IMTB syndrome – Administrative Bane

Agreed, everyone is busy, but “I am too Busy (IMTB)” is absolute humbug and what in general parlance can be described as Cop-out. It means two things when an issue is brought to your for a solution/ suggestion – “You are not a priority” or “I have no clue about it”. In my experience it is almost always the latter. Fear that the capability (or incapability, to be precise) gets exposed is the culprit for this IMTB syndrome.

The 'Busy' Trap Best Quotes – Fav Quotes | BestQuotes
Yes, this is the message that we need to convey to those pretenders
Pic Courtesy – Web

This is largely a reproduction of a Tweet thread that I had posted a year ago during my efforts volunteering with the Government as a Corona Warrior regarding reasons (in my humble opinion) why our famed Bengaluru Model took a beating. Our war-room and the processes were proudly presented by Mr Luv Aggarwal in his evening briefing pre June 3rd Unlock, when Karnataka and Bengaluru in particular, managed the Pandemic using technology judiciously. The technology implementation during lockdown was studied well by domain experts and the potential pitfalls were highlighted (to add – I had personally given potential numbers if certain measures were not put in place – It so happened my numbers were accurate give or take 10 – Thanks to models developed by Dr Santosh Ansumali and another by Dr Prasanna Simha).

Let me directly reproduce the tweets posted on the IMTB Syndrome

Someone (irrespective of sector) if he is too busy for everything, all the time, it means either he doesn’t know his job or doesn’t know to manage it. I come across so many who hide behind this “I am too busy” from their reportees, from their peers and superiors. If you are a manager find a balance or bosses will have to find some balanced person. In days of mobile phones, you cannot have pagers.

What went wrong with much touted Technical advantage #Bengaluru and #Karnataka has to be discussed sooner than later to save the state and #Bengaluru. #IamTooBusy or #MineIsBest adamance costed us after all the gains we made. With tonnes of experience in IT system/solution architecting, mobile app practice – Both from hands-on development experience too, not just looking over shoulders of developer) architecting was the key fact that did the damage. It cannot be a hobby project when dealing with data especially when we are dealing with Human Lives.

It is not just passion, enthusiasm, hard-working or commitment (of which we never had a dearth, it has a lot to do with Competence too, without which all the others are pointless. (Vice versa is true too. But starting point is COMPETENCE). That is when we, a bunch of enthusiasts conducted a thread bare analysis of some Apps that were used (its tremendous success earlier and its miserable failure once the numbers ramped). Sadly our penchant to investing more to dig shallow wells, instead of one deep productive well, was our bane

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Too many Unproductive shallow Wells
Pic Courtesy: Web

There was this particular officer whose #MineIsBiggest adamance is what let go of a multitude of options provided to mankind, free of cost. Why Government has to spend on “Learning Curve” of Private sector was the line. Seriously? On something that is so specific to public health & pandemic & offered for free? When an IAS officer is appointed into the Government services, it is more for his administration skills and much less for any other basic domain skills. If he “was” Engineer it is just incidental and once in service your primarly role is administer, not demonstrate your Engineering skills.

This particular officer had a balloon of an Ego, thought it was passport to so called growth by creating many hobby grade apps – in IT what we commonly refer to as “Hello World” program. We clearly highlighted that the Application Architecture is too rigid and unscalable. It was ok when our numbers were low but unlock expectedly would hike the numbers, contact tracing numbers would jack up, number of cases would increase and so on. Net result, to save his image and adamance that his apps were the best, our City, the IT Capital took a beating both in terms of image and also in terms of public health – Evident in the bulletins released those days – opaque contents and numbers that has spiked. But he was shut to any idea lest his carefully built up image gets shattered – it did shatter but by then City and the State paid a huge cost.

Sincerity and strenuous efforts is no substitute for Competence, which is what this bunch of hard working officers lack. As late as today, solution is not to scale the solution up, but scale the users down. Haalooralli Ulidavane Raaja… goes an old saying in Kannada. We’re no where near haalooru yet. Is it Insecurity when not once, twice, four times you don’t turn up for a meeting to discuss (#IamBusy you know 🙂 without a care for time of people, domain experts whose billable is 40 times > this officer’s. He was out to show who wears the pants in the administration. During a review by Chief Secretary, I did write a note explaining where we went wrong and the remedies there of. Then CS, accepted it and immediately allowed remedial measures and it did not take 3 weeks to get semblance of control again. (Recalling a message I received over Whatsapp – Hey Suresh, you just spiked my husbands growth. My humble reply – I rather spike career growth of one person than risk COVID Spikes)

Here I would contrast it to another officer, also an Engineer but emerged a Superstar in the War against Corona in Karnataka, simply because he just administered, facilitated multitude of domain experts to deliver. Jealous Enemies within carried out a hit job and some wise men thought dividing Bengaluru as per BBMP zones for effective management was a better approach and he was relegated to a particular zone. He performed magic for that zone again and proved, whatever the scale it is about doing a job perfectly and playing his role as required, not to demonstrate his Engineering skills. I have to name and thank this officer on behalf of the state and the City. Thank you Major Manivannan, IAS for being a Friendly Administrator who knew his job extremely well, for being a Facilitator than anything esle and harnessing strength of all available resources (which was scarce). You were the reason why many corporates and NGOs happily joined hands to work with Government. By the way, Major Manivannan was the person who conceptualised the Citizen Corona Warrior (locally called Corona Sainika Program). I was blessed to be associated with the Program as Vice Chairman of Corona Sainikas Task Force handling the state (I was tasked with entire State except BBMP areas) and thereafter as Chief Citizen Coordinator when the Home Quarantine was managed by Citizen Volunteers. But for him, I would not even think of joining this initiative, since working with the existing Public delivery system is very frustrating for someone from Corporate sector. He insulated all the bureacratic challenges from service delivery folks and left free to deliver. Respects to this model Civil Servant.

Would like to recollect contribution of M/s Knowledge Lens to the entire initiative, It was our loss that we could not reach out to them during lockdown (when we had to manage even bigger volunteer pool) and I am sure we would have done even better job with their support. After the unlock, Major Manivannan and me sat down to discuss actions for establishing the Citizen Quarantine Squad (later renamed to make it appear more citizen friendly as Neighbourhood Home Quarantine Watch and Care – NHWC) I still remember how I drove in to Knowledge Lens office in Electronic City and met up with Shri Sudeesh Narayan, Founder and CEO to seek support of two technical Development resources, he dismissed it saying, why two – leave it us, we will develop the entire portal and maintain it – ALL FOR FREE. He r introduced me to Shri Jayesh Sripada Rao (a friend for life now) who then helped us, hand held and in fact became one of the best volunteers himself during the entire battle. I have to admit, it was totally unexpected and Free came with a cream of High Quality Professional outputs. Knowledge Lens’s Mobile practice came in handy to address all the needs of the system. We were able to automate the entire registration process including delivery of ID cards at almost no cost. There was no looking back thereafter. We had lot of partners engaged into the program and smoother delivery inspired even more work from the volunteers in this critical phase. Once again role of Major Manivannan and his support was immense. Sadly, when the zone-wise bifurcation was done, only the zone headed by Major Manivannan used all the apps and results were there for all to see.

What inspired Corona Warriors like me and nearly 40,000 others who were out on the field with support and encouragement of Major Manivannan and then Chief Minister of Karnataka, Shri BS Yediyurappa ji.

Remember when the program started – no one had a clue about what this Virus was all about. But everyone knew what should be the outcome – WE HAD TO WIN – with the App or not

Winding up with a small anecdote – A Senior Bureaucrat asked me (he was trying to understand the psychology of volunteers) “We are duty-bound and paid a salary to do this work, What is in it for you taking all these risks?” My spontaneous answer was (which I strongly believe is what every volunteer thinks and essence of volunteering):

IF NOT ME, WHO?
IF NOT NOW, WHEN
?

I was told by this officer at the time of retirement, that he had written these lines on a paper and had it below the glass top of his table.

Happiness is Infectious!

Sharing a chat with  maxi background,  that I had with an ex-colleague on #LinkedIn, on how I managed to handle a stressful job of get a BIFR company into a Going Concern. This called for retrenchment of “Humans” many who were with this Organisation for years more than my age at that time

Background
There was this Company which went sick and referred to BIFR. With Manufacturing unit for Electronic Version of the product (let me call it EB for Electronic Box) in #Bengaluru (which was a 2 year old unit) and a much larger and older unit for Mechanical version unit (let me call it MB for Mechanical Box) in Chennai (40 year old Unit).

With technological advances and end process deficiencies MB was slowly but surely on the way out but for some weird reason the Management resting on the then Market Domination (<65% Market share) never saw the writing on the wall. Market was moving, albeit with a lot of resistance from the end-consumers and immediate customer, towards more accurate and precise, process efficient EB.

Buoyed by this resistance, they hoped against hope that it was a temporary and the market would revert back to MB (to be fair, there were some business in the replacement market, less than 1% of FG inventory per month)

EB units tenders increased in numbers and Organisation was forced to start a unit in Bengaluru to design and manufacture of EB. To the credit of this organisation, they were also the first one to have a significant installed base of the Electronic version in the market.

However, despite almost zero demand for the MB, it never resized their production, nor redesigned the lines for EBs. Production continued with same strength and to the designed capacity. FG inventories piled up. With no shipment, it was stressing the Cash Flow as also increasing the Creditors. Labour Unions did not agree for scaling down production.

Servicing the Bank loan/advances, Payment to Vendors were taking a hit. Old habits die hard – Unions never gave any leeway for the management to reconsider any aspect of production – Double wages for Over-time (yes production of MBs working Over time, that only piled up in the FG Stores)

The Bengaluru unit (headed by yours truly at that time) by itself was Profitable EB unit, with rationalised process, optimal personnel, was being bled by the MB unit, which was a White Elephant. EB Unit Capacities were no where near the requirement to handle the entire organisation. This continued for 2 years and the inevitable happened.

MB unit (which for 5 years was a drain on the organisation with zero contribution to top line) began pulling down EB unit and started sinking. Despite good order book, it became extremely difficult for EB unit to continue and the vendor support shrank due to non-payments, and employees in this unit began idling due to lack of raw materials.

Finally, the Organisation was referred to BIFR and upon their enquiry, declared it a sick unit. Accepted a proposal for revival. With two bankers as primary operating agency and with me as Chief of Operations, a revival package was worked out.

Barring a couple of executives the entire management was changed by the operating agencies. Then began the painful process of revival. The first task for to retrench Humans (I don’t want to reduce them to a pair of hands), who worked for this organisation for more than 35 years (which was my age then).

The chat with my then colleague yesterday was about how at that age I managed the entire process (with grace of God and my Guru, very successfully) and the psychological impact it had on me (who was one of the resource, I insisted continue with me during the revival process). Let us call him Mr K, then an young but brave lad with two years of experience

First step was to shift the entire manufacturing to Chennai, from Bengaluru (where we operated out of a rented premise). We explained the situation to the staff here, and made an open offer to all the employees to join us there on same terms (with an assurance that if things go as planned, it can be reviewed upwards).

Most of the production staff being ladies had difficulties moving and they were given a 3 months buffer with full pay, to look for alternate. Some of them (around 30 out of 80+) decided to continue and move to Chennai. Rest of them found alternate employments within the buffer period.

As always, financial institutions wanted me to revive the unit with no resources 🙂 And were pressurising me to let go of everyone here too. It was then (so many years back) that I coined what still remains my favourite phrase – these are not head counts for me, but heart counts (recently I saw some motivational speaker using this in a TED talk).

To make it a going concern, we need those who are passionate and who believe that it can be done. We also need people with knowledge and Skill to work. There was no way we could find any resource from the MB unit in Chennai (Incidentally, they went on a strike at the unit). Finally I was allowed to have 22 (out of 80+ from this unit) and 8 of them had to be left behind.

With Vendors breathing down our neck, resisting this shift, it was the first major challenge to be overcome. Threats, blackmails were an everyday affair, heavy doses of which I had to live with. We then had a meeting with operating agencies and all affected parties, explained the situation and got their buy in for the only way forward. To reduce cost, do some businesses, work out some formula and time period for pay-outs.

Finally, in 2 months time (and one month ahead of target) the entire unit was shifted to Chennai. Next was the challenge to move the EB manufacturing facility into the MB unit. With the employees their on strike, they resisted this tooth and nail and we had to move the line in, with heavy security. A part of the line was set up in another facility to begin production pending settlements.

We know had the biggest challenge of all on hand. To convince the promoter/erstwhile management to infuse funds for two purposes, one to negotiate a golden handshake and second to restart the production. Lesser said the better on how this challenge was overcome. But overcome we did.

The most challenging part of the whole process began. Inviting the representatives of the Labour force for a negotiated settlement. Political arms of Labour unions got involved and things were only messed up even more by them. It was then that my HR head directly talked to the employees.

I explained that at this point of time, I have some funds which can be the settlement amount and if there is any delay, even this position will become precarious. Also acknowledged that this business owes it to them for the successes till 5 years back but today they have no contribution to make in the changed business scenario.

I also offered them a re-employment provided they acquired the skills and at par with existing employees (not their existing scale). Finally, I just made it a situation of – either we all sink together with nothing or take something and let those who deserve float and begin sailing.

The deadlock continued and despite their request for another settlement offer, I was clear I had nothing extra to offer and in fact the funds available towards this head is reducing with every passing day. Exactly 62 days later, about 200 of them signed a petition and accepted the offer and it was immediately accepted and settled. It was just a matter of time for remaining to accept and move on.

Vendors accepted a revised proportional payment settlement. Some of them continued to support us in the revival process and some of them we lost forever.

Bankers were convinced to reschedule the loans, interest components to be waived. Government was approached to provide a temporary tax exemption.

Customer confidence was won, purely based on the quality & ruggedness of our designs and clear intent shown. In 33 months, from the time I took over this became a going concern.

Now K’s doubt was, Sir! How did you even manage! We were dealing with Humans in the entire process. Suddenly one fine day, bidding them goodbye and not to come for work. Looking back (though the thoughts were not like this), I only had the interest of organisation and larger number of affected person in mind

To protect interest of 350 people and their families, I had to otherwise sacrifice more than 400 employees and their families who were contributing to the revival, then comes Vendors and their employees and their families.

So decision was clear! It was only about alleviating the pain of 350 people, which I did sincerely by negotiating the best possible settlement under the circumstances (it was a hard bargain which the world never knew) – they wanted to settle for nothing.

Though I spent sleepless nights, remembering the sad and tearful faces of affected people, in the end, it turned out to be successful. This business was then sold to another corporate and is currently doing extremely well.

Recently attended the naming ceremony of the grand daughter of one person who was retrenched. When I apologised for the past, he said nothing to apologise – YOU DID GREAT. My BLESSINGS! We knew we were to get nothing. But you heard our abuses patiently, fought for us and got us amount which was princely sum those days.

Lesson for K:

If you are focused on the task sincerely, all other factors are redundant. Whatever it takes to fulfil the task becomes the guiding factor.

37 year irrelevant experience meant nothing that day for us, 2 year’s relevant experience like his helped us settle even those much experienced employees.

All along, even thereafter, I had to manage workforce or peers and colleagues who are aged much more than me. But if we are clear on the objectives of why we are in an organisation, does age or experience of the other person matter?

As long as there is no malafide, or biases, or preferences or even aversions, if we stick to being professional, we will be talking only business and not emotions or sentiments. There is a different place and time for that.

In my previous employment, the guy who hired me had to report to me within a year. He was totally uncomfortable. Tried to convince him that his job and he as a person still has all my respects, just like I have for anyone else. We are here for a task and generally as a rule, I don’t lead. I only facilitate people to do their jobs. Unfortunately he did not think alike. He opted not to have his contract renewed and retired.

What worked for me in my work, is never to treat a person as a pair of hands (or a piece of brain in IT industry). Respect him or her as a whole person, then they enjoy working with you. They look forward to come to work and not look for excuses to take holidays.

It is in a manager’s interest to keep everyone around happy. Else even manager looks for excuse to take a holiday. A lively bubbling workplace is something everyone enjoys being in. And I have a selfish motive to keep my workplace a happening and happy place.

Because happiness and enthusiasm is infectious  🙂 It rubs off on me too.

IT WORKS. Try!

PS:

1) Though I had many opportunities to work for reviving Sick Businesses, I never accepted any offers to do it again. Today with increased awareness in me, I know it is pain that I may not be upto. Those days, I never even realised but simply did the job. In the process, for quite some time it resulted in poverty thinking and mental stinginess in me. This took a lot of effort to overcome.

2) The same management killed another group company (automobile industry), which had 80% market share for the product, because they refused to work on Electronic product of the same. Today’s vehicle do not have mechanical version at all.

Thoughtless Change is Dangerous

A lot happened in just 48 hours that Minister for External Affairs Ms Sushma Swaraj returned from her tour abroad. Starting with a major goof up by avoidable intervention in respect of Issuing a Passport to a couple (wrongly called Inter-faith couple),  and punishing a honest officer who did his job diligently, pointing out to glaring discrepancies (could easily be a security issue in wrong hands). When called out by Tweeps, she resorted to playing Victim by focusing on some abusive handles (miniscule numbers) but overlooking a far larger no of tweeps raising legitimate questions in more civil manner than her response just to divert the major goof up. It was juvenile response from a Senior Minister of her standing, to say the least. Firstly, dangerously concedes that she has no clue what happens in her ministry during her absence – Leadership? And then like a Nursery School spat, “Liking”/ RTing abusive tweets along with ardent supporters civil but legitimate questions.

(Click on the picture below for original tweet, which is available at the time of writing this piece)

SushmaSwaraj-PostReturn-Tweet

She compromised publicly strong advocates of the Government and supporter clubbing them with abusive handles in her unique way – blocking some of them – unblocking known Anti-Government baiters. No one but her know what this weird approach sought to achieve. You can read experience of one of the affected tweep, Shefali Vaidya in this piece 

It was downhill ever since. To justify whatever nonsensical procedural lapses happened, she embarked on even more ridiculous exercise in the name of easing the procedures of applying for a passport. Probably not related but timing makes the whole exercise suspect. Two things were in gross violation by the said applicant and both surprisingly are the issues that finds a work-around in the new policy she announced.

A brief background (details are here and here)  of the case to help you place it in perspective: One Tanvi Seth (@TanviAnas on Twitter) and Shadiya Anas Siddiqui in various documents applied for passport in in PSK under Lucknow RPO. Reviewing Officer Mr Vikas Mishra upon perusal of documents sought endorsement of name as found in the documents submitted and the one she sought in the application – a legitimate requirement, in fact his job as an officer. And this lady goes ballistic trying to play minority card, female victimhood, crying so much that she choked to death almost, had to use inhaler blah blah, the Officer was abusive, asked husband to convert – All denied by the officer and the eyewitness. She took to Twitter to publicise and express her misplaced grievance – as as is her wont, things moved breakneck speed.

RPOLuknow-HandingOver.png

RPO tweets it will be enquired into, and next day with media in attendance RPO personally hands over the passport with no due processes followed and brazenly Tweets those pictures. Address was not verified which in retrospect was found wrong and in violation of the rules.

Nothing about this seem to be right. Tanvi Anas brought it upon herself with the help of a Muslim  Journalist working with ToI as per her profile (Specifying Muslim, because her timeline on twitter was nothing to do with Journalism but all about Islam and Muslim people). To top it all, the officer who did his job honestly was shunted out. Furore on Twitter forced the authorities to do a post check on the application and Police Verification of address came back with an adverse report saying applicant did not stay in the address indicated and stayed in Noida. Rule clearly specifies that if the applicant was not resident in the address for the previous year, previous address also should be indicated. Also if there are any name changes or if applicant was known by any other names the same had to be indicated.

At the time of writing this, the status of her passport application and proceedings due to violation is not known. But the minister comes out with amendment to the process. Exactly covering both the above issues. It may not even be applicable retrospectively  (but considering the cover up and damage control that is being done, we cannot rule this out) since rules that apply at the time of application applies, but hurried manner in which two of the rules were relaxed raises suspicions.

Address part is already covered by many on various forums. If the applicant has temporarily moved to a different location, application can still be submitted in a PSK or RPO closer to this temporary residence, but with actual address in the application. However, the address verification would be done in the address provided in the application (It sounds illogical, because in this scenario, the current location/address is not required at all) – Granting it is a convenience, let us discuss the next change.

PresentAddressRule

In Minister’s words : “Married men and women complained that their marriage certificates are required at passport office, we scrapped the rule. Some divorced women complained that they are required to fill the name of ex-husband and their children of their estranged father. So we changed the rule,” 

Now the risks/gaps in this process. In case of renewal/reissue currently there are documentary evidences that are called for in case of name changes or changes in entry of spouse names:

Changes to Spouse names in the new passport due to following reasons

  1. Entering Spouse name due to marriage (Addition of Spouse name)
  2. Change/Delete Spouse name in the event of:
    1. Divorce (spouse name to be deleted)
    2. Remarriage (current spouse name delete and new spouse name to be added)
    3. Death of Spouse (spouse name to be deleted)

At the time of writing this piece, documentation requirements are listed here (screenshot of the same is reproduced too)

As clear from the same, it called for producing Attested copies of Marriage Certificate, Divorce Decree, Remarriage or Death Certificate as the case maybe. Now as per the changes announced in the Press conference, you can simply add, change or delete for the same without any documentary evidence and will be accepted as true in good faith? Has the legal implication of this thought through? It can end up in legal complication since parties end up in possession of a Legally acceptable Identity and relationship document. What if some applicant falsely gets a spouse name entered in the passport or legitimate spouse name deleted and claim relationship? Also, these documents provided additional assistance for law enforcement authorities to trace criminals or those on the run. If it can be allowed in this case, why seek evidences for Date of Birth or Address. Accept that in good faith too. Excerpt of the FAQ available on the Official website

DocumentRule-SpouseName

At the time of writing despite a mail and tweet sent to Passport authorities, there was no clarification received. Will update as and when it is received.

Without addressing these concerns, thoughtless changes under the guise of Reforms or easing processes is DANGEROUS!

Update-1

Honb’le EA Minister’s Private Secretary was very well in the loop and all actions taken were after Sri Vijay Dwivedi marked Dr Mulay. Did Secretary act independently without concurrence of the EAM? I am also attaching the tweet thread (where one anonymous tweep even threatens of campaign, even before the truth surfaced) He has not responded to any tweets after the truth emerged.

SushmaSwaraj-PA Communication

VijayDwivedi-SecretaryEAM

Update-2

(As expected, RPO Bengaluru – one of the best and most responsive Passport Offices in the Country clarifies). Click on the image for source tweet (if it is still available)

RPOBengaluru-Reply

As feared, this indeed is waived off. Hence anyone can claim and make changes to entry under spouse name without any documentary backup. There are lot of legal implications in this change. Succession right, Property rights etc – Even without the named person knowing someone could have declared that person as a spouse and offer these documents as evidence. It may be proven wrong in court, but imagine the grind one has to go through