Faiez Hassan Seyal | Presented at “International Convention on Quality Improvement (ICQI-2000)” organized by PIQC and EPB held at Lahore, Pakistan from November 14-15, 2000
A large company had been continuously losing its market share since 1994. With the ever-increasing cost of operations coupled with poor customer service and vendors/dealers relations, added with lost employee’s integrity, loses were at all-times high in 1998. Corporate culture included all the deadly evils like aristocracy, power games, favoritism, poor communication with employees and other stake holders, slow decision-making, poor employee-management relationships, late comings, no accountability, blaming and complaining attitude, resulting in inter-personal conflicts, lost motivation, aggression, disrespect, etc. Malpractices including stealing, and kickbacks, in all the departments was the order of the day.
In such an environment, after the failures of two regional directors, the third newly appointed regional director (RD) was confronted with a big challenge of motivating and persuading the orthodox and conservative country’s senior management team to turn the company around. All the efforts made by his predecessors by introducing various minor and major change initiatives were either put in the cold storage or never got implemented due to the extreme resistance and non-willingness of the senior management team of nine (9), including GMs, Director and MD. This team of nine (9) very intelligently had been justifying their poor performance by putting all the blame on the national tax system, national price controls, holding company policies, expensive raw materials, etc.
The new RD within the first three months of his appointment sensed the situation and concluded that he would not be able to handle it at his own and must involve a third-party to assist him. Within a month, he appointed me to assist him with a mandate to design and implement an 18-month long human resource development (HRD) effort with the direct reporting relationship with him. Learning from the past experiences, it was agreed that even though the purpose of the project was to initiate a major cultural change, it must be camouflaged under the umbrella of an HRD effort to which the local management team seemed more receptive.
Over the next 18 months, hundreds of activities were performed including a behavioral retreat session, vision formulation workshop, skills building workshop, leadership session, hundreds of brainstorming and coaching sessions, meetings, etc. This “so-called” HRD program became so powerful that it ignited a never-ending process of chain events that lead a major cultural change in the company, producing tremendous business results. The RD and the senior management team while appreciating the whole effort in terms of quality of various programs, project management, well-planned and thoughtful activities and sincerity, commitment and competence of the consultant credited one activity without which they thought this success could never have been achieved and that was the initial 30-hour retreat session. This session used a unique mix of behavioral and mind sciences, medicine, spiritualism and religion. This paper is meant to share the overall experience of this effort while focusing on this single activity that was called “a miracle”.
The Status Quo
During the initial interview meetings with key managers, (and later endorsed by others in the survey questionnaire that I conducted under the umbrella of “training needs assessment”), I discovered that most of the people in the organization were competent. They had pretty good knowledge (what to) of the global practices as well as exceptionally good skills (how to) of performing their jobs. Most of the management team has had the foreign training and/or education in their relevant fields in addition to having professional degrees with an average of about 10 years relevant experience. Even at the supervisory level, people ranked above the industry’s average in terms of education and experience. With all the desired competence (what and how to), to perform their respective jobs, however there was a “status quo” and no one was interested to do anything about it. We discovered several wrong beliefs, negative attitude (want to) and their respective ill behaviors at all management levels, the higher the worse. Common observations were:
- Negative attitude (what can I do? It’s not possible, etc.)
- Value conflicts (conflicting personal and organizational values)
- Confusion (I don’t know what is coming up?)
- Lower morale and loss of motivation (why should I do it?)
- Ethical issues (if everyone else, why not me?)
- Dissatisfaction (always finding something wrong in the work)
- No or very low corporate loyalty/integrity (I will leave if I have a better option)
- Pessimism (the country/company will never change)
- Interpersonal grudges and grievances against superiors
- Critical of the performance of subordinates
- Complains about excessive work and low rewards
- Poor spouse and children relationships and blaming the workload for it
- Focusing on their complains with the company not on their own performance
- Back biting of peers and seniors
- Critical of others in something and doing the same thing themselves
The detailed analysis of this initial data forced me to the next phase (that was not originally planned) and that was of conducting meetings with the HR, the scanning of personnel files and then having another round of personal meetings with key managers. This revealed the following facts:
- Average per capita medical expenses had increased by three folds sine 1994
- Absenteeism and sick leave reporting increased to double
- Out of a total group of about 20 senior managers, 13 have cardiac disease history
- General unhappiness with their marriages
- Four reported divorces, two second marriage cases, six separated
- 90 percent reported three or more arguments/fights per week with their spouses
- 74 percent reported three or more arguments per week with their grown-up children
- 80 percent reported that they had gained 20 pounds or more weight in past 5 years
- 60 percent reported the regular usage of anti-depressant drugs
- 55 percent admitted the regular use of abusive language either at work or at home
- 85 percent reported 8 hours or more sleep daily and that their sleep has increased in the past five years
- 70 percent complained about lack of energy and motivation to do anything
- 70 percent reported that someone in the family (father, mother, children) falls sick twice or more times a month
- Out of the total 10 whose children were married, seven expressed their and their children’s unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their marriages
- 90 percent reported that they are generally not happy with life as a whole. All of these people had a big negative metaphor to describe the life
- About 40 percent reported a major personal financial loss in the past three years
- 30 percent reported a sudden death or a tragedy in the immediate family in the past three years
One might think that what this personal information had to do with the project objectives? You will know that later. At that time, the biggest challenge ahead however, was of motivating this team of highly unhappy and critical people who were already pre-occupied with their personal problems.
The Biggest Challenge
One of the important training needs that emerged as a result of the diagnostic study was that of a behavioral training. I was sure that if the change in performance was to be achieved, a change in their beliefs about life, about performance and about “change” itself is desirable as obvious from the Figure 1 below that explains our model of behavioral change.
I was clear that without a positive change in beliefs, no permanent change in attitude and behaviors could be achieved. The task was clear. However the real challenge was of the motivation of the team. During the diagnostic, it was communicated that a number of initiatives/activities were undertaken in the past to develop a positive culture, but all of these failed to achieve the desired objectives. Various activities that were performed in the past three years included:
- Office infrastructure, facilities improvement (quality of life)
- Salary increase
- Pay for performance and other reward system
- Better cafeteria and health services
- New and better cars
- Job rotation system
- Job redesign to create additional challenges in the work
- Departmental meetings/brain-storming sessions etc. to enhance employee’s involvement and participation
- Organized seven training workshops with built-in travel and fun
- Appreciation and recognizing long-service
- In-company events, functions, family get-togethers, etc.
A lot was done to increase the motivation level of the team but unfortunately it did not work. Why it did not work, my analysis on that was the following.
Soul – The Missing Dimension
A thorough analysis of the above-mentioned findings opened a whole-new “world” of knowledge for me. If you too, look at the list above, you will find that items 1 to 5 address our physical needs, item 6 to 9, our intellectual or mental needs, whereas items 10 and 11 are meant to address our emotional needs.
Now the dilemma here is same as was mentioned by many philosophers, scholars, intellectuals and prophets over the last several centuries. Everyone had his own way of conveying the reality, but the message was same. Unfortunately, we never heard it right. And even if we did, we did not buy into it, fully. We as humans, have four dimensions of us. We have a body, we have a mind, we have a heart and we have a soul. It means that we have physical needs, we have intellectual needs, we have emotional needs and we have spiritual needs. The truth of the life is that we can never reach our full potential and be at peace unless all of our four dimensions are in harmony with each other.
Figure 2: Hierarchy of Needs
Let me make it easy by providing a layman example. Unless our physical needs are met, we would never want to strive for or cater to our intellectual needs. The moment we have met a few of our intellectual needs, immediately after our emotional needs become active. A need to be loved and to love, a need to be with someone to share our lives, a need to be heard and a need to be respected, appreciated and recognized for our work, etc. When after having all of these three needs fulfilled, life seems to be empty, then we start pondering as to what is missing. A fortunate few, very soon and a majority of people, at very late in their lives, discover that one of the important dimensions of us has been neglected and that is our soul. Most of them would try to do as much as they could; to address their spiritual needs, but most of the time the earlier negligence would have damaged our souls which in return would have damaged our other three dimensions to the extent that nothing much could be done at that point in time, to recover from the earlier damages. The point here is that it is the bitter truth of life if you may call it so, but an unchallenged law of nature that we could never be at our best by ignoring any one side of us. Whatever positive or negative happens to any one of these dimensions, it in results affects other three, positively or negatively, respectively. One could even relate Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with this law of nature and would find a number of similarities. A few minor differences that one might observe would be due to difference in Maslow’s own educational, cultural, social and religious background.
The dilemma in this particular case, as obvious, was that the company had been investing considerably to motivate its people by addressing their physical, intellectual and emotional needs. But because the high-level spiritual needs were un-addressed, the company could not achieve the desired objectives from previous initiatives and training programs. To reinforce my hypothesis, when I sought help from various religious resources including Qur’an, I was overwhelmed with the Qur’anic teachings that supported my hypothesis. A few verses are quoted here:
- Evil as an example are people who reject Our signs and wrong their own souls. (7: 177)
- Because God will never change the grace which He hath bestowed on a people until they change what is in their (own) souls. (8: 53)
- ……..It is not God Who wrongs them, but they wrong their own souls. (9: 70)
- ……. Verily never will God change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)….. (13: 11)
- And if any strive (with might and main), they do so for their own souls….. (29: 6)
- And be ye not like those who forgot God; and He made them forget their own souls! Such are the rebellious transgressors! (59: 19)
Motivation through Ages
Isn’t it fabulous? As long as we keep our hearts, eyes and ears open, we can easily reveal the truths of life and they will not be different than already listed in the Qur’an. Even the non-Islamic modern world is revealing various truths and using them to improve the quality of lives at our homes, organizations, societies and the globe as a whole. If we re-visited the management history, for an example, it would also reinforce these learning. The management history is not too old and dates back only to the early 20th century. If we quickly glanced through it and the subsequent writings of various times, we observe following trends:
Early 20th century till late 50s: Focus was on having more and more people by giving them good wages to start with and then later on addressing their other physical needs as listed earlier. It was the time of industrialization. More people were required for mass production. It was the time when it was generally considered that people needed to be controlled and organized. As a result, “watch-dog” concept leading to tiers of management emerged. In addition, the administration departments were set up to control people with heads coming from army, police, law and finance backgrounds.
From 50’s till 70’s: This is the era in which it was realized that people are not only physical beings but also intellectual beings. Their intellectual needs were realized and the training function was established in organizations to cater to the intellectual needs of people, e.g. need of learning and growth. The focus was initially on the technical training (job-oriented training) and then gradually moved to management training. The responsibility to perform this function was handed over to the newly established personnel departments with heads coming from diverse backgrounds such as technical, education and management, etc. based on the individual needs of organizations. Organizations finally, took over the responsibility of training its people to get the most out of them.
Late 70’s and 80’s: This is the third era in which, people were accepted as emotional beings. The focus started shifting from training to development. People were recognized as an important resource that continuously needs to be motivated and developed to perform at its best. This is the era in which human resource function replaced the orthodox personnel function responsible for listening to people, involving them in various decisions, exchange of feedback, job enrichment, teambuilding, etc. During this era, emerged the concepts of rewards including various corporate get-togethers, functions, events involving families, etc. The stress on respect, equal treatment, enhanced quality of life, reducing the tiers of management, teamwork, also increased. The HR managers were trained in behavioral sciences and were given responsibility to organize various behavioral training sessions for the emotional uplift of their people. The annual confidential reports of the last era were replaced with performance reviews and subsequently with performance management systems. By the end of the era, the management development term was replaced with the people development. The scope of development broadened and included the personal development aspect in addition to professional development.
From 90’s onwards: This is the forth era. People were finally declared as human capital. It was realized that the only difference between winning and losing organizations is the quality of its people including their character, beliefs, habits, personal motivation, abilities, etc. People were realized as spiritual beings with various spiritual needs and wanting to experience spiritual growth. Authors who published in the last era but people never understood them became popular and best sellers. A typical example is of Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” that included spiritualism and addressed centuries-old “laws of nature” now forgotten by our material society. The popularity of the book reinforced the fact that how unknown the universal truths are and how desperate the world is to have solutions to their problems. The emphasis of developing good mangers and workers changed to making people good “people” first. If we could just make them good human beings, they would automatically become good managers, workers, etc. The emphasis started shifting from the personality traits to the character traits. A simple life truth re-emerged and i.e. how could we have ethical organizations without having ethical people in it. It was also realized that personality traits could easily be taught to anyone but it is extremely difficult to infuse character traits in to people and that is a prophetic work. By the end of the century, the emphasis started shifting from spiritualism to God. By the turn of the century, God finally regains entry in the modern world’s corporate life and is being recognized as a part and parcel of our everyday’s life. The HR managers are expected to be mentors, spiritual leaders, healers, etc.
Isn’t it amazing? It will be for those who are far away from Qur’an but not for those who are called “men of understanding” in Qur’an. The point here is no matter if we realize it or not, it is already happening. And something that has not happened yet would definitely happen, because if it is in Qur’an, you can be rest assured that it is an unchallenged “truth”. The more we explore and learn, more aware of the fact we become. The truth that we cannot go beyond what is already there in the Qur’an.
The Behavioral Retreat Session
Coming back, the point under debate was that we could never be happy and at peace unless our spiritual needs were met. Having this belief, I took a big risk of blending spiritualism and God in the first behavioral “re-treat” program. A 30-hour residential program was designed for the group of 30 senior managers that was meant primarily to address spiritual needs as listed below.
- A need to self-discovery (i.e. who am I? Where I cam from, what is my true reality? What is the purpose of my being? etc.)
- A work fulfilling enough that is also aligned with my personal mission and value statement
- Need to know the life principles and truths, and how do they affect me as an individual and the work to be aligned with those universal principles
- Opportunities to meditate and reflect on experiences
- Appreciation for my religious beliefs and the work and the culture where I could practice my religious beliefs
- Something that will also enhance the quality of my personal life including my relationship with self, my children, my spouse and the society as a whole
- A culture and opportunities to talk about and seek God’s guidance
Based on my observations about the attitude and behavior of the team as well as the suffering they were going through in their lives, I thought it to be absolutely critical. I was also certain that unless we filled up the emptiness in their lives with something powerful and built them spiritually, it would be foolish to expect that they would be motivated enough to contribute positively in the work ahead. How could one fix someone else’s life if one’s own life is shattered? We know the normal human response is always, “what’s in it for me?” And that was something I wanted to capitalize on. Hence, I blended the answer to this question in the overall program and the methodology. The objectives set for the behavioral retreat session as finalized with RD were:
- to sell the idea of “change”, by providing them a totally new perspective of “change”
- persuade and motivate the team to “change” from within so that the team “wants” to change as opposed to being “forced” to change
- provide people a more positive attitude towards life
- provide opportunities to individuals to look deep inside, to reflect on their practices, behaviors and performance and identify those practices and behaviors that needs to be changed to achieve the objective of the overall project
The contents of the program included:
- The need for Change: what happens to us if we do not change?
- Universal law of change and its implications on individuals
- Where does the “self” fit into organizational and societal change
- The cost of negative thinking
- What is positive attitude and the benefits of being “positive”
- Accepting responsibility of personal and professional life
- Learning and change and the universal law endorsing this
- Traits of global successful people
- Values that build high performance culture
- Religious interpretations of these values
- What do we get as a reward if we followed these values
- Importance of self discovery and self meditation
- Stress – where does it come, what does it cost and how to control it
- Our personal character and what it has to do with the performance
- The price we pay if we choose to do things at the cost of our character
- Ethics of change and why and how to follow those
- Winning support of the family and building highly supportive family
With this agenda, I decided to persuade the RD to allow spouse participation in the program. My stance on this issue was something like this. “People are emotional beings. They need to be told and their new learning needs to be reinforced. They need to have someone around with whom they could share and who could also provide them with the support and encouragement. The implementation of the learning would become much easier if the spouses were included to support their partner on this journey to change.” I also persuaded the RD that we must enhance the quality of life at their homes, if we have to achieve the objective of enhancing the quality of life at the workplace. And very promptly, he got convinced. The response of the senior management team was totally different than what I thought. I was thinking that they would like the idea of bringing their spouses with them on a four-day vacation cum training trip to one of the resorts. To my surprise, many rejected the idea. The struggle I went through to persuade them to bring their spouses along on this company-paid “trip” was an experience in itself. However cutting it short, with the exception of a few, all others agreed.
During the orientation session on the first day of training, when I announced that the training would last for about 10 hours a day, the team openly confronted the very idea of such a long session. The training thus started in a little tense environment, but by the end of the day the whole scenario had changed and the group became interested and started opening up. Many of their beliefs about various aspects of their lives were shattered. By the end of the lunch time on the second day, requests for one-to-one session (individual and/or couple counseling) after the formal training hours session started coming. Responding to the need, I agreed to entertain these requests after the formal training hours and it lasted till mid-night on the following two nights. On the third day the last session was reserved for the “personal action plan” (PAP) activity, i.e. what do we do differently in the office. After the activity, the group commitment on the PAP was taken and endorsed by their spouses.
By the end of the third day, almost everyone had confessed their negative behaviors, mal-practices, wrong beliefs, and showed their personal commitment to change. Amid cries, tears, commitments, promises and hopes, the session concluded on the third day and by that time we had spent more than 35 hours together in the training room compared with originally planned 30 hours. Throughout the training, the whole team was so involved that none missed any sessions that lasted for about 14 hours a day for whole three days. Suffice it to say the training not only met but also exceeded the objective. Many couples reported that if they had done this training earlier, their lives would have been totally different, today.
This was a beginning and of course, a very powerful one. We had won the trust and commitment of the team to turn the company around. This was the time to accelerate the process before the motivation and energy level fizzled. To this end, we immediately planned the whole project and formed a steering committee of 3 senior managers from within the group to monitor the progress and drive the major up-coming change. The cultural change model we used is listed in the Figure 3.
Major activities after the first session included:
- two-day (20-hours) residential “vision formulation” workshop for senior managers. Two task teams of 6 members each were formulated after this workshop. One responsible for drafting the strategic documents and the other to submit the report on the cultural barriers in the way to achieve the vision and propose recommendations for removing them.
- two-days (20-hour) residential session on leading and facilitating teams was conducted for the members of task team focusing on team skills and group dynamics.
- one-day motivational session was conducted for everyone in the company. This session was the compressed version of the three-day behavioral retreat session. The purpose of the session was to overcome the chances of any potential resistance during the implementation phase and to minimize any chances of grapevines by selling the idea of change, telling people what is coming next, why are we doing it and what are we expecting from them.
- Two task teams met on a weekly basis after office-hours to review their performance against targets. In addition, the team allocated three hours twice a week to undertake other sub-activities, necessary to reach the objectives. These sessions were initially monitored by us. Both teams met the dead line of presenting their draft recommendations within three months.
Figure 3: Model of Cultural Change
- After the approval/revision of the recommendations by the steering committee, the team developed the implementation plan under our guidance. The progress was shared monthly with the steering committee
- After the approval of the recommendations and the implementation plan, five-day (60-hour) residential “Leadership” training was conducted for a group of 50 to assist them with the implementation. This session addressed leadership behaviors and skills.
Surprisingly, all recommendations were thoroughly implemented by the end of the 15th month without any resistance. The tangible results achieved as a result of this effort are miraculous:
- Product quality improved- customer complaints came down to one-third within the first three months of the implementation
- Continuous improvement philosophy embedded
- A major cultural change achieved
- Right-sizing achieved without any major resistance
- Sales increased
- Reduced wastage/repeat work
- Reduced overtime
- Increased productivity/efficiency leading to lesser sub-contracting
- Absenteeism reduced
- Reduced medical costs
- Customer satisfaction index improved
- Teamwork induced
- Reduced employee turnover
- Reduced management-workers tensions
- Interpersonal conflicts eliminated
- Abuse and aggression eliminated
- Sales travel billing reduced
- Store stealing eliminated
- Kick-backs eliminated as reported by vendors
- Plant/office cleanliness
- Motivation and morale improved
- Customers/vendors wait time decreased to one-third
- Spouse relationships improved tremendously as reported by spouses in a follow-up session
Is not it miraculous? Yes, it is. All of this might be sound out of this world. You must be thinking what sort of magic was this? Well, it was the magic of the “truth”. Truth is powerful. And if one has the courage, passion and commitment strong enough, anyone could do this magic.
This paper has listed my experience of a miraculously successful HRD project. My client and I both agreed that these marvelous results could never have been achieved without bringing spiritualism and God in the work. It might make a lot of sense to many but there will be many others who will still not like to accept these basic truths of life. I always tell people that no matter what we like or what our individual biases towards life may be, the fact is that the truth does and will prevail. We must understand that we are not independent.
We are a part of a universal system created by God and there are prescribed and set rules and guidelines called “laws of nature” to run this universe. We are not powerful enough to change these “rules”. However, our Creator has given us a choice either to conform to these laws of nature or discard them. If we choose not to conform by the prescribed laws, which most of us do, then on one hand we will never reach our full potential and on the other, we will pay the “fine” for our non-conformances. The fine can be anything (e.g. the sufferings individuals were going through, as listed in the earlier part of this paper). Therefore, it’s a matter of choice. It is not only me. Everyday, people around the world in their chosen fields are revealing the basics truths of life and learning from those. An article published in “Business Week” of August 30, 1999, under the heading “21 Ideas for the 21st century”, highlighted the importance of religion in our lives:
- Why are we here? What does it all mean? Human beings will ask these big questions and the religion will provide the context.
- Neither economic efficiency nor scientific rationalism has diluted the overwhelming force of religious beliefs, rituals, and myths.
- The pull of religion will intensify. Science and religion will find common grounds.
- Today, faith ….. fills a void that material comfort cannot.
- In the U.S., 9 in 10 people claim to engage regularly in prayer and 3 out of 4 do so on a daily basis.
- The narrow-bore scientific disciplines of the late 20th century will give way to interdisciplinary approaches asking the larger, over-reaching questions about the complex patterns of life.
- The correlation between brainwave patterns and meditative states, faith, prayer and healing will emerge.
And soon after another study revealed the changes in the corporate America in “Business Week” of November 08, 1999, under the heading “Religion in the Workplace”:
- There are 10,000 Bible and prayer groups in workplace in the U.S. (which are retraining corporate America on the powers of the religion, character and morality, etc.)
- Companies like Xerox, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Wal-Mart Stores regularly organize sessions for the spiritual uplift of their employees
- 48 % of American talk about religion in their workplaces everyday
- 51% of American wants to pray everyday
- Many CEOs regularly consult various spiritual leaders seeking help with important decisions
- 78 % feel the need of spiritual growth in their life as compared with 20 % in 1994
- 95 % of American have absolute trust on God
- “Once words like “virtue”, “spirit”, and “ethics” got through the corporate door, God wasn’t far behind.
- Body, emotion and brain. The only thing that was missing from the equation was spirit. and it’s finally here.
Whatever the “non-Muslim” world is discovering today must not be new to those who understand Qur’anic teaching which revealed these basic realities 1400 years ago. Just imagine that all the hardships and struggle made to reveal these truths and the “fine” that the world must have paid during the process and finally revealing what was already there could have been avoided if the laws of Qur’an would have been blindly pursued. Remember that the “Qur’an” was called the FINAL book as it lists down the final guidelines for everything. We cannot discover anything, new or different than what is already there. It is simply not possible. If it was possible then the “Qur’an” would not have been called the “Final” book.
Well, it seems that even the credit of introducing “God” in the corporate world would go to Americans. And learning form Americans and following them like always, by the time, we finally catch up, they will have established yet another benchmark for the world and that would be no different than “Qur’an” no matter what they will call it. I leave you with a question to ponder over. “Is our aloofness to our religion mainly due to those who misused the religion to serve their own vested interests or it is due to our own ignorance as to what exactly it is?” And if you feel the pain too and a need for change, then “Let’s re-build our homes and workplaces on the solid principles of “Qur’an”.