With changing landscapes and blurring borders between countries, the landscape of Leadership is forever changing. A good Leader is one who is able to become better by the minute in sync with the environment that he is operating in. Read the views of some seasoned Executives on leadership in this section.
When I checked with a HR Head of a Company recently about how they are handling COVID19, his response was that probably there is some amount of overreaction and Social media hype about it. But looking at the rapid spread of the Infections, maybe he changed his mind by now. COVID19 is declared as a Pandemic by WHO and India declared it as ‘Notified Disaster’. I think we need to take it seriously to ensure we stay in control.
Why a response is needed from Corporates?
COVID-19 is currently coming from People who travelled abroad. Corporates contribute to a good proportion of the Foreign travel. Foreign travel either for Business or for pleasure by the Employees of the Corporates. If we include the Children of the Corporate Executives studying abroad, the Corporates contribute to a lot of Foreign travel. Hence, Corporates can play a very important role in controlling the spread.
Indian Companies are perennially in Crisis!
If you look at the Eisenhower Time Matrix, most of the Indian Corporates are perennially spending a lot of time in the Q1. ‘Urgent and Important’. There are too many Crisis and we keep handling the issues right at the brink. Not a good thing. But we keep doing it. Indian Corporates are experts in living at the edge of the Chaos. We don’t quite get into full time Chaos. But we keep going in and out of them just like experts!
My experience with the Indian Corporates is that when a Project is taken up, we ask for a lot of time. We fight for more time for the Project with the Boss. You would think the team would really do a great job by working on it systematically over the period of time taken. But most often I start getting calls from the team two days before the Deadline agreed. They would be asking for clarifications about the Project. They work very hard over those last few days and Complete the Project. It would never be a Perfect job. But it won’t be a bad job either. I am not saying 100% of Companies and 100% of the Executives work this way. Maybe you do it much better in your Company?
Because of this dubious ‘capability’ to work well in a Crisis, I expect the Indian Corporates to do a very good job.
But what is Critical is that they should identify it as a focus area and attend to it. A Clear Leadership is required for this Pandemic / Notified Disaster. Otherwise everyone will be busy with their existing Crisis situations and wait for COVID-19 to become ‘Urgent and Important’ !!
What are the areas for focus in this Disaster?
There can be at least 4 areas that a Corporate should address.
a) Your Employees: First focus area has to be your Employees. If you take care of your Employees, you are maintaining a big group of Healthy Citizens who can do more in this situation. Even if you do not do anything for the Society directly, maintaining your Business and contributing to the National GDP in this situation is a good enough contribution. Many companies are slipping on their growth right now.
b) Your Vendors: Second focus has to be on your Vendor Partners. If you are a Big company having several small vendors, then you can contribute a lot by helping these vendor partners to face the Challenge. It would also help you to keep the Production going without supply disruptions.
c) Your Customers: Then comes your Customers. If you are able to keep your Employee flock together and healthy, have uninterrupted supplies you can take care of your Customers. You would contribute to Economic growth in this challenging time.
d) Your City / Society: Then the City in which you are operating. If each corporate can contribute to taking care of part of the city that you are operating in, it can be a great help to the Government.
There can be more angles to a Corporate’s Circle of influence. But let us start with these.
What can you do?
01. Recognize the Problem: First of all, we need to recognize this as a Serious Problem. We cannot be lost in our ‘Urgent New Product Projects’, ‘Customer Line stoppage issues’ and so on. Please look at handling the COVID-19 as in the same direction as attending to all the Business Emergencies that you have. You are only modifying your approach and attending to an underlying issue for every project in your Company. Special effort is required for Corporates to recognize it as Problem as we are used to responding in the last minute. This is one problem that you would not like to respond in the last minute.
Data says that just a month back there were just 4 cases of the Infection in Italy on 21st Feb’19. On 13th March, there were 15,000 with 1400 deaths! Containment is the critical action that you can take. There is right now no medicine for this Virus.
02. Learn about the Problem: It would help to learn about the Problem from Experts. You may not be generally in touch with these Experts. You may have to contact someone in WHO or AIIMS or any of the Private Corporate Hospitals where the knowledge may reside. Invite an Expert to your Company and let your teams understand the Problem and the precautions that we need to take.
03. Formulate Teams: Formulate teams to address the four groups of Stake holders that you want to address. Depending on the resources that you have, you can prioritize in the Stake holders. Have clear leaders for the teams and Objectives that they have to focus on.
04. What can be the Goals: Single biggest Goal is for everyone to stay healthy. But the Process goals have to be the New Behaviors that you want the Stake holders to Practice. Some of the new Behaviors can be as follows:
a. Spreading the knowledge about the Problem and the seriousness.
b. Not shaking hands. Practice Namaste instead.
c. Working in Shifts to reduce the density of the employees.
d. Using Video conference even for local meetings.
e. Maintaining some distance between you and your colleagues.
f. Avoiding non-essential travel.
There can be many more practices that you may define in your Company. This article is not meant to define a complete list of Best Practices anyway.
05. Create Champions for monitoring: Some of our Colleagues are naturally more disciplined and keen observers. Eg. Audit department colleagues, Quality Department colleagues and so on. Use their services to monitor the practices that you have defined. As these are new practices / behaviors that we are trying out, there are bound to be violations. These Champions have to identify the violations and keep talking to the Teams.
06. Quick Decisions: In a Crisis, there have to be quick decisions. There can be a small team of Senior people who can be authorized to take decisions as needed. The Teams have to be informed about this.
07. Communicate, Communicate and Communicate: Communication is another important aspect that is very critical in this situation. It would be quite okay to over communicate. Let the Problems and solutions be known to everyone in the Company. Maintain transparency. Especially in the light of Bad news. Whatever is construed as Bad news can be screened before relaying. This is to ensure spread of undue panic.
Through your efforts if you can keep your Employees healthy and also create Soldiers who can contribute to the immediate society around you, then you have done a great job!
You would have also trained your Team to handle a real Crisis before it really hits you hard!!
How are you responding to COVID-19? Please share so that Others can learn from you!
Act fast and Prevent the spreading of COVID-19!
Whenever I hear the term ‘Time management’, it comes to my mind that we cannot Manage time. It keeps slipping away whether we do something or not. We can only Manage our work better. But, let us keep with this popular term for this article.
Time Management is a serious problem for almost ALL Managers in the Indian Industry. Some would have realized it and many others may not even realize that they are not using their time well. The Managers that I have come across come in to the following few categories.
Firefighters: These are the Managers who are forever putting off some fire. You can find many of them in Automotive industry. These Managers come early and go late (if they go home). Their Children see them rarely as they go to company even on a Sunday as they can ‘work peacefully’ on a Sunday. Many of them have got addicted to it. They keep telling whoever can listen that they are working for 18 hours a day and so on. The Firefighters do not even worry about Time Management. They have given up long back and now they just go with the wind. In most of the cases, their companies also have given up that ‘some Managers have to be dedicated to the fire fighting’. There is no fight back at all.
Minimalists: These are the Managers who may be in Discrete Manufacturing Companies. These Minimalists do not believe in taking up too much agenda on to their plate. Whatever is put on their plate by their Bosses will be handled forever. They are in no hurry to finish anything. They do not see any need for Time Management as they do not want to ‘hurry’ anything. Their Companies also have come to believe that nothing should be ‘hurried’. Whenever I took up this issue with these Managers, I have seen that their Managing Director defends them !! The belief that they should not ‘hurry’ is quite deep !!
Trouble Shooters: These are the guys who love the adrenalin rush. Whenever there is trouble, these people are called. They are handling an emergency forever! If one emergency is over, they look for the next one. They feel Time Management is not for their type of work.
Boss Pleaser: This Manager will do only things that are asked by the Boss. He will never take up any agenda without Boss asking him to do. They will complete it as the Boss asks them to. They are not managing their Time. Their Boss may be managing it, if at all.
Timid Manager: These are pushed around by just about everyone in the company. They are the people who would be going around with an expression of ‘carrying the world’. Always hunched and always under strain. They just don’t have time to manage time!
There may be a very small percentage of Managers who are trying to manage their time and push a particular agenda of their own. I find this type of Managers to be a very small minority in the Industry.
What are the effects of not managing your time wisely?
When there is no concept of managing your work and managing time, only the Urgent and Important gets done. If you look at the Time Matrix, the First quadrant is the one that you would give attention to. By default you would wait for everything to come to First Quadrant to attend to it.
So, there is no proactive approach. You would become thoroughly reactive. You would be acting in the last minute for everything. If you are still keeping your Customers happy, then you would be spending disproportionate resources to keep your Customers happy. While the Business would be growing, your profit will become lesser and lesser as you are becoming more and more inefficient.
An organization can loose Top line opportunities / Bottom line in this situation. But, very often there will be no awareness of this and many Indian Companies are accepting that this is a ‘normal Business situation’. This is more worrying factor !!
What can be done?
Bad Time Management and Bad Work Management Is a Symptom and this is not the root cause. The Root cause lies in the way the Business Is run. The way the employees manage their Work.
01. Work Management System: Create an environment of Employees taking responsibility and are made accountable. When every Employee takes responsibility for his/her work, then the environment would be amenable for better Work Management / Time Management. This can be achieved by introducing a Work Management System (WMS) where the Organizational Goals would be deployed to the entire organization in a systematic manner and reviews are done in a systematic manner. Every employee is expected to take responsibility for his/her KPIs and they are expected to take Corrective and Preventive actions when they don’t meet targets.
Addressing this overall environment issue is very much essential to ensure your team is managing their work diligently. Without addressing this Root cause, you can not solve the problem.
02. Promote Planning: Once the goals are clearly given to the employees, the Company needs to promote Planning in the company. There have to be Annual Planning for achieving the goals. There has to be Quarterly Planning to make Annual Plan a reality. The Quarterly plans have to be translated in to Monthly / Weekly plans. Each week every Manager has to spend some time to review his last week and plan for the next week on a daily basis. There may be something that comes to everyone without planning. There will be Quadrant 1 activity. ‘Urgent and Important’. But, as you keep up with your Planning, the Quadrant 1 will reduce and Quadrant 2 will increase. The Planning should help us keep the focus on ‘what needs to be done’. Initially our success may be small. But, an Organization has to persist to help their Managers to get a hold on the Work Management / Time Management.
03. Measure your Time usage: To improve something, you need to measure it. You can measure your Time usage with two Metrics:
a. Proportion of time that you are able to plan: If you are at the work for 8 hours, are you able to plan for full 8 hours? I would recommend that you should try to plan as much proportion of your time as possible. If you want to keep yourself open to helping your colleagues, you don’t want to plan for sometime, then don’t push yourself to achieve 100%. But, try to take control of 100% of your time.
b. Success rate in sticking to the plan: You may be able to plan for 100% of your time. But, you may not be able to work as per plan. When you just start off the improvement effort, your success rate would be small. But, you have to persist to ensure you improve your Success rate.
Every Manager should review these two Metrics every week. Every Boss should spend some time with his Team reviewing this and helping them to take more control of their work.
Indian Companies are losing a lot of opportunities to improve their top line and bottom line as their Managers do not have control of their work/time.
The first step to regaining control is to put a ‘Work Management System’ in place.
Vithal is sitting near the table of his younger colleague Shyam for last half hour waiting for Shyam to finish the Power Point that Vithal would be presenting in the Monthly review. Vithal never managed to learn Power Point very well. He says he had been trying for the past few years. But, somehow not able to learn all the nuances needed to put out a good presentation. The frustrated Boss of Vithal put him on to Shyam- a youngster so that Vithal will not be an odd man out in the monthly review. Vithal had been in the company for the past 22 years.
You would have seen people like Vithal and with some similar qualities in your companies. People who had been there in the company for long long time and somehow fell behind in skill improvement and a few other areas.
The Stagnant Water
Majority of ‘Vithals’ in the industry would have become ancient and stuck at a particular level in the organization without further promotions. Every year when the Performance appraisal comes in, the ‘Vithals’ are wonderful staple for the ‘Solid citizens / Meets Expectations’ category. Sometimes a frustrated Manager may push them to the ‘Below Expectations’ category too. But, somehow with their ‘connections’ in the company they will survive without being pushed out.
It is not uncommon to see some of these ‘Vithals’ being asked to go too.
Many a times, the young Managers who come in to the Company find it very difficult to manage the ‘Vithals’. The age is a factor. Then, the ‘Vithals’ feel they have been in the company for a long time and the young Managers are ‘Bachas’ (Children) who don’t know what is what.
Very often the ‘Vithals’ hold on to their knowledge, do not share it and use it as a weapon to proclaim their relevance in the organization. The Young Managers may find it difficult to fight them. So, very often they succumb to them and carry them on their shoulders. There may also be cases where the Young Managers struggle with them for some time and then manage to push them to another department and get rid of the trouble!
Should we purge the ‘Old Timers’ ?
Should organizations get rid of the Old Timers? Should we prescribe a time limit for the people to stay in the organization?
As I am talking about the Manufacturing Organizations right now, I feel it is very unwise to put a Time limit for people to stay in the organization or purge the old timers.
The strength of a Manufacturing Organization is its’ people. People who had been in the organization for longer time would have accumulated a lot of experience in the organization and they are priceless if used properly. The Organizational experience in manufacturing the Products is invaluable. Companies become much better at their products with experience. They build great relationships with Customers over years. They give wonderful after sales service with the help of the experience. All this experience in most cases reside in the people in the Organization.
How can we get rid of these people who are repositories of knowledge?
If we say these people have become outdated / worthless and a burden for the organization, then it reflects on the Organization. Not so much on the people who are products of the Organization.
Developing the Old Timers
How do we prevent this from happening? How do we help the Old timers / Long Timers in the company to continually develop themselves?
A few essentials:
01. Formulate Systems and don’t depend on the people: Periodically the Companies should formulate systems in each function and don’t just depend on the knowledge of the people in the function. This may sound counter to the argument that we should preserve the old timers. We should never let people get stuck in one area. Water should flow continuously. You know what happens when water does not flow and gets stagnated. It stinks!! Same thing happens to people who are stuck in one place for long time. When the organization is not dependent on the people, they will look to learning something new. Otherwise the Organization becomes comfortable in same people doing the same thing as they don’t have to teach anyone else. People become comfortable as they don’t have to learn anything new. Then, it starts stinking. Downloading the knowledge of people and making them in to systems periodically helps both the organization and the individual.
02. Rotate People periodically: Rotate the people in to different functions periodically after you build the Systems in each of the functions. If you do it without having strong systems, then the organization will get in to trouble as the new person will start doing things in his / her own way.
03. Grow the People in to new roles: How many companies have a strong system for growing people? Growth is a two way street. Employees should participate actively. But, I would put the onus on the organization to make this happen. There should be Developmental initiatives to grow people. I have not seen many companies focused on this. Some wonderful exceptions are there who focus on medium term development of people.
04. Expose the people to companies outside:You can do this by periodic visit to other Bench mark companies. You can take people to companies on a paid tour that are arranged by companies across the world. You can visit companies in Japan/ USA / Europe to show how World class companies work. Nothing better than actually looking at things working.
05. Have a growth agenda in the company:A company that is not having energy within and not having an agenda for Growth will not be having people who are energetic! A Company should always have Growth Agenda and should create some energy in the Organization.
A Company needs to have higher expectations from itself, from its’ people and enable Growth of the Company and the People. If People are becoming worthless by staying long in the Company, then it reflects on the Company and its’ Leadership !
While a Company can manage its ’Old timers’, how can the Young Managers manage the ‘Old Timers’ who are not highly skilled and who have become ‘heavy’ for them to carry them?
The Old Timers have to be moved to start Learning something new. That is our objective. ‘A moving stream of water’ is our objective. We don’t want water to stagnate and stink.
01. Look for what is good:When people stay in a company for a long time, they will accumulate something good. There may be something that you don’t like. But, what do the Old timers have that is good? Recognize it , Use it and appreciate it. Only then you gain a right to point out to something that is not there. Many a times the old timers have good knowledge of the Products / Processes in the Company. You can ‘Down load’ it from them and make them in to ‘E-Learning’ Lessons that can be useful for the whole organization. The Old Timers can be the center piece for the Knowledge Management System in a company.
02. Give genuine respect:Experience is traditionally respected in our culture. We bow to people who are aged and experienced. Honor this tradition in your company genuinely. These are principles and should be followed strictly.
03. Expose them to new areas:The Old Timers can get a ‘New Comer’ feeling if they are put in an unfamiliar territory within the Organization. But, this should be tried only after you use their experience. Otherwise they would get a feeling that they are worthless and being shunted around. We want people around to feel good about themselves. We don’t want them to feel they are worthless. A Mature Leader would agree with this approach.
04. Give them higher responsibility:Let them handle a few areas by themselves as they are experienced. They may fail. But ,that is the way to make them move. By putting your trust in them, you would be showing your good will. If they fail, they will ‘feel’ about it. A Creative tension would start within them to ‘Grow’. Put your Trust in the ‘human nature’.
05. Earn their respect:The Young Manager should not look to bossing over the Old timer due to his/her designation only. The Young Manager should earn the respect of people around him/her with his/her work culture that may be biased towards action.
06. Team feedback:It would be good to let the team give the feedback to each other. If there are 10 people in a team, each person should get a feedback from the other 9 on Commitment, Coordination and Cooperation. Peer feedback is very powerful. If the person feels that only his/her boss is not happy with him/her, the Corrective action may not be strong. But, if he/she knows that 7 out of 9 people are asking him/her to change, then you have a better chance.
07. Don’t make it ‘we vs them’:Unknowingly ,the Managers may push the Old Timers in to one group making it more difficult to themselves. Partner with the Old Timers genuinely and as you may do with anyone else. Do not create groups in the organization with your actions.
I feel the Old Timers in a Manufacturing Company are very valuable and every Company should manage them actively.