There is no love, only proofs of love, I read somewhere. And, this is V’s favorite tool of offense when I tell him complicated stuff like “You have never sent me roses.”
However, over time, I have realized that the statement can be adapted to more than just roses.
We need wins, constant odes to the worthiness of our existence, appreciation and rewards to goad us on. We strive for excellence in the hopes of success. Where it was marks and grad school admits, now it is promotions and bonuses. If our excellence does not translate into personal success, we categorize it as failure. And, most of us are not evolved to a ‘Zen level’ where we can accept excellence just for the sake of knowledge and betterment of the world at large.
Of late, I have been getting into a number of “what motivates an individual at work” discussions with colleagues and friends. During one such conversation, we were left wondering for some time about our irrational obsession with promotions. Mri told us about how her organization, a multi-national, continuously incentivizes individuals, despite having a flat structure. The signaling that someone is valuable to the organization is done in more ways than one – inter-departmental transfers, intra- and inter-regional transfers, project work allocation per one’s choice and skill sets etc. All this is linked with the individual’s long term career path in the organization and is not restricted to one or two years of service.
I recounted an incident from one of my projects where the CEO of an Indian company was bent on including a number of designations stacking up to VP. When I objected saying it was making the structure too hierarchical, he told me, “Kavitha, this is India. Every other person in the family wants to know what your designation is. I cannot apply global standards of four levels to the top, and give promotions once in five years. That will leave me with many unhappy employees and a very high attrition rate.”
I cannot talk for other countries, but in India, we have been trained to work for wins since childhood. Even hobbies have been encouraged with an eye on the first prize. Perhaps, that is where our obsession stems from, and that is what our organizations have built into their structures. While the drive to win is still an acceptable devil and can be tackled through hikes and performance linked incentives, I have started to increasingly feel the void we have in terms of career development. Our fixation on moving up the ranks despite not knowing whether that is what we really want to and can do is reason enough for that void. And, it seems to be driven largely by our need to prove a point, because that is the only way we think we can prove a point to the rest of the world. It is a well-known but rarely acknowledged truth that someone who is exemplary at number-crunching may not necessarily feel happy about being elevated to a people management role.
I have felt the pressure to prove a point for a long time now, because I have always been groomed to do that. While V keeps reminding me about the value I am adding to the rest of the world and how I should be proud of it, it still remains a difficult task for me to let go of the need to prove a point, look forward to a signal. Perhaps, we need to work hard as a society to groom our next generation towards meaningful existences, with happiness linked to excellence more than success.