Powered By Blogger

Popular Posts

Search This Blog

Monday, May 27, 2019

Transforming Organizations

This article was published in Hindustan Times op-ed on 4/6/2019

India is a nation on the move, a rapid and visible move as witnessed in the last five years and expected with greater vigour in the next five. The “WILL” is visible loud and clear and that is what really matters.

Transformation is the mantra and a complete transformation of organizations is the only way forward. Transformation and a complete one at that, generally stimulates delivery to an extent that cannot be imagined otherwise. Unfortunately the general mind-set believes more in flogging the system for enhancing delivery, that does work but only for marginal improvements, not for a quantum growth.

Rejection of the status quo is the hallmark of true leadership at political, bureaucratic and corporate levels. A true leader looks at sustainable change that only transformation, or “organizational reforms” can bring and for that to begin, a tremendous sense of urgency needs to be first established. There is a need to establish a firm belief that business as usual cannot continue and complacency will kill slowly but surely. Fortunately for the nation, the existing dispensation strongly believes in the necessity of change and is driving change like never before.

The desire to excel, propelled by sheer will power is the most potent of all potions. A combination of absolute trust and a common shared goal propels organizations in the right direction.

Indian Railways recently went through a very powerful dose of transformation when it attempted organizational reforms, cultural, procedural and structural on a scale, never attempted earlier. Driven by the Board and piloted by a very able set of officers that constituted the transformation cell, railways witnessed phenomenal changes in a small period of over a year, changes that transcended zonal and divisional boundaries and impacted the ground and ground level workers. It was indeed an attempt to simplify the complex bureaucracy, do away with frills, simplify deliverance and impart a sense of pride in the entire workforce and in the process, be able to do things that earlier could never be imagined.

An organization is invariably defined by its culture. While the beginning is generally clean, complacency, materialism, ego, lack of concern for the human resource and the prevailing social environment, all tend to influence the organizational culture in due course of time. The organizational culture directly influences the morale and the pride that men have in the organization they work for. A no frills culture that has a catalytic impact on deliverance is to be aspired for, but is rarely achieved.

It has to be repeatedly said. In my over four decades of association with the government machinery, I never had the occasion to attend even a single official meeting in which the welfare of men and the need for an ethical conduct was discussed. Therefore while mundane issues are given cognizance, the cultural issues were invariably lost sight of. Perhaps it is the grounding most of us get during service including at the service training institutions that makes us leave these vital issues in favour of the easier mundane ones. One of my first orders therefore was to ban the well-entrenched practice of giving bouquets, gifts and protocol across the organization.

Unfortunately most of the top managements shy away from a ground connect for they do not realize the sheer difference it can make to deliverance. A seamless connect across various tiers where one tier is never shy of approaching the upper echelons for issues official or personal does much to enhance confidence levels, self-esteem  as well as pride in the organization. Management by walking around, anytime, anywhere and everywhere and in the process interacting with the men cutting across the various tiers is the simplest way of initiating cultural changes.

I have always been surprised by the mistrust that organizations nurture, nurtured by the men who want to be trusted yet do not trust others and in the process create positions that generally do not have adequate power or authority to deliver what the organization expects them to. The best organizations are those that maintain a perfect balance between authority and accountability, yet it is so very rare to find them. The railway transformation cell headed by Sudhir Kumar therefore initiated a major effort to empower all field units with an unprecedented delegation of authority – something that could not be done in last seventy years was achieved in just one and this reflected in the vastly improved pace of infrastructure creation, upgradation and maintenance.

New courses on leadership, capacity building and emotional intelligence along with unique initiatives like project Saksham for training the entire staff and mission Satyanishtha aimed at inculcating ethical conduct also started making a difference on the massive railway system.

There needs to be pressure to perform, not for not making mistakes for the only way not to make  mistakes is by shunning work altogether. We need to create an environment where people are fearless and do not have any qualms about standing up or doing what is right. A fearful employee devoid of courage can never be an asset for the organization he works for. We should encourage top guys to freely mingle at all levels as that really helps in creating such an environment.  

We also need to encourage small successes and appreciate our employees whenever they succeed, even if it is a routine activity done well. What needs to percolate is the thought that good work needs to be actively and continuously encouraged. Regular felicitation of even the lowest rung railway employees in the Chairman’s chamber, for their exemplary work while on duty made an impact. More than the felicitation, it was the dignified manner in which these employees were treated right through their visit to Delhi that made a lasting impact on their lives as well as on the organization.

Reforming the processes, processes related to decision making and contractual is paramount. It needs to be clear to all in the organization that deliverance is paramount not the process, but unfortunately the understanding is generally the reverse. Simplification of processes and having absolute trust in the men, unless proven otherwise holds the key.

That structures are not sacrosanct and need to adapt to the culture and the processes and not the other way around is also a very important learning.

Organizational reforms is the way forward and Railways has shown the way.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Sir, The reality is change and any person or organisation that cannot accept is at peril. The world today unlike the world I was born in 1947 is hugely different. Then again, business cultures of organisations today is also hugely different from the day I began working back in 1969, almost 50 years ago.

    In that reality, service industry be it railway, hotel or airlines too changed. The flight that I took in April 1980, more than 39 years ago as a passenger had only cold meal, no IFE and the J class did not recline much then. I travelled in a B 707.

    But today it is so different, driven by the consumer behaviour and not by the airline's desires only. Then again what is consumer savvy today become obsolete a year or so later.

    In this context, the need is to change, but at least a little ahead of competition or at least side by side. In 1980 when I began work at Air Lanka there were no Revenue Management systems, no computers for staff and even the reservation terminals were dumb terminals. But today it is billions of miles ahead.

    My experience at Air Lanka to SriLankan Airlines also demonstrated that Organizational Change where the "O" Chart from bottom to top is much flatter and where as you have stated, delegation authority with responsibility to lower levels is the way forward.