First and foremost, a very vital caveat. Asian Paints is a company I respect deeply, its customer-centricity and people-centricity are stuff of legends. It was a precious client of ex-employer Contract Advertising, although never directly on my watch. However, it is utterly disappointing that they brag like spoilt rich kids during such a severe crisis.
In case you missed it, I am referring to a press blitz last week announcing promotions, increments and a whole host of dealer monetisation initiatives. Surely, hats off to the company for this action – it takes courage and commitment, not just cash, to pamper your people. Especially when it is plainly apparent that the paints sector will not recover in a tearing hurry. Not just for the receding demand (both new and upgrade) but also the flight of the migrants, reducing deeply the fulfilment capabilities.
But then, such exemplary graciousness must be matched by suitable corporate citizenship, surely not an unreasonable ask. For no fault of theirs, simply by current association, millions in corporate India are without full or even partial pay. They belong to every possible socio-economic denomination – from wage labourers to even CXOs, aligned to perfectly credible employers. This monetary crisis affects their livelihood, dampens their future plans and is a huge setback for morale.
This very morale, such an important asset for emotional stability, gets considerably affected each time there is a story like Asian Paints, a hypothesis verified with mental health experts. Life seems like an unfair lottery, the gloating communiques scathing like daggers in this trying environment. It makes employees elsewhere question the integrity of employers, even when balance sheets are being stretched to ensure best-possible wages. All of this fuelling disequilibrium in a society already under unfathomable turmoil.
Most importantly, it is necessary to note that many employers are manfully trying to maintain status quo, by retaining jobs and current levels of remuneration. Not just the expected high-pedigree corporates, this list also includes entrepreneurs (even in hospitality) jeopardising personal savings to ensure staff stability. Only difference being that not too many are bragging about their actions –the Bajaj group spoke about a commitment to retain, an acceptable tenor. Instead, they are considering it to be internal culture, an instrument of integrity that can justifiably enhance employee loyalty and thus future business. Restraint in external messaging is a demonstration of organisational maturity and consciousness of a larger societal role.
In fact, without intending to be, this excessive projection by Asian Paints is actually a failure of Corporate Social Responsibility. Influenced largely by the works of Porter and Kramer in 2006 and Rosabeth Moss Kanter, subsequently, CSR is now invariably associated with affirmative linkages to business. Thus, largely viewed as external actions of a company and their impact on society, employee relations and connected communication increasingly under the radar. While arguably they represent the foundation of an organisation’s integrity and values, charity does begin at home. In the post-corona world, I do suspect that this dimension will enjoy a major resurgence, shared values shaping sustainable customer value.
In fact, the collective integrity of the corporate world has been tested most severely in the last few months and this will continue in the immediate future. Integrity as seriousness in production prowess, the finest failing to deliver when it mattered most. Integrity as adherence to stated beliefs, especially when it comes to employee relations. Integrity in projection, the marketing facades ceding to the unavoidable realities. Exactly why such fundamental aspects will be the bedrock of future CSR initiatives, not just the proactive impact on the outside world.
An additional outcome of such transformations will be the greater connect between corporate brands and consumer brands, as reason for adoption. That callous startup with dismal regard for human rights will be answerable for this aspect, however successful the product. Just as the sincere peer who maintained both jobs and sustenance will be rewarded appropriately, as a potent variable for selection. ITC, Tata, Bajaj and their commendable peers will gain not just from further talent magnetism but additional evaluation points in transactional processes, as we all become more real and rational in our thinking. I do predict a Cyclone of Gratitude, the treatment of own people strongly influencing the business given by other people.
Now, getting back to Asian Paints and the crux of this tale. If I was an employee I would be delighted, quite like an Aryan in Nazi Germany. If was an outsider, I would be experiencing a gamut of emotions – from appreciation to despondency to downright jealousy. At times, it pays to operate on the conservatism that Indian belief systems encourage, downplay the glories and share the pains. With roots entrenched in the country of origin, this is a reality which the company would possibly know.
In conclusion, I must reinforce the relevance of CSR in this new world, entrenched deeply in culture and increasingly relevant in customer experiences. This code needs to be cracked afresh, the past just a reference and not the inspiration.
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