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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Organizational Excellence

Inaugural Address
Delivered by Ashwani Lohani at ISM, Dhanbad on 6th December 2013

Really a pleasure and an honor to be with all of you here for the national seminar on organizational excellence with emphasis on ethics. An honor because the Indian School of Mines is a great institution and a pleasure mainly for two reasons – the first - it is an enlightening experience to be addressing a big gathering of budding youngsters and the second – it was at a god forsaken place called Patratu in the Dhanbad division that I got the first field level administrative posting in my railway career. Oh what an experience it was – I was 29 and Patratu was the biggest hub of activity on the eastern railway and a place always on the edge. It was here that I realized the tremendous, almost overpowering role of the human resource in running organizations. It was here that I learnt that “Men” is by far the most important of the 3M’s that one talks about in management.

And so ladies and gentleman, I am indeed happy and honored to be here today.

I am no management expert as is often misunderstood. In my career spanning over 33 years I have never been nominated even for a single training session in a management institute and therefore I regard all of you from the department of management studies as far ahead of me in so far as management techniques and strategies are concerned. My only plus is the varied experience that I acquired during various postings in the railways – open line, headquarters, production units and the National Rail Museum, in the Govt of India as Director Tourism, as a public sector honcho at the infamous ITDC and later at MPSTDC along with my role in the state government of Madhya Pradesh handling all governmental functions in the department of Tourism. This variety in postings gave me an insight into and experience of the grand mess that in other words is known as a government department or undertaking. The two public sectors that came my way imparted a rare experience of handling loss making commercial entities about which I can confess I knew nothing about till then.

It is my varied experience and that indeed is all I have that therefore forms the basis of  my talks and any impression that conveys eulogizing of any kind needs to be taken in the right spirit. This is my humble request to this august gathering in all humility.

The subject of today is organizational excellence yet what really is excellence in organizations all about, I often wonder?

Perhaps it is all about achieving the optimum blend of profitability, productivity, operating ratio, work culture, employee and customer satisfaction, ethical values, environment and corporate social responsibility. Or maybe much more, as I said earlier I am not an expert on this subject. Please bear with me therefore if at times you feel that my blabbering is not making any real sense. Yet if I am asked to lay a finger on the one single indices that can be a pointer towards organizational excellence, it has to be the operating ratio of the organization.

My first visit overseas was an eye opener. It brought me down to earth and that did me a lot of good in ensuing years. I would therefore like to relate two or perhaps three incidences that really had my head reeling and made me appreciate that there are no rich and poor nations but only productive and unproductive nations. My second visit overseas mainly to the land of the rising sun and then England also opened my eyes wide and fully awake.

By then I was almost convinced that the road to prosperity goes via deliverance. What is needed in our country is a quantum jump in deliverance – cutting across sectors and states. Since then the hindu rate of growth has failed to impress me for that would keep the nation relatively at the same place almost forever. Why cant’ we aspire for growth rates in excess of twenty five percent per annum especially in the case of commercial organizations, I have since wondered. Perhaps therein lies the difference between capabilities of managers and leaders.

We need to cultivate leaders rather than merely focusing on imparting managerial skills. One definition of leadership is that it is the art of achieving many times more than what the science of management says is possible. This is one singular trait the trail blazing results of which have been amply witnessed in the cases of Gandhi from India, Lee Kuon Yew of Singapore and Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia to name a few.  

Leadership is the issue, nothing else is. It is a lot about believing in yourself even when none believe in you. It is also about being more committed to speaking the truth than seeking the approval of others. Besides it encompasses all core managerial and human values.

Now let us look at success.

We all aspire to be successful, yet what is success all about?

It is important not to measure personal success and sense of well being through material possessions. Success is not about what you create for yourself, it is what you leave behind that defines success.

Success is your ability to rise above your discomfort, whatever may be your current state. You can, if you want, raise your consciousness above your immediate surroundings. 

Success is about Vision. It is the ability to rise above the immediacy of pain. It is about imagination. It is about sensitivity to small people. It is about building inclusion. It is about connectedness to a larger world existence. It is about personal tenacity. It is about giving back more to life than you take out of it. It is about creating extra-ordinary success with ordinary lives.

If wealth gave happiness and satisfaction then Mukesh Ambani should be the happiest person in the country and if power and position gave that, then our prime minister should, yet that is not the case. There is something else within us that is the true  fountainhead of happiness and satisfaction. The sooner in life we understand this simple philosophy, the better it is.

At Patratu I started appreciating the real value of the human resource. The combined strength of over a thousand men working in unison delivered much more that what even the best of my predecessors ever expected of the team. That the men in return expected neither enhanced wages or promotions or rewards but genuineness on the part of management was a realization that dawned on me at Patratu and continued during my next stint at the Diesel Locomotive Works at Varanasi. That unions are an essential part of any enterprise with a substantial workforce, yet they merely thrive on the incompetency or non genuineness of primarily the apex management was also a deep realization.

Slowly with the passage of time it dawned on me that whether it is a parchun ki dukaan, towering corporate or a nation, it is the top guy who really matters and everything else is merely a symptom. Yet how wrong most of us really are in almost always attempting to tackle symptoms? Thankfully our family doctors are not like us – they rightfully attack the disease!  

Tackling the 3 M’s in a defined time frame to achieve the desired objective is at the core of the philosophy of management. Yet in the complex maze of organizations that we live in, we invariably fail to appreciate that the “will” to achieve is at a much higher plane than the how’s and the why’s. The regular engagement in the How’s and Why’s therefore amazes me no end. There are examples galore of the tremendous success achieved by nations and organizations inspired merely by the sheer will power of the leader. The meteoric rise of Germany in the thirties and then again after total demolition in the second world war is a vivid example of the power of the will power. I often wonder what would have happened if we Indians were left in the lurch in 1945 as the Germans were –we would still be begging the developed world, the world bank and the IMF for dole. What we would have done with the dole is another matter. National catastrophe’s like cyclones, earthquakes and what Uttarakhand recently went through have started emerging as occasions for the rulers to make hay while the sun shines. Unfortunate yet true! How deep is the abyss still I wonder?

A few days back one of my younger colleagues asked me how to differentiate between a good and a bad posting. My reply was that a posting conventionally regarded as good by the masses is bad and vica versa, provided of course rollicking in power and money is not the aim and making a difference is. After all who ever said that USA has potential or Germany has potential? It is India that is still accumulating potential in almost every sphere of activities. Potential is indeed a dirty word and generally postings regarded as bad possess tons of untapped potential.

Tackling the tourism major, the India Tourism Development Corporation and that too during the era when the nation was going through the motions of selling the family silver was an interesting assignment. Beleaguered on all sides – heavily loss making and corrupt organization, my not belonging to the elite service of the nation, the adhoc appointment and the disinvestment ministry excited about the selloff to follow, even paying the salaries to staff was by no means a cakewalk. And then 9/11 came as the icing on the cake! Yet Hotel Ashok, the flagship and the conscience keeper of the corporation posted the biggest ever hotel turnaround of those times – its turnover grew by almost 60% in the year when the hotel industry worldwide plummeted. This turnaround that gave jitters to the powers that be was mainly fuelled by two components – the decision to turnaround taken by the apex management and the absolute commitment of the staff in ensuring the success of the effort that followed.

Firm adherence to ethics, value systems and genuine concern for the employees is what really differentiates excellent firms from the routine. Clamping down on corrupt practices, imbibing value systems and providing genuine leadership to the men therefore has to be the fundamental focus area of the top guy. That this is far more important than merely chasing production or revenues is not yet apparent to many of the corporates especially those from the sarkari sector! 

In the rotten sarkari domain often most of us are at a loss to decide from where to start, and therefore there are umpteen sad stories of merely confining ourselves to planning and power point presentations that paint a rosy future yet fail to impress. Grandiose future emerging from dingy rooms occupied by demoralized employees is just not acceptable. And therefore in all my postings I literally begin with a cleaning up drive starting with the seat of power to be followed by other offices, units and workplaces. I really cannot visualize a bubbly enterprise in the absence of smart offices, units and workplaces. The men have to start feeling the change and that is what started happening at the dingy headquarters of Madhya Pradesh Tourism in 2004 and continued to happen for the next five years.

The organization turned around in the very first year and the turnover rose so fast that the profits at the end of five years were almost double of the turnover at the beginning. Meanwhile rapid strides in infrastructural development, innovative and bold promotional campaigns and making things easy for the private sector to make an entry propelled the state to the fore front of tourism in the country – an achievement celebrated by a number of recognitions in the form of national awards given by the federal government.

While managerial excellence played a major role, the almost vertical growth was made possible by inculcating ethical values, rooting out corruption and genuine concern for the men of the corporation. 

What however took me by surprise was the tremendous positive response of the railway staff in the Delhi division of Indian Railways. Infrastructural development works that normally take decades to show were completed in a record time and at such low costs that even the CAG profusely complimented the renovation works at New Delhi station in its audit report of the CWG games. Here again a transparent environment, genuine concern for the men, quick decision making and regular emphasis on value systems played a major role. 

All great performances appear smooth, be it Geet Sethi playing billiards or Sachin Tendulkar scoring centuries and all bad performances give an impression of tremendous activity. The test is that if an organization and its constituents appear to be at peace with themselves it is almost always certain that the organization is on the road to achieving excellence. 

Leaders clearly differentiate between remaining busy and delivering. They also quickly separate the grain from the chaff. 

Finally I would like to conclude by saying that achieving organizational excellence is simple though it often appears impossible. It only requires the will, commitment, genuineness and integrity on the part of the management. Once the decision to achieve excellence is taken, the next step is merely to put our life and soul in achieving the objective. 

Thank you everyone for being patient. 

Thank you for this honor once again.

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