Guest Post: Turning corporate mantras on their head

This is a guest from our friend, Aarti Shyamsunder. Aarti works for a large IT services company from their Mysore campus. She loves old movies, fine wine and long walks on the beach. No, seriously, she moved to Mysore because she could smell the surf from her high-rise apartment! She’s an industrial/organizational psychologist in an IT and business consulting organization. Her role involves working in leadership development, assessment and research. She lives and works in Mysore, India where she relocated about a year ago from the United States. Thanks for the post, Doc!


SARTNAM: Turning corporate mantras on their head

Recently, cooling my heels at Bangalore airport waiting for a (much-delayed) flight, I was casually eavesdropping on conversations happening around me. Bangalore being Bangalore, I was surrounded by mostly corporate types on business trips. Listening to the buzz of corporate jargon I was tempted to shout out “Bingo” every time someone said ‘synergy’ or ‘leverage’ or ‘strategic fit’!

It got me thinking about corporate mantras and how useful they are. Usually, clichés are clichés for a reason – because they apply (and appeal) to the lowest common denominator. However, is this true of all clichés, corporate mantras included? See what happens when we turn some of them upside down…

1.       “We reward innovation” – There’s tons of research around how creativity can be stifled by extrinsic rewards. Innovation is not something that can be incentivized (Bingo!) – it emerges from individuals and their context. What about innovating on the kinds of rewards we give instead? Money, hate to break it, dear HR department, isn’t everything.

2.       “Deliver today, innovate tomorrow” – This mantra focuses on delivering and living the not-so-romantic QSQT (Quarter Se Quarter Tak) life while postponing innovation. As if delivery and innovation need to be mutually exclusive. With the right culture, encouragement from leaders, resources and outlets for creativity, this needn’t be the case. Serendipity, as it turns out, is indeed too important to be left to chance and organizations that plan for this can be highly innovative and highly productive.

3.       “Profit is an opinion, cash is real” – From my limited understanding of this (I’m just a lowly psychologist, not a worldly-wise MBA J), it means that profits or earnings may not necessarily be visible to the world, but cash – in the form of shareholder dividends and such – is real and tangible. Now I’m thinking of good-old motivators like profit-sharing and gain-sharing (Bingo! Bingo!). Archaic and quaint though they may seem, they certainly seem(ed?) to work. In fact, one very successful formula calls for more and more variable pay based mainly on profit-sharing as one climbs the corporate ladder. This adds uncertainty to the monthly paycheck but also places accountability on senior leaders to be productive and profitable.  So profit can perhaps be made more real and tangible after all. As for cash – well, just like stupid, cash is as cash does.

4.       “Kiss up, kick down” – While this isn’t a corporate mantra organizations will actually endorse, sadly it’s often the way things work.  Telling the higher-ups what they want to hear regardless of how true it is stifles growth, and distances the masses. So does the command-and-control of said masses that goes with this culture. Now, think about kissing down and kicking up instead – nurturing talent and growing your employees, while questioning those above you and constantly challenging the status quo. If this sounds refreshing, perhaps it’s time for this mantra to be turned upside down!