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“A matter of belief”- 15 April 2014

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Saturday, 12 April 2014 11:52

When Suresh Kumar first talked aloud about starting a small industrial unit of his own, his friends encouraged him, but advised him to be stringent in giving wages to the workers. “Don’t be unnecessarily generous. Workers deserve to be put under strict vigil and they should not be paid too much. In that case, they get lazy and do not work as per your requirement.

Somehow, Suresh Kumar did not appreciate the way the unsolicited advice was offered. Secondly, what he did not like was the attitude of his friends towards workers. As he made up his mind to launch his own small unit for fabrication of steel structures as per orders, he decided to run the show with dignity. He did not have much money to start with. He did have a small plot in the industrial area, on which he launched his unit in a small shed. He chose his workers carefully, promised them decent remuneration on a monthly basis, and then started marketing efforts.
In a few months, there was enough work for the small unit that started running in two shifts as against one in the initial weeks. In less than two years, Suresh Kumar got known as a successful entrepreneur, which aroused jealousies as well among other entrepreneurs.
In Suresh Kumar’s unit, the atmosphere was often cheerful. There were reasons for that. One, Suresh Kumar gave his employees really good salaries and facilities. And, he kept his own behaviour cheerful all the time, no matter the pressures of being a new entrepreneur. He did not allow his tensions to be visible to his employees. In both the shifts, during the lunch break, he also spent time with employees, talking to them about their families and their concerns etc. Whenever an employee was in financial difficulty, Suresh Kumar was there to help. Then, sometime later, he also launched a fund from which to extend help to the needy workers or their families.
When Suresh Kumar got married, every employee got a gift from Suresh’s father, and everybody felt that he was an integral part of the employer’s family.
For others, all this was something never heard of. For, in most other units, the atmosphere used to be always tension-filled, and industrial relations strained.
Then came a point of test. Trade unions called a strike for enhanced wages. The workers in Suresh Kumar’s unit did not want to go on strike. For, their wages were good and the treatment they got was superb. When Suresh Kumar knew of the problem, he suggested to his employees something that surprised all. He said, the workers need not join the strike but could work with black badges on -- to express solidarity with workers’ cause.
When the trade union leaders knew of that, they held a gate meeting outside Suresh Kumar’s unit, and felicitated him for his open-mindedness.
The point that emerges from this story is simple: If the entrepreneur treats his employees well and honours them by giving appropriate wages with dignity, his unit never fails to return the loyalty. For, loyalty is not a one-way process -- from employee to employer. On the contrary, it operates both ways -- from employee to employer, and from employer to employee. By his straightforward approach, Suresh Kumar proved it very well.
However, the issue is not just about giving good wages; it is about believing that the workforce deserves good wages. This is where a critical difference is made.

 

“Democracy on shop-floor”- 25 March 2014

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Friday, 11 April 2014 20:19

When the new CEO arrived, he brought with him his vast experience of previous jobs where he had made several experiments with structure and model methods of functioning. He was described to be a very amiable person who anybody could approach at anytime, even at his home. He was described to have had no airs. Right on the first day, everybody saw him wearing only a casual shirt without a tie and a jacket. And subsequently, all came to know that the new boss could be seen anywhere in the sprawling factory premises -- in canteen chatting with machine operators, in the reception area with visitors without revealing his identity, in the mechanical transport section with drivers, in the stores, library, or strolling on the lawns talking to the gardener.

As the arrival of the new boss started changing atmosphere, he proposed an entirely new action-plan for various departments. He wanted each department to have a core committee whose one-third members would be rotated every year. The core committees would make all decisions as regards management of the respective departments -- like promotions or request for transfers, or applications for long-leave etc.
Old-timers of the company had serious doubts about the new arrangement. They wondered if average employees were mature enough to manage the core teams and their agendas. They also failed to understand the basic purpose of introducing the change. For, as they admitted, had never seen or heard anything like this in their company or elsewhere.
Some of the old-timers protested. They asked questions, raised issues, even wrote memos to the CEO. One day, after several such protestations were registered, the boss called a meeting of seniors from all sections, and asked only one question: Was there any opposition to an experiment? “We would discontinue it if we find it non-functional. And I promise, before we introduce it actually, we will ask every junior as well to give his or her opinion. If there is an overall rejection, then the core committee concept would not be taken up”.
That set the ball rolling in the right direction. For, an amazingly high majority of juniors favoured the core committee in which everybody would be able to take part on a rotation basis. The old-timers could not say anything in opposition and the core committee were formed quickly in all departments. In selection process, too, the boss avoided election route. He made absolutely blind choices, ticking names all by himself. Nobody got any favours, and everybody got an impression that sooner or later, every name would get a chance to sit on the committee.
Some old-timers still had doubts, and genuine ones. Yet, as the core committee system got operational, good results were available in less than six months. For, the management cadre stopped getting small complaints of wrongdoings by departmental heads. For, everybody was part of the decision-making process.
All this had a positive effect on the quality and quantity of production, which was not surprising. But the most critical difference was that the overall atmosphere in the company improved dramatically and a new harmony got established.
These are not descriptions from a movie but of a company whose market-share has gone up since the new boss took over, thanks to the new idea of bringing democracy to shop-floor.

“Focus, the best medicine”- 4 March 2014

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Thursday, 20 March 2014 11:42

Dinesh entered his first job with a sense of ease. He was fortunate to have been educated in some of the best institutions in the world. His confidence was high and abilities commensurate to take him ahead. Plus, Dinesh also had a strong physique and looked as if he was in total command. Naturally, his colleagues got attracted to him. Very soon, Dinesh became an integral part of the munch-time group in which gossip ruled the roost. Dinesh was always a front-runner in those sessions.

Mayank’s case was in sharp contrast to that of Dinesh. Mayank came from a family of very modest means, went to neighbourhood schools and attended a local college. Though he was a good student and often passed with distinction in several subjects, his personal grooming was certainly of a local flavour. He was in the same batch of new entrants as Dinesh and was assigned the same department. Since he came from a modest financial background, Mayank brought his lunch-pack from home and did not join the group in the canteen every afternoon. He sat at his desk, ate his lunch, exchanged pleasantries with colleagues, and got back to work.
Many times, Dinesh would invite Mayank for coffee, and the two would have long sessions in after-hours. At lunchtime, however, Mayank was simply not available. Occasionally, he did meet his colleagues for coffee at the vending machine after lunch, but never left the department. That often led Dinesh and his friends make fun of Mayank’s what they called queer behaviour. Mayank, of course, was not bothered, and kept doing his things with a sense of dedication.
In just a few months when mid-year assessment took place, Mayank got high marks and also a raise, while Dinesh got a word of caution about his conduct at workplace. “Don’t waste your time in loose talk. Look at Mayank, and learn something” his boss told him sternly.
Unfortunately, instead of learning a lesson, Dinesh developed a bitter feeling -- towards the boss, the company, and also Mayank. ‘That guy must have poisoned boss’s mind’, he muttered under his breath.
That was a bad point for Dinesh. For, then onwards, he fell in a wrong groove and often indulged in brazen criticism of the management.
One evening, however, Mayank pulled Dinesh aside and talked to him at length. “Dinesh, please understand how things move here. This is a traditional company. Though we have a professional management, their ways are traditional and they do not appreciate loose talk. Stop joining the gossip group. Those guys have come to the end of their roads, but you have a long way ahead. Try to understand this, and mould yourself accordingly. That will benefit you.”
Instead of taking the friendly word in correct perspective, Dinesh got angry and teased Mayank for being a ‘chamcha’ of the management. “You got your raise because you are a ‘chamcha’. And because I am not one, I did not get my raise,” he said.
Mayank said, “Please Dinesh, don’t think like that. My quality is my sense of focus and decorum. I am so focused on my work goal that I think of nothing else. I never even talk to the boss. In fact, boss himself asked me once or twice if I did have friends in office. When he asked that, my work-station neighbour told him that I had lots of friends. The boss then smiled and went away. I can never be a ‘chamcha’, as you have accused.”
Unfortunately, many people display tendencies which Dinesh did. They have everything with them, but lack a sense of focus. What makes the difference in a professional setting is focus. That does not mean that the person does not have to enjoy life in general. But what matters is an awareness that a professional has to make a clear distinction between what is necessary at workplace and how to conduct one-self there. The stories of Dinesh and Mayank highlight that point well. This could be the story for every organisation.

 

“Key to high work morale”- 18 February 2014

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Monday, 24 February 2014 11:27

During his first round of the facility after taking over as General Manager, Ashutosh realised that the place had not been maintained well. In his earlier company, Ashutosh had worked in a spotlessly clean place. So, his first instructions were clear: “Clean up the place, do up the place, and keep it up that way all the time- at any cost.”

That appeared rather too straightforward, the Office Superintendent felt. But he was given the task of leading the cleaning campaign and he had little choice but to do things to the new GM’s bidding.
Once the OS launched the cleaning drive, he realised that the new boss was very right. For, every corner of the place was full of filth -- dust, heaps of moth-eaten files and mountains of yellowed papers that had never been touched for years. To make matters worse, everybody in the sprawling office was very protective about those mountains. “What does it contain?”, the OS asked a man in his fifties (which had been working in the company for a good 25 years. He said he did not know what the material contained. So when the workers started picking up those loads, the man opposed stoutly.
So, the OS consulted Ashutosh. Again, instructions were clear: “Ask two of your staffers to take those mountains to the godown outside and go through all the stuff. If they feel that there is something that needs to be looked at, he will ask you. If nothing then they will sell the stuff off to a raddiwala.”
Yet, as the staffers sorted out the stuff, Ashutosh himself inspected the stuff quickly to find some useful and important record which he asked to be saved neatly in fresh files. He also ordered some of the material to be digitalised for future use.
Yet, as the drive went on, everybody realised that the office was sitting on mountains of filth that had no business being there in the first place.
The cleaning drive went on for several weeks. It also included painting of walls and ceiling, and repair of polishing of furniture. For those many weeks, the whole office was harassed, but had to endure the drive because of the new boss wanted that to be done urgently.
Ultimately, however, when the work was complete and the office started shining, everybody loved it. And one of the most visible after effects was the overall timings of the staff. Everybody came in time, and lingered on after the shift was over. For, who doesn’t like to work in a spotlessly clean place?
This is a major issue in most organisations. Over time, each place develops a tendency to keep piling things in corners that are beyond sight. Those corners and nooks then become dumping yards of materials whose relevance few would ever know.
In fact, this process is the one that takes place in homes as well. For, in most homes, there are corners that are used as dumping yards and develop sizeable loads of filth that should be disposed of immediately.
Ashutosh had a clear idea of what he would do to make the impact of his arrival visible not for showmanship but for actual good effect. So, he launched the cleaning up drive, and had remarkable results. For, the first thing that everybody noticed was that the staffers enjoyed working in a clean, spic and span place. This element of enjoying the work is the root cause of efficiency.
Unfortunately, this approach is never taken in most organisations. Barring a few organisations conscious of the importance of clean places of work, most places present an unkempt look. Ashutosh was the one who would not tolerate that. And that made all the difference.

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