In October 2014, during the festival of Diwali, the headline of a leading news channel exclaimed “Savjhibhai Dholakia’s extraordinary gesture of generosity is making other bosses look very bad!” as a response to Hari Krishna Exports’ Diwali bonuses. The Social Media space was flooded with stories of Dholakia’s largesse. Even The UK Guardian published an elaborate story on the subject.
But why should this news go viral and catch international attention, when in fact, almost every company in India gives festival bonuses, at that time of year? What exactly did Savjhibhai do which was beyond the ordinary?
The diamond merchant from Surat in Gujarat gave new cars, two-bedroom flats and jewellery to 1200 of his workers as s Diwali bonus. The UK Guardian further remarked: “Such largesse has taken even generous corporate houses in India by surprise, but diamond industry observers detect canny altruism in Dholakia’s gesture of disbursing nearly 500m rupees (£5m) in this manner.”
“We gave apartments to 207 employees, cars to 491 and jewellery to 500 employees. This is not a big reward…what I have given is very modest,” Dholakia said. “Our workers are being rewarded for their loyalty and their hard work. Sharing never decreases your wealth. I have learnt that. Every time I have given something away, I have got back much more”, he said in a TV interview.
It is significant these give-aways are such which impact the entire family, and not one of individual consumption. Is this altruism? Or a mere public ostentation of wealth?
Let’s explore what Chanakya says:
“In them, the excellences of a king are….. ‘liberal’…..these are the qualities of one easily approachable” (6.1.2-3)
“….’Giving and withholding’….these are the personal excellences (of the king)” (6.1.6)
“….With men, ‘loyal and honest’, these are the excellences of a country” (6.1.8)
“….With the ‘soldiers’ wives and sons contented’….these are the excellences of an army” (6.1.11)
Each one has its own significance and when pieced together will create a larger meaning:
“In them, the excellences of a king are:.. ‘liberal’…these are the qualities of one easily approachable” (6.1.2-3)
“…’Giving and withholding’…these are the personal excellences (of the king)” (6.1.6)
The Leader (the CEO, the proprietor, the head) today is the king of today’s enterprise – the one responsible for the financial health, its activities, its growth and of course its people. Chanakya, in his treatise Kautilya Arthashastra, has listed over fifty leadership qualities termed ‘excellences’ which make it possible for the Leader, in turn to ‘endow’ the organisation with excellence i.e. the highest standard.
Consider Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize awardee 2015 and founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, who made it possible for over 80,000 children in 144 countries to be freed from child labour and other atrocities. His efforts forced the ILO (International Labour Organisation) to set guidelines of child rights to be followed by governments across the world.
One of the qualities demonstrated therein, is being ‘liberal’ – one of an open and progressive mind…and heart as well.
A widely respected organisation such as the Tata Group sets aside nearly one third of their profits for their trusts, which in turn, contribute to social causes. This is a personal excellence of a leader, states Chanakya. But is unbridled generosity or altruism itself the purpose? Is philanthropy without its professional implications? Can these qualities bring about excellence in any way?
The right knowledge and balance of ‘giving and withholding’, is the strategy that Chanakya recommends in this sutra. The CEO is an intelligent leader who neither gives nor holds back without a clear vision of its returns. He or she does so with a motive – a win–win measure that reaps benefits. Does the Tata Group set aside a portion of its wealth because it has generated windfalls in business? Or is setting aside wealth bringing consistent returns to them? The next two sutras provide clues.
Yet, giving, without thinking through can lead to disaster. Indian mythology is replete with lessons – the downfall of the great warrior Karna (owing to his mindless generosity giving away his protective armory) and the death of the might king Mahabali (who paid for Vaman’s request with his life), are reminders of knowing when to give and when to withhold.
“…With men, ‘loyal and honest’, these are the excellences of a country” (6.1.8)
So what are the benefits of generosity towards one’s employees, and towards society at large? Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj was an astute practitioner of this policy – developing every possible community in the state of Maharashtra – the fishermen, the blacksmiths, the peasants to mutual advantage – they joined him at war times and during peace times. Most manufacturing companies have realised the benefits of developing communities around their manufacturing units for several years. ITC Group has been developing farmer communities, Tata Group has uplifted tribal communities. Aditya Birla group has been assisting rural communities and so on. These are generally the same communities from which their factory employees are drawn. Studies show that enhanced employee commitment, decreased vulnerability through stronger relationships with communities and improved reputation are some of the key benefits through these initiatives. These are exactly what Chanakya declares are some of the excellences of the ‘country’ (the society).
Let’s probe further. Dholakia disclosed that 25 criteria are used to determine which of his 6,000 employees have added the most value to his firm in the last year. “They polish diamonds…but these are our diamonds,” he told a TV channel, referring to his employees. Dholakia was clear in his concept of employee loyalty – loyal employees are those who provide ‘value’.
That said, loyalty and honesty of people are never available in surplus, quite the opposite. They have to be patiently built over years. Remember, even the mighty army of none less than Alexander the Great, who conquered many lands and its people, mutinied against him at the Hydapses river when they felt uncared for. Every CEO wants commitment and integrity from employees, but what is the price they are willing to pay for it? Let’s turn to Chanakyafor answers…
“….With the soldiers’ ‘wives and sons contented’….these are the excellences of an army” (6.1.11)
Here in lies the crux of the message. The workforce of organisations is the equivalent of the armies of kings – employees make all endeavours, conquests and successes possible, don’t they? It is interesting that Chanakya strongly recommends that the families of employees should be contented, not just the individual. It is an explicit expression of the connection of employee well being to the well being of the family. Organisations which have ‘family friendly policies’ are becoming the best places to work in – they are the most sought after employers. TCS and Wipro, Facebook and Google, to name but a few, have policies such as leave pooling, adoption leave, flexi-timing, which benefit the family of the employee. Some global organisations provide access to learning resources to family members of employees, as well as baby sitters, eldercare and other welfare benefits.
On the other hand, there are organisations who consider benefits to employee families as a ‘burden’ too heavy to bear. This myopic view has cost many an organisation dear; many employee unrests, especially at the factory level have materialised from this. The airline and automobile industries in India, in particular, have witnessed this and have suffered massive business losses.
Let’s go back to Savjhibhai Dholakia. His company’s turnover has climbed from 100 crores when it started in 1991 to nearly 6,000 crores in less than 25 years. Mr Dholakia’s firm, HariKrishna Exports, sends polished diamonds to 75 countries. Dholakia said, “I know what it is like to have needs. When a worker is happy, he can do anything at all for you.” He certainly knows that employees’ families contribute to the interests of the company.
The best organisations and their leaders know that employee welfare begets the welfare of the business. Thus the above sutras illustrate that the contentment of the employee’s family strengthens their commitment (and performance), which is what the progressive leader sets out to accomplish. “The diamond polishing industry in India has been suffering for a while, so giving away such eye-catching gifts – to be paid for by the company in instalments over the next few years – may help retain talent at a difficult time”, The Guardian reasoned. Employees at the company were quoted as saying, “It’s like a family – I wouldn’t dream of leaving.”
Corporate lessons in ‘Giving’
Here is a deeper dimension – based on current organisational practices, when viewed as employee welfare, the spirit of ‘Giving’ is implemented through gifting, bonuses, and recognition of individuals and teams. When viewed as community welfare, it takes the shape of corporate social responsibility.
While the gesture of ‘Giving’ is beautiful in its spirit, the spirit could be tarnished by negative behaviours like biases, favouritism and in its highest, darkest form as bribery. Individual based practices have become standard motivation tools, the notion of social responsibility is gaining momentum. As organisations are growing and amassing wealth, their responsibility towards the community grows in proportion. In order to protect from a consumptive, materialistic society, the act of social responsibility acknowledges or recognises the resources and gifts that one takes from the community by ‘giving back’ for its welfare and wellbeing.
How can organisations expand the concept of social responsibility to include both acts of giving to communities outside and within the workspaces i.e. individuals and teams? A thought provoking article was published in Inc by Adam Grant, on how to create a ‘culture of givers’. We have distilled a few critical lessons as reflections.
When we hire for our teams, we need to be conscious of differentiating between givers and takers. Takers can emotionally drain a workplace. They are inherently driven by selfish motives and can imbalance teams by not spreading knowledge, being overtly dependant by over seeking support, and looking for means for hoarding information.
We need to also redefine giving by building our own approaches towards demonstrating generosity. An example comes from a leading small and medium entrepreneurship forum which works towards supporting its members through providing access to its network for business development and through mentoring, while the members need to identify peers that they can support through business introductions. The principle is simple, if you are taking, you need to be also giving. Using our time efficiently to teach, mentor, open doors for our peers and colleagues are examples of how we can all be givers.
Changing the reward system is crucial to acknowledge and recognise acts of giving rather than focusing only on individual accomplishments. If the pay-off is significant it establishes the commitment and builds the motivation for generosity.
Finally Grant outlines the practice of the ‘Reciprocity Ring’ to enable an environment of help seeking. The rings can be created around areas of expertise, skills or business problems as an example. The ground rule is that everyone on the ring needs to ask for something and this in turn ensures that takers have to also start giving. Building an environment that consciously encourages its members to make requests for help without the uncomfortable feeling of being rejected is a powerful way of inspiring a culture of giving.
Adam Grant’s book “Give and Take” and Bob Burg and John D Mann’s book “Go-Giver” have seen phenomenal success because they carry deep fundamental truths for business.
While intuitively we believe that the act of giving is a feel good behaviour, studies correlating the behaviour of giving with happiness have established that giving increases Oxytocin in the blood. Oxytocin is considered the love molecule and is the chemical foundation of trust between people. It is activated by positive social interactions and makes us care for other people in tangible ways.
The role of organisations in giving back to its people, extended communities and society is as critical as creating happier work environments to inspire higher trust and altruistic behaviour. The outcome of course is very favourable to business, thus creating a virtuous cycle.
To read the article in The UK Guardian mentioned in this piece please click here.
This article has been jointly written by Rajesh Kamath, Founder, Chanakya Consulting Insights and Puja Kohli, People and Change Catalyst, Unfold Consulting.