If there is one problem that is probably common to the whole world, it is that the number of listeners is dwindling—not on TV, and podcasts, but in personal interactions. Most of us rush to comment or voice an opinion and criticise; and only a few have the patience to wait and listen. This applies particularly to newcomers in corporate organisations.
A newcomer would usually be bursting with ideas and impatient to experiment. If he has started out at the lowest level, he may be somewhat restrained in his comments. If he is a product of one of the major management institutes, he may be critical of some of the systems and procedures in his chosen company, because he is using what he has learnt at the IIM as an index. In voicing criticism, he may create enemies of his colleagues (who may resent his ‘superiority complex’) and his bosses (who may feel that 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 top management, there are similar problems. Of course, top management being top management, more people will be inclined to listen, at least perfunctorily.
To gain acceptance, newcomers should really act like salesmen and follow all the steps of 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 problems.
It is only after one has passed the 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, all 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 trip 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 can’t get into an existing mould and remain rigid for fear of creating disturbing ripples. That is how many large organisations crumble—because everyone, including the 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.
Alfred Whitehead once wrote:
“The art of progress is to preserve order amid change,
and to preserve change amid order”
This is well illustrated in the story of Sudhir, a bright and young marketing executive, who had achieved department head status in a sizeable corporation in a very short time. 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. 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. It was a sound knowledge base on which to found a successful career in the corporate world.
At a point in time, he set about disseminating his knowledge to the executive vice-president (EVP) in a series of memo suggestions. At first, the EVP was impressed. Occasionally, he would send these memos to the concerned department head for consideration. The first few memos were received by them with genuine appreciation. But, before long, the inevitable happened. At an inter-department meet, attended by the company president, Sudhir tried to inject creativity into an atmosphere that did not call for such an injection. The president had queried the engineering chief on a fairly technical subject. Sudhir waited for the engineering chief to respond and then respectfully added supplementary suggestions of his own. It seemed a helpful thing to do. The company president thanked him for the ideas and then quickly changed the subject.
During the following week, the EVP called Sudhir in and coldly suggested that in the future he should confine his observations to his own department. The VP was, of course, given the word by the president, who had taken umbrage to Sudhir’s cocky and all-knowing behaviour. Sudhir’s career prospects were jeopardised, as reflected in the president’s five-word comment to the VP: “I can’t stand pushy guys.”
“The art of progress is to preserve order amid change
And to preserve change amid order”
(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)