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Sunday, September 11, 2016
My recent visit to New York had me unnerved once again and reinforced in me the belief that there are no rich and poor nations but productive and unproductive nations. Is it not unacceptable that even after having served over three decades and a half in the service of the Sarkar, I am yet unsure about what comes first – delivery or process.
The footpaths, the roads, the lamp posts, the buildings, the bridges, almost every infrastructural item that one witnesses in the developed economies is built to last, if not centuries but definitely a couple of decades and here at home the unending cycle of repairs and rebuilding baffles me. All perhaps because we find it almost impossible to go around the established decision making and tendering processes that are neither efficient nor a deterrent for a guy with a crooked intent.
The extremely high delivery by almost everyone in the developed economies is forged out of trust, integrity, commitment and above all simplicity of processes that we have over-complicated in the garb of transparency. It is indeed sad that for far too long this nonsense has carried on uninterrupted!
Will we forever remain a developing nation one really wonders? When shall deliverance be regarded as supreme and those with an honest intent find the courage regardless of the roadblocks that include a host of people ready to point fingers and jump at the slightest perceived mistake.
Handling an airline is definitely not by any stretch of imagination an easy task and this business is therefore regarded as the mother of all businesses. And the beleaguered Air India with a bundle of legacy issues and an empty cash chest made the job even worse. Quick decision making without fear is a philosophy that should be at the core of all businesses that aspire to do well, yet what I found here when I landed with a thud almost a year back was an exact antithesis of this school of thought. The instant feeling was that this airline is waiting silently to pass away into oblivion, unsung without concern. And the underlying reason was what one expected - overemphasis on processes, reacting to symptoms and jumping to conclusions with absolutely no concern whatsoever for delivery, not because the people were not committed or inefficient but due to the all-pervading fear of being pinned down if any decision went even marginally wrong in hindsight. What an insane manner of handling commercial organizations!
The tendering process that we inherited from the british raj is the culprit. Why should I wonder, the process for purchasing potatoes be the same as for buying paintings or contracting for a hotel room or procuring a latest software or adding aircrafts to the fleet? The first thought therefore that comes to mind whenever something innovative is to be resorted to is how this shall be done through the conventional tendering process without the doer landing in a soup himself and avoidance therefore tends to provide solace. Perhaps this is the single reason behind the overarching presence of sub-standard infrastructure, goods and services that we almost always encounter in this nation. The decision making and contracting processes can be and should be overhauled and made simple if we aspire for progress and the silver lining is that there is no doubt about this aspiration in the India of today.
In simplification of processes, not merely flogging it lies the key to success. And let us begin with the tendering process for it has indeed become the bane of delivery in our nation.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Look around within the working environment and one shall find many who never really started or have given up at the slightest pretext. It is such attitude that is indeed the biggest drag in the forward march of organizations and also the nation.
The staff is bad : How common and how unfortunate is the oft heard rant of the senior blokes that if they had better men with them, they would have delivered. I am good and they are bad, I am honest and the rest are not, I am committed and others are not and more often than not – no one else is bothered about the organization. Sadly these are words uttered by the mediocres who aspire for positions, get them and yet never become worthy of them. Over thirty five years of service has convinced me that the root cause behind non deliverance is inadequate bureaucratic leadership.
There is no support : If I had enough support I would have done it. Unfortunately this penchant of relying heavily on support from the superiors has been carried to a ridiculous extent by almost all and sundry. The guy who seeks support from those above him actually rarely supports those who look upto him. It is almost akin to the hostel experience – I was ragged so I will rag, I was not looked after so why should I and so on and so forth. The go-getters however go ahead and do it nevertheless.
People are corrupt – Very often we paint with one black brush those who we work for and also work with. The widespread extent of corruption is indeed undenied yet the only way one can help clean this rut is neither by complaining nor castigating others but by being a crusader for the cause and at the same time carrying an unwavering focus on the objective to be achieved.
Inadequate funds – The failure to realize that money is the least of the issues unfortunately never dawns on most of us who start their careers with and also end up with almost a regular banter about inadequacy of funds, for want of which they believe they have been failing to deliver. Look around and witness the creation of empires literally from scratch by budding entrepreneurs of the yesteryears and even today. They never cribbed and in the process created wealth. That initiative is the first step to generate wealth rarely gets appreciated.
The boss is bad : This is rarely true and but not as often as it is made out to be. The presence of a few rotten apples cannot be wished away yet the realization that if one is a good boss, he also gets one, rarely gets appreciated.
Life is not fair : Having been treated in an unfair manner remains the biggest grouse of almost all blokes thronging the environment. It however rarely matters to them whether they have been fair or not in their dealing with all those who fall within their sphere of influence. And fairness after all is a matter of perception, often perceived wrongly.
The eternal pessimist : And one often bumps into many of them. That being fiercely optimist is often the only way to turnaround a really bad situation is often never believed and therefore rarely practiced. Like optimism builds itself many times over and in the process converts an impossible scenario into a possible one, pessimism attracts negativity at a much faster rate and often converts an already won battle into a lost one.
And lastly the misplaced notion that a position is merely for self-perpetuation and not a means to achieve an objective, a noble one at that, is so widespread that it is not at all funny. Almost everyone aspires for top slots, but unfortunately only for the power and pelf that goes with it, and the transient nature of these gains is appreciated only when they end, as all good times do but by then it is too late. Performing what the position expects from the incumbent is the only thing that has the power to give a lasting experience.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Air India, the national carrier of India is indeed on the way to emerge as the nation’s pride in days to come.
I always believed in two things – the inherent strength of the indian public sector and the inefficacy of what we look upon (or down) as the top management of these corporations. A misplaced belief in not trusting anyone other than the self is indeed the crucial factor behind the demise of many such jewels in the lap of the nation. And not knowing or not even attempting to know the tremendous latent power that human beings possess lies at the core. It is in this dismal scenario which has lasted over almost seven decades that one looks at the present national leadership as the brightest ray of hope ever to have been showered on the nation. And we have to be patient for it takes time to stem the decades of rot. Unfortunately while we seek patience for ourselves from others one does not display even a streak of it insofar as expectations from others are concerned. This realization gives me hope both for the national carrier as well as the nation. Great times are unfolding at the pace they can and should.
That Air Indians, even the commonest of them silently bore the blunt of being unfairly blamed for the debacle of the airline convinces me of their infinite resilience besides making me hopeful for the future. The plunge of the national carrier is indeed the handiwork of fate and individuals other than the rank and file, a plain fact left unrealized so far. And therefore my efforts to place facts on the table for I believe that acceptance of the ground realities is indeed the first step in the path to revival.
My very recent three day visit to the commercial capital of the country was a satisfying one. Interactions with the staff as well as the agents who give us business in both the passenger and cargo segments were fruitful and satisfying. That there are no absolute guarantees in commercial scenarios, and therefore taking risks rather that twiddling our thumbs for fear of the unknown or the vigilance is the only course of action open to us.
And the genuine emotional connect with the men that invariably brings out the best in them has no parallel. Emotions therefore came to the surface when the appointment letter was being handed over to the spouse of a deceased engineer. Even meeting hordes of staff who in me saw a faint row of hope for the beleaguered carrier are moments beset with emotions and strengthens the thought of laying down everything at the altar of humanity. What better feeling than to see the smiles on the faces of those one feels responsible for.
My earlier stints especially at the Madhya Pradesh Tourism, ITDC and Delhi division had all been emotionally charged moments. After all when one deals with human beings, it is all about happy moments, feelings for others and concern for humanity at large. And all this reinforced in me a belief that despite what the experts say, it is the men who make or mar an organization or the nation, it is the men who can create or destroy wealth and who can usher in happiness or gloom. Concern for the men therefore is the core issue, everything else thereafter merely falls in place.
Human nature is indeed the most complicated of sciences. While we fully well know what makes us happy or what we desire from others, we have been miserably failing in applying the same yardsticks when we deal with others. My only hope lies in my men finding the courage to be good to others and devoting their lives for the common good.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
One of the biggest issues staring at all those who are in the business of
running sarkari companies is how to efficiently and without collateral
damage, engage contractors for getting specific jobs done in a specified
timeframe or in other words entering into contracts. During the over three
and a half decades of working for the Sarkar I have been a hapless victim
on many occasions trying to fathom ways and means of engaging the right
contractor for the job on hand, without being judged in hindsight as
someone who favoured someone else with ulterior motives. For it is strange
but true that enthusiasm and aggression for delivery is rather almost
always misunderstood for an activity directed towards personal gains.
Equally strange is the enthusiasm displayed by various agencies
collectively defined as watchdogs to view a mistake or a deviation from
established rules and processes as an act of malafide deserving of
exemplary punishment so that all others who are watching from the sidelines
and maybe inclined to act and thereby commit mistakes are instantly
motivated into rank inaction.
The smart ones having realised the pitfalls of contracting and also the
fact that they are merely human and therefore prone to committing mistakes
have achieved excellence in the art of procrastination. And the contractual
file therefore keeps on going round and round in circles and why not: the
archaic process perhaps designed for purchasing basic necessities like
potatoes or maybe tomatoes is being utilised for purchasing everything
under the sun. The extent of damage that is being caused in the garb of
transparency and the need to have a system howsoever ridiculous it may be
is indeed beyond comprehension. Indeed if the emperor Shah Jehan also had
the compulsion of going through the tendering process for building the Taj Mahal,
this 7th wonder of the world would have remained confined to his dreams.
The day I witnessed in the early nineties that a machine costing almost a
quarter of a billion has to be kept idling for want of a spare part that
may be costing less than a tenth of a million, only because the tendering
process has to be religiously followed, whatever respect I may have had for
contractual mechanisms being followed in the sarkar, evaporated. And I also
started questioning the first canon of financial propriety that our
professor of finance grilled into us during our foundation course at the
staff college, that government money has to be spent as if it's is our own.
What bullshit - one does not tender for purchasing refrigerators and one
invariably and quite often speculates with his own money. Try that with
government funds and then watch the fun for a lifetime maybe from behind
Gross national wastage cannot and should not be overlooked in favour of
following some silly rules and processes originally made by whites to lord
over us, for trusting the natives was in no way one of their compulsions.
Strange it is that even after almost seven decades of being a free nation,
our systems and processes are mired in layers and layers of mistrust.
Yet no one complains and surprisingly most of us from the bureaucracy
either do not feel the need for a change or worse still defend the
indefensible and valiantly fight for status quo. And why not, a system that
does not differentiate between horses and donkeys obviously fails to
provide encouragement to perform. Rare are those who trudge along
nevertheless and that is the tragedy of this nation that we have been
repeatedly told was once upon a time even the envy of the gods.
There are two things to be done. First is to rewrite the tendering rules
and processes so that goods and services of the requisite quality and
quantity can be made available timely and at the right value. And the
second is to follow what is already laid down - treat malafide as such and
not to be equated with not towing the straight line in so far as following
the laid down rules and processes is concerned. And they can be done
easily, there is no rocket science involved. Perhaps a tremendous penchant
for deliverance would be of essence in ridding this nation of the scourge
of tendering processes. The new government is indeed like the light at the end
of the tunnel and we have to merely keep moving forward regardless of the
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Air India is now slowly getting back on track, yet it is still miles to go before one can relax and watch the planes fly, albeit without the need to constantly worrying and fretting.
Eight months at the helm of the national carrier has been a hectic affair. With almost everything in disarray, be it operations or engineering, public image or commercial, finance or even personnel, it was fairly obvious even to a novice like me that what this organization indeed lacked was that one magical word “leadership”. I wonder why the powers that be never appreciate this basic realization, here there and everywhere. And therefore the never ending search for solutions that always failed to deliver.
Earlier I always believed that the great indian railways was the mother of all bureaucracies, but not any longer. Here at the national carrier the ridiculousness of the process and the diehard belief therein has been carried to a mind boggling extent. And the gross failure to look after the human resource while at the same time cursing the organization for its failure to look after oneself is by itself a joke.
The market is there for the taking, yet procrastination that the company has of late come to specialize in has ensured that the failure to make hay while the sun shines is always delved after the time has passed. Our recent successes in all the new flights that we mounted has strengthened my belief in the power of the gut and risk taking, an art in which all the successful industrialists of the nation have been excelling in since time immemorial. Yet we never learnt so far!
The tremendous potential of an individual, that is often explained as “kundalini jagran” in all ancient hindu texts has also never been understood. How can an organization that loses no opportunity in deriding its own men and making them unhappy, find faults with them for lack of deliverance is what I have always failed to fathom. And it is not merely air india, similar has been my experience though on a lower scale during my stints with the lifeline of the nation or the hospitality majors at the national and state levels. Perhaps the inability to apply on one’s own self, the rules of the game that we often expect others to comply with is unfortunately the reason.
It makes me sad when the common employee is often blamed for the ills of the organization, in this case too, whereas the real reason for the debacle lies elsewhere, in my opinion on the head honcho. An organization is only as good or as bad as the head honcho, everything else is merely a symptom. A merger that really never happened and in the process resulted in a chaotic situation is at the back of all ills that we are currently witness to. And the bunch of people manning the top slots left no stone unturned in ensuring that their focus does not shift from their own selves and simultaneously shifting the blame to the men at large, an act in which they have been successful so far........
The role of the watchdogs is also really what dogs do. They wait and watch and jump at the slightest hint of movement and in the process create an environment where movement if any is at the peril of the mover. How can a outside agency be entrusted with the task of ensuring probity in public life, it is simply the job of the executive and if he is lacks integrity, the organization does not have a future either way. Unfortunately while in most of the peripheral areas, we continue to imbibe the western culture, we conveniently look the other way when it comes to imbibing their style of governance.
And those watching on the sidelines and passing comments or giving ideas have to be many and they are. Many of them may not have excelled in their own sphere of activities while in saddle, yet profess to know how others should be doing their job. My steadfast refusal to be the medium through which others settle scores is borne out of the conviction to run the organization my way and deliver, not how the fence sitters perceive it should be.
The mess is by no stretch of imagination a minor one, yet it has to and shall be sorted out. This time consuming exercise has to be gone through and the price would have to be paid, either way. Turning around is not an attempt, it is a foregone conclusion, despite the plethora of handicaps and with this thought at the back of our minds, we are moving ahead.
Monday, April 11, 2016
The uphill battle continues. What really foxes me is the mess and the amount of indecision at all levels that must have gone into almost on a continuous basis to achieve the grand mess that we are saddled with today at the national carrier.
Yes it is true that the typical staid way of functioning must have helped a lot, as that alone guarantees maintenance of status quo and hefty premium on non-deliverance. Strange it may sound but in the PSU jungles, it is not the tiger who is the most feared but the cunning fox that surreptitiously appears out of nowhere to claim its prey.
Addressing the young budding management students at the legendary IIT Delhi recently, I was literally at pains to explain to them the unlimited bundle of power that a human being is, yet that power and the potential remains untapped almost forever, with rare exceptions of course. The system that everyone criticizes and mourns for, yet accepts and perpetuates has a tremendous crippling effect. Endless debates and deliberations and yet remaining indecisive over even petty matters is the hallmark of the system.
It is a fact that the new government is trying its level best to pull the nation out of the accumulated mess of almost seventy odd years. No new scam hitting the nation since the present dispensation took over is at stark contrast with the legacy that they inherited. There is stress on integrity and value systems and interference is almost absent. Honest intentions are also conspicuous by their shining presence. While we are indeed witness to good strides in governance and development, yet the fact remains that a quantum growth and improvement would be possible only if the machinery radically changes the way it has been working. If it keeps working in the way it has been all along in the past, we would keep on getting the results we had been getting in the past. A total overhaul is required. Simplification is the name of the game. Things have to be made simple to happen and they shall.
The role of the check-posts, namely the vigilance and audit setups has to be reviewed and drastically curtailed. Malafide has to be handled with an iron hand, mistakes need to be merely glossed over. Trust in human beings has to be brought back and also the realization that if mere punishments could reform, crime would have hit a new low in India by now.
The recent facebook post of the coal secretary in which he has laid the blame for the lack of initiative at the feet of the five C’s is like hitting the nail bang on the head. That the 5C’s including the CVC and the CAG have succeeded in curbing initiative is a statement of fact that I have been living almost all my life. Initiative for an officer working within the governmental machinery is a personal risk for which he may end up bearing the cross all his life. And many therefore ask - why risk it, when a life devoid of initiative provides the same personal comforts sans pressures and also keeps the door open for elevation to the highest levels. Premium is there, but only for doing nothing.
Process reform is the key. Almost everyone appreciates it but hardly understands the same. It is indeed all about simplification of the decision making and contractual processes that swamp the governmental machinery. Unfortunately over the decades, in the garb of transparency and curbing corruption, almost all processes have been complicated to ridiculous levels. And therefore most of us who are not satisfied with merely twiddling our thumbs, are often at a loss for how to proceed forward and do things. And having worked in almost all sectors of the machinery, I can say with the courage of conviction that this maze is omnipresent.
The maze has to lift for the jewel of the east to rapidly emerge from the shadows.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
My stints with three public sector organizations, spanning almost a decade have made me experienced enough if not exactly wiser. Reinforced I am definitely with the thought that PSU’s have an inherent strength that other commercial organizations devoid of governmental backing apparently lack, yet the thought that if left free and with an absolute clarity of goal and purpose, conquering the skies would indeed be a child’s play always lurks at the back of the mind.
Very early forties is a fairly young age to be a public sector chief but that is what I was when asked to take over the reins of the mammoth tourism conglomerate, the Indian Tourism Development Corporation. Faced with a loss making entity on one hand and a system hell bent on getting rid of commercial entities from its fold, the job on hand was definitely not an easy one. Yet gaping mouths is what we encountered when the entire team rose as a goliath to rid the entity of its loss making traits. The spectacular growth, almost impossible to achieve even in the best of the private sectors left almost everyone speechless. And then I paid the price.
Then came the three stints with the tourism major of the wonderful state of Madhya Pradesh. While the state rose over all others in its successful quest for being the numero uno, the rapid turnaround of the commercial properties, and there were many, surprised almost everyone including myself. The ferocity with which the men (and women) of the state tourism development corporation shrugged off the cloak of ignominy and inefficiency made even the private sector speechless. Ofcourse the proactive support of the entire state machinery made the job easier, yet the fact remains that what really happened was our dipping into the inner strengths of the public sector that was almost given up as an also ran.
And now the third and the most challenging, the national carrier that also appears keen to shrug away its cloak of years of rot and neglect. It is now also certain that this entity would soon surge ahead of all its competitors in the not so distant future.
Towards the end of all my postings, I am often asked to put in place systems that would last forever and in the process enable the organization to keep its head above water perpetually and one always remains at pains to explain that such a system is not yet born, nor it shall ever for leadership is a role that can never be substituted by systems or inanimate objects. Yet the expectation of utopia remains.
Yet some stability can be brought about in the functioning of the public sector undertakings only if the dragnet of vigilance, audit and complex processes in the garb of transparency are loosened. The fear of committing a mistake and then getting mauled by the machinery is what keeps most of the public sector mandarins away from the path of decision making and even bringing clarity in their desires. And if decisions are not made in a commercial organization, or if safe play is always resorted to, the outcome can be easily fathomed by even a grocery shop owner.
Why performance or the end result alone should not be a criterion to judge an organization or its mandarins is what amazes me. Why even petty decisions or acts are microscopically examined without a speck of a concern for the overall performance is beyond comprehension especially for those whose primary concern remains overall growth and results. And finally why should one’s actions be subject to examination by someone who may be less competent, less honest and less committed really foxes me.
While beginning my career, the professor of finance at the staff college professed the canons of financial propriety, the foremost of which was – spend government money as if it is your own. And since then I have been wondering why a tender process has to be initiated for purchasing a sofa for the office whereas one simply makes the best buy off the shelf for a requirement at home.
As long as our focus remains on the process coupled with a thought process that everyone is dishonest unless proven otherwise, we shall remain where we are and shall keep on cursing all public organizations. The focus has to firmly shift to delivery if we do not desire to perish. Mere utterance of words “Perform or Perish” will never be enough.