Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Professionals: Today’s Feudal Lords

When the eminent cardiac surgeon, Dr. Naresh Trehan was terminated from his institution, the Escorts Heart Institute in New Delhi, few people had the time or the inclination to study the merits of the case. No one was bothered to check whether or not Dr Trehan had a conflict of interest with Escorts. With his own project Medicity coming up in Gurgaon and this consuming a lot of his time and energy, it is plausible that the management did have a case. Instead, the newspapers were full of pictures of patients beseeching him to operate on their loved ones and testimonials from those whose life he had saved. Every one ignored the fact that the issue under discussion by the management was not his undoubted professional caliber but his alleged preoccupation with his own project to the detriment of his employers.

In a culture that is still to shed its feudalism , skilled professionals are the new feudal lords who command despotic respect because their skills and abilities are in short supply and most people have no where to go. In a perverse twist to history, in the old days, trade unionism was born to protect the interest of workers from the predatory gaze of an exploitative management. But today, the knowledge worker for that is what a professional is after all is the master of all he surveys as managements cringe and duck to protect themselves from their malevolent gaze.
In many ways, the evolution of the worker into a knowledge worker has rendered the trade union movement toothless. Trade union was all about sticking together and collective bargaining in the true socialist spirit. But who wants trade unions to hand down a diluted package when one can negotiate so much better on their own? As Dr. Trehan's example puts it so well, one can literally have one's cake and eat it too, if one is a smooth operator.

Whether it is a luminary like Dr. Trehan or the wet behind the year’s trainee, the professional knowledge worker is king. Even in a country of India’s size, skilled professionals are in short supply and attrition is high as people hop around from pillar to post seeking advancement and that elusive elixir of fulfillment. So attrition rates are high and HR executives in most companies where the main capital worker have their task cut out for them – keep attrition rates low by a variety of inventive carrots and sticks and buy some temporary loyalty.

While corporate social responsibility is slowly taking off in India, whether as a tokenism or for real, the employees there, fed and pampered are mostly mercenary with a concern for the upward mobility of only themselves. The old trade unionists were coarse, aggressive and often unreasonably rigid, but they had one thing going for them….. Trade unionists in theory and largely in practice had the larger workers’ movement in their sights as they sat in dharnas and agitations. Today’s lap toting , frequent flyer card clutching worker has usually one worker in his radar as he networks and has pow wows – his own welfare, no any one else’s.

Yet, for those who believe India will catapult itself from poverty to prosperity on the strength of it’s ``knowledge'' industries, here's a sobering statistic: three-fourths of Indian workers, or 300 million people, don't have high-school diplomas. India's educated elite is too small, and its purchasing power too limited, to lift the broader economy. What can really make India prosperous is something that will boost the incomes of workers who are stuck in low-productivity occupations -- farmhands and housemaids -- that pay the national average of $500 a year, or less.

The services sector, and in particular the knowledge-based industries, is unlikely to provide opportunities to the poorly educated sections of our society,'' say Sanjay Jain and Uday Bhansali of the consulting firm Accenture India in a study titled "Making Indian Manufacturing Globally Competitive.'' But then, for knowledge workers, even non IT ones like me, the welfare of my country comes last, always and every time. My own ease, comfort and safety comes first, always and every time." I am today’s feudal lord, the professional, the knowledge worker.

2 comments:

rickprab said...

santanu da,
Read this blog to understand the real issue.
The material uses Kannada proverb

Nanda rayana baduku Nari Nayi Tindoytu.

which means Nanda's life goes to dogs. Referring to last of the Nanda's from Nanda dynasty.
http://nadunudi.wordpress.com/2007/05/25/nandarayana-baduku/

rickprab said...

santanu da,
Read this blog to understand the real issue.
The material uses Kannada proverb

Nanda rayana baduku Nari Nayi Tindoytu.

which means Nanda's life goes to dogs. Referring to last of the Nanda's from Nanda dynasty.
http://nadunudi.wordpress.com/2007/05/25/nandarayana-baduku/