Subroto Bagchi, the gardener of mid-tier IT company MindTree, has lost one of his principal oaks. Chairman Ashok Soota has handed in his papers and gone to start a new venture.
Gardener was a title adopted by Bagchi, one of the co-founders of the company, to reflect his role to nurture and grow talent at MindTree. In the tech world you have many strange designations of this sort evangelist, high priest, thinker and leader.
Many of these designations have come in for criticism as a post-financial crisis world gets rid of fluff in the workplace. Leaders are supposed to have vision, says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh.
If a company is not performing as well as it used to or is lagging behind its peers, something has clearly gone wrong with the vision and strategy. The leader must admit his or her failure and make way for a new dispensation.
Soota is doing that though neither he nor anybody else will admit to failure. The key problem with MindTree, a software company, was its entry into the mobile handset arena.
This was Sootas brainchild and he has apparently paid the price. But just as the Union cabinet has to take some responsibility for the acts of one of its ministers A. Raja cannot hang alone the MindTree board has also to share in the responsibility. The foray into mobile handsets which even a schoolboy could have told them was an unwise idea was a collective decision. Gardeners too must hang up their boots when they lose their green thumbs.
There are many leaders the world over today who are hanging on to their positions by the skin of their teeth. They are downgrading themselves to managers, to be one of the crowd.
A leader propounds a vision and sets a direction, says Singh. A manager executes. A leader grabs all the credit. A manager shares it with his team. According to him, the leader is necessary when you are in a domain where things are changing fast. In a run-of-the-mill business, you need people to do things.
The leader is an expression that has fallen into disrepute. And so has some of the other jargon that accompanies a leader. One of the biggest casualties of the financial crisis is probably the human resources (HR) department. Even its practitioners seem to have lost faith. Geoffrey James criticism of HR (see box) was posted on the site of the HR Daily Advisor to start a discussion. To their surprise, there were many HR professionals all who agreed with James theme.
HR has never been a highly rated profession. Its seen as a handmaiden of top management. When the going is good, its job is to convince people to stay on, to reduce attrition rates. When the going becomes tough, its job is to distribute pink slips.
Though it does not have any power as such, some HR professionals see this as a time to get their own revenge. The most they can do at other times is to say that you have nine days of leave, not 10. Now they are the managements front office for sack orders. HR feels empowered and revitalised. But they are only making enemies for the future.
The HR in my organisation is robotic and mindless, they are self absorbed in their own bureaucracy and could care less about doing the right things, says a blogger at HR Daily Advisor. When times are bad, HR sacks people, says Singh. When times improve, HR gets sacked.
Look closely at the number of people who have moved out of the top IT companies to set themselves up as consultants. They are neither consultants nor managers, nor can they aspire to be leaders. You can count the number of CEOs who come from the HR discipline on the fingers of one hand.
WHEN YOU CANT MANAGE
The five dumbest management concepts
Downsizing: Downsizing is a sign of failure. It means management has failed and rather than doing the right thing, which is to quit without severance, they are passing the penalty to those who tried to execute the top managements flawed strategy.
Leadership: The concept of a leader means that credit for what the team does goes to the leader... Being a manager means being in service to the team; giving the team credit and making everyone else successful.
Human resources: The entire concept of HR is to ensure employees dont act uppity. Once people are reduced to resources, you can pretend that making them work unpaid overtime, or firing them because top management screwed up is better resource utilisation.
Empowerment: The way this empowerment concept plays out in business is the insane idea that new technology is going to make people more innovative, more entrepreneurial, more creative, yada, yada, yada. Such total BS. All those things come from the heart, not from the hand.
Business warfare: Executives who believe that business is a battlefield will almost inevitably assume that victory in business goes to the largest army and theyll build large, complicated departments stuffed full of people and resources. Military-minded managers also find it all too easy to become control freaks.