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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Moving towards a clean India

One of the best initiatives of recent times has been the “Swacchh Bharat Abhiyan” for cleanliness is always the precursor to all good things. And my recent visit to Indore, the commercial capital of the heart of incredible India that has recently been declared as the cleanest city in the country was indeed an eye opener. What a makeover this city has undergone in recent times with absolutely no litter and an aura of freshness enveloping it. The impact of this abhiyan was evident, nice and proper in this city known for the holkar dynasty and amazing tourist destinations in its vicinity.

Battling with unkempt offices and territories and trying to make them swanky in an effort to improve efficiency and in the process deliverance has always been the hallmark of all those who really are in love with what they do for they have realized that the behaviour of individuals is to a great extent conditioned by the surrounding environment. Disorganized office spaces tattered with broken furniture and paper strewn all around never inspires confidence in those who inhabit it let alone people who have to visit them for getting their work done. Yet the staid scenario continues almost everywhere with the inhabitants aspiring for a clean environment, without their having to contribute of-course.

And the general disdain for cleaning up things is unfortunately omnipresent and I witnessed the same in the variety of postings I did, be it within railways or the state and central public sector undertakings. The cleaning up drive initiated at the new delhi railway station in the run up to the commonwealth games that started with a dialogue with and an exhortation to the safaiwalas to take pride in their work had such a powerful impact that with minor hiccups the station has generally remained clean since then.

It has been almost the same everywhere, broken furniture, dirty files and computers, stinking curtains, betal stained staircases and discarded things strewn everywhere. Public places, especially tourist sites with exceptions ofcourse generally leave much to be desired. The un-swacchh environment also goes a long way in propagating an unhealthy and worse still an unethical work culture besides being acting as a great demotivating factor.

Besides creating a good environment, what the swacchh bharat abhiyan would also ultimately lead to is an ethical conduct in public and private lives. Gandhi rightly said that cleanliness is akin to godliness for god would never truly reside in a place that smacks of an unkempt environment.

How is it that an average countryman who does not think twice before littering his office and roads, behaves impeccably when travelling beyond the shores of the nation whether for work or pleasure? While a clean environment encourages further cleanliness (I did not witness people littering in Indore) the fear of being hauled up by the agencies or being pulled up by the people around also acts as an able deterrence. This fear in course of time leads to habit forming.

Before this swacchh abhiyan kicked in in true earnest, one never found earnestness in similar drives conducted in the past, drives that actually never went beyond mere lip service. Never before in the past cleanliness was taken up as a mission by the nation as a whole and we ended up stacking garbage in every nook and corner.

We can aspire for excellence only when we keep even our own areas of influence clean and well organized? We all therefore need to be a part of this great national cause and make our own contribution in our areas of influence by keeping them sparkingly clean and proper. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Life is all about being human

The meaning of life itself puzzles me. Is it about sweating it out and making a difference even though the difference may be inconsequential when one looks at the bigger picture beyond the organization, the nation, the globe, the universe or the humanity itself, or about merely looking after the self and the family? Obviously sacrifices have to be made somewhere for there are no free lunches.

In all my postings I have been privy to tremendous love and affection from my men, yet have been unable to fathom the reason behind the same for what I did was not only normal but also natural and by no stretch of imagination can be regarded as going much beyond the way. It is also true that I have been working hard, harder than conventional norms and have also been paying the price, much more than often along the way, yet merely putting in more hours of work cannot be the lone rationale for more than the fair quota of human affection that one has been receiving.  Perhaps there is something more that one is unable to put his finger upon and the inability to do so finds solace in the reality that if it was really possible to do so, one of the biggest mysteries of life would have stood resolved.

Perhaps it is all about being human, but maybe there is something more to it like destiny or past life “karma”.

My belief in the goodness of men therefore continues unabated, despite the efforts of almost everyone who surround me to believe in the contrary. At all places my experience has been that failures of the management are rubbed upon the staff as their follies and the staff being much lower in the hierarchial ladder have no option other than accepting the blame and silently wondering where he actually went wrong.  It is also unfortunate that aspirational issues of the men are often brushed aside as being of no consequence even though it leads to low staff morale and therefore the outcome, yet the focus invariably remains confined to satisfying the often irrational requirements of the higher echelons.

Such divergent views often have to potential of upsetting the apple cart with collateral damage, yet one is then reminded of what Gandhi once said that a man of purpose would trod his way regardless of what many would otherwise consider not the right path. It is all about belief, believing in what one thinks is right and being prepared to face the consequences of the action that emanates from the belief that many may consider misplaced.

Perhaps life is also about living in an environment with many contradictions. Perhaps grey is the name of the game as it may not be always possible to place issues clearly in white or black compartments. Perhaps the voice of conscience that often knocks but is left unheard is the best course to pursue despite the consequences that a materialistic world may impose.

There are no clear answers yet life is to be lived to its fullest.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bless the subordinate!

“Bless the top guy" is what I once told the railway bosses when asked for advice on how to set on track the railway catering and tourism corporation. And I believed in what I said for that is the only way to set right things, yet rarely followed or practiced.

We from the system always believe in giving advice when support is sought for mistrust and one-upmanship remains at the core of all that we do when dealing with others. That one brain properly utilized is always better that many who just want to make their presence felt is neither felt nor appreciated, perhaps because of the fact that deliverance almost always has taken a back seat in favor of power point presentations and detailed reasoning and explanations that help one to tide over uncomfortable scenarios even at the cost of the future.

The herd mentality has unfortunately clouded the minds of almost all who man the system and this is indeed sad. What the herd believes in becomes the belief of the individual for people do not want to be perceived to be seen as standing up to the belief of the masses howsoever foolish the belief may be. And the conformance to perceptions, howsoever unsubstantiated they may be ensures that the real scenario is never allowed to come to light and decisions get taken on wrong basis.

Unfortunately almost all organizations that I headed had also been a victim of incorrect perceptions that brought them on the verge of collapse. Regular hollow arguments lamenting about excess staff resulted in a scenario wherein staff shortages hugely affected operations, yet the ivory towers rarely reacted.

Another incorrect perception uniformly experienced by me is that the blame was always laid at the altar of the staff whereas like all failures the root cause has been inept management.

It is also unfortunate that in almost all cases of inept performance, the people in leadership positions display traits not of leaders but of one who lacks confidence on himself, is incompetent or short of integrity. When a subordinate seeks support, they dispense advice. When they are fired by their superiors, they pass on the firing to their subordinates. This is the stuff that most of us in leadership positions are made up. And in light of the same, the lament of non-performance, is indeed hilarious.

The best of leaders trust people reporting to them. They are courageous and maintain highest standards of integrity at all times. They do not lose their cool even under intense pressure. And they do not dispense advice when support is warranted. They are indeed people who appreciate that blessing the subordinate is the only key to success. And there are many that the system has, yet we need more of them.   

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Tendering syndrome

My recent visit to New York had me unnerved once again and reinforced in me the belief that there are no rich and poor nations but productive and unproductive nations. Is it not unacceptable that even after having served over three decades and a half in the service of the Sarkar, I am yet unsure about what comes first – delivery or process.

The footpaths, the roads, the lamp posts, the buildings, the bridges, almost every infrastructural item that one witnesses in the developed economies is built to last, if not centuries but definitely a couple of decades and here at home the unending cycle of repairs and rebuilding baffles me. All perhaps because we find it almost impossible to go around the established decision making and tendering processes that are neither efficient nor a deterrent for a guy with a crooked intent.

The extremely high delivery by almost everyone in the developed economies is forged out of trust, integrity, commitment and above all simplicity of processes that we have over-complicated in the garb of transparency. It is indeed sad that for far too long this nonsense has carried on uninterrupted!

Will we forever remain a developing nation one really wonders? When shall deliverance be regarded as supreme and those with an honest intent find the courage regardless of the roadblocks that include a host of people ready to point fingers and jump at the slightest perceived mistake.

Handling an airline is definitely not by any stretch of imagination an easy task and this business is therefore regarded as the mother of all businesses. And the beleaguered Air India with a bundle of legacy issues and an empty cash chest made the job even worse. Quick decision making without fear is a philosophy that should be at the core of all businesses that aspire to do well, yet what I found here when I landed with a thud almost a year back was an exact antithesis of this school of thought. The instant feeling was that this airline is waiting silently to pass away into oblivion, unsung without concern. And the underlying reason was what one expected - overemphasis on processes, reacting to symptoms and jumping to conclusions with absolutely no concern whatsoever for delivery, not because the people were not committed or inefficient but due to the all-pervading fear of being pinned down if any decision went even marginally wrong in hindsight. What an insane manner of handling commercial organizations!

The tendering process that we inherited from the british raj is the culprit. Why should I wonder, the process for purchasing potatoes be the same as for buying paintings or contracting for a hotel room or procuring a latest software or adding aircrafts to the fleet? The first thought therefore that comes to mind whenever something innovative is to be resorted to is how this shall be done through the conventional tendering process without the doer landing in a soup himself and avoidance therefore tends to provide solace. Perhaps this is the single reason behind the overarching presence of sub-standard infrastructure, goods and services that we almost always encounter in this nation. The decision making and contracting processes can be and should be overhauled and made simple if we aspire for progress and the silver lining is that there is no doubt about this aspiration in the India of today.

In simplification of processes, not merely flogging it lies the key to success. And let us begin with the tendering process for it has indeed become the bane of delivery in our nation.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Common fallacies while serving the nation

Look around within the working environment and one shall find many who never really started or have given up at the slightest pretext. It is such attitude that is indeed the biggest drag in the forward march of organizations and also the nation.

The staff is bad : How common and how unfortunate is the oft heard rant of the senior blokes that if they had better men with them, they would have delivered. I am good and they are bad, I am honest and the rest are not, I am committed and others are not and more often than not – no one else is bothered about the organization. Sadly these are words uttered by the mediocres who aspire for positions, get them and yet never become worthy of them. Over thirty five years of service has convinced me that the root cause behind non deliverance is inadequate bureaucratic leadership.

There is no support : If I had enough support I would have done it. Unfortunately this penchant of relying heavily on support from the superiors has been carried to a ridiculous extent by almost all and sundry. The guy who seeks support from those above him actually rarely supports those who look upto him. It is almost akin to the hostel experience – I was ragged so I will rag, I was not looked after so why should I and so on and so forth. The go-getters however go ahead and do it nevertheless.

People are corrupt – Very often we paint with one black brush those who we work for and also work with. The widespread extent of corruption is indeed undenied yet the only way one can help clean this rut is neither by complaining nor castigating others but by being a crusader for the cause and at the same time carrying an unwavering focus on the objective to be achieved.

Inadequate funds – The failure to realize that money is the least of the issues unfortunately never dawns on most of us who start their careers with and also end up with almost a regular banter about inadequacy of funds, for want of which they believe they have been failing to deliver. Look around and witness the creation of empires literally from scratch by budding entrepreneurs of the yesteryears and even today. They never cribbed and in the process created wealth. That initiative is the first step to generate wealth rarely gets appreciated.

The boss is bad : This is rarely true and but not as often as it is made out to be. The presence of a few rotten apples cannot be wished away yet the realization that if one is a good boss, he also gets one, rarely gets appreciated.

Life is not fair : Having been treated in an unfair manner remains the biggest grouse of almost all blokes thronging the environment. It however rarely matters to them whether they have been fair or not in their dealing with all those who fall within their sphere of influence. And fairness after all is a matter of perception, often perceived wrongly.  

The eternal pessimist : And one often bumps into many of them. That being fiercely optimist is often the only way to turnaround a really bad situation is often never believed and therefore rarely practiced. Like optimism builds itself many times over and in the process converts an impossible scenario into a possible one, pessimism attracts negativity at a much faster rate and often converts an already won battle into a lost one.

And lastly the misplaced notion that a position is merely for self-perpetuation and not a means to achieve an objective, a noble one at that, is so widespread that it is not at all funny. Almost everyone aspires for top slots, but unfortunately only for the power and pelf that goes with it, and the transient nature of these gains is appreciated only when they end, as all good times do but by then it is too late. Performing what the position expects from the incumbent is the only thing that has the power to give a lasting experience.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Being Human

Air India, the national carrier of India is indeed on the way to emerge as the nation’s pride in days to come.

I always believed in two things – the inherent strength of the indian public sector and the inefficacy of what we look upon (or down) as the top management of these corporations. A misplaced belief in not trusting anyone other than the self is indeed the crucial factor behind the demise of many such jewels in the lap of the nation. And not knowing or not even attempting to know the tremendous latent power that human beings possess lies at the core. It is in this dismal scenario which has lasted over almost seven decades that one looks at the present national leadership as the brightest ray of hope ever to have been showered on the nation. And we have to be patient for it takes time to stem the decades of rot. Unfortunately while we seek patience for ourselves from others one does not display even a streak of it insofar as expectations from others are concerned. This realization gives me hope both for the national carrier as well as the nation. Great times are unfolding at the pace they can and should.

That Air Indians, even the commonest of them silently bore the blunt of being unfairly blamed for the debacle of the airline convinces me of their infinite resilience besides making me hopeful for the future. The plunge of the national carrier is indeed the handiwork of fate and individuals other than the rank and file, a plain fact left unrealized so far. And therefore my efforts to place facts on the table for I believe that acceptance of the ground realities is indeed the first step in the path to revival.

My very recent three day visit to the commercial capital of the country was a satisfying one. Interactions with the staff as well as the agents who give us business in both the passenger and cargo segments were fruitful and satisfying. That there are no absolute guarantees in commercial scenarios, and therefore taking risks rather that twiddling our thumbs for fear of the unknown or the vigilance is the only course of action open to us.

And the genuine emotional connect with the men that invariably brings out the best in them has no parallel. Emotions therefore came to the surface when the appointment letter was being handed over to the spouse of a deceased engineer. Even meeting hordes of staff who in me saw a faint row of hope for the beleaguered carrier are moments beset with emotions and strengthens the thought of laying down everything at the altar of humanity. What better feeling than to see the smiles on the faces of those one feels responsible for.

My earlier stints especially at the Madhya Pradesh Tourism, ITDC and Delhi division had all been emotionally charged moments. After all when one deals with human beings, it is all about happy moments, feelings for others and concern for humanity at large. And all this reinforced in me a belief that despite what the experts say, it is the men who make or mar an organization or the nation, it is the men who can create or destroy wealth and who can usher in happiness or gloom. Concern for the men therefore is the core issue, everything else thereafter merely falls in place.

Human nature is indeed the most complicated of sciences. While we fully well know what makes us happy or what we desire from others, we have been miserably failing in applying the same yardsticks when we deal with others. My only hope lies in my men finding the courage to be good to others and devoting their lives for the common good.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Tajmahal ka Tender

One of the biggest issues staring at all those who are in the business of
running sarkari companies is how to efficiently and without collateral
damage, engage contractors for getting specific jobs done in a specified
timeframe or in other words entering into contracts. During the over three
and a half decades of working for the Sarkar I have been a hapless victim
on many occasions trying to fathom ways and means of engaging the right
contractor for the job on hand, without being judged in hindsight as
someone who favoured someone else with ulterior motives. For it is strange
but true that enthusiasm and aggression for delivery is rather almost
always misunderstood for an activity directed towards personal gains.
Equally strange is the enthusiasm displayed by various agencies
collectively defined as watchdogs to view a mistake or a deviation from
established rules and processes as an act of malafide deserving of
exemplary punishment so that all others who are watching from the sidelines
and maybe inclined to act and thereby commit mistakes are instantly
motivated into rank inaction.

The smart ones having realised the pitfalls of contracting and also the
fact that they are merely human and therefore prone to committing mistakes
have achieved excellence in the art of procrastination. And the contractual
file therefore keeps on going round and round in circles and why not: the
archaic process perhaps designed for purchasing basic necessities like
potatoes or maybe tomatoes is being utilised for purchasing everything
under the sun. The extent of damage that is being caused in the garb of
transparency and the need to have a system howsoever ridiculous it may be
is indeed beyond comprehension. Indeed if the emperor Shah Jehan also had
the compulsion of going through the tendering process for building the Taj Mahal,
this 7th wonder of the world would have remained confined to his dreams.

The day I witnessed in the early nineties that a machine costing almost a
quarter of a billion has to be kept idling for want of a spare part that
may be costing less than a tenth of a million, only because the tendering
process has to be religiously followed, whatever respect I may have had for
contractual mechanisms being followed in the sarkar, evaporated. And I also
started questioning the first canon of financial propriety that our
professor of finance grilled into us during our foundation course at the
staff college, that government money has to be spent as if it's is our own.
What bullshit - one does not tender for purchasing refrigerators and one
invariably and quite often speculates with his own money. Try that with
government funds and then watch the fun for a lifetime maybe from behind
the bars.

Gross national wastage cannot and should not be overlooked in favour of
following some silly rules and processes originally made by whites to lord
over us, for trusting the natives was in no way one of their compulsions.
Strange it is that even after almost seven decades of being a free nation,
our systems and processes are mired in layers and layers of mistrust.

Yet no one complains and surprisingly most of us from the bureaucracy
either do not feel the need for a change or worse still defend the
indefensible and valiantly fight for status quo. And why not, a system that
does not differentiate between horses and donkeys obviously fails to
provide encouragement to perform. Rare are those who trudge along
nevertheless and that is the tragedy of this nation that we have been
repeatedly told was once upon a time even the envy of the gods.

There are two things to be done. First is to rewrite the tendering rules
and processes so that goods and services of the requisite quality and
quantity can be made available timely and at the  right value. And the
second is to follow what is already laid down - treat malafide as such and
not to be equated with not towing the straight line in so far as following
the laid down rules and processes is concerned. And they can be done
easily, there is no rocket science involved. Perhaps a tremendous penchant
for deliverance would be of essence in ridding this nation of the scourge
of tendering processes. The new government is indeed like the light at the end
of the tunnel and we have to merely keep moving forward regardless of the