24 August 2009

And healthcare for all?

The Corporate world likes to use military phrases profusely, if callously. There is the Project Manager who will tell you how she is always in the firing line; there is the team lead who will tell you how he is always with the troops in the trenches; there is the manager who will tell you how he hit the ground running in his new job. But you will never hear the Indian Military Academy’s motto from any corporate honcho’s mouth:

"The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time."

The reason is simple. Substitute company for country in this motto and the honchos’ belief will manifest in a bizarre, juggled order:

“Your own ease, comfort and safety comes first, always and every time. The honour of your company comes next. The safety, honour and welfare of the employees you manage comes last, always and every time.”

Anthony L. Komaroff’s writes on Executive Physicals in the Sep09 issue of Harvard Business Review about how companies can save money in Executive Physicals and I quote:

It makes good sense for companies to protect their top talent. Sometimes those who run the show can’t find the time to mind their health. That’s where executive physicals come in. With an eye toward prevention, these one- or two day examinations attempt to accommodate busy schedules while supporting the long-term wellness and productivity of a firm’s key players.

‘Executive physicals’ is an example where honchos are put ahead of lesser mortals. It reminds me of a scene from the movie Titanic in which as the ship starts listing after colliding with an iceberg, the women and children are first put on lifeboats and so to safety. A man appears on the scene and demands that the first class ticket holders be first put on lifeboats since they have paid more. The implicit argument is that the first class passengers’ lives are more important because they have paid more.

We are talking about saving lives through healthcare not about esoteric perks of private jets or mansions on hilltops. Isn’t everyone equal where lives are concerned? And in any case what key players are we talking about? These precious people are keys to which gate? We have seen how in the current recession, the so-called key players opened the gates of greed, avarice and mendacity and left their companies tottering on bankruptcy.

There are more things to learn from the military than fancy phrases. The way the military looks after the health of all its men and women is one thing companies can do well to emulate.

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