Don't blame people, blame the culture

Ashish Arora | Updated on November 15, 2017

No one wants to fail. They just need to discover the will to succeed. (Above) A ‘snake boat’ team preparing for a boat race in the backwaters of Alapuzha, Kerala.   -  PTI

Ashish Arora founder and MD, HR Anexi, and former director, Executive Education, ISB.

Managements must ensure that their dreams are not theirs alone

In the chain of testing for recruitment, key things one looks at are: behaviour, skills, personality, beliefs and values. The last one, which is as critical as any, is often forgotten.

Another aspect that gets overlooked is beliefs. Beliefs give people the will to do. Without will, skills are of no consequence.

No one goes to college to fail. No one wants to fail at work. And no company wants to stunt its own growth. Here are some examples born of our firsthand experience, on how one can de-envelop the will of individuals and teams to help them succeed.

‘Worker ant' gets wings

The job profile of an assistant manager at a software services company of 2,000 people with around 15 years of experience, was to attend to hardware and software issues on employees' computers while his designation suggested something else. We asked him to finish the sentence: ‘My life is like a ___'. He said ‘ant'. We probed.

Hailing from a family of modest means (his father had been a peon), his diploma from an ITI had brought him this far. He explained, ‘I am small fry, but I keep trying'.

The challenge in such cases is to convert the limiting beliefs into empowering beliefs. We asked him, “Can you be an ant with wings?” He has several certifications today, is pursuing an MCA, and is the head of the IT department of the company. He is 37 years old now, and views his future in the organisation differently.

Bottlenecks are always on top

From over Rs 2,000 crore in March 2011, a company with play in wind energy will more than double its turnover this year. It ‘willed' itself to move beyond the routine single digit growth.

When we asked the top management of the company what had held them back earlier, they said it was the people. The team was simply tuned to grow at that rate, they said. I showed them a bottle of mineral water: bottlenecks are always at the top.

This company had a corporate team, factories that made the blades and an arm to handle towers on which the blades were mounted. There were huge communication issues. Scepticism and lack of trust were omnipresent in the different silos of the organisation. Most importantly, the belief that one could grow at a far higher rate was missing. And the management was blaming it all on the people.

Year after year, growth targets were set, of which the teams achieved 60 to 70 per cent. Bonuses were handed out nevertheless, giving people no reason to want to achieve their targets. The management was setting them up for failure. The higher growth was the dream of the management — not that of the team.

The question ‘How can we grow a 100 per cent?' indicated a limiting belief that we had to change. We started by making people talk to each other. We started work in January. In July, 75 people walked on ‘fire' — they wrote on wood, burnt the wood, then stamped them out. They huddled and took an oath: they would not take home bonuses if they did not meet targets. And the new targets were arrived at through discussions.

The factory had a capacity of 1,600 blades a year, but was making less than 600. The towers were outsourced, and that capacity could be scaled up. The corporate team was sitting on an order book of over 5,000 units. They had simply never communicated with each other. The fortunes of the company changed when they did, and started believing that they could.

Letting go for the team

In family-run businesses, we find that often, the management doesn't want to let go of certain things — such as power, decision making and financial control. They need to, for their employees to take ownership of dreams.

A decades old company involved in fertilisers is set to move from a turnover of Rs 150 crore last year for the unit to double that this year. In three to four months of commencing the assignment, we moved the MD out of day-to-day operations. It's the same team, but they don't wait for the MD's approval today. As I say this, he's in Indonesia evaluating acquisition of mines. In the last three months, sideways integration has happened with some acquisitions, like that of an engineering company in Madhya Pradesh. It has the same MD who thought his factory would collapse if he stepped out of office.

Believers and non-believers

We started work on one of India's largest technology companies in 2008. One of its units accounted for around $400 million in business. A plan to raise this unit to do business worth $3 billion in five years was chalked up. Half the leadership team of 45 to 50 people didn't believe it could be done.

There were believers and there were non-believers. Our job was not to thrust belief on the latter, but to get the two groups talking. The unit closed 2011 at over a billion dollars. It will grow by another 50 per cent by March.

The management should listen

When we met them in January 2009, the professionally educated couple running a plastics company of Rs 30 crore had started thinking.

They were delighted when they touched Rs 50 crore the next year. They grew by 50 per cent the year after.

This year, the same set of people, led by the same duo, will close at over Rs 200 crore in turnover.

Until the transformation, the seven-member leadership team was nothing but an execution team. We started involving them in the visioning process. And when we did the meetings, we told the MD and his wife not to speak. The team was speaking for the first time in over 15 years. It was time to listen. The couple later told me that it was the worst two days of their life, but realised it was worth it.

The truth was that the entire leadership team wanted to grow. They wanted their organisation to become much larger than it was.

The team believed that from Rs 50 crore, the company could touch Rs 150 crore, aided by product innovation and share of exports growing from 30 per cent to 70 to 80 per cent. Once we knew there was will amongst the team, we found the skill gaps and filled them up.

We've been coaching the MD and his wife for some time now. The wife's decibel level caused fear more than anything else earlier; that has come down now. They've become far more professional with hiring, and most importantly, with the way they treat their people.

( Turnover figures are approximate. As told to The New Manager)

Published on January 08, 2012

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