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Saturday, December 28, 2019


Train 18 better known as the Vande Bharat took the country by storm in January this year, and rightly so. The first train set of the nation built indigenously for intercity travel, by the oldest coach manufacturer of India, the Integral Coach Factory of Chennai in a record time and at a cost far below what it would cost to import is no mean achievement, besides being a tremendous example of the make in India initiative.    

The success of the T-18 project also brings out the inherent potential and capability of the gigantic railway system that despite its structural limitations, complex bureaucratic systems and archaic processes remains one of the finest symbols of deliverance in the country.

The “Make in India” initiative of the Prime Minister has instilled national pride and enhanced national prestige besides also emerging as perhaps the finest step in recent times towards nation building, with the Chandrayan and Vande Bharat emerging as brilliant examples of this national resolve.  

Such initiatives are unique for they foster innovation, enhance skill development, protect intellectual property and strengthen the manufacturing infrastructure in the country. The impact of the Make in India initiatives on the economic growth of the country is going to be substantial as they also focus on utilising the existing Indian talent base, creating additional employment opportunities and empowering secondary and tertiary sectors. In the long run the ongoing efforts at streamlining archaic laws and regulations, making bureaucratic processes easier and making the working of the government more transparent, responsive and accountable would lead to  improvement in India’s rank in the Ease of Doing Business index.

The first rake of the Vande Bharat train has been making an uninterrupted run between Delhi and Varanasi sans a failure and that speaks volumes about the quality achieved using indigenous resources. It also demonstrates that our home grown industry is capable of rising to the occasion and manufacturing world class products.

The creation of a new design of rolling stock normally takes a painfully long time for fruition. That the Vande Bharat could be rolled out in a very short time frame of eighteen months by the Integral Coach Factory, Chennai is almost a miracle made possible by a team of bright and bold officers led by the General Manager whose belief in the supremacy of deliverance never wavered. Interestingly the creation of this train was preceded by a plethora of sweeping cultural and environmental transformations with the factory emerging as a glowing example of the change that many organizations in the country have been vying for.

Train Sets for intercity travel so common overseas have been a dream for the nation since the last many decades. While the capability and the intent was never in doubt, what was missing was a driving force that could singlehandedly drive the project to completion through the maze of complex processes, archaic rules and procedural constraints. A breakthrough like this needed single minded resolution, will power in abundance and a monumental team effort.

In addition to transforming the bureaucratic systems, ushering in cultural, procedural and structural reforms and simplifying decision making processes, enabling such initiatives to proliferate would need simplified tendering processes and enhanced quotient of trust within the system. The complexity of the tendering processes coupled with supremacy of the L1 leaves tremendous scope for an interpretation based on hindsight and therefore a scenario where decision making invariably gets mired in bouts of fear.  

At the same time there is a crying need to protect and support those who in the interest of delivery and nation building play on the front foot and at times make mistakes identified as such in the hindsight. Treating genuine mistakes as malafide even if done inadvertently would dampen initiative.

The Vande Bharat initiative has given a new dimension to train travel in India. As a shift to “train set” type of trains for inter-city travel is very much needed and the ability to indigenously manufacture is effectively established, it is only logical that this initiative is aggressively taken forward.

In the national interest it is imperative that one of the finest initiatives ever taken by the railways is not allowed to wither away.

Indian Railways bites the bullet


The recent decisions on railway reforms including the one to merge eight different cadres of officers into one vertical are a belated yet a bold move and in the right direction, if handled well. Bold because different governments at different points in time appointed different committees to look into issues related to reforming the railways and several ideas emerged, yet no government bit the bullet. Bold also because while most of the committees spoke about merger on functional lines, but  only one, the Debroy committee gave a specific recommendation, that of merger of cadres into two verticals – one technical and one non-technical.  

Indian Railways is a solid institution by itself. It has survived and regularly reinvented itself over the last 167 years of its existence. Running over 22000 trains a day passing over 7000 stations and piloted by a workforce of over thirteen lakhs, the gigantic railway system of our nation, the largest organization in the planet despite being a fine symbol of deliverance, can and also needs to do much better. Improvement in services and expansion of infrastructure, both need to fast keep pace with the aspirations of a nation on the move.

The recent decision is a continuation of the transformational reforms being actively pursued on the railways since the last two years and need to be viewed in the above context.

Railway officers are often accused of rabid departmentalism. It is true that railway is organized on departmental lines with each department having a cadre of its own. While having departmental bias in an organization that has more than one department is but natural and acceptable but only to the extent where departmental priorities and loyalties do not overshadow those of the organization.

On the other hand there is also a need to appreciate that railways being primarily a technical organization needs specially qualified and trained personnel in officers cadres for manning various facets of its operational necessities.

Efficiently meeting the gamut of specialized requirements without its constituents losing sight of the bigger picture is indeed the need of the hour.

And we have a scenario where the vast majority of officers of all cadres spend their lives within the confines of the department itself without being able to appreciate the bigger picture of the railways. Only those limited number of officers who occupy Divisional Railway Manager and then General Manager level positions, are exposed to the working of the entire railway system, and that too for brief periods. The proposed merger logically should address this anomaly.

The fundamental issue with the railways is not the multiplicity of departments. Different departments are needed for focussed and specialized attention to technical and other issues like HR and Finance. The problem however lies in having officers generally remaining confined to one particular department throughout the career perhaps on the earlier premise that even at higher levels, the technical and specialized content vastly override the managerial one. Staying lifelong in one department may strengthen technical expertise but not managerial and leadership qualities while also resulting in a narrow constricted vision even at higher levels where awareness of the bigger picture, openness to new ideas and thoughts and leadership qualities are required.

Railways had been mulling over reforming itself since the last two and a half decades. A number of committees set up by different governments in the past, namely the Prakash Tandon Committee of 1994, Rakesh Mohan committee of 2002, Sam Pitroda committee of 2012, Sreedharan committee of 2014 and the Debroy committee of 2015, talked about the pressing need to reform the railway structures and processes including possible merger of cadres. They also recommended elevating the Chairman Railway Board from the present status of first amongst equals to a clearly defined Chief Executive Officer, and also about reorganizing the Board on functional lines.  

The scenario where this largest organization on planet earth did not have a clearly identified Chief Executive Officer would now change thereby changing the tenor of the organization.

And a board drawn on functional lines, not departmental would ensure that while the Board members remain focussed towards functional responsibilities, they also have a much better appreciation of the overall picture that helps them to perform better in the assigned role. 

While the carving out of the railway budget from the general budget in 1924 was a clear indication of the then government’s resolve to run railways on commercial lines, however over the decades babugiri caught up in right earnest and brought the organization to a stage where railwaymen always found themselves tied in knots even for performing simple activities, till large scale simplifications and delegations of 2018 kicked in. Inability of the officers of different cadres to align themselves with the organizational objectives simply because of the lack of awareness of the bigger picture resulted in a complex web of knots.  

Merger of cadres is necessary for eliminating departmental bias and encouraging a hitherto unexplored open thought process. It would also open the gates for achieving excellence and encouraging innovation, provided the exercise is handled well, and definitely not like the ill-fated merger of Air India and Indian Airlines, merger that pushed the merged Air India into the abyss.

Mergers are all about amalgamation of seniority groups, in this case about amalgamation of eight different seniority groups into one, an exercise easier said than done. It is also about affecting the aspirations of individuals, most of them bright in the case of railways, aspirations that if not handled well would lead to grouses that can last the entire service career and in the process seriously dent the organization. This is what happened at Air India and we are still suffering.

While the intent is good, the proof of the pudding shall always be in the eating. The implementation of these decisions especially the one relating to merger of cadres would have to be taken forward very carefully in an extremely mature manner duly taking sensitivities and job requirements into full consideration. The framing of guidelines and rules for implementing the merger should be finalized through a consultative process and not rushed through. And the CEO should be given a fixed term of atleast three years for effectively implementing measures for improvements and growth.
Change we must for change should be the only constant in the twenty first century. However every major change leads to concerns, apprehensions and fear among the constituents and therefore often attracts resistance in the initial stages. These would need to be handled with sensitivity. We also need to ensure that the change ushered results in achieving the desired objectives without getting derailed.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The indian public sector

With many public sector undertakings steadily losing their relevance due to sliding market share or becoming financially unviable, the rationale for their existence has indeed weakened over a period of time. This scenario has often necessitated disinvestment, an exercise that would enable tapping the full inherent potential of the undertakings in the national interest.

The emergence of the public sector in the country just after independence was with the avowed objective of enhancing manufacturing and services, especially in areas where the private sector either did not exist or was unable to enter on commercial considerations. The public sector units then fulfilled a very vital need and were also regarded as the temples of modern india.

It was in 1948 that India got its first CPSU in the form of ITI (Indian Telephone Industries Ltd) and their numbers grew thereafter with now almost 300 of them operating across a wide spectrum of sectors such as banking, coal, engineering, power, oil, steel, textiles, airlines, hotels etc. in addition there are also many state level public sector units.

CPSUs were set up to play a pivotal role as envisaged in the economic model adopted by the country in the post-Independence era. Their contribution in terms of job creation, social welfare, and overall economic growth of the nation has indeed been substantial. The policy for setting up of CPSU’s was not only guided solely by profits but was primarily inspired by the need to spur growth in remote and backward areas of the country and generate employment. 

It is however since the eighties that public sector rapidly started losing its sheen due to lack of relevance or financial losses or both. Lack of professionalism compounded by the ever increasing complexity of processes, excessive oversight and over indulgence by the investigative agencies triggered this downslide.

CPSU’s were formed under the companies’ act same as that for private companies with the underlying intent that they should function commercially like the private sector, regardless of the ownership. With passage of time however, the intent got confined to paper for the bureaucratic and political classes could never truly accept a scenario where a flourishing commercial enterprise is under the ministry but not under the thumb.

Another instrument to ensure commercial and administrative freedom, something so vital for running businesses successfully, was the “presidential directive” that can be issued by the concerned ministry to the undertaking only in exigencies, not on normal commercial and administrative matters. Unfortunately over the last few decades, the spirit of this directive has been held more in breach.

PSU’s have unfortunately also often suffered an overdose of oversight, when actually it was neither envisaged nor meant to be. Too many cooks spoil the broth is so true.  

Selection of people for leadership positions in public sector undertakings needs to be based on assessment of leadership qualities and not merely subject expertise. The private sector that on the other hand is finicky while undertaking the process of selection, subsequently gives a very long rope for the selected guy to perform quite unlike the scenario where even the top management lives under the shadow of mistrust from day one. 

Governmental tendering systems that the public sector is mandated to follow while their competition in the private sector is not, cripple creativity and timely deliverance. The system focussed on the L1 is the same for purchasing potatoes, ideas, machinery, IT and in fact anything under the sun. The massive trust deficit coupled with emphasis on processes as against deliverance acts as the biggest road block to implementation. And with investigative agencies glued to finding faults that too in hindsight and treating mistakes as malafide, the process has also achieved the dimension of fear.

The fear of taking a wrong decision, judged wrong in hindsight of-course generally by unconcerned officials and then paying the price thereof has engulfed the managements of the public sector who have generally turned risk averse. Many realize that the best way to avoid making mistakes is to avoid taking a decision and this thought has spelt doom for many enterprises.

Selection of people for leadership positions in public sector undertakings is also an exercise that leaves much to be desired. The brief exercise generally focuses on knowledge rather than the leadership capabilities of the guy under consideration. The private sector that on the other hand is finicky while undergoing the process of selection, subsequently gives a very long rope for the selected guy to perform quite unlike the scenario where even the head honcho lives under a shadow of mistrust from day one.  

The abysmal financial condition of many CPSU’s in most of the cases is not because of lack of effort or capability, but because the rules and procedures mandated are not suited for running enterprises on commercial lines.

The below par realization of the potential and the downhill slide of the public sector is indeed not an acceptable scenario. Disinvestment has emerged as an inescapable administrative compulsion and perhaps the only option. After all governments are not meant to be in the business of running businesses.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Swacchh Bharat - cleaning up corruption

The tremendous stress that the new government is laying on nation building is bound to give results but it would take its time. Nation building demands the toil of generations and definitely does not come cheap. The future, perhaps for the first time indeed looks bright.

One of the fundamental issues that needs to be addressed is the deep-rooted corruption, corruption that has engulfed the entire grassroots to the extent that there is hardly any interaction of the common man with the tantra that is not laced with graft. The common man yes, for the powerful are beyond its grip and the wealthy find a way around it.

Yet not many complain as long as the work is done, for unfortunately corruption has started getting regarded as an inescapable part of the cutting-edge processes.

In my over four decades of working within the system, I never witnessed a serious and concerted drive by my superiors to eradicate this evil from the various organizations. Unfortunate still was the reluctance to even bring this issue on the table and the effort merely remained confined to a review of the working of the assorted vigilance setups without appreciating that it is more of a cultural issue.

The real ease of doing business would indeed come, even for the common man when he does his business with the government at various levels, only when the cutting-edge functions are not laced with graft. For us bureaucrats especially, remaining confined to our comfort zone is the most ideal scenario. Why accept the ills of the system and why try to set it right when our life passes on peacefully handling issues that sound more impressive.

The irony remains that those of us who can change the system remain unaffected by it, and therefore have no stake in the change.

The solution lies in first acceptance of the problem, placing it bang on the table and then going about process reforms with a zeal previously unheard of. Yes, the solution lies in simplification of the various processes that define governance, empowerment of the executive to enable fixing direct responsibility and accountability and having a system of swift redressal of the issues as well as that of exemplary punishment to the delinquent.

The complexity of the tantra is the issue. The plethora of thumb impressions that every decision necessitates ensure that no single bloke can ever be held directly responsible. Such a system only emboldens the inspectors, the keepers of the cutting-edge who demand compensation from the client for every act for which they are getting a salary from the government too.

It is the same for everyone, except the high and the mighty. Whether one is an individual or a corporate, every single interaction with the Sarkar, especially at the cutting-edge level is generally a deal where nothing happens without a consideration.

We have to pause and think. Is it not necessary to go in for reforms – cultural, procedural and structural so that working becomes simpler, graft reduces and delivery multiplies?

Whenever I interact with my friends who are from the corporate world or who are plain simple citizens of the nation, the harsh reality comes out tumbling fast. And my friends on this side of the fence who indulge in governance generally feign ignorance or express helplessness.

We cannot have the mission areas – ease of governance and make in India, compromised by officials embroiled in corruption at the cutting-edge level. Cleansing the muck of decades is definitely not an easy task, yet a task that has to be handled.

One hopes and prays that the massive expectations are not belied.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Dil Mein India, Aasmaan Mein Air India

This article was published in Time of India op-ed on 6/6/2019

Air India, a brand that often fuels emotions and also nationalism is easily one of the most well-known global brands. And why not, with a network of over seventy domestic and forty international destinations, it is an airline with a reach.

Except for the last decade and a half or so, Air India was always regarded as a great airline. This national carrier of India was well known for its service to passengers, with the Maharajah logo being an apt icon. Sadly of late, its sheen faded because of the down slide the airline witnessed since the turn of the millenium, in its finances, market share and services.

Founded by the legendary JRD in 1932, Air India had for long been India's showcase to the world and with marginal hiccups, it continued to perform reasonably well till such time it and its sister domestic airline continued to fly separately. The beginning of the decline also timed itself with the governmental interference that this commercial enterprise in a highly competitive sector started facing in right earnest.

This has been the sad story of the public sector in India. Regularly cursed for inadequacy in performance, the public sector at large has invariably been the victim of the same very people who curse it in the first place. Excessive interference, a plethora of rules, processes & oversight and a pervasive environment of fear has dampened initiative and acumen for taking risks - the most crucial traits required for running businesses successfully.

The merger, pushed through without fully appreciating the chemistry of mergers and apparently to satiate the english word -  synergy, coupled with other decisions forced down the airline, initiated its downhill slide. The ban on recruitment ensured the absence of fresh blood and ideas and the stress on tendering procedures coupled with the over indulgence of vigilance set-ups that rarely differentiate between malafide and procedural mistakes, hastened the free fall.

For businesses, one loss making year is enough of a wake-up call to initiate corrective measures, yet at the national carrier, the debt was allowed to pile up over the years. A turn-around plan that subsequently emerged was by no stretch of imagination as such for it conveniently avoided addressing issues relating to leadership, human resource, processes, delegation and organizational culture, and merely remained confined to equity injection to meet debt service requirements. The plan only helped a sinking ship to remain afloat, not ride on the waves.

Despite being more of a railroader than an aviator, it hurts to witness the descent of an airline that was an iconic one till almost the turn of the millennium. An organization that acquired one of the finest art collections and that in the yesteryears really cared for its men an aspect easily visible in the adequacy of built and acquired residential quarters, had to be a great one.

Yet along the way the organization did stray and piled up a mountain of debt. Simultaneously, neither its growth nor administrative processes kept pace with the changing requirements of the twenty first century. That despite the serious issues it faced and continues to face, the airline still retains its inner strengths - the tremendous reach and operational and technical excellence, indeed says a lot.

It is a harsh reality that governmental systems are ill suited for running commercial organizations in its fold, more so an airline business that is very high on competition, regulation and technology yet has very thin margins that too have a propensity to vanish with the slightest flutter in fuel prices.

For many of us Indians, the sight of an Air India aircraft stimulates a feeling of national pride. At airports beyond our shores it gives the feel that home is right there. The only airline with India in its name shall always evoke this feeling regardless of its ownership.

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.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Public Sector blues

The fundamental problem with the public sector has always been the half-hearted nature of its formation and handling. The intent initially was fine as it was surmised that a business venture that the undertakings are, should be governed by the companies act and function as freely as the private companies with only the ownership being vested in the Government. Arms-length distance was obviously envisaged between the owner and the company as is generally the case even in the private sector, but unfortunately it has been followed more in breach.

What really emerged was far removed from what was envisaged. The original thought of allowing the public sector total autonomy that would lead to a performance comparable to the  private sector never really happened.  

Selection of the chief executive, a diligent exercise that continues almost a year for top of the line corporates is given the short shrift while selecting the head honcho for the public sector undertakings. And even the brief exercise undertaken for undertakings focuses only on sectoral knowledge rather than the leadership capabilities of the guy under consideration. The private sector that on the other hand is finicky while undergoing the process of selection, subsequently gives a very long rope for the selected guy to perform quite unlike the scenario on the other side where the head honcho lives under a shadow of mistrust from day one.

Over a period of time, many of the public sector enterprises emulated the complexity of the decision making processes and contractual mechanisms that already engulfed the sarkar, thereby seriously hampering their efficacy. Presence of over-zealous vigilance wings that regarded every act of deviation from the book as an act of malafide, also killed initiative and risk taking, something so vital for a commercial venture. This affected the working of a large number of public sector organizations that started piling up losses.

The fear of taking a wrong decision, wrong in hindsight of-course and then paying the price has engulfed the managements of the public sector, with attendant consequences. Many realized that the best way to avoid making mistakes was to avoid decision making.

The prevalent tendering system is indeed the bane of the nation. A system in which the process for purchase of bulk commodities is same as that for highly technical or creative items can never meet the requirements of emerging organizations. Often great ideas are espoused, but the enthusiasm wanes when discussions start around the tendering process to be followed for executing the great idea. Obviously there is a general tendency to play safe and that does not give the desired results.  

Another issue of concern plaguing the undertakings is the often misplaced notion of over-staffing, a notion that continues unabated despite the organization reaching a stage where rampant under-staffing starts affecting performance. Ad-hoc ban on recruitments, that once imposed are never revoked, invariably result in a drought of fresh ideas and also an aged workforce, a scenario conducive for a slow demise of the organization. 

The over-zealous participation of various agencies that remain removed from realities as well as delivery yet regard every move of others with suspicion and wait for an opportunity to pounce, has failed to reduce corruption or improve efficiency but has succeeded in curbing initiatives. How can a scenario in which individuals who have no stake in delivery sit on judgement even on routine decisions taken by people who are responsible and also accountable for delivery, be considered satisfactory. The safest path that emerges  is to merely indulge in the routine and not take bold initiatives and that is what has actually happened cutting across the public sector, something amply visible in the number of organizations that have become a drain on the nation.

Process constraints and an environment based on fear and mistrust have ensured failure of many undertakings. Either we proactively handle the obvious constraints and create an enabling environment or else disinvestment is the only practical remedy.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

A simple complicated world

A simple complicated world

A world where we fail to realize that love is only about giving.

A world where it is indeed rare to witness a scenario in which one is not constrained by the prevailing environment, constrained in rising to his full potential.

How wrong we are in generally assuming that people need to be controlled, how wrong we are in considering almost everyone as inadequate unless proven otherwise. Is it not downright foolish to almost always don the head masters role?

We do not trust others, yet expect others to trust us. It is a vicious circle that keeps all of us entangled in a web of mutual mudslinging and blame throwing.

That even the most complex of issues in the most complicated of organizations have utterly simple solutions is something that we invariably lose sight of while we tend to veer towards finding complicated solutions to even the simplest of problems.

Our definitions of honesty are often warped for while we regard financial honesty as honesty, professional dishonesty ie not being true to our job, the organization and the nation is normally never regarded as being dishonest.

Remaining busy while in a government job is unfortunately considered synonymous with delivery, even appreciated by the unconcerned members of the society

The qualities of the heart are far superior to those of the head, yet is it not strange how often we believe otherwise?  

We live in a simple world made complicated by us.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Defining Integrity

The general lack of integrity is still a cause for concern, despite the focus on probity that we have fortunately witnessed in recent times. 

I am reminded of an incident more than a decade ago when a senior state level politician filed a motivated complaint, accusing me of dishonesty and seeking an enquiry to probe charges. A direct confrontation that followed set the matters right with doubts being raised on the politicos capability to even understand what honesty or integrity meant. The matter ended with a confession of the reasons behind the complaint followed by profuse apologies, apologies that the politico continued with for years.

And that set me thinking – why is it so easy to accuse someone of dishonesty, more so within the governmental setups, a scenario that is witnessed in the form of a plethora of vigilance cases, enquiries and charge sheets that engulf the environment. It is sad that even a deviation from a laid down norm or a mistake is regarded as malafide, a scenario suited to throttle initiatives.

It is not only about honesty. Honesty is truthfulness, integrity goes much further. While honesty is about acceptance of the truth in its absolute form always, integrity is about doing the right thing under all circumstances. Integrity therefore is also about an impeccable conduct and behavior for that is the right demeanor to possess.

Yet the blatant absence of it and why? During my over four decades of serving with the government, the majority of the officials I interacted with comprised of those who would do the right thing only if there was no pressure whatsoever from influential quarters to do otherwise. The silent minority who would do no wrong despite pressures also comprised of two categories, one who did no wrong and delivered, while the bulk did no wrong and also had no concern for delivery. The majority and the bulk of the minority, both lacked integrity.

The system unfortunately continues to regard everyone as devoid of honesty or integrity despite occasional signs of being proven otherwise. To that extent the legacy left by the british continues uninterrupted. 

The widely prevalent belief that regards check-posts as an appropriate deterrent for dishonest practices is also misplaced. The more the number of check-posts and those who police, the greater the ingenuity of those on the wrong side is my firm belief. If mere policing could reduce crime and corruption, the job was simply confined to increasing the number of policemen. Our rank inability to provide a corruption free society, a society where every interaction of the common man with the sarkari tantra is not laced with graft, despite the over powering presence of the watchdogs says it all. 

And why not, the society and the system generally lay no emphasis on the need for honesty and integrity. Never in my career spanning over four decades have I witnessed a forum called by my superior where issues related to honesty and integrity were discussed.

Trust deficit is a mild word, lack of trust is most appropriate. Yes a system that does not trust its own constituents can only propagate lack of integrity and that is what has happened. Viewing every action with suspicion has become the norm.

Inculcating integrity in the human resource has to be the numero uno priority for organizations as well as the society and putting this issue bang on the table would start the ball rolling.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Tremendous potential of the HR

Human Resource is the key to revival, yet very rarely the same is understood or appreciated. And we search for solutions in strategies, high sounding words and solutions and often in power point presentations.

Slick power point presentations have caused the nation and its organizations much harm. Presentations conceptualized and made by young MBA’s while remaining fairly distant from ground realities, yet presented powerfully under a false shroud of conviction have the ability to take many for a ride. The boss, partaking of the presentation remains under an illusion of a time well spent, even though it is totally wasted.

The problem of an illusory ground connect especially at apex levels is for real. Unfortunately our society, already highly compartmentalized, differentiates between the lower and the upper echelons on an almost 24/7 basis, thereby preventing the much needed interaction that makes one aware of what is really happening.

The solutions touted therefore remain theoretical and fail to work. What remains constant are post mortems of why and where we went wrong.  Jet is one such example. With a debt that is apparently manageable if the organization is well run, one fails to understand why the organization went down under, if the management was capable and committed enough.

And so have been many other organizations, the national carrier being one of them. How can an organization be allowed to remain in reds continuously for over a decade since merger, a scenario that has resulted in the current debt trap, without real remedial measures being initiated the moment the dip became apparent.

I have witnessed the same everywhere, be it Madhya Pradesh tourism, ITDC, Railways or the National Carrier, all faced the ignominy that emerges out of inadequate top management. In all organizations, invariably the blame for shortcomings was laid at the altar of the field soldiers. On the other hand I have also witnessed though rarely, organizations rising from the ashes whenever a humane leadership played on the front foot.

We all know how we would like to be handled by those above us in the organizational hierarchy, yet we fail to apply the same when we handle those below us in the hierarchy. We are rough with those down below and extra polite with those above us, regardless of the merit of the argument being made and the subject being discussed.

The ability to stand up for what is right and to be able to correct what is wrong is amiss, almost always, everywhere. This quality is what defines an individual and all other traits are borne out of this singular attribute only. Everything else is secondary.

Let us all focus on the human resource, alleviate their grievances and suffering and get the best out of them. It is indeed almost impossible to comprehend me as to how much more we can get out of a charged motivated individual.

We need to believe in the tremendous potential of the human resource.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The kings shall rule........

………..always over the hearts and the subjects would happily do all that the kings desire.

One rules only with the heart and keeps the mind safely tucked away as that is how a successful reign would always be. And this advice is not only for the real kings, but for all those who command men and through them need to give results.

This holds good for all sectors, governmental and private.

Yes, as Gandhi said, it would always remain a mystery as to how someone could belittle his subordinates and feel good about it; practice this belittling daily and thereby achieving perfection in the art of disseminating unhappiness all around. You see such practitioners every day, cutting across sectors and state boundaries, practicing this art to the chagrin of many, and fortunately or unfortunately being easily identified by unhappy faces all around. They are mere bosses, not kings, and do not realize that bosses, people detest and kings they love.   

Even a raised eyebrow of a boss hurts, whereas a raised sword of someone we regard as king is calmly accepted, for the king rules from the heart and the boss, bosses from the mind. The heart is always superior to the mind, yet very few of us realize this fundamental and pass our lives in a state of perpetual unhappiness.

Life is to be led to its fullest and to its fullest it can be led only with happiness all around. Only a king lives this way and one need not be born to a royal family to be a king. He only needs to have a heart that he invariably turns to for advice and rules with, with the mind generally remaining oblivious to whatever is happening in the environment all around.

The quest of heart over mind shall continue and one who places the mind over the heart shall generally remain an unhappy soul, creating more unhappy souls whenever and wherever he interacts with others.

The finest and the most successful top guns have been those who have genuine love and affection for the men working under them. Such officials treat their men as their own men, with respect and compassion. The vagaries of rank are not allowed to come up in their relationship that they really cherish and would not allow to be wasted on petty issues. Ego is farthest from their persona, yet they can take a stand on the right issue, a stand that they would never compromise even at the cost of all that they cherish and hold dear. And they take full responsibility for all that is happening in their domain, without making any attempt to pass even an iota of responsibility to those who work for them. Such officials are kings in the real sense, their domain remains their kingdom. 

Bosses invariably fret over mundane issues, while the kings never miss the larger picture, even while appearing to be engrossed in the routine. And the perpetual attempt of the bosses to please their masters shall never be the style of a king for while a king may have a superior but never a master, nor does he regard someone as one.

How we miss kings in the environment we work, for it is there that we need them the most. The rank inability to get the best out of our men is a situation created by a lineage of bosses, who never had the gumption to be kings. Bosses, who aspired for a position for that is all that identified them, and who only regarded a position as a means of bringing about a positive change in their lives as well as that of their families, not the organization they work for and for whom a position was not a means to an end, but was an end in itself.

How we miss kings who can take a stand for what is right and not acquiesce to unholy demands just to avoid a fleeting inconvenience. How we miss kings who would not sell their soul for petty personal gains and realize that such deals are not really worth it. And how we miss kings who always flaunt their pen and never their tongue, a phenomenon witnessed far more often than desirable.

Where have we gone wrong, perhaps in the grooming of the youngsters in general and our own men in particular. We need to course correct and put value systems and the need to place the heart over mind at the forefront of the norms of the society and organizations.

It is time that the thoughts and deeds of great men like Vivekananda and Gandhi are widely disseminated so that they can be imbibed by a large section of the society.

Bringing such changes takes the toil and patience of decades. Are we ready, yes we have to be, for we need our officials to be kings, not a mere instrument for bossing over subordinates.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Signing Off

It is all the same everywhere

India Tourism Development Corporation, Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation, Air India and now Railways – what a journey it was that despite my constrained capabilities placed me as the head honcho of these great organizations.On the 31st last, I departed the hallowed portals of the Rail Bhawan, a satisfied soul ready to relax in the sun and bask in the reflected glory that head honcho’s generally get regardless of their contribution. And the only thought at the moment of departure was gratitude for the mercy of the almighty who gave me different ways of serving this great nation of ours.

I feel forty, have the physical fitness of twenty and am actually sixty. Maybe I still have many years of slogging left in me, yet the intense desire to contribute to this wonderful nation of ours, and god willing and health permitting, this desire would keep me working regardless.

It has been a great learning, almost thirty nine years of it, with the diversity of the federal government, state government, a hotel company, a tourism company, an aviation company and the largest organization of the world, all providing a different and an exciting playfield. All of them were different as well the same. The outputs were different, yet the inputs were almost the same and why not. It is almost always about handling the three M’s within a defined time frame all synchronized to achieve the desired objective.

Air India was indeed the toughest nut to crack, not because it is of the toughness of the nut casing but because of the huge debt it piled up during its attempted nosedive into oblivion, a dive that could be successfully yet temporarily halted by bringing out the best of its men and also its machines. And at the root of the dive was always a management that was as distant from the ground as the moon is to the sun. The stark absence of a ground connect and a decision making process that would put to shame even the word “complexity”, together conspired to pull down an organization that in the past ruled the skies with impunity. I left the glory of the skies convinced that the airline still has in itself a lot that could propel it to emerge as the leader that it had always been till a decade back.

And the stint in the heart of Incredible India was not work but an affair, an emotional one at that. One tends to fall in love with the central indian state of Madhya Pradesh that was indeed crafted by the gods with tourism in mind. Yet the infrastructure and image foisted on me at the time of my arrival was at wide variance with what perhaps was the intent of the gods, who as some publicity campaigns loudly proclaimed had ensconced themselves in the southern state of Kerala as their own country. Realizing the difficulties in changing the place of lodging, we resolved to create a tourism eco-system that would enable the gods to take a holiday whenever they wished to. And so “the heart of incredible India was born” with the state grabbing the bulk of national tourism awards since then. And again it was all and only about getting the best out of the men who manned tourism.

Running ITDC, the largest hospitality and tourism company of its time, provided a thrill of another kind. Competing against highly successful chains like the Taj and ITC that too in the aftermath of the 9/11 and in the process attempting to pull the company out of the abyss it found itself in, was an immense challenge. The glamour of the hotels shadowed their real poverty borne out of years of losses and the long faces of the men manning the desks in the company reflected the tremendous amount of focus that the human resource had been craving for. Yet the company, especially the iconic Ashok Hotel slowly turned around despite being put on block and the downturn that the tourism sector had been witnessing those days. To the chagrin of many, the men pulled the company out of the pits and started walking erect once again.

And till recently the railways. It was a ballgame of another kind. The largest organization in the world that has a great attached to its name has been a victim of its own creation, its own highly capable but control centric bureaucracy almost choked the organization leading to unfortunate incidents, infrastructure deficit and a low public image. Its highly capable men were constricted by a machinery that made delivery, other than the routine of course, impossible. And the panacea was transformation, transforming the culture, processes and structure, a no mean task by any standards. Yet a beginning could be made by bringing focus and concern for the human resource, delegating authority and beginning to de-complicate the over complex machinery. Reinforcing the supremacy of deliverance over processes and that of the human resource over the other M’s, while at the same time stressing the need for honesty in all our dealings started making the difference, and hopefully this shall continue in the overall national interest.

I savored the journey as much as the fruits of it. Despite treacherously long work hours, the tremendous love and affection showered by employees of almost all strata kept me going right through.

My biggest learning during the journey has been that life is much bigger than everything else – a human soul is not to be wasted, discarded or pulled down. Getting the best out of your men is the only strategy that the top management should follow, rest the men would find out and implement. The established supremacy of the human resource over all other resources needs to be accepted.

That impeccable integrity is the most powerful ingredient that any organization aspiring for success should ingrain itself with was a thought that got reinforced repeatedly, with the realization that integrity cannot be a strategy, but has to become a way of life for the organization as a whole and also its constituents.

I learnt that it is not merely bad decisions that kill organizations, indecision is the most powerful sure and silent killer.

I realized that morale of the men and the pride they have in the organization is everything.

And the inability of the top management to stand up for what is right and correct what is wrong, is invariably the biggest malaise that organizations generally have.

It has been a tremendous journey and now as it comes to a close, my head bows down to all my men who indeed madeliving itselfworth the while.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Reforms is the Key

The widely prevalent belief that many organizations lack focus on delivery and need to work harder to bring about major improvements is borne out of the simple age old philosophy that hard work leads to higher output. The philosophy is not totally off the mark, except for the fact that it does not really differentiate between remaining busy and deliverance.

Remaining busy does not always imply delivery though delivery would invariably necessitate remaining busy. The fine line between the two needs appreciation borne out of experience.

All the organizations that I have been associated with in the capacity of a head honcho had people, almost the majority of them, who remained busy like hell and also took pride in that. They were, with exceptions of course, generally all good people with good intentions. Yet in their obsession with remaining or appearing to remain busy, the bigger picture was lost sight of and delving in the mundane occupied centre stage. Blaming peers, superiors, subordinates and also the constraints of the external environment for failures to adequately deliver, without realizing that an honest peek within, as Gautam Buddha said, would provide the real answers.

And therefore I often peeked within, looked for and fairly regularly found the right answers within easy reach and also easily implementable. And answers were generally the same regardless of the sector and its intrinsic technical or administrative complexities. And organizations in general behaved similarly to external stimuli.   

One of the biggest follies of organizations is adapting to an aggressive cycle of management, a cycle during which reprimands and extensive monitoring at various levels occupies centre stage almost all the time. A frenetic activity unfortunately and also incorrectly gets regarded as synonymous with delivery. This cycle assumes that subordinates do not know their jobs, are not to be trusted and are to be always kept on their toes for them to be able to deliver, in case deliverance is really aspired for, with trust being the biggest casualty, almost always.

Lack of clarity in how to please superiors remains another area of concern. Employees generally desire that superiors, as they have the maximum impact on the environment of the subordinates, should be happy and therefore they look for ways and means to keep them so. Kowtowing to whatever the superior says or does, generally appears to be the safest bet and therefore almost everyone at all times looks for opportunities to agree with superiors, even at the cost of what is right, or right for the organization. Rarely does one witness people having an opinion and standing up for what they think is right. 

The ridiculous extent to which the processes have been generally complicated even for mundane activities is sad and also damaging for organizations. And therefore the never ending quest for super outstanding people who can bend, twist or subvert the processes in order to deliver. This is at far variance with what one witnesses in developing countries where systems are based on trust and processes are simple enough to be handled by almost everyone.

Reforms therefore need to address all these basic issues.

Organisational culture is the first area to be looked at. Is it a culture built on sycophantic behaviour with frills being at the core of almost all our activities? Are people concerned about pleasing superiors or they are bothered about doing the right thing and delivering? Are the men happy or are the faces drooping? These are questions that need to be answered and then addressed. A no frills environment devoid of petty ego’s that encourages a fearless working environment indeed brings out the best in the human resource. We need to create an environment where our men can stand erect with pride and at the same time have humility and compassion towards their fellow human beings.

Reforms should also address the core issue of deliverance. The supremacy of deliverance over everything else except perhaps the human values needs to be grilled down the organisation. That men being mere mortals would make mistakes in the process of work needs to be appreciated. And the organisation should be invariably able to differentiate between a genuine mistake and a malafide. The men need to be proactively supported and cared for.

The processes need to be simplified, ideally to the level of one thumb impression per decision, but that may not be always possible. Yet a lot of simplifications is possible, almost always in every single organisation. And the easiest way to simplify is to delegate authority to the lowest functional levels. Yet letting go of authority is easier said than done and resistance and road blocks to this effort in the guise of concern for malpractices that may erupt if people are trusted, needs to be handled with an iron hand.

Reforming the structures should indeed come the last for what is a structure but a physical manifestation of the process. The structure exists for the processes and not the other way round. Ideal structures are like pyramids with a clearly defined apex in whom the supreme power vests, and the apex is not meant to personally exercise powers for everything under the sun, for that would bring the organisation to a grinding halt, but should liberally sprinkle power over the various tiers of functional authorities.

And lastly choosing the guy at the apex level. While a lot of requirements apparently come to mind, the one quality that really encompasses everything else is the courage to stand up, at the right time for what is right. Fearlessness needs to be at the core for the guy occupying the hottest seat.

Organisations shall flourish with a liberal sprinkling of reforms and a courageous guy at the apex level.