Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The parable of the sadhu

Yesterday I read this Harvard Business Review called "The parable of the sadhu", by Bowen McCoy.

This is a very popular HBR article where the author faces a moral dilemma in Nepal. When climbing the mountains, his group finds an Indian holy man - a sadhu - lying on the ice, suffering from hypothermia. The dilemma between taking or not care of the man and their own needs ends when they give him some aid and comfort, but carry and leave him close to a hut, not knowing for sure whether he makes to the hut and, for that matter, if he lived after that.

The discussion that comes up after that is what is limit of their responsibility in a situation like that.
"'Where, in your opinion', I asked, 'is the limit of our responsibility in a situation like this? We had our own well-being to worry about.'"
And after analyzing the situation, the author understand that...
"One of our problems was that as a group we had no process for developing a consensus. We had no sense of purpose or plan. […] Because the group did not have a set of preconditions that could guide its action to an acceptable resolution, we reacted instinctively as individuals. […] We had no leader with whom we could all identify and in whose purpose we believed."
 I don't to give away the entire article, but I must quote these paragraphs that summarize the lesson:
"Individuals who operate from a thoughtful set of personal values provide the foundation for a corporate culture. A corporate tradition that encourages freedom of inquiry, supports personal values, and reinforces a focused sense of direction can fulfill the need to combine individuality with the prosperity and success of the group. Without such corporate support, the individual is lost."

"That is the lesson of the sadhu. In a complex corporate situation, the individual requires and deserves the support of the group. When people cannot find such support in their organizations, they don't know how to act. If such support is forthcoming, a person has a stake in the success of the group and can add much to the process of establishing and maintaining a corporate culture. Management's challenge is to be sensitive to individual needs, to shape them, and to direct and focus them for the benefit of the group as a whole."
It is interesting to analyze our own corporations and if we provide the foundation for a corporate culture, if any. Do we encourage freedom of inquiry? Do we support personal values? Do we have a focused sense of direction? Oftentimes I think that "the individual is lost" in many corporate environments, like the author says above. And this is harmful to the company.

PS: Photo from Flickr (Creative Commons).
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