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“Why not?” instead of “why?”- 3 March 2015.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 14 April 2015 22:23

When Ravikiran and his partner Siddesh started their small engineering company in partnership several years ago, they had a small team which they could motivate easily because of the size of the operations and manpower. That motivation worked very well, and the company made rapid progress. Later on, when the company grew bigger, the two friends decided to engineer a strategic split to form two different companies handling different product ranges. Both the new enterprises were to be under a common umbrella company whose name was not to be public.

Ravikiran was to remain in charge of the original company and Siddesh got the fledgling entity. That also grew fast and the two friends basked in the success for quite many years.
Ravikiran was a tradition-minded person, and kept managing his entity in an old-fashioned manner. The company was growing, and the number of employees soon grew into hundreds. That needed an altogether different approach to human resource management. For, the new manpower coming in regularly on annual basis needed a systematic training and monitoring. Ravikiran sought to achieve through on-job training approach, which had its own limitations. The old manpower could not give a technically correct training to the new one though it could do its given task well.
This resulted into decline in quality standards, and the company started suffering in the marketplace.
Siddesh, however, adopted a fresh approach to his new company’s HR needs. He hired professionals and organised proper training activities. That made a lot of positive difference. In Siddesh’s company, the working environment was of a high quality and harmony, and the technically trained manpower kept producing products of high quality. Thus, in a short time, the new company started getting a good response in the marketplace and profits soared despite recession etc.
Exactly the opposite was happening in the elder sibling, that is, in Ravikiran’s company even though it was known to the market for a much longer period. Because of the declining standards, the profits were sinking and Ravikiran kept becoming more and more jittery.
Therefore, as the matter was discussed in the holding company’s meeting, Siddesh suggested Ravikiran to make a systematic HR arrangement so that the company would start doing better.
Ravikiran, however, was skeptical. He said, “But Siddesh, that needs a lot of money. So, why should I spend that much money if I can have my senior employees do the on-job training?”
To this question, Siddesh asked a counter-question: “Why not, Ravi? Why not? Why are you so adamant? Do you realise that your adamant attitude is costing your company -- and our company -- dear? So I ask, ‘Why not?’ Think seriously about it.”
Those frank and rather terse words of his friend made Ravikiran think hard and dispassionately. He realised that his company was not making sense at the marketplace because his standards were falling. He also felt that he should use the experience of his friend to spruce up things in his entity.
Of course, the decision came as music to Siddesh’s ears. The two friends got together to introduce systematic HR operations in the senior sibling company. Yes, it did take quite some money. But in just a couple of years, the move started paying off. For, its products were cited for their excellence at an industrial expo. Ravikiran was happy, but not before he had suffered much because of his own antipathy to breaking free from outdated and traditional thinking.
Unfortunately, many enterprises are seen to be suffering from such a dilemma about whether to adopt newer ways or to stick to old ones. In many cases, old thinking prevails, and the companies see their progress stalling. Our industry and business, unfortunately, are terribly slow on uptake of new ideas.

 

“Eklavya factor”- 17 February 2015.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 22:49

The most critical issue for Abhilash upon joining a city-based technology company was to get used to the urban atmosphere. Even though he spoke good English, he did not have the city accent and also the modern slang. And more importantly, he lacked the latest technical knowledge about the product-line. Of course, the company did have in-house training programmes. Yet, Abhilash found them rather of limited use for him. Without understanding his difficulty, the immediate boss started cursing him day in and day out for his failure to cope with the assignment. Abhilash tried to connect with trainers in private time to learn better, but that did not work well as nobody had the patience to spend time in a non-productive activity of training one individual separately. So, the trainers, too, started avoiding him.

Left with no choice, Abhilash, determined to keep the job at any cost, decided to train himself. As a child, he had heard from his mother the story of tribal warrior Eklavya who trained himself despite a refusal from Guru Dronacharya just because he was not a prince. So, in his own manner, Abhilash became an Eklavya.
Today, this may sound rather theatrical, but Abhilash started working hard in afterhours to build his body of technical knowledge, people’s skill and a modern language sans the slang. His efforts were slow to start showing effect, but Abhilash pressed on. He bought books, got CDs which he fed into the computer and tried to learn things.
Despite all the efforts, things were not easy at all. For, as Abhilash tried harder, the bosses also made him busier in the daily schedule of work. Yet, what made the difference was persistence and patience. The pressure to perform well was high, but so was his resolve to improve. He was good in every aspect, but had not been groomed in an appropriate manner for the specific company’s culture.
But the individual Eklavya programme went on for quite some time and started showing results in a few months. The story of Abhilash, however, is not uncommon. Countless people try this route and succeed to a large extent. And once they start registering some success, more of it comes their way. For, it is at those moments that others, too, start experiencing an enhancement in their overall showing.
The Eklavya factor, thus, has its own importance.
Despite the fact that many such stories are available, a much larger number of people do not think in this way. They become pessimistic and give up efforts. They fall in a negative rut and do not wish to press on despite odds. In other words, they submit to the situation rather than think of changing it in their favour.
In a professional situation, there cannot be any one person who is perfect. On the contrary, every person realises this or that shortcoming in his knowledge or personality. Of course, even if one does not make any specific effort, one starts registering incremental improvement in performance or personality. But that may not actually be enough for the career. What should matter, therefore, is the effort to scale up the level of achievement. In other words, what needs to be done is to try to make possible exponential achievement. This may appear to be a tall order, but nevertheless worth the try. For, if such efforts succeed even partially, they still make a big difference in the overall quality of the individual professional.
The unfortunate part is that most do not think positively and proactively. Most fall in the rut and develop a habit of blaming others for their problems. Abhilash was not of that type. He built for himself an Eklavya culture, which helped in a big way.

 

‘Nobody is listening !’- 3 February 2015.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 22:47

There was no doubt that the company was doing well in the marketplace. Production was on target and things appeared well on course. However, after he returned to the company after a two-year sabbatical during which he studied for a PhD in Human Resource Management, Dr. Vishwas Bal, General Manager HR, felt a slight unease in the office. Outwardly, everything was okay, but Vishwas felt while talking to people that they were holding back something which he could not decipher. At coffee vending machines, in the canteen, in the table-tennis hall where a lot of people spent some time, Vishwas realised that everybody went certain distance and suddenly clammed up. He got confused.

As a part of his job, he was expected to handle all situations related to HR. So, Dr. Vishwas Bal started having personal meetings with certain youngsters who might give some clue to the silent unease in the company. The first encounter was with a young lady who had been with the company for a good ten years in an executive position. She was known to be a good worker and team-player. At coffee, this woman, Sunitee, talked of so many things under the Sun but started hedging when Vishwas mentioned about the silent unease he felt upon his return after two years. Slowly, she opened up and said, “Sir, in our company, most people feel that there is nobody who is listening to them…”.
Similar responses came from several people when Vishwas sought their meetings over coffee. One young man who had joined the company during Vishwas’ absence, was fair in his comment. He said, “Sir, because things seem to be moving well, the bosses are not bothered about listening to their juniors. But I realise that certain issues like appropriate compensation and proper working conditions need to be sorted out. But the bosses have no time to listen to what the employees feel. Nobody is listening, Sir.”
Deeper he delved into people’s mind more did Vishwas realise that the silent unease he felt might someday explode into hostility which the management would not be able to handle effectively at a later stage.
That was when Dr. Vishwas Bal put together a team of trusted colleagues to talk to colleagues at all levels in a systematic manner and try to open them up on key issues that might be hurting them. The task might take weeks, but “never mind friends, push on until you have talked to a sufficient number”, he said to the members of the team.
That was certainly a smart move.
For, in a couple of weeks, the team started coming up with fairly well documented details of what was hurting the employees at various levels. Certain issues were related to compensation in terms of wages. Certain were about post-retirement benefits. And many people came up with complaints that the bosses have developed a tendency to ignore opinions of their subordinates who could have some worthy suggestions to improve things. This happened at all levels, the investigating team found out.
Dr. Vishwas Bal realised that the issue was far more serious than he first felt. The details were fairly disconcerting and led him to have a word with the MD, an efficient administrator but rather stern in his demeanour and unwilling to extend conversation beyond a few words. Pleasantries were not his style and the big boss did not frowning if somebody approached him for anything.
Initially, Vishwas found it difficult to open the subject without feeling embarrassed because of the MD’s manner. But he picked up courage and presented the issue before him in as clear a manner as was possible in the given circumstances. The big boss was not convinced and even accused Vishwas of imagining things. It was at that moment that he reminded the boss as politely as possible that his PHD would be worth nothing if he were imagining things. The boss was hurt but allowed Vishwas to draw up a plan of action to counter the situation.
Picking up the point, Vishwas initiated a series of meetings with the management cadre, first at the senior levels and later at subsequent levels. He explained to them in the most patient and systematic manner the need to develop a listening ear and encourage subordinates to open up. Though first meetings drew a huge blank, subsequent interactions did produce some positive response.
Change was coming, and Vishwas now felt confident that he could make a difference. Still, the distance between the cup and the lip was too much and the effort took several months to start changing the administrative culture of the company.
But when some bosses started listening, the youngsters felt motivated to more meaningful contribution to the overall atmosphere. Productivity started showing an increase and the Board of Directors recorded satisfaction over the improving performance.
And all that happened because the bosses started listening to their subordinates.

“Demystifying management”- 20 January 2015.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 22:46

When Arvind Kumar joined as General Manager of the plant, his first meeting with the senior staff left a strange taste in his mouth. Right at the outset, Arvind Kumar started highlighting the important points of the management’s organisational philosophy. The moment he opened the subject, all seniors fell silent, and almost refused to say a word in response. After much prodding, some of them said hesitantly that such issues were out of bounds of the senior managers’ meetings previously and therefore they would not participate in the discussion. Arvind was aghast, but kept discussing the issues and dragging others into the discussion.

That meeting revealed to him a major flaw in the thinking of his predecessors. They felt that management’s organisational philosophy was a matter of secret and never to be revealed to anybody. Poor Arvind would not know how to communicate to the organisation what the management felt on critical issues that linked the organisation closely to the company goals.
Without getting daunted by the revelation, Arvind Kumar started discussing openly various philosophical aspects of the management’s organisational policies. Slowly, all senior managers started taking part in the discussions and debates in that regard and an atmosphere of openness got created in the plant’s offices and shop-floor.
The immediate benefit was not visible, of course. But about 7-8 months after Arvind Kumar came on board, the plant’s overall productivity count went up markedly. When the members of the Board of Directors visited the plant and noticed the rise in productivity and also production, they were all surprised. When they wondered aloud about the possible reason, Arvind Kumar explained how he was trying to demystify the management thinking and how he was involving the senior managers in the higher thought-process.
Every member felt happy, but one. He raised an objection at the next meeting of the Board and forced the Managing Director to summon Arvind Kumar to explain who authorised him to reveal the management’s higher thinking to the managerial cadre.
Arvind Kumar was surprised and dismayed. He explained to the Board what he thought. He said, “Sirs, there is no secret in our philosophy of organisational management. When I introduced the senior colleagues to the idea and thought, all felt elated and realised how to approach the issues of decision-making to step up production. What we see now is only a positive effect on productivity. Subsequently, we will see a positive change in marketing and sales as well. But for that to happen, we will have to wait for some more time.”
The Board agreed with Arvind Kumar, and recorded its opinion in the following words: “The Board is pleased to the positive effect of the effort of Mr. Arvind Kumar in introducing the managerial cadres to management’s thinking and philosophy. The only word of caution for him is that he should be extremely careful in not letting out certain classified thinking to the managers so that our core values could be jeopardised.”
Arvind Kumar was aware of that limitation. This has always been the case with all organisational leaders. They have to keep a strict vigil on themselves when they introduce their managers to management’s higher thinking. They have got to be extremely careful since they run pretty close to core ideation of the management. But if they stay alert, they can avoid any unnecessary exposure. Yet, the exercise if loaded with risks, which good managers often take.
But what matters most is the importance of demystification of management thinking so that all can participate in the actual process of growth.

 

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