During the early years of my consulting career, I got associated with a small, but rapidly growing family owned, traditional organization. The leap in growth (where it was preparing to go Public) had its own perils. It painfully brought home the glaring inadequacies in the manpower of the organization – both in terms of the numbers as well as competency. During our discussions, we identified an immediate need for a Chief of Finance (in those days, this position was called General Manager (Finance), only later, it started being referred to as CFO).
The proprietor, who operated with an old paternalistic style of management, was keen to promote his existing Finance Executive to this position. Reasons for his choice were many – he was a trusted person of proven integrity; was very loyal and dependable; had been with them since early days.
I had a major difference with his reasoning. According to me, all the above qualities were essential yet not sufficient for the position being considered. In my view, this position required a Professional with an adequate understanding of the complexities of the modern corporate financial world. He should be able to talk and understand the language of Bankers, Institutional Investors and Analysts.
But the owner was not willing to listen to my reasoning. After many lengthy discussions, I decided to better explain my point of view via an old story which I had read in my childhood and was apt in this situation (my search engine !!).
A King owned a large garden, on the outskirts of the city. Along the periphery of the garden grew large trees of exotic fruits. In the middle, it was full of ornamental shrubs and the best of flowering plants. Overall, it was a pleasure to walk in this garden. Since it was away from the city, the King used to visit the garden only periodically – may be once in a month or so. He had given strict instructions that no one except the members of the Royal family or their guests be allowed in the garden. Also no fruits or flowers were to be plucked when he was not visiting.
A trusted gardener used to look after the garden. Since no fruits were plucked, the trees were laden with sweet ripe exotic fruits. A group of monkeys saw this and started coming every day to eat fruits which had fallen on the ground. The good hearted gardener allowed them to eat these fruits as long as they did not harm any tree or plant. Over a period of time, the gardener and monkeys became good friends.
One day, the Leader of monkeys (let us call him M) observed that the gardener was looking very worried. Out of concern, M asked him what the problem was. The gardener explained that he had got a letter that his old mother (who lived back in their ancestral village) was very unwell. He wanted to go to the village for a week to meet his mother but did not have anyone who could tend to the garden during his absence. M assured the gardener that he and his troop of monkeys will sincerely take care of the garden during his absence and he can, without any hesitation, go to his village. After all, a good friend must always come forward to help his friend. Assured by this promise of monkeys, the gardener thanked them and left for his village.
Now M called all the monkeys and deputed each one to look after a part of the garden, with strict instructions that they all had to work very diligently. All of them readily agreed as they were indebted to the gardener for giving them shelter and fruits.
The main task was to water each tree, plant and shrub. The monkeys went to their respective designated areas. But soon they were back before M asking, “Boss, we do not know how much water should be given to each plant? We have heard from the gardener that too much or too little water could be harmful”. Now M realized that he also did not know the answer. So, they had a brainstorming session. One wise old monkey came up with a scientific suggestion. “Plants absorb water through their roots. Therefore, the amount of water should be proportionate to the length of the root.” Seemed like a reasonable suggestion and was readily accepted by all. Soon, the monkeys started plucking each plant, measuring its root, replanting it and then put water in proportion to the length of the root.
This way, despite the best intentions, in the absence of proper knowledge needed for the task, the sincere, hardworking and loyal monkeys caused the destruction of a beautiful garden.
The proprietor immediately understood the relevance of this small story to his plan of promoting the employee of his choice (who had all the good qualities but not enough knowledge required for the position of CFO).
Let me assure you friends, I have seen quite a few CEOs (even in large and so called professionally managed companies , including MNCs) who get into a blind spot when a loyal, dedicated, hard working employee’s career is discussed.