Responses to Venky's Second Question:
Can It Ever Be Right to Sacrifice Your Self Respect in the Short Term for the Possibility of Tremendous Financial Gain in the Long Run?

Note to the Reader: This is thesecond group of responses to the second question that our friend Venky asked. For a refresher on what the question is, look back at the Philosophers' Corner index.

Response 3 from Lauren Patch, Former CEO Ohio Casualty Companies

Are all ethical questions distilled down to the "means to an end" proposition? I am beginning to doubt Venky's authenticity, although I very much appreciate the chance to think through the questions presented in this format. And the collaborative thinking that results is probably the most valuable attribute of this process.

Venky's friend is doing what we all do in life, it seems, balancing the short term with the long term. We want to rationalize the compromises we make, because they tend to be in the near term, to achieve a "short cut" to our long term goals. I'm a firm believer in a business enterprise that shares the value system with all its associates. From this structure, a pattern or set of behaviors that are acceptable and expected emerge. It builds the culture of the firm. (Remember the training booklet "The Firm Foundation" that you helped write!) It seems that Venky's friend had this opportunity with his friend's company and has decided that he can live within this framework in the short term because his long term goals are more easily realized. "Fit" is important in all employment circumstances and the final question concerning "right choice" seems to ask for our judgment, not how we'd approach this problem ourselves. It has followed so many questions that I must admit I'm not sure what he's after.

If I could recharacterize the question, I might ask whether sacrificing one's self respect in the short term is ever worth the short cut to achievement of your long term goals. I'd caution his friend to consider heavily the power of association. If he tolerates this indignity, what will he be forced to ask his associates to do? Will the compromise he's willingly accepted be a fair compromise for others? Is he willing to take on the same brand as the Monkeys? Won't the customer see through the culture eventually? Do we expect those relationships to continue? Haven't we turned the Golden Rule on its head--treating associates with a lack of respect because it is our view that they don't respect us? I want to resist judging Venky's friend and yet I wouldn't have made his choice.

I have to be honest. This view of "Management as the Monkeys" is very much intertwined with trust in the organization. I encountered it at OCG over the years and my management group fought the image created in some part by our predecessors and mistakenly reinforced from time to time by one or more of us as we misstepped. It is why we spok of change themes so often. I'm beginning to think the view is a predisposition of hierarchical organizational structures that we must endeavor to correct or at least understand enough to avoid its reinforcement.
I'll look forward to the other comments.

Response 3, Part 2 From Lauren Patch

A couple of other thoughts for the gentleman. As I think more about this whole situation, it brings to mind a classic struggle we all face when we choose to "lead" or "manage". Consider the man for whom Venky's friend has now chosen to work. I would argue that even the best of his attributes that we are given have to do with style, and thus are management attributes, not leadership attributes. Leaders have to know when to change the style they use, to have folks follow. If you only deploy a harsh and agressive style, it may seem to work in the boom times, because no one asks the tough questions when you are winning. But in the tough times, people won't follow the leader who is still "beating them with the whip". Perhaps, the industry within which Venky's friend works (e-commerce) with so many winning firms today, can breed, and get away with organizational tolerance of, this behavior. But I wouldn't count on it's succeeding long term.

Response 4 From Robert Woods, Former Fellow, Morris Institute

If there is a "dark side" of the corporate force, we just met it.

The author of the scatological monkey fable reminds me of the ancient Greek leader Alcibiades. The story is told that Socrates once approached Alcibiades, to bring him into his intellectual and moral camp. It was initially Alcibiades' lust for raw, manipulative power that Socrates appealed to, arguing that the man would never amount to anything without philosophical assistance. Alcibiades comes to realize, very reluctantly, that he is indeed ignorant about fundamental moral values and relational expediency, and that he needs to cultivate various of the traditional virtues to finally attain his ambitions.

I hope that the author of the monkey parable gets a friend like Socrates before long.

Venky says - "Let's assume that the boss is extraordinarily good in what he does, will pass or fail any standard integrity test @ 75 % (basically not a 100% integrity man, although he conforms 100% to legal and explicitly mandated ethical rules within his corporate context)." Anyone who tells a potential subordinate that he will have to "kiss ass" constantly and dine on his share of excrement to survive working for him gets a "0" on the integrity test in my book.

Sensible leaders don't view subordinates as objects. Venky wonders and comments, "Forgetting the amount of money here, the question is: Is it worth sacrificing your self-respect in the short term to gain financial stability in the long term, considering the fact that, once you achieve financial independence, you can then go and do whatever you want?" My response: Maybe it doesn't matter if you are a monkey. But for humans who are more than physical creatures, it always matters.

It seems to me a more dignified parable would take into consideration the value of each human being involved in the work setting. Maybe the setting could be a garden. One can imagine all the various laborers and managers doing different but ultimately complimentary work. Certainly there may be some in charge and others who take orders. In this garden, we would also see that everyone benefits from the work that is accomplished. If there is an especially bountiful harvest then everyone would benefit more (not necessarily equally, just more). So the managers of the garden are always encouraging the workers to take pride in their work and enjoy the process as well as the production of their labor. In this story, everyone works and everyone eats food and we all celebrate the glories of being human.

This is just one human searching for some clues and sharing with some other humans searching for some answers.


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