4G’s – Gratitude, Grace, Giving Back and Growing
An exclusive interview with Mr L Prabhakar, Vice President – Human Resources (Agri-business Division) at ITC Limited. In a total work experience of 29 years, he worked with ITC for 22 years.
How have you evolved in professional life i.e. your professional journey?
After 12th, I opted to study engineering more because we lived in a small place where it was the most socially acceptable option. However, no regrets as it made an impact on me having stayed in a hostel for 4 years. Everything that I did later, was my choice. For Masters, I applied for XLRI and that too in HR. Many years later, in a school reunion a friend remarked that in school itself I seemed to have mentioned my desire to be in a field related to people. My preferred employer was ITC, but I missed narrowly, and instead started my career with TVS motors in 1988.
I worked with TVS for four years and when an opportunity to join ITC presented itself in 1992, I grabbed it and worked in different roles and assignments till 2000. In 2000, I had to move to Chennai for personal reasons and joined Murugappa group. After working for three years there, in 2003 I returned to ITC. So, almost 29 years as a professional in 3 great organizations, of which 22 with ITC.
What do you think is the role of Values in leadership and in life?
One thing that is constant, universal and timeless is Values, both in personal and professional life. They’re relevant regardless of the context, level, personality or character of a person. Values is what you are, or what you are not.
If you look at the organizations I chose to work for, I made sure that the values of the organization and my personal values are in alignment. I figure this out by putting my options through certain filters, before I make a decision. This works even whilst making decisions on whom to work with at an individual level also, if at all you have the option to do so!
The first filter is my perception of the organization based on my reading and research. The second filter is what I pick up (listen, meet, observe) from the interactions with company personnel. The third filter is the impact my decision would have on my family, mentors and well-wishers – would they be proud of my choice. The last filter I consider is how low is the possibility of me regretting the decision I make.
Which are your top 3-4 values without which you feel you cannot do as a person?
- The first value I cannot do without is respect for people. Respect for people as individuals, teams, organizations and on a larger level, a country.
- The second one is humility. You see the companies I’ve worked for are quiet large and successful, but all of them maintain a relatively low profile. So that is one value that was in alignment when I decided to work with them.
- Co-existence is another value that I give a lot of importance to. I believe it’s not about the “or”, but it is about the “and”. What I mean by this is how inclusive you are. So when in a situation where you’re talking to a doorman and a CEO walks by, can you make them both feel included or will you give more importance to the CEO only.
- Another value that is very important for me is the value “giving”. For me this value is anchored on 4G’s – Gratitude, Grace, Giving Back and Growing. For me giving back to society, profession, friends, institutions, etc. is not about losing something, but is about growing in the process – Growing yourself and helping others grow. The key is doing it with grace.
One story or anecdote from your life, either personal or professional, where living by values in a testing time gave you a positive result?
This anecdote may sound very simple and trivial, but demonstrates the power of values. In one of the organizations that I worked with, we had a major employee relations problem leading to violence within and outside the factory. Typically when one is faced with such a situation, we go into confrontational mode and when that happens, we tend to ignore the fundamental value of respect for people. It becomes very easy to treat workers and unions as your enemies and look down on them and ignore the tenets of ‘respect for people’. One can argue that if they indulged in violence, is there a space for respect and niceties. I’ve always believed that there is a place even in that context. This particular situation had escalated to a level, wherein I had filed a case against some of the workers and outsiders in the court / police station. I knew that one of the employee’s child was in a critical health condition. In one of the hearings, when I met him, immediately and instinctively asked about the child and told him, “because of disciplinary action taken against you, there is not much that can be done, but I would still like to know how is your daughter doing and if there is something I can help with, do let me know.” He was stunned. Two days later he came and met me and apologized for what he had done and said, “I cannot undo what I have done, but I will try to be a better individual going forward and not stray into the line I had taken.” To me that’s the power of 4G.
What in your opinion is the contribution of values in organizational growth? Is there a tangible/meaningful contribution or are values overrated?
My belief is values can never be overrated and their role is both tangible and intangible. The tangible benefit is reflected in the longevity of the organization. As we discussed earlier, values are something that stand the test of times. Every organization goes through ups and downs and if the organization has sailed through these times, it has done so because of the stability, calmness and vitality that values provide. Values are the one thing that can remain constant even when everything else around is changing.
They are intangible in the sense that in a context where people keep changing, values play the role of an adhesive, a glue. They bind the different internal and external elements of the organization together; they connect the past to the present and to the future Values in tandem with Vision and Vitality, create enduring value for all stakeholders.
What are the challenges in practicing value based leadership and what are the ways to get people to practice them?
Values are something that one needs to experience for themselves. One of the things that I have seen of late is the shortened tenure of an individual, because of which they don’t get the chance to experience the values in action and sometimes even miss recognizing them as values. This becomes more critical if we believe the true test of values is in tough times and many don’t stay long enough to see those tough times. Another thing is that because of time and deadline pressures, leaders and managers tend not to spend adequate time to share or engage in conversations which will reinforce the value of values. In an informal setting one can get people to appreciate values through storytelling. The reason this works best in an informal context is that the receptivity is higher. Another way is role modelling, easier said than done though. If a person watches their seniors behave in a certain way, they tend to follow their footsteps and model that particular behaviour.
As an organization, what are the kind or training and development initiatives taken by you to enhance alignment, competence and performance of your team members across various levels i.e. leadership level, mid management level and executive level?
In our organization, we share and enhance appreciation of core values in a different ways.
- The first one would be the induction or orientation that we have for new recruits, wherein apart from highlighting of the same, senior leaders in formal and informal conversations share how they have experienced the espousal of the same. It is a kind of training but not value specific.
- The second way we focus on values is by communicating the “why” of a particular decision, policy or process, and it is in this explanation that the manifestation of values comes up.
- Any intervention that we do, we try to have our senior managers or leaders to come and address and speak of their experiences within ITC. What we also ask of them is to share experiences which they underwent at a similar career phase as the participants.
- During visits of seniors to other locations, opportunities are created for youngsters to have one to one interaction with seniors, experience and engage with them in the process and see and learn for themselves the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of values.
Your message to executives for growth in career.
Let me attempt it in a different way. I will respond by sharing a few quotes that I believe in and try to live by. These are quotes shared by a dear friend of mine.
- Trust your inner genius.
- Step outside the story.
- Balance is a continual practice.
- I am not what has happened to me, I am what I choose to become.
- Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.
On a different note, this response demonstrated the power of 4G! I would like to end with a quote from William Ralph Inge – “The aim of education is the knowledge not of facts, but of values.”