Rationalizing Greed

The Economic Times

Kubera, the Lord of wealth and the king of Yakshas, is the treasurer of the Gods. One day, he paid a visit to Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, the hermit-God, where he met Lord Shiva's elephant headed son, the corpulent Ganesha. He thought to himself, "Ganesha clearly loves food and Shiva can clearly not afford to him to his heart's content." So as a favour to Lord Shiva, Kubera offered to feed Lord Ganesha one meal. When Ganesha accepted the invitation and entered Kubera's kitchen, the Yaksha king said, "Eat to your heart's content."

Kubera regretted these words. Ganesha's appetite was insatiable. He ate everything that was available in the kitchen and still asked for more. Food had to be bought from the larder and then from the market. But Ganesha was still hungry. "More please," he said raising his trunk. Kubera had to spend all the money in his treasury and buy all the food in the world to feed Ganesha but still Ganesha was not happy. Finally, Kubera fell at Ganesha's feet and begged him to stop, "I apologize for I don't have enough food to satisfy your hunger. Please forgive me." To this Ganesha replied, "You really think food will satisfy hunger?" The difference between you and my father is that you seek to provide more food while He seeks to reduce hunger. That is why I sit in His house and not in your kitchen."

The corporate world is all about increasing the availability of food and not about reducing hunger. It happens at all levels. Rishi is a team leader at a leading BPO. His boss pulled him up after receiving complaints from his team members that he was overworking them. When asked why, Rishi declared, "I need to stretch my bonus." Why? "Because I want to buy a car. Other team leaders had bought cars without overworking their teams. The average bonus was clearly not enough. "I know that, but I want an SUV." When asked why he could not be happy with a smaller car that was easily affordable, he replied cockily: "It does not suit my status. Besides, if the company can have stretched targets, then why can't I?"

The only way to go up in the corporate world is by generating more food. It begins with B-schools where success of both the B-school and its students is measured by the value of placement offers. It continues as rainmakers get faster promotions and demands of shareholders keep rising. A good company is ultimately measured on the basis of its balance sheets and its market capitalization and by the cash it generates to the satisfaction of the shareholders. Naturally, every executive who works in such an organization believes his paycheck should have the same growth rate. Talent retention often involves paying more money and offering ESOPs. It is only a question of time before greed and growth become synonymous.

But food only fuels hunger. We want more and more because there is always a greener pasture out there. We want more and more because of our peers in other organizations, our batch mates in other companies, are earning more. It is through wealth that we value organizations. It is through wealth, we value individuals. Modern industry has created a world where hunger is celebrated, which is why no compensations will ever be fair or adequate and no revenue or profit will ever be good enough.

Rishi's desire for an SUV cannot be explained or controlled rationally. His killer instinct and his demand for more, will sooner or be later be rewarded or encouraged, because that is the value that we are imparting across organizations. Contentment remains a dangerous anti-growth concept in the present day corporate world; it's seen as complacency. The management of a company wants employees to be content with the compensation that is doled out but the management is never content with the revenue earned. Next year; we always want more. This is why, unless a leader takes a firm stand, no matter what Ganesha says, organizations will continue to invest in Kubera's kitchens and no one will seek the wisdom of Lord Shiva.


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