from a similar school of thought and my erstwhile colleague, Santhosh says, “There can be no practice without theory. The only practice that exists is malpractice in the absence of a theory”. Are the faculty members of many of those mushrooming business schools capable of delivering what the industry needs? The problem is even larger, there is a dearth of good teaching professionals. This is coupled along with a lot of amateurs in the teaching profession doing a shoddy job and silently jeopardizing the lives of many an aspiring professional. They do not own the students anymore.
Our approach to education needs to change, it needs a revolution. The threshold is here! Let us trigger the revolution. Education is not all about jargons and blazers and presentations and case studies. It is largely about getting ready to face life, and understanding that profession is just one part of it. We need to exit from this hollow pride and emerge proud of our strengths, ability to learn, demonstrate our capabilities, and leave a positive and lasting impact with organizations with which one engages.
Families and Parents: Sometimes, we build this cocoon around our children and try to contain them in it. Those children, when exposed to realities, shun realities and failure is one such reality. How many of us have taught our children on how to face failures? Low marks, children get rebuked by parents and teachers. They reach the flash points in their careers in their high school final and thereon they go through a lot of pressure. Very rarely do parents understand the peer pressure and the pressure they themselves exert. Children fear failure and they look at shortcuts to success. It becomes even more difficult when parents live their dreams through their children. In the rat race to succeed, the emphasis of bringing up children with focused attention on values and principles disappear. This has a very serious repercussion on the way they are prepared to face life.
Most often, we realize that by the time these youngsters have learnt to cope with the inadequacies inherited from the parents, time has gone by and others have moved ahead using the right or the wrong way. Parents must look beyond their lifetimes, as the children need to last their lifetime, and Should not rest till the mission is accomplished. They do not have to throw the children into the mirage in an attempt to force them pursue their own dreams. They should be allowed to fly and create a mark for themselves in their lives.
This piece is neither written to lament the condition of today and sing praises for the yesteryears, nor is it written to condescend upon any aspiring professionals. It is written with a genuine urge to ignite the professionals, current and aspiring, and urge them to reinvent themselves and do the profession justice and provide their profession and youngsters of today a realistic picture of life and profession. I urge them not to be mercenaries. I would like to see them enabled to be a legend and allowed to leave their signature of class and caliber on whichever shores they anchor!

The author is the Director-Global HR Operations, UST Global. He can be reached at John.kannath@ust-global.com