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.

Calming a Barking Dog

Translated from a Kannada Post that I received

It was not so warm day and the Sultan decided to take a boat ride with his subjects. He took his  ferocious and ugly looking pet dog, Tippu along with him and reach the banks of the river.

There were many others on the boat, including a philosopher.

Since it was the first time for Tippu on a boat, it began to behave strangely and started running helter skelter on the boat.

This unsettled other passengers and induced fear in them too. The boatsman was getting worried too. If too many passengers out of fear start moving away from their places to avoid the dog, the balance would be lost there was a chance that it would capsize.

However, since it was Sultan’s dog, no one dared to speak aloud. Even Sultan was getting fed up and furious with Tippu’s behaviour. The calm philosopher was watching all these from a distance and walks up to the Sultan and says, “Jahanpanah! if you wish and order me to do so, I have a way to calm down Tippu, make him sit in a corner with his tail tucked between his legs” Sultan immediately agrees to this.

The philosopher then calls a couple of able bodied men and with their help lifts Tippu and throw him into the water. Everyone including the Sultan was shocked. Tippu kept swim and makes valiant but futile efforts to get back on to the boat. After a while, the philosopher with the help of people pulls Tippu back on board.

Tippu realised the dangers of water and ability of that to even kill him. More importantly it also realised that it needs the protection of the boat to stay safe. He retreats to a corner and sits down tucking his tail. Everybody’s journey thereafter becomes comfortable and peaceful too.

Sultan who was surprised at everything that happened asks the Philosopher, “What was the secret? How did Tippu, a dog transform itself from a rattled, uneasy and restless to a calm and composed being”

The philosopher replies, “Those who never experience the difficulties or pain themselves will never appreciate the pain of others. They also don’t realise the value of comfort zone it was in, until it faces the dangers. Experiencing it first hand make them realise the heaven they were in that they were complaining about”

Those who keep cribbing about Intolerance, or those who claim to be living in mortal fear, such Tippus should be dropped in Syria or Iraq for a while. It is only then that value of the protected and comfortable life that India with absolute freedom affords that no other place in the world can provide, would be appreciated.

Dedicated to those Obnoxious and vile “Two legged” Tippus, who enjoy everything  but keep cribbing about, and work against India.

Are you Spinning the Wheels or Changing?

A Maxi Post after a long time. Hope you read through and find value in this experiential piece in  one of my leadership journey

This truly reflected what a particular organisation (hitherto successful) did when they wanted to step up to the next level – with the existing efforts and mindset this was virtually a non-starter. While heritage is a Strength of an organisation, when not harnessed the right way would surely be reduced to a baggage and a heavy one for the whole organisation to haul. This baggage famously known as the Corporate Cholesterol retards agility, creativity and responsiveness of the organisation. Unknowingly, a whole lot of resources would be directed to building of these very fats when things go well. This build-up becomes so intense yet invisible that it takes a heart attack to realise that it got this far.  This is especially so in Corporates torn between “trying to be professional” and “proprietary firm mindset” of old timers.

A change manager was hired by an  organisation (fits the above description to the “T”) to bring in changes to smoothly step to the next level of growth, stagnated for quite a while. He was assigned to head the biggest branch (by stakeholder strength, product spread, turnover and even real estate) and bring about the change here first. This executive with extensive experience in top notch Corporates that had to be technological & physically agile (due to the area of operations) realised pretty soon that it was the “Mindset” that was the Cholesterol primarily built from from the top and layered down to the last employee worth his/her salt. Lack of trust in ability and integrity of people working in this highly “Human Resource” Intensive organisation resulted in centralising all the powers and decision making to a Single person, let us call him the dreaded four lettered word – BOSS! Omnipresence being quality of God, this human BOSS could not watch over everyone’s shoulders all the time (though most of his productive hours went in that pursuit).

This culture was deep ingrained by those reporting to the BOSS that they became the “boss” for people down the line. The recipe for a major Heart Attack was slowly being written – Individual Silos built to protect their turf at various levels ensured that there was no circulation of positive energy flow between layers (laterally and vertically). No one trusted the other (saw this in case of a couple in this organisation, while one grudged the other getting recognised with an award)

Operations in this location started exactly 30 years ago and average service age was 15+ years. Many in the team also believed in this and told the executive as much.

Forget changing mindset of long entrenched, “passenger” mindset of the team. They are comfortable in their own silos and there is enough Cholesterol built up and thick skin too.

 

The first thing this executive did was to establish trust – First between him and his reportees and thereafter with each other. He also ensured that every single person was insulated from any kind of threats or intimidation or interference in his/her work. Excellence in Delivery of the designated and agreed task (agreed by the team member & signed off with their reporting Manager – it was no longer with the BOSS or boss). It did not take much time to see the turn around – less than 90 days. Every behavioural myth was broken.

To borrow from the best seller book “The Fish”, this particular branch from being the “Toxic Energy Dump” was now a darling location for all. Everyone on this campus was an epitome of happiness and vibrancy with positive energy.

Performance soared, people looked forward for sun to rise and rush to work, they considered each other as an excellent support system, professionally, personally, emotionally and spiritually too. A perfect example of Help everyone and Get helped by everyone! It was a ship that sailed perfectly in a still ocean and choppy waves were absorbed effortlessly. Every one became a perfect living example of  Leading from Behind. Boat sailed well, as in the earlier days for 3 long years. Miles were covered, all challenges conquered and were relishing the fruits at every harbor. It was no less than a fairy tale situation, too good to be true and too good to last. Undercurrents began to slowly surface, surprisingly it was not from within the team.

Well entrenched and boss and silos began to be shaken. Cholesterol are known to be stubborn fats – which did not want to release its vice like grip. If you were looking for an example of Parent grudging the success of the Child, here it was. I have referred to as the “Raman Syndrome (nothing to do with Nobel Prize winner)” in another piece Ramans of Work place – Not a Myth! This sense of threat (misplaced one obviously) by the Raman a.k.a the BOSS  made him make the seas choppy. In the name of recognition and growth the bosses who were convinced by leading from behind were moved to different roles – a change just for the sake of change (for ulterior motives, we can say with benefit of hindsight). Cholesterol found pliant fat cells, the Organisational Yes-men, not necessarily horse for the course who were again put in places to dissolve the insulation for the people down the line and create chinks in those armours. An open office is very threatening and challenging to a Manager. Especially those with a historical Type A leadership style which would be a misfit in this Knowledge-worker, Rights-aware, Opportunity-aplenty age. What Raman did not realize that Different types of Leadership like Antique furniture exist for different values as I discuss here Leadership – Antique Value or Utility Value. But then it was desperate times to prove what a child can do it, parent can do it even better. Then came the over-enthusiastic, relocated silo, the new boss who also was shaken out of the cosy comfort of status quo earlier, wanted to prove the BOSS that everything of the intervention was opposite of what original values were. Undoing the gains and getting back to Blue Ocean thinking that it is never going to be Red. Status Quo was comfortable but possibility of Heart Attacks? Worse still, is when fats can turn carcinogenic. Restoration work began in full earnest. It was back to status-quo to prove older methods still can work today. Started using Alcohol as an anaesthetic to prove that it is as effective or better than Xenon – pain became visible and felt by everyone around. To borrow from Change Management Expert Tori Reid :

If you constantly change your to-do app, route to work, lane on the highway, or line at the supermarket, you probably know that at some point you’re just spinning your wheels.

 

Don’t Change for Change Sake & definitely not thoughtlessly

And watching this pile of fats, reminds me of the proverbial over-enthusiastic demolition man – who in trying to impress the BOSS in a demolition spree would end up like the one below. This man has an impressive track record of demolition anything that he touches (atleast 4 instances of near closures) , even without a hammer – the man with SADIM touch

Self-Demolition Man

Would like you to read this piece of mine, when the Jealous & Feels Threatened BOSS, dished out some advise, not only chose wrong example and secondly he understood it grossly wrong (Happens when you love to hear your own voice a lot). Anyone cannot do a job, it requires someone with skill and commitment. The one will real capability will agree and live the dictum “We are not the Doers – What it really means “

 

Clicking on the links will take you additional reading (pieces written by me)