What tech captains can take away from the ball-tampering storm: Parthasarathy, M&M

Tolerance of unethical factors can destroy a company. If you don’t know what you stand for – then you stand for nothing, says V S Parthasarathy, Group CFO, Group CIO and member of the Group Executive Board at Mahindra & Mahindra. 

Apr 12th 2018

Cricket is not just any other game, it’s an emotion. And recently, one of the cricketing giants was reduced to tears over the infamous ball tampering scandal.

All hell broke loose when Australian player Cameron Bancroft was caught using a piece of sandpaper on the ball during the test tour of South Africa. This led to equal doses of backlash and sympathy for Aussie skipper Steve Smith, who wasn’t directly involved with tampering, but knew what was going on.

Following this, Cricket Australia suspended the trio of Smith, Bancroft and former vice captain David Warner.  “I would give anything to have this behind me and be back representing my country,” Smith said in a tweet.

He also took full responsibility as captain of the team. Both Smith and Bancroft have decided not to contest their suspensions and have shown deep remorse over the incident.

... The biggest thing the top management does is to set the right tone and the right vision. The right tone becomes the culture of the organization and vision becomes the lighthouse.
V S Parthasarathy
Group CFO and Group CIO, Mahindra&Mahindra

While cricket and the world of enterprise technology are two different ball games, there’s a lot tech leaders could take back from the field to the board. Both are highly competitive areas where star players are as important as team spirit – fuelled by common goals, values, desire to win, and ethics.

In an exclusive interaction with the Group CFO and Group CIO and Member of the Executive Board at  Mahindra & Mahindra, V S Parthasarathy shares pearls of wisdom for the top management. Fondly known as Partha, he is not only tech royalty, but has also mentored several colleagues on business strategies and the road to success.  

Although Smith wasn’t directly involved in tampering, he got caught in the storm. When a leader (CEO or CIO) finds himself in a similar spot, what are the direct repercussions on the top management?

The most important question for any organization - What culture are you setting? Everything an employee does is a reflection of what the company is about.

When I was in Xerox, I once went to a customer and asked for his feedback on the service provided. The customer was quite happy with the engineer and referred to him as ‘PM Done.’

This was interesting because we didn’t have anyone of that name working for us. After checking the logbook I realized the engineer meant preventive maintenance done. It wasn’t anything else but the quality of service provided that had left an impact on the customer. And the guy rated him 11 out of 10 on the service.

In the Smith-Bancroft case, the good part is a senior stepped up and took responsibility. The bad – he let it happen in the first place. Once you let it happen, the soldiers are not the ones to be blamed. It is always the captain.

Is it important for top management to take responsibility of all employees working under them? Is it their duty to impart ethics and values? To what extent?

The biggest thing the top management does is to set the right tone and the right vision. The right tone becomes the culture of the organization and vision becomes the lighthouse.

... Ethics on one side and performance on the other is a big challenge for any organization. Because top performers with low ethics are the ones who are the hardest to let go off.
V S Parthasarathy
Group CFO and Group CIO, Mahindra & Mahindra

Tolerance of unethical factors can destroy an organization. And if you don’t know what you stand for – you stand for nothing.

Top management is collectively responsible, not only to accentuate the right tone, but also have a story telling ability around it, which then gets imbibed as the company’s folklore and culture.  

The catch-22 situation - when high performers have low ethics. How can leaders tackle this?

Ethics on one side and performance on the other is a big challenge for every organization. Because top performers with low ethics are the ones who are the hardest to let go off.

At the same time, there’s no flexibility when it comes to values. This is easy to understand but hard to implement, and that’s what all organizations struggle with.

The moment you decide there is a grey area and it is okay to be in that grey area as long as you don’t cross to black – then you have a problem. But if you keep it black and white, the culture will be seen that way.

Make it part of the organization's culture. Create awareness among stakeholders. As it is said - 'Prevention is better than cure,' try to prevent any unethical situation from happening rather than creating band-aid solutions later. 

When corporates come under heavy criticism (such as Facebook or ICICI bank) for their conduct, what is the right approach the leadership can take to retain balance?  

It’s very important to understand that these current cases need time to settle. While good governance is a must for any organization, you also have to be practical in the world.

Everybody agrees that speed money is okay, but corruption is not. However, if you’re caught on a slippery slope, it has a negative impact on the organization. In such a scenario, it may take some time for the market cap to come back, but it will take so much more time for the reputation to be back.

The root of corporate governance consists of three things – competency, compliance and eradicating conflict of interest. Competency is the cornerstone of every managerial action. Compliance means deciding not to take any shortcuts and doing things right the first time, and every other time. And when companies get the third aspect right, governance automatically becomes very easy.

This is what organizations should always remember.