By | Prarthana Sethumadhavan | Founder & Director – Sakalya Holistic HR Solutions
Rajat trudged back towards his home after his call to Rupesh. The air was laden with moisture, somewhat like his eyes, and rain would soon fall. He took an auto, took a detour and went to the IIM `ketli” the tea stall outside the IIM gates and ordered a tea and samosa. Somehow, sitting outside his alma mater calmed him from within. He had given two years of his life to the place and in return had been promised unbelievable dreams and corporate conquests. Maybe, coming close to that dream place, he could touch it somehow- he was not sure.
It was more than six months, as each day rolled into another, and Rajat’s unemployment stint rose to a year. Interview calls had almost dried up. He had taken to giving tuitions for IIT-JEE to fill time. His spirit was restless. He was still awaiting his big break. Then, one day, THE call came. Rupesh informed him that Mrs. Sandhya Awasthi, Head of Talent Acquisition- APAC, of the latest MNC in the town, was keen to have a meeting with him. Hope surged in his heart. He retrieved his suit from the bottom of his cupboard and got it laundered. He would look sharp, and still be the professional that he was ,when he went to meet Sandhya Awasthi. The D Day arrived, and Rajat waited on the plush sofa of the visitors lounge. He was offered water and a cup of tea. Hospitality was good, and maybe this was a good omen for the tide to change, (recently he had started reading more meaning into things along with good omens and symbolism). He was ushered inside by the peon. Sandhya Awasthi was buried in some papers. Maybe it was his resume… His heart stopped when she looked up. She was but the very same, Sandhya Krishnan, whom he had silently yearned for during his IIM days. She looked cool and professional sitting across the table, and he immediately felt in him the stench of failure and a life wasted and lost. His heart was hammering, his mind on the overdrive, adrenaline flowing and his throat dry. Could he look anywhere else but her? She then gave him her brilliant smile , and he felt the staggering sensation and emotion in him.
“Hi Rajat, how are you doing’’ she smiled sweetly. Rajat managed a response. For two minutes they just looked at each other, and she then said, “ I saw your profile and wanted to confirm to myself that it was the same Rajat that I knew from 13 years back’’, “ What happened Rajat?’’ How? Why?? “ You were the most promising amongst all of us, how did you end up sitting at the other end of this table?’’ Rajat took a sip of water. Where should he begin?? He told Sandhya of his grandiose dreams when he had entered the corporate, his serial disillusionment with the systems there, the competitive workplace and his inability to massage egos, some of the corrupt practices and how at every juncture, he felt that leaving and finding a better pasture would be the best solution— only to find that he found more of the same things everywhere he went. “ What was the point of having studied so much and learning so much, if we could not implement and correct what we saw to be wrong with the system?’’ “ Is that not what education and a degree were all about?’’ he cried.
Sandhya said she had faced the very same things, except in a harsher degree since she was a woman, and therefore had to battle the gender bias along with other prejudices. She told him, that all her team and superiors knew, that here was an Ivy League girl, who they were sure would brandish her learning and skills and make them all look like fools. She could see through the insecurity and threat pulsating on the faces and words of all her superiors. Many of them had done much to sully her work, thereby her chances of moving forward.
“ There are however somethings that I have learned Rajat” –she said,
- When we join an organization, it’s just like a new bride entering her new household. We need to understand the ecosystem around us, and study the key players i.e. the movers and shakers of the system. Just as there is much fanfare and expected eagerness for the bride before she joins, and things change as soon as she becomes a part of the household, thus is with us too!
- While as an Ivy League graduate, we might have had the best of learning and understanding of business, the people with whom we work are experienced and seasoned players of the game. We must respect the knowledge that they have gleaned from the business and learn from them and integrate with our own knowledge, which till we start work is just text bookish, never mind the endless case studies that we did till our eyeballs popped out with the strain.
- In order to reach the higher ranks, it is very important to know the business from its grassroots and this means, that we need to get our hands dirty and do work, which we think is beneath our Ivy League degree. She then went to narrate to him the concept of the Japanese term “ Gemba Walk’, which was an essential component of the Lean management philosophy. Its initial purpose is to allow managers and leaders to observe the actual work process, engage with employees, gain knowledge about the work process and explore opportunities for continuous improvement. Sandhya said that she had spent her first 5 years doing ` Gemba’ and the learning that she gained, was invaluable as a leader. She had done the most menial of jobs, handled rough situations, met crazy customers, gone to remote and upcountry locations and had cried tears of sweat, blood and humiliation that came in truckloads owing to her gender. After all what could a chit of a girl accomplish? This, however earned her the grudging respect of her seniors and a trust that she could deliver on the tasks given to her. It had been a struggle but she swam the tide to the other side, and from then onwards she could charter the rough seas easily, with the skills and competencies acquired , coupled with the support of her peers and superiors.
- Stability with an organization was one of the key aspects for success, she told him. In the initial years of her career, she always had the sense that people were secretly assessing her on her staying power, her ability to withstand temptation of lucrative offers based on her Ivy League degree and to handle the vigour of her job with punishing schedules and challenges. It was somehow a test to her professionalism. When her peers and superiors felt comforted that she was loyal, they changed, and backed her fully in all her suggestions and initiatives. It was a funny Catch 22 kind of situation, but that was what it was. One played by the rules if one had to survive the corporate jungle.
- An Ivy League degree could only gain you entry to a coveted brand. Proving yourself in the organization required a whole set of competencies different from a B school. It was a journey from boyhood to manhood, or in her case girlhood to woman hood. One had to grow up fast to survive the fast paced multi-dimensional environment. One was lucky if one got a mentor early on, but everyone did need to go through the fire to prove their mettle, on several occasions.
The peon interrupted the conversation with a cup of tea. Rajat was in a trance. He had a tough time differentiating Sandhya Krishnan from the Sandhya Awasthi who was talking to him.
“ But they did not teach all of this in B School’’ he said. “ Of course they don’t teach you all of this”, she said. It’s the difference of having a recipe book and actually cooking the complicated recipe given. Sometimes you don’t get all the ingredients right, and we have to throw the dish away and start all over again.
“ So Sandhya, hate to ask, but … will you consider my candidature for your organization?’’ Sandhya studied Rajat. Time had not been kind. He looked broken inside, too proud to admit his failures, fallacies in his thinking, and reading people and situations wrong. But everyone deserved a second chance. She said, “ You would have to report to me and get your hands dirty, and promise me that you would stick around for the next 5 years and help the business grow’’.. Relief washed over Rajat, and his face reflected a kaleidoscope of hope, gratitude, renewed enthusiasm and a newly formed determination. He was right… the lounge had a good omen. He had felt it in his bones that his fate would change. Sandhya was forever out of his reach, but she had given him his pride and dignity back along with a gift of life.
He thanked her and walked out with a bounce on his heels. He directed the auto rickshaw to the IIM ketli.. He had to pay his respects once more. His alma mater had saved him yet again, in more ways than one… To Work again and with Sandhya Awasthi was a heady combination,. Life had come full circle.
The writer is a Certified NLP Practitioner (SNLP) , Leadership & Transformation Coach, Corporate Trainer in Leadership Development as also a POSH trainer and Consultant. Please connect withSakalyahr@gmail.com for Executive Coaching/ Leadership Training Solutions and POSH trainings, creation of ICC and aligning of HR policies with POSH.