Personal Integrity and Trust

In his Guest Post, The Trust Factor, Sikandar Sardesai had concluded, “If we are to get rid of the “Scam India” image, that’s where we need to start – with personal integrity and trust.”

I am re-posting, with a few changes, Can we eradicate corruption? Yes We Can!, which I had originally posted on Sep 12, 2013. This is a true story of one Indian organisation that successfully introduced a culture of personal integrity and trust.

In many companies, employees who undertake outstation travel for work are reimbursed conveyance and travelling expenses in a manner that enables them to claim more than they actually spend. Thus, the employees get ‘tax-free income’. In fact, this ‘tax-free income’ is taken into account while negotiating salary packages, particularly in case of sales and service personnel.

This system is so widespread that most people do not even consider it unethical. In fact, about 3 years back, there were reports that a prominent anti-corruption crusader had claimed inflated travel expenses from some organisations for attending programmes conducted by them. In some cases, Business Class fare was claimed when actually flying Economy. In some other cases, full fare was claimed even though discounted fare tickets had been booked. This was not denied, but it was explained that the ‘savings’ were used not by the individual, but for the benefit of the crusader’s NGO. I personally believe the explanation given by this person, but can you blame people if they say this is just a ‘story’?

A few years back, I was part of the senior management of a start-up. We had decided that we would conduct all aspects of the business in an ethical manner. Among other things, this meant the company’s employees would not get ‘tax-free income’ from conveyance and travelling expenses. Obviously, we offered compensation packages that were higher than the rest of the industry to make up for the loss of this ‘tax-free income’.

This had a very positive effect on all employees. Since the management was totally transparent in all other matters as well, the transparency was reciprocated by the employees. How transparent, one may ask?

PS, our Service Manager had to undergo 2 weeks’ training at a manufacturer’s factory in Taiwan. We had booked a room for him in the hotel where all visitors to that factory usually stayed. On the first day of his training, PS informed me that the manufacturer’s Sales Manager, a bachelor living alone in a 2-bedroom apartment, had invited PS to stay with him since he had a spare bedroom. PS was keen to accept since this would save our company the hotel expenses for the remaining 12 days, but he wanted to know if I had any objection to such an arrangement. After ascertaining from him that this arrangement had been initiated by his host, and that the spare bedroom was properly furnished, I replied that I had no objection. I also made it very clear to him that, while I fully appreciated his desire to reduce our company’s expenses, I would be extremely upset if he compromised on his food expenses during his visit.

There was no need for PS to do what he had done. He personally did not gain one paisa. Why did he do it? Because of organisation culture!

What is the ‘culture’ of the ‘organisation’ called India? What can be the ‘culture’ of a country where people think that most of their ‘leaders’ are corrupt?

Can we change this ‘culture’? I believe we can. If many, many of us believe we can, and if we work hard and work persistently, we can surely make it happen! What was achieved in one Indian organisation can be achieved in the entire country. Yes We Can!

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The Trust Factor

Guest post by Sikandar Sardesai, an experienced editor and teacher, currently engaged in spiritual care of the elderly.

Twentyfive years ago, I travelled abroad from India for the first time. After a chance meeting with the Executive Director of a news agency in Hongkong, I’d been invited there to work as an Editor. The offer was verbal. I had no written contract. Also, I’d been told I didn’t need a visa for Hongkong; that I would get it on arrival at the airport. Hongkong then was still a British territory.

I approached the immigration official at the Hongkong airport with quite a bit of trepidation. Would I be allowed to enter Hongkong? Would I be allowed to work in Hongkong? I soon discovered that my fears were unfounded. The British immigration official listened to my reasons for visiting Hongkong (employment at a news agency) and stamped my passport with an entry visa.

In the weeks that followed, I filled in the requisite forms, had them countersigned by my employer, and without further ado I was able to get a Hongkong identity card that allowed me to reside and work in the territory. How often did I have to go to Immigration Department? Just once.

I marvelled at the trust I was accorded. I felt good about myself and my new temporary home. I was happy to live and work in Hongkong.

Fast forward a few years and I was back in India. While in Hongkong, I had used some of my earnings to buy India Development Bonds — India was entering a new phase of growth with Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister. I saw it as the patriotic thing to do. However, back in India, when the time came to redeem the bonds, I was in for a rude shock.

It was my money after all, I thought. There shouldn’t be any problem cashing the bonds. I had forgotten that I was not in Hongkong any more. Bank officials and others I approached to redeem the bonds treated me with suspicion and indifference. They expected me to “pay” them first. I had to jump through any number of hoops before I got my money back. It was an experience of what Prime Minister Modi today calls “Scam India”.

On reflection, what distinguished the two experiences was the “trust” factor. In one instance, I was trusted. I was accepted for who I said I was. It reinforced my sense of integrity. In the other, the basic assumption seemed to be that I was “untrustworthy” and needed to be treated accordingly.

Do we, Indians, I ask myself, assume that we are not trustworthy? Is that the basis of our dealings with each other — at least, our financial and business dealings? Do we assume that we lack personal integrity?

My experience has been that trust begets trust. It’s noblesse oblige.

If we are to get rid of the “Scam India” image, that’s where we need to start – with personal integrity and trust.

Misplaced trust or utter foolishness?

“Are you absolutely sure?” the General Manager asked.

The Security Chief replied, “Sir, we have irrefutable proof that, whenever your driver refuels your car at the petrol pump where our company has an account, the voucher is made for about 10 litres more than the actual amount filled. We have collected evidence over the last month. Would you like to read the report?”

“Are all the drivers doing this?” the GM asked.

“Sir, we have kept a close watch on all the drivers. We are quite certain that none of the other drivers are doing this,” the Security Chief replied.

The GM was stunned. He trusted his driver completely. But he knew the Security Chief, a retired Army Officer, knew his job and would have reported any such matter officially only if he was 100% certain.

The GM knew he had to take strong action. At the same time, he did not want to do anything which would offend his driver into resigning. His driver was extremely efficient and well-mannered, and attended to all the GM’s official and family requirements so well that he was indispensable to the GM.

On the spur of the moment, he hit upon a plan of action which would resolve the matter without his driver appearing to be singled out. He directed the Security Chief to immediately issue instructions that, henceforth, a security guard would accompany the company’s drivers whenever any of the company’s cars were taken for refueling.

Two days later, as the GM was being driven home in the evening, his driver said, “Sir, if you do not trust me, please throw me out of my job. But, please do not insult me by sending a security guard with me when I take your car for refueling.”

The next morning, the GM told the Security Chief to add a rider stating that his driver was exempted from the earlier instructions!

This unbelievable incident is absolutely true! A few years later, the GM paid a very heavy price for ‘trusting’ his untrustworthy driver.

Have you come across similar instances of misplaced trust?