Lessons from the Past 59: Breaking Norms or Conforming?
If there is one problem that is common to the whole world, it is that the number of listeners is dwindling. Most of us rush to comment, voice an opinion and criticise. Few have the patience to wait and listen. And this applies particularly to newcomers in corporate organisations. 
 
A newcomer will generally be bursting with ideas and impatient to implement. If he has started out at the lowest level, he may be somewhat more restrained in his comments, especially if he does not know much. If he is a product of one of the major management schools, he may be critical of some of the systems and procedures in his chosen company, for he mentally compares them with what he has learned at business school. 
 
In voicing criticism, he may create enemies of his colleagues (who may resent his superiority complex) and his bosses (who may feel the young man is too ‘cocky’).
 
If the newcomer enters at the middle level, he may be inclined to hark back to his earlier experiences in other companies. His colleagues and subordinates will soon be sick and tired of listening to ‘how he used to do it this way in company X’. 
 
Behind his back, they will be whispering: ‘If company X was all that great, why did he not stay there?’
 
Even for entrants to the top management, there are similar problems. Of course, top management being top management, more people in subordinate positions will be inclined to listen, at least, perfunctorily.
 
To gain acceptance, newcomers should really act like salesmen, and follow all the steps in the ‘selling process’. They should spend a couple of months just getting to know and understand people. 
 
The secret is in listening to people, appreciating their contribution and asking questions to clarify opinions and also, solve problems. 
 
It is only after one has passed this stage of acceptance, that one can safely, and more confidently, begin to make changes. And, in doing so, the most acceptable style is to work by suggestion. Of course, this is easier said than done. 
 
Most of us want to justify our selection. Later, we want to justify our eligibility for promotion, or a double increment or a posting abroad. So the ‘I’ factor comes into play. And the bigger it gets, the greater the resistance.
 
Striking the right balance between conformity and the need to break new paths is a delicate exercise. One cannot get into an existing mould and remain rigid for fear of creating ripples. 
This is how many large organisations crumble—because everyone, including new entrants, is afraid to disturb the status quo! On the other hand, one can’t rush in and bulldoze change, without giving others a chance to get used to the idea. 
 
I thought about all this when I remembered the story of Sudhir, a bright and relatively young marketing executive who had achieved departmental head status in a large organisation. His brilliance in marketing was unchallenged in his company. His creativity could certainly have enabled him to rise further up the corporate ladder in due course—and fast! 
 
As Sudhir continued to rise in the marketing area, he also kept himself abreast of such areas as production, financial controls, computer usage and even laboratory-related research that had a bearing on product areas. Therefore, he had a sound knowledge base on which to found a successful career. 
 
Unfortunately, he set about disseminating his knowledge to the executive vice-president (VP) in a series of memo suggestions. 
 
At first, the VP was impressed. In fact, he would occasionally forward the memos to the concerned departmental head (HoD) for consideration. The initial batches of such memos were accepted by the HoDs with genuine appreciation. But, before long, the inevitable happened. At an inter-departmental meeting attended by the president, Sudhir attempted to inject creativity, which was not called for, in that environment.
 
The president had queried the engineering head, on a fairly technical subject. Sudhir waited for the HoD to respond, and respectfully added supplementary suggestions of his own. It seemed a helpful thing to do.  
 
The company president thanked Sudhir for the ideas, and then quickly changed the subject. 
 
Within the course of the next week, the executive VP called Sudhir to his office and rather coldly suggested that, in future, he should confine his observations to his own department. The executive VP had, of course, been given the word by the president, who had taken umbrage to Sudhir’s ‘cocky and all-knowing’ behaviour. 
 
Sudhir’s career prospects in this company were jeopardised, as reflected in the president’s five-word comment to the executive VP: “I can’t stand pushy guys.”
 
(Material from The Winning Manager _ Walter Vieira/ Sage Publications/ Amazon)
 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a  successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are "Marketing in a Digital/Data World with Brian Almeida and "Customer Value Starvation can kill" with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)
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