Work Ethic is a subject in which Late Mr GN Sapre got me
interested. In a training program which I attended he asked, “Let us talk about
the stories you tell your children. Do you tell them the story of the
woodcutter whose axe fell in the well?” Many participants said yes. “So what do
you want your children to do when they have a problem on hand? Wait for
Shankar-Parvati to notice them and offer to take out the axe?”
That question shook me up. I had never thought about impact
of story-telling on work ethic.
Sapre published a book on work ethic and speaking at the
publication ceremony was Dr Sarojini Vaidya. She captivated audience by her
insightful speech. An author and researcher in the literary field had so much
insight in work ethic, and that [quite unjustifiably] surprised me.
She told the story of a family which had employed a servant for
decades. The servant had seen the children of the family grow, and move on in
life. The servant was an old and faithful man. The daughter in the family was
married recently and had decided to spend Diwali Festival at her parents’ home.
Her parents and the old servant had been to her in-law’s town to bring her back.
They travelling in bullock carts and were warned that dacoits often looted travellers
on the way. Seeing a group of people riding horses at a distance and
approaching the carts, the servant suggested that he should jump off the cart
with ornaments and valuables. This would ensure that the dacoits would not get
their loot. The master agreed and the servant got down and quickly hid in the
The family reached their destination safely but the servant
did not return for two days. The discomfort was growing in the family. But on
the third day the servant returned with a smile and all the valuables. ‘I quickly
dug up a pit and placed these boxes in it to hide from dacoits, and I returned
there the next day to retrieve. I could not locate the place where I had placed
the valuables. I was very tense and worried. It took me two days to locate it. Finally
I found it and here it is. I was worried whether her in-laws will believe us
if they heard that we had lost all valuables of their daughter-in-law.”
There is so much of unsaid, unarticulated aspect which is
beyond the normal expectation of an employee who is supposed to work
diligently, striving for excellence. We see flashes of such high work ethic
when we hear stories of employees going beyond the call of their duty. We saw
it at Taj on 26/11, and earlier we saw it when Neera lost her life when
terrorists attacked the plane in Karachi. We saw it also when the nanny saved
the little child in Israeli consulate in Mumbai.
Among the popular misconceptions about work ethic is that
people can be trained on work ethic. Some run change management initiatives on
Steven Covey says, “People,
employees, children are not open to teaching, or influence unless they know
that you genuinely care. Nothing will happen until you make the connection that
starts the relationship. After all, relationships are what mentoring is all
about. Mentoring comes out of Modelling the “What and Who” we are as people.
Teaching, Mentoring, and Modelling are the three elements that comprise the
essence of producing a common vision around which a relationship and a culture
will form.” So true!
[or transforming] work culture and relationships, that is to say excellent work
ethic, requires role models.
Robert Kegan and
Lisa Laskow Lahey's book "How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We
Work" is in my opinion, the best help on this subject.
They talk of two types of languages: Internal Languages
and Social Languages. The message of the book is that if we want to change the
way we work then we must watch our language. We must move the Internal
languages from the Language of Complaint to the Language of Commitment, from
the Language of Blame to the Language of Personal Responsibility, from the
Language of New Year’s Resolutions to the Language of Competing Commitments,
from the Language of the Big Assumptions that Hold Us to the Language of Assumptions
And we must move the social languages from the Language
of Prizes and Praising to the Language of On-going Regard, from the Language of
Rules and Policies to the Language of Public Agreement, from the Language of
Constructive Criticism to the Language of Deconstructive Criticism.
In final analysis increased awareness of what and who we
are and the ‘language’ we speak will create and change the work culture. Ralph
Waldo Emerson put it aptly, “Use what language you will, you can never say
anything but what you are.”
PS: Sachin Tendulkar is a great sportsman not just because of his stupendous achievements, but also because of his work ethic and because of his being role model to many young players. For this reason, his photograph is included in this post.
Labels: Role Model, Work Culture, work ethic