Perhaps, it would be in the fitness of things that the word management, be first established for its meaning, before dwelling upon its callousness. So, who is the management in any business organisation, regardless of whether it is for profit or non- profit or is a public sector entity or private sector enterprise?
The dictionary meaning of the word is “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people, the vastness of its meaning can be well judged by its usage, of say, “the management of the economy”. But, significantly the archaic meaning of the word, is ‘trickery’, ‘deceit’, ‘concealment’; upon examining practices of today, the archaic meaning and interpretation appears to be more in vogue and prevalence. It is hardly outdated, old fashioned or obsolete.
The term management is used as a pretext to either convince or create fear, to undertake a task or to avoid undertaking the task; it is used both ways, as an inspiring word or as a word of caution. The chain of responsibility and reporting is generally, the shareholders (owners), the Board of Directors and the management, led by a CEO, who is selected by the Board to form or lead an existing team. The CEO alongside his colleagues form the “management”. These colleagues then are classified into, seniors, mid-management, juniors, etc. Because the word is an excuse, as CEO, I had the experience to listen to senior colleagues, who would have the audacity to say that, no, we cannot do this because the management does not permit! I had to remind them that, they and me, made the management. There is no third force.
To firmly establish, who the management is in everyday work, it should be very clear that the person, who is the direct supervisor and to whom one reports, he / she is the management for all intents and purposes. The supervisor gives the assignments and evaluates performance to achieve goals and targets. In consequence thereof, those supervising others, take upon themselves the responsibility to train, groom and educate, their reporting staff, for their progress and promotions, not to mention the importance of setting their emoluments and increments.
The workers whose supervisors take no interest in them or their work, effectively throw them into dungeons of neglect. They become forgotten, when opportunity knocks for their growth. It is therefore critical for the immediate manager to have deep interest in the professional growth of his team. Failure to do so will make colleagues of promise to languish and decay, over a period of time.
Even benevolent management demonstrates its bequest and munificence out of compulsions of expediency. The classic example is the concept of corporate social responsibility, popularly abbreviated as, CSR. The giving back to the community / society from the vulgar quantum of earnings made at the cost to the society is publicised--- it is an act of value for advertising, to seek accolades to do more of profiteering. According to a study based on near to accurate estimates, the Global North (developed countries) in the year 2017, generously gave to the Global South (less developed countries), $360 billion and what did not make headlines is that, in return, they stashed (snatched) away for themselves, by way of economic and trade engineering $2.1 trillion, from the “poor”, Global South. To achieve this feat requires “archaic skills of management”; the Global North is rich in this facet, while the South lacks these abilities.
Good management practices, inter-alia, include besides decent compensation packages, flexible working hours, congenial working environment, employee wellness, etc; the attention to the growth and development of its human resources, which must form and rank, amongst it foremost priorities. Intelligent managers care to ensure that their staff receives adequate training and learning on the job, that will go to facilitate and enrich the diversification of their, skills and experience.
Just as the Global North treats the South, similarly, many a management of various corporates, deal with their human resources with callosity and heartlessness. The workforce is referred to as “family”, but hardly ever it is meant sincerely. These are cliché statements meant to fool. Having said that, it is important to recognise that there are also many institutions, national and global, that truly practice the concept of being a family. The only problem is that such institutions are far and few, who do it with genuine interest, because many also do, to only earn brownie points in the media.
The ‘control’ aspect of management gives to the seniors on the organisational hierarchy chart, a false feeling of importance. This feeling and attitude can spiral itself to make believe, to the individual manager that he/she can play demi-god. They wrongfully perceive that they can make or break the career of their reports. Without venturing into the realm of destiny and stars, I believe many managers actually do and achieve this ill-intentioned act with great amounts of success.
I recently had a conversation with a former colleague who is now an octogenarian, let me name him, for the purposes of this article as, Mr Zaidi. I had the good fortune to meet and interview him for a position many moons back. He met the requirements and was hired. He handled his given assignments diligently and splendidly. During the course of association, it was only occasionally, that I would have with him, a non- professional related conversation; but whenever such a dialogue ensued, I sensed in him a calm but tormenting bitterness, he seemed to harbour about his previous employers / managers. I sought no details. He later retired and currently leads a life of contentment, but the bitterness has survived.
From his life/career stems the story of callousness of the management. The next few paragraphs are culled from the recent conversation with Mr Zaidi.
Mr Zaidi’s early life is tragically saddled on unbelievable struggle. At the age of 11 years, due to economic compulsions he started working and for the next many years he continued finding odd jobs to help and assist the family economically. Whilst doing these odd jobs he privately studied and passed his matric examination. His first serious job came in at the time of 13 years with the branch office of Karnaphuli Paper Mills office at Karachi port, where he earned Rs4/day. He joined KPT and started earning Rs8/day (this is year 1956).
He appeared in a written test for a position at Karachi Port Trust and passed the examination. In the interview, one of the panellist’s said to him that the job requires a minimum age of 18 years while he was 6 months short and therefore out rightly rejected. The chair of the panel, one Mr Syed Nazir Qutub, deputy collector who Mr. Zaidi referred to as a God sent angel, said that I have one year to retire and you have 6 months to grow, so I’ll take a chance on you and appoint. He was hired at a princely salary of Rs110/month (1958). After passing privately his bachelors Mr. Zaidi applied and was hired by Lloyds bank at a salary of Rs199/month. From 1961 - 1968 he got no promotion. His salary was increased however to Rs400/month. He worked in the “reconciliation department” and was made in charge of the department in 1968. During this time, Lloyds bank departed from Pakistan and the bank was rechristened as National Grindlays Bank.
Mr Zaidi says that the British officers left very quickly and the vacancies were filled in by the local officers, these brown sahibs were more loyal to British etiquettes than the British, especially when it came to acting as masters not managers. The brown sahibs to please their masters had also acquired the despicable sense of dressing that meant wearing ties on half sleeve shirts! Mr Zaidi says the British departed, but the brown sahibs loyalty remained unquestionable. This attitude is still prevalent in some social clubs in the principal cities of Pakistan. Mr Zaidi worked in Uncle Tom’s cabin till 1989 where he was still in the “reconciliation department”! He was later hired by an Emirati bank at a decent salary where his supervisors were a British and a Scotsman both of whom he recalls, fondly, with happiness due to their caring attitude. He resigned from this bank and joined a newly formed local bank again as “officer in charge reconciliation department”; from which post he finally retired as an Assistant Vice President in the year 2000. Over 40 years of banking experience, but restricted to one single department, that is “reconciliation”! No supervisor, cared to hold his hands and carry him through the various divisions. No interest.
It is the responsibility of the manager to see and ensure that their reports acquire multi-disciplinary and multi-functional experience. This is achieved by rotating their postings in different units for a given period of time. The uninitiated manager loves status quo and hence believes in the dictum, let sleep dogs lie. They neither transfer colleagues to other departments nor encourage transfer of knowledge. Today, at least in the banking and finance industry there are statutory regulations on framing and observing a well-defined rotational strategy. No officer / employee should serve for more than 3 years in any given assignment. In addition to bringing new skills to existing pool of talent, rotational policy, also helps discover if there are issues that may have been swept under the carpet. Without rotation, there cannot be any professional growth.
While Mr Zaidi should accept blame for not standing up for his rights, the management (read direct supervisors) he worked for were extremely callous, and literally destroyed the potential he possessed for growth. Their approach towards Mr. Zaidi and other co-workers, demonstrates complete lack of empathy. If anyone wishes to grow professionally, the individual must keep moving into different departments and divisions - growth is dependent on flexibility and diversification. For professional growth choose your supervisor!
The writer is a senior banker and freelance contributor