Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance
My dear Sir, I look at you askance
You suffer from cognitive dissonance
How can you pity the starving poor
When you waste your food all o’er
And blame it all on happenstance?

We observed Cognitive Dissonance when we once pitched for a Workshop Series with a Key Account. We had done several similar assignments for this company and we had communicated this to them quite clearly as there was a new bunch of decision-makers now. We trusted that this history and experience of our work with them in the past would give us a clear edge over the competition.

We finally met with the Sales head who was the Decision Maker, and while creating a connect with her and breaking the ice, we talked of her prior experience and how it was so different from the industry she was now in. She had recently joined this company, having worked in other industries in the past. The Sales head enthusiastically asserted that sales experience and learnings can be applied to any industry, and she did not see this as an impediment to her success in this new leadership role. We agreed and then went on to make our presentation pitch. Somewhere in the middle of the pitch, she came up with the objection that though we had done several assignments with their company in the past, we had not specifically covered the topic that they were seeking in this project. We lost the pitch subsequently, and I was left scratching my head in bewilderment… I mean, we had all the credentials and the experience with fantastic reviews of our work done in the past with this company. Yet, the Sales head felt we did not have the necessary experience to handle their current need… strange, when she herself (having had no experience in this industry), had been given charge of her sales domain in this company; and had claimed earlier to us that the Sales domain was a common domain regardless of industry!

Cognitive dissonance is a mental conflict that occurs when your beliefs don’t line up with your actions. It’s an uncomfortable state of mind when an individual has contradictory values, attitudes, or perspectives about the same thing.

I could recount countless such examples, and I am sure you, as the reader, will recollect such situations of ‘cognitive dissonance’ (aka Cog Diss) occurring around you.
  • When a key decision maker of a company, booking a banquet function, brags of having done similar functions in the past at premium hotels in India and abroad, and then goes on to ask for an abysmally low rate (as ludicrous as expecting a Mercedes for the price of a Santro), bang! That’s Cog Diss.
  • Or, what about an ostentatious parent booking his daughter’s wedding function, flying in people from all over the world, and he is the MD of a Fortune 500 company touting its ESG values… bang! Cog Diss.
  • And then you have a government having the capability to produce a vaccine to control a pandemic, yet asking the populace to bring out their thalis et al to create an obnoxious din, loud enough to supposedly scare the virus away (but which barely scares the crows away), bang! That’s Cog Diss again.
  • In British India, when the xenophobic Britishers disallowed Indians from joining or entering establishments, they forgot that these same Indians, earlier, had access to more magnificent edifices and establishments in the past, bang… Cog Diss!
  • Many organisations claim their employees to be their biggest assets, and also include this in their mission statement, yet when calamity, ego, or circumstance strikes, the employees are the first to be let go, quite ruthlessly… remember Kingfisher airways and the Promoter? Bang, that’s Cog Diss!
Leon Festinger’s theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957) proposes that inconsistency among beliefs or behaviours causes an uncomfortable psychological tension, leading people to change one of the inconsistent elements to reduce the dissonance or to add consonant elements to restore consonance. What it means is that when we believe and act oppositely, we are suffering from Cog Diss. To be in consonance, we either need to change our beliefs or else change our actions, each to match the other, and thus be apposite to each other.

Hence, when we use plastic bags despite knowing that we are treading shamelessly on Cog Diss since we are hurting the environment; what we need to do is either change the action (stop using plastic) or else change our belief that plastic is harmful to the environment. Since the latter is a lie, and untrue, the choice of modelling our action to the belief is obvious, and we need to stop using plastic. That feeling of mental discomfort when using plastic bags is an example of cognitive dissonance. This is because our beliefs are clashing with our actions or behaviour. We believe that humans need to protect the environment, yet we still use plastic bags. The internal conflict that this causes, keeps us in turmoil.

I have seen a few leaders with commendable values, who say and act what they think and feel, in all sincerity… these are the highly respected ones. Cog Diss rarely appears on their horizon, and they are considered stable, level-headed, and looked upon as true role models. Mahatma Gandhi is one of the greatest examples of this consonance between thought and behaviour.

So, what stops us leaders from ducking away from Cognitive Dissonance and embracing Cognitive Consonance?


This article appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM Feb 2023

Posted in Human Resources, Leadership | Leave a reply

A ‘Dear John’ Letter

My dear John, my candidate
Really, what’s with you mate?
You haggled & took the job offer
Then ghosted and did us fob off
Morally, is that the right etiquette?

Dear John letter is a written communication in which the letter writer ends a relationship with the recipient. The term was popularized during World War II when many Americans spent years away from home. A letter written to impart the bad news of the end of the relationship would start in a formal way, such as “Dear John.” (John, being the most common first name of adult males during the 1940s).

After a series of interesting recruitment attempts gone wrong, wherein potential candidates backed out unscrupulously and unfeelingly, I paused to give thought to the Dear John letter concept and soliloquized to myself that perhaps it was time to write one such generic letter to errant candidates. So, here it is, dedicated to all who fit the bill!

Dear Candidate,

Thank you for your interest in the position you so eagerly applied for. Your initial enthusiasm and comportment, along with a feigned passion for the job on offer sure pulled the wool over our eyes. What we missed out on was that it was all an act, worthy of perhaps being nominated for the ‘Recruitment Oscars,’ if ever there was any. What we failed to pick in our interactions with you was that in your case ‘still waters run deep.’ (a euphemism from Shakespeare’s King Henry VI – part 2, referring to a deceitful person)

Your ‘Benedict Arnold’ like behaviour has sure hurt our company… we wait for months for candidates like you who sign on, and then, a day or two before joining, express their inability to join for ludicrous reasons. Your recruitment cost is something we bear with nary a protest, and while we spend our resources wastefully on you, you earn more by using our offer and negotiating a better salary on the strength of our letter of intent. (Either with your present company or even with another opportunity!)

You send a WhatsApp message or email to communicate your last-minute decision, but do you not know that to be an upstanding human, it is best to face us live, by calling and speaking to us instead? To top it all, you are then incommunicado thereafter! Is it playing the game, I ask? What if the shoe was on another foot, where, God forbid, you were to receive a “Dear John Letter” from your loved one? Would you then, not have preferred your loved one to have faced up to you and given you the good ‘ole brusheroo in person?

In hindsight, we are grateful for your act, as it has strengthened our recruitment process and style. It has made us that much smarter to spot the decoys and fakes in the future, from amidst a sea of potential candidates. It would be foolhardy on our part to forecast that people with guile, as you so well concealed, will never get through our fishing net; but yes, we are working towards identifying and throwing back the unwanted fish into the sea of recruits. Experience makes us wiser, and we have incongruous candidates like you to thank for this.

Are you familiar with the poem by Dale Wimbrow titled ‘The Guy in the Glass’ written in 1934? Allow me to quote you a couple of verses from it:

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.


Companies will come and go, and so will candidates. Many have learned that ‘bucking’ a company never makes sense, for the world is round, and our sins have a way of catching up on us. If you feel that your cozenage is now ‘water under the bridge,’ and you lightly disdain your act of elusion, then you have another think coming!

I am pretty positive that you have been taught not to burn your bridges. Well, my friend, for you, this bridge has burned, and while it may seem that you have rejected us, in truth, you have only eluded us… and now, our company has rejected you!

Nevertheless, with a heart of compassion, we wish you an honest and ethical future, where you may be able to look back confidently at the guy staring back from the glass!

Best Regards,

The Recruiter


This article appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM Oct 2022

Posted in Human Resources, Leadership | Leave a reply

Gimme the right environment!

Gimme the right environment!

The despairing cry of many an employee before they eventually look for greener pastures elsewhere has been Gimme the right environment!

A lot has been written about the great exodus. No, I ain’t referring to Moses, or the wildebeest migrations of the Maasai Mara and Serengeti, or even the Pied Piper!

On the topic of the hospitality employee exodus, much water has flown under the bridge, and I will not squander words on the post-mortem of this skill-drain. Suffice it to say, the industry is almost up s**t creek as far as quality of skilled personnel.

While there are numerous possible solutions to tackle these, we are seeing the tried and tested path of talent search challenged by a diminished show of hands for positions that organisations are struggling to fill.

This long-term decay is the result of not listening to the employees crying out, “Gimme the right environment!

The Zoomers (aka Gen Z, born 1996 onwards) graduating from hospitality institutions do not see this industry anymore as the ‘promised land.’ The millennials (aka Gen Y, born 1981 – 1995) are a disillusioned lot after the treatment meted out to them over the past 2 pandemic years. And, the surviving Gen Xers (born 1965 – 1980) are striving for relevance and at times, even retention.

A millennial who works as an H.R. Manager for the corporate office at an international hotel conglomerate was sharing his angst with me recently. Having worked in this company for the past nine years, he has a brilliant future with the group, hence I was startled to note that he no longer felt like continuing with them.

The reason? He feels overworked, underpaid, and consequently, undervalued. His reporting boss, the V.P. – H.R., seems insensitive to a work-life balance and hearing his plaint of ‘gimme the right environment.’ He calls on holidays and weekends, for reports, and clarifications, and even gives assignments. He expects his people to work after hours and also loads my millennial friend with work assignments beyond his scope, as he is highly capable of doing so, when compared to all of his other colleagues. While my millennial friend values the learning he gets by going way beyond his job description, what really irks him, and is akin to rubbing salt on his wounds, is that his organisation, to match market remuneration, is hiring like positions for significantly higher salaries.

The result? Another one bites the dust, and the industry can notch up one more unwilling deserter! My millennial friend is now looking for a job without the industry, as he feels that working in other fields would be more rewarding, structured, and more work-life balanced.

A ‘brain drain’ is what is happening in our industry before our very eyes.

This is something we need to guard against; for, not only does this give us abysmal scores in employee retention, but also in talent attraction.

The culture of commodification and our old ways of operating stand in the way of differentiating hospitality organisations. This sustained traditional culture also does not foster active talent management and the meaningful personalised experiences that create return guests and make our businesses thrive.

While some factors are out of our control, what we can control is the pace at which we can stop, reflect, and feel for the benefit of our team members. They say, ‘Gimme the right environment.’ If we give them this, not only will it result in more engaged employees, but it may also just have the added benefit of helping an organisation stand apart from the pack of commoditization.

In my recent conversation with a senior and retired IHM principal, now heading a hotel management institute in Agra, I was aghast to hear that 40 of a batch of 60 Zoomers (students) who passed out this year, took up jobs in other industries, mainly retail.

The reason? Pretty much what one would expect: Salary not good enough, long working hours, poor work-life balance, and a lack of adequate rewards and incentives.

The result? Hospitality organisations are now going to regular colleges and non-hospitality institutions in remote areas to recruit staff; since they cannot find talent in regular hotel management institutions. Moreover, Zoomers are now preferring only white-collar jobs and refusing to slave it out at entry-level salaries. Consequently, hospitality organisations are now welcome only if they are sourcing for Management Trainees and the like.

We need to introspect on whether we are creating the right environment for our employees in today’s context.

After all, the work environment is now paraded outside of ‘glass doors,’ literally and figuratively. If an organisation’s environment is toxic, it is clearly bared on websites like ‘Glassdoor,’ which host employee reviews for companies they work in or have worked in.

So, how do we create the right environment? Are employee engagement initiatives, perks, work-life balance, and commensurate salaries and promotions the only way?

Along with all of this, employee empowerment is really the elephant in the room. To achieve this, one needs to work on the following, by asking oneself:


WHAT TO DO: Do they know what is expected out of them, or are they just left at the deep end and asked to swim by themselves? Do they comprehend their Job Description clearly?

HOW TO DO: Do they have the skills and understand the processes (SOPs) to perform their job?

WHY TO DO: Do they understand why they do the tasks and why they need to do so? This defines the purpose for all tasks they are expected to do and is best channelled from the employee’s inner motivation and passion.


ABLE TO DO: Have they been trained/skilled to perform their tasks? And, having done so does the employee have the capability to perform the tasks. Do they have the Tacit Knowledge, aka Experiential Knowledge, i.e., knowledge, skills, and abilities one gains through experience that is often difficult to put into words or otherwise communicate?

ALLOWED TO DO: Are they empowered in their jobs, and are they given the requisite freedom to do so? The organisational motivation, culture, and ethos are what lubricates their empowerment, rather than SOPs.

Considering the way ahead, where employee-to-room ratios have come down and will now continue to be below pre-pandemic levels, assessing and then reacting to the above will improve efficiencies and effectively support lower employee ratios.

A hotel group for whom we recently did an L&D workshop, had its participants bemoaning the perceived lack of empowerment in the organisation. Having interacted with their ownership and COO over the past 8 years and conducted workshops with their teams, we found a dissonance with the ground-level managers asking for this empowerment. In this case, truth be said, the organisation is keen to empower, but the managers are waiting for some hand-holding for the same.

I say empowerment must also be taken (within reason, by the employees) and not just given by the ownership. So here is possibly a rare example of empowerment on offer, but not taken. Perhaps the management could single out ‘driven,’ self-motivated leaders from within to begin the process of empowerment from the top, by coaching and mentoring these select leaders for empowerment. The trickle-down effect would eventually happen, wherein employees watching these select leaders, would be encouraged to emulate their style.

‘Gimme the right environment,’ is the entreaty of the new age employee.

Hospitality organisations need to sit up and take notice, and consider their employees’ needs in the route given below:

  1. Physiological needs (Food, Hygiene, Mise-en-scène at the workplace),
  2. Safety needs (Emoluments, job security, safety)
  3. Their need to Belong (Diversity in the workplace, respect for all, trust, acceptance)
  4. Their Esteem needs (Workplace Recognition, Awards, etc.)
  5. Having achieved this, organisations would finally reach Employee Self-Fulfillment (an Empowering culture, Creative leadership, etc.), thus helping the employees to achieve their full potential, aka Self-actualisation.

The first four are the D-needs (deficit needs) and these must necessarily be fulfilled by organisations for employee basic needs satisfaction.

The fifth need of Self-actualization is highly individualistic, where the self is ‘sovereign and inviolable’ and entitled to their own tastes, opinions, and values, sometimes coined as ‘healthy narcissism.’ Here the employees pride themselves on their enablement, and this is the stage that an employee feels empowered to the fullest!

Here is an ode to the originator of this theory which applies to our current predicament…

Abe Maslow was a psychologist

A hierarchy of needs did he list

“Physical and Safety needs

Belonging and Esteem needs

Leads to self-actualisation,’ he hissed.

This article appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM Aug 2022

Posted in Human Resources, Leadership | Leave a reply

The hunt for the Will-o’-the-wisp Recruit

Even as full employment is the will-o’-the-wisp that politicians have been chasing for decades, so is the hunt for the perfect recruit.

Will o’ the Wisp is the name given to mysterious lights that were said to lead travellers from well-trodden paths onto treacherous marshes. Wirt Sikes in his book British Goblins writes of a Welsh Will o’ the Wisp. A peasant, who is travelling home late in the evening, sees a bright light travelling before him. Looking closer, he sees that the light is a lantern held by a dusky little figure which he follows for several miles. Suddenly he finds himself standing on the edge of a great chasm with a roaring torrent of water rushing below him. At that moment the lantern carrier leaps across the fissure, raises the light over its head and lets out a malicious laugh, after which it blows out the light leaving the unfortunate man far from home, standing in pitch darkness at the edge of a precipice. This allegory may be equated to the hunt for a perfect recruit, wherein ever so often organizations run after the fancy bright lights… recruits with a quality experience, high intelligence, or splendorous personalities. What we need to guard against, is that some of these may not be suitable for the organization’s goals. They just may not be a perfect fit, and may lead your establishment’s vision to the precipice!

So here we are back into another reboot, cresting this second Cov-Indian wave! Talk about being forced to learn resilience… sheesh! Nature – God’s creation – was never made to be messed with, and I do wonder if we humans will ever learn a lesson through this.

The current lockdown gives us time to re-look into our workplaces and our watered-down teams. Which of us would not like to begin, post-reboot, with a team filled only with Jewels? But is this viable? Take a look around your workplace, and understand your key wealth creation prospect ~ your depleted teams. Let’s face it, whether in the past, present, or future, recruiting only ‘polished jewels’ is akin to chasing the ‘will-o-the-wisp.’ Rather, we are oft forced to rummage for the mud-encrusted ones available in the marketplace.

In today’s scenario, manpower search has new challenges. Many industry professionals have deviated to other work options. Some of these may never want to return to their earlier jobs or industry. All this, thanks to Reverse Migration, Depressed Wages, Tougher Work Conditions, and Employment VUCA brought on by this pandemic. (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity)

Apart from this, numbers have dropped to half or less, of earlier manpower numbers. Even when things return to normal, it is doubtful whether these numbers will go higher than 75% of pre-covid-19 numbers. In this scenario, recruitment quality must improve.

The truth is that a perfect recruit is as elusive as the will-o’-the-wisp (a person or thing that is difficult or impossible to reach or catch) and as utopian a concept as can be.

Oft times, logic advises us to select for experience, intelligence, or determination. Talent, if mentioned at all, is an afterthought.

Conventional wisdom says that either Experience, Grit, Brainpower, or Willpower makes the difference.

  • Some managers place a special emphasis on experience, paying close attention to a candidate’s work history and brands worked for. They see his past as a window to his future.
  • Other managers put their faith in raw intelligence. They say that as long as you are smart, most roles can be ‘figured out’.
  • Yet other managers believe in the ‘success is 10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration’ school of thought. Managers from this school believe that the technical part of most roles can be taught, whereas the desire to achieve, to persist in the face of obstacles, cannot. When selecting people, they look for past evidence of grit.

So, is the perfect recruit a misnomer? No doubt experience can teach valuable lessons; intelligence is a boon, and willpower – which great managers label a talent – is almost impossible to teach. What we fail to take into account is that there are so many other kinds of talents. The right talents, more than experience, more than brainpower, willpower, or grit, are the pre-requisites for excellence in all roles – talents such as a restaurant steward’s ability to form opinions, empathy in order-takers, assertiveness in salespeople, or, in managers, the ability to individualize or bring people together.

Conventional wisdom assumes either that these behaviours can be trained after the person has been hired or that these characteristics are relatively unimportant to performance on the job. Both assumptions are a false hope that leads one on, just like the will-o’-the-wisp.

You cannot teach talent. You cannot teach someone to form strong opinions, to feel the emotions of others, to revel in confrontation, or to pick up on the subtle differences in how best to manage each person. You have to specifically select, for talents like these. Talents like these prove to be the driving force behind an individual’s job performance.

It is not that experience, brainpower, grit, and willpower are unimportant. It is just that an employee’s full complement of talents – what drives him/her, how he/she thinks, how he/she builds relationships – is more important.

In these compelling times, we are looking at rebooting with up to half the earlier numbers. Hence, we need to select only the mud-encrusted Jewels that we can polish… then have them perform effectively, at twice the efficiency, once they are inducted and trained.

When you recruit, try looking for talent in an individual and then offer them an enhancing & nurturing environment. Then sit back and enjoy the show…

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM May 2021

Posted in Human Resources | Leave a reply