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Posts Tagged ‘Concern for Environment’

How have some of our business leaders responded to the challenges posed by the pandemic? Well they appear to be following the popular saying that when times get tough, the tough get going!

As per press reports, Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman and MD of Hindustan Unilever, has spoken of the kind of steps taken to boost the company’s prospects by focusing better on health, hygiene and sanitation products. As many as 50 new product and pack innovations are said to have been made. Agility and speed have helped.

Manu Jain, MD of Xiaomi India, has said that the pandemic has taught him the importance of empathy and patience during tough times. The ability to be able to put oneself in another person’s shoes stands out. Instant gratification is nowhere on the horizon; patience alone helps. So does slowing down and staying calm.

Ronojoy Dutta, CEO, IndiGo, has highlighted the importance of staying connected as well as being transparent with employees so as to retain their trust. According to him, irrespective of the situation, honesty and transparency win in the harshest of times. According to C P Gurnani, CEO and MD, Tech Mahindra, leaders need to give up their ‘command and control’ mindset and shift to a ‘mentor and inspire’ mindset.

Manish Sabharwal, Chairman, Teamlease Services, concludes that resilience matters as much as performance.

(*Source: The Economic Times Magazine, August 30-September 05, 2020, etc)

Leadership traits which help

Leaders who thrive in an era of heightened uncertainty and bloated entropy are better placed to steer their organizations more purposefully and effectively. The virus has highlighted the following qualities in someone who leads an organization in such stormy times: Prioritizing people. Creating clarity on what needs to be done; providing hope and refusing to let a mood of despondency creep in. Having an ear to the ground and being flexible in an evolving crisis; engaging with other stakeholders, including employees, to understand their concerns better.

The virus has brought into focus the dire need for such leaders. It has even indicated the kind of traits such leaders should have: empathy, compassion, higher resilience, an inner sense of peace and equanimity, brain stilling, actions which are rooted in basic human values and better concern for the environment.

It is already understood that leaders who believe in delegation, decentralization and quiet consensus building are able to handle crises better. The approach to problem solving needs to be non-muscular. A shock-and-awe tactics is best avoided.

Leader Mindsets and Human Values

Prof G P Rao, a behavioural scientist of repute and the founder of SPANDAN, a NGO which espouses the cause of human values in organizations, demonstrates that leaders have three kinds of mindsets: ‘I am Everything’, ‘I am Nothing’ and ‘I am Something’.

In a recent study, he has identified the following five topmost values perceived as being conducive to tackling the pandemic successfully:

  • Faith in basic goodness of human beings
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • A positive outlook: Happiness – contentment – self fulfillment
  • Respect to nature and mother earth, and,
  • Preparedness.

The empirical study covered a total of 100 professionals, of which 57 were drawn from the senior and middle management rungs of a software company and 43 belonged to a mixed group from different professions and organizations. The study was conducted during the months of July and August, 2020.

The basic premise is that ‘I am Something’ leader mindset needs to balance the needs and aspirations of others and that of the environment, choose suitable human values and facilitate others to do likewise.

Examples quoted above from the practical business world also testify to the proposition put forward by Prof Rao – that the aim of a leader should be to strike and acquire an optimal balance between and among the select human values so that there is synergy between ‘I am Something’ leadership and human values.

By reposing one’s faith in the basic goodness of human beings, by responding to fresh challenges in a creative and innovative manner, by adopting a sunnier disposition, by preparing for contingencies in advance and by reconfiguring operations with due respect to nature and mother earth – that is how the challenges posed by the pandemic are being met.

(Inputs from Prof G P Rao are gratefully acknowledged.)

(Part 2 of a series of articles on Corona virus and Leadership) 

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/09/05/corona-virus-and-an-early-onset-of-industrial-revolution-4-0

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/09/14/corona-virus-some-lessons-from-bhagavad-gita)

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India can justifiably boast of a long history of culture, tradition and values. Scriptures of Indian origin are a treasure trove of nuggets of wisdom. These continue to be relevant in the current context and also find ready application in the field of business management and administration.

Here are some of the areas where I believe Ramayana can inspire management14 practitioners.

  • A Premium on Values

Sticking to some core values which are steeped in righteousness eventually leads to success. The main protagonist, Rama, is depicted in Ramayana as an epitome of virtue. He is an ideal king, an ideal son and a pragmatic person. He sets high ethical standards in warfare and invariably sides with dharma, or righteousness.

A random sample of all successful business houses which have been around for more than a century now – Siemens and Tatas, for instance – is ample proof that ethics in business do pay dividends in the long run. Names of such business houses enjoy tremendous brand equity in the market; understandably, that rubs off on their products as well.

  • High on Motivation

To me, the Ahalyaa episode is all about a good leader enthusing a team of demoralized members who have become zombies over a period of time and have stopped delivering results. Once ‘woken up’, they are fully charged and start performing along expected lines.

Rama wages a war on Lanka with very limited resources, backed by an army which is pretty out-of-the-box or unconventional. It is an army which is highly motivated, expecting minimal facilities. Goes on to show the superiority of motivation levels over the availability of physical resources.

A CEO who is out to increase his market share needs the back up of a highly motivated sales staff which – if motivated well – would go all out to win the hearts and wallets of the company’s customers.

  • Mergers and Alliances

When a merger is based upon a congruence of basic value systems of both the parties involved, long-term benefits accrue.

The alliance between Rama and Sita is a turning point in the Ramayana for more reasons than one. Sita is brought up in the household of the sage-king Janaka. When Rama gets banished to the forest after their marriage, she displays a clear absence of any hedonistic tendencies and chooses to accompany him to the forest. Without a synergy of this kind, the sequence of events could have been quite different!

Likewise, the friendship of Rama and Sugriva sets a good example of mutual cooperation between two people facing a similar predicament in life and career. What follows is Sita getting traced in Lanka and Ravana eventually getting vanquished.

When Etihaad decides to team up with Jet Airways, or when Tata Steel ties up with Corus, the parties involved are looking for synergies in their respective core strengths, so as to tap their joint business potential better.

  • Succession Planning

Dasaratha’s plans for installing Rama on the throne of Ayodhya do turn topsy-turvy, but the existence of a clear succession plan can never be denied. This is meant to ensure continuity in governance. It helped that besides being the eldest son, Rama was liked by all and hence chosen to lead the kingdom once his father passed away.

As per Raghuvansham of Kalidasa, when the time comes to relinquish his body, Rama divides it equitably between his two sons – Lava and Kusha.

All well-managed companies ensure that the career development plans of their top performers are directly linked to succession plans. Ideally, good leaders invariably groom at least three managers under them. When one gets promoted to the coveted slot, it is quite likely that two others may seek greener pastures elsewhere. Whatever happens, the goals and the processes involved in achieving the same enjoy uninterrupted continuity.

  • Leaving the Comfort Zone

When Rama gets ordered to remain in the forest for a span of fourteen years, Sita and Rama take it as an opportunity to engage with the ordinary citizens of their kingdom, rather than remaining confined to the comforts of their palace. This helps them to understand the ground realities better.

CEOs and marketing honchos of today who travel through the hinterland to get a better first-hand feel of the customer’s pulse do a far better job of servicing the market.

  • Excellence in Execution

The plan to locate Sita gets brilliantly executed by Hanuman. The wisdom withRamayana 3 which he conducts the search and the single-minded pursuit of the goal is an example worth emulating by managers at all levels. While crossing the sea, he declines an invitation from Mount Mynaaka to take some rest on the way.

The manner in which he assures Sita of his genuineness exhorts managers to conduct commercial negotiations by first setting the anxieties of the opposite party at rest.

  • Concern for Environment

For three days, Rama prays to the god of the sea to grant a passage to his army. Nothing happens. Rama then shoots arrows into the bosom of the sea, whereupon the sea-god appears and explains that he is bound by the laws of nature, just like earth, air, space, light and all constituents of the universe. Creatures living under his shelter he cannot forsake, but surely a shallow area can be shown where a causeway can be built.

Rama accepts the sea-god’s apology and orders the building process to start. Thus, the objective is met without damaging the eco-system.

In the current context, governments all over the world are realizing the importance of striking a judicious balance between economic growth and environmental concerns. Rama’s approach inspires us to strive to find the middle path and ensure that Mother Nature is not unduly disturbed to pave way for crass commercialism.

  • Dependence on Yes-men!

Ravana is a highly learned and accomplished person. One of the reasons for hisRamayana 2 downfall is to neglect the advice of nay-sayers. His wife, Mandodari, brother Vibheeshana and grandfather Malyavaan – all advise him to return Sita to Rama. Instead, he chooses to listen to his courtiers who play on his ego and pride and advise him not to do so.

A couplet in Sundara Kanda of Ramcharitmanasa clearly advises us to ignore the advice of a paid deputy, a doctor and a teacher who speak positively out of either fear or expectation of a gain. A king who acts upon such motivated advice loses his kingdom, his body and his righteousness (dharma) as well.

  • Humility in Victory

When Ravana is on his death-bed, Rama exhorts Lakshmana to learn the tenets of good governance from him. Lakshmana approaches Ravana rather haughtily first and fails. Rama then advises him to approach Ravana with due humility, whereupon Ravana speaks of the pitfalls of procrastination and shares his knowledge about statecraft and diplomacy.

  • Power of Attorney

The sincerity with which Bharata takes care of the kingdom’s affairs while Rama is away speaks of true values of follower-ship. Upon his return to Ayodhya, Bharata informs him that the kingdom’s revenue had gone up ten-folds during the fourteen years he was away.

Here is an excellent example of a kingdom held in trust and good faith, much akin to the present day concept of a power of attorney getting appointed to take care of administrative and legal matters of a business when owners are not readily available.

  • Make Haste, But Slowly!

Rama has won the war and is on his way back to Ayodhya. He decides not to rush back. Instead, he stays back at Sage Bharadwaj’s ashram for a night and makes enquiries about the state of affairs in Ayodhya. Also, he sends Hanuman upfront to break the news of his imminent arrival to Bharata who is living like an ascetic in Nandigram. He moves to Ayodhya only after receiving adequate feedback about its current situation.

  • Leadership Traits

With the possible exception of his handling of Sita upon her return from Lanka, Rama conducts himself in an exemplary manner throughout the narration. Whether it is befriending Nishaad Raaj, refusing to return to Ayodhya when Bharat approaches him in Panchavati, conducting the last rites of Jataayu, accepting Vibheeshana in his fold or even when reuniting with his mothers and brothers upon his return to Ayodhya, he sets a high bar for humanity in general.

In the corruption-infested times we live in, his leadership traits inspire managers to do their best even under the most trying circumstances.

  • Ram Rajya

The concept of being fair to all is the bedrock on which modern management is based. For those in power at the top, an impartial conduct of those in authority is a sine qua non for the morale of the people. Sita gets banished to the Valmiki ashram when an ordinary citizen casts an aspersion on her character. Rama’s role is not much different from that of a true-blue CEO whose loyalty to the company’s overall welfare is unflinching.

Skirt-groping CEOs who have a roving eye and managements which look the other Ramayana 1way just because they accord a higher priority to business goals than to the character of their top honchos could take a leaf out of Rama’s conduct.

There are several instances when management has to divulge information on a ‘need to know’ basis. However, if the basic practices are perceived to be fair to all, even management policies which impact the employees adversely – like a down-sizing – are not taken amiss across the company.

Ramayana is rich with several other narratives which could be useful to management practitioners. Also, each narrative may be interpreted in several ways, depending upon how one goes about analyzing it.

References:

Ramcharitamanas by Goswami Tulasidas, Valmiki Ramayana, Ramayana by C. Rajagoplachari, Raghuvansham by Kalidasa, Adhyatma Ramayana, Series on Ramayana by Narendra Kohli.

Illustrations Courtesy Internet

http://attachment.benchmarkemail.com/c117651/July-Augusl.pdf 

(Related Posts: 

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/management-lessons-from-mahabharata

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/management-lessons-from-the-life-of-lord-krishna)

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14As Mr. Ratan Tata demits office as a Chairman of Tata Sons and as a head of the $84 billion conglomerate of over 100 companies in the world-famous Tata group on the 28th of December, 2012, permit me to salute the group as well as its illustrious leaders who have led it to great heights in the field of business, as also in philanthropy and in socially relevant initiatives.

I am just one amongst millions of the group’s ex-employees who have had a stint with the Tata group.  The connection of my family with the group spans three generations. Way back in 1945, my father was associated with Tata Airlines. In 1976, I started my career with the Leather Complex of Tata Exports (now known as Tata International). Due to compelling personal reasons, I had to finally leave the group in 1993. In 2003, my son started his career innings with Tata Motors.

What is it that goes on to make the Tata group different from its competitors and contemporaries in the business world? With all humility that I can muster, here is my take.

Succession Planning

Mr. Jamsetji N. Tata was the founder of the group. In 1904, he handed over the baton to Sir Dorab Tata, who was at the helm of affairs till 1932, followed by Sir Nowroji Saklatvala who was there till 1938.

The group was then steered by Mr. J. R. D. Tata till 1991, when the charge passed on to Mr. Ratan Tata. It was on March 23, 1991, that Mr. Ratan Tata was told by his uncle that he intended to handover the baton of the group to him. Coinciding with the economic reforms unleashed by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the group has had a remarkable journey since then!

Mr. Ratan Tata took over the reins of the group at a time when it was an empire made up of several independent fiefdoms, run by stalwarts like Mr. Darbari Seth, Mr. Russi Mody, Mr. Ajit Kerkar and Mr. Nani Palkhivala.

Much like the King Bharata in Mahabharata who chose a successor based on merit alone, the group has invariably followed the principle of meritocracy when choosing a successor. What Cyrus Mistry takes over from him today is a much more well-knit and cohesive group, united by a shared philosophy, vision and identity.

A Conservative Outlook on Diversification

Tatas have often been criticised for not being enterprising enough to diversify into new fields. Mr. J. R. D. Tata himself attributed this in 1991 to two factors – an unwillingness to compromise on certain principles in the licence and permit raj prevalent then, and a long-held belief that the group’s principal role was to develop basic industries.

From textiles, hotels and a premier institute of learning, the group took a leap of faith to set up the first steel plant in India at the beginning of the last century. Then it ventured into hydro-electric power, soaps and detergents, cement, tin, soda ash, housing and commercial vehicles. Post 1947, when India gained independence, the group went in for cosmetics, steel tubes, refrigeration, fisheries, refractories and pharmaceuticals. Tea, watches, bearings and several others followed.

During Mr. Ratan Tata’s tenure, the group improved its focus on the business horizon. In tune with the changing times, TOMCO, Lakme, Merind, ACC, Nerolac Paints and others got hived off. Businesses like IT, telecom and financial services got added to the group’s portfolio. TCS became a flagship company, leading India’s march into the knowledge economy.

In 2000, Tata Tea took over UK brand Tetley. During 2007, Tata Steel acquired Anglo-Dutch rival Corus. The buyout of JLR in 2008 supplemented the core competency of the group company now referred to as Tata Motors. This move further established the global aspirations of the group – a segment which today contributes 60% of its revenues. Leveraging its strengths in the automobile sector, the group entered the territory of passenger cars, overcoming such hurdles as the Singur controversy. Nano is an innovation which has been taken note of globally.

Mr. Ratan Tata did not have it easy. Due to a negative business environment, the entry of Tatas in the field of airlines got aborted. It moved in time to save Tata Financial Services when the top management there committed fraud. In the telecom field, it had to grapple with a nascent industry which is still plagued by policy uncertainty. The controversy surrounding the infamous Radia tapes went on to show that what would have been considered a minor transgression by any other business house proved to be a demoralizing factor, somewhat sullying the group’s pristine white image.

Referring to the airline fiasco, he claimed in a press interview that he was rather proud of the fact that he could not handle political manipulations.

Concern for Environment and CSR

Industrialists complaining about environmental regulations and land acquisition issues today could surely learn a few lessons from Mr. J. N. Tata when he went about setting up India’s first steel plant during the early 1900s in what was then a predominantly forest area, inhabited by tribals.

In a letter written to his son in 1902, five years before the site of the steel plant was finally located, Mr. J. N. Tata laid down broad guidelines covering the design of the industrial complex which was to come up at Jamshedpur: “Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches”.

When TELCO Pune was planned, thousands of trees got planted first. Since trees needed water, an artificial lake was created with a circumference of four kilometres. The factory buildings came up much later.

At the Leather Complex at Dewas (MP) that I was associated with, other than a massive plantation of trees of all kinds, a deer park was also set up. Our Accounts Department was often twiddling its thumbs to figure out if the cost incurred on the animals’ upkeep was reasonable!

Focus on People

The average Tata manager is sober, knowledgeable, mature, restrained, dignified, humane and downright ethical.  It does not boast of, but is quietly aware of, being part of a group which has always conducted its affairs in a transparent and ethical manner. There is an in-born self-belief that the values Tatas follow are not a mere statement of pious intentions; rather, these form a blueprint which guides and permeates all the activities the group.

Tata Steel has several firsts to its credit in the realm of labour welfare. An eight-hour working day was introduced in 1912 itself, whereas the law mandated it only in 1948. Likewise, free medical aid, establishment of a Welfare Department, formation of a Works Committee for handling employee grievances and leave with pay, provident fund, etc. were introduced much before the relevant laws came into being.

The social welfare measures across various Tata companies may vary, but the standards set by them somewhat exceed the legal requirements. Tax planning, yes; tax evasion, never. The group’s foray into education, fine arts and other socially relevant projects was planned and executed at a time when CSR norms were not even heard of.

How closely the value of compassion is cherished became very clear in the aftermath of the 26/11 terrorist attack on The Taj Mahal Hotel. The conduct of the employees during the attack and the subsequent support they received from the management is a case study in organizational behaviour and employee motivation.

I had a first-hand experience of this value of compassion in 1991 when I and a colleague of mine were mercilessly beaten up by a gang of misinformed workers of one of the small ancillary units of the Tata Exports. Prompt medical attention, legal support, counselling for the self and the family and a compulsory vacation followed automatically. A month later, Mr. Syamal Gupta, the then MD, nine rungs above us in the rigid Tata hierarchy, called for a personal meeting and instilled in us a sense of pride and fulfilment for having stood up to the rowdy elements in the work force.

The fact that I write this piece almost twenty years after I parted company with the group goes on to show the sense of belongingness I still – and shall continue to – carry with me!

Ethics and Values – A High Moral Quotient

When I look back at my association with the group, which lasted over ten years split over two phases, I am amazed at the rich learning I had. Job rotation, technical training and job knowledge apart, the exposure to the nuts and bolts of business ethics left an everlasting impression on my psyche.

A bribe was a simply not payable, whatever the commercial cost of keeping an entire manufacturing facility idle for three weeks. A senior manager who made the error of judgement of offering a bribe to a government servant for securing a permission was publically rebuked and persuaded to leave the company. Instead, I, a junior office then, was sent to accomplish the task without any speed money being paid. Luckily, I could manage this feat, though the company ended up incurring a cost of five times the bribe amount on my trip alone!

Aiming for Perfection

As per Mr. J. R. D. Tata, “One of the weaknesses of our country is that we are satisfied with the second or third best in everything. The basic attitude of chalega, ayega, dekhega. Therefore almost everything we do, we do it poorly”. He always maintained that “You can’t achieve high standards by aiming at those standards. You can only achieve a standard by aiming at something more. If you want excellence, you must aim at perfection”.

This implies painstaking attention to detail, a trait which permeates all spheres of the group’s activities. When a new factory block came up in the company, I asked my boss as to why a black stone slab was made a part of the flooring at the entrance to the shop floor. He was quick to point out: “That is the only way to ensure that we have minimum dirt and dust entering the floor; black colour will show any deviations without fail!”

“Humata”, “Hukhta”, “Hvarshta”

These words form a part of the Tata crest, designed by the founder Mr. Jamsetji Tata. In the ancient Avesta language, these mean “Good Thoughts”, “Good Words” and “Good Deeds”. The premium that the Tata brand enjoys in the market is the culmination of more than a century of efforts of the group, based on these principles and values preached as well as practised by the group.

As Mr. Ratan Tata henceforth channelizes his dynamism towards philanthropic activities and development projects, I have no doubt that he would come up with more innovations in the field of social entrepreneurship, so as to transform and upgrade the lives of millions in India at the bottom of the pyramid.

I once had the privilege of meeting him fleetingly at a Pragati Maidan Expo held in New Delhi in 1993. From what little I know of him, he is not the retiring kind. To him one cannot express the usual wishes of a peaceful and quiet retirement, howsoever well deserved it is. One may instead wish him long life, health, contentment and all the fun and excitement he can find in any activity he may choose to indulge in hereafter.

Likewise, one wishes Mr. Cyrus Mistry a great cruise ahead in these times of exciting business possibilities for the group! To quote a song from “The Sound of Music” – one of the greatest musical movies ever produced:

“Climb every mountain, ford every stream; Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream….!”

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