The writing of this blog became possible as I had so much of leisure time during this self-imposed ‘house arrest’ thanks to Corona.
I have been a part of the Indian Dairy Industry for over 45 years now . I spent the initial two decades of my work life with the premiere institution ‘National Dairy Development Board’, the founder-Chairman of which was no one else but the legendary Dr.Verghese Kurien, the Milk man of India & Father of White Revolution.
My home state is Bihar. Here, March-April is the beginning of lean season when milk production starts receding but the market demand increases thus leaving a gap in demand and supply. But this year, because of the devastating spread of CORONA virus, it has put a brake to a great extent on the movement of milk from the point of production (villages) to the point of processing & marketing.
The situation which has been explained above made me to think of avenues for the farmers so that the milk produced can be sent for marketing. I happened to call a gentleman who is currently holding a very senior position in one of the prestigious Dairy companies of Eastern India. This senior Dairy Technologist, who hails from South, was in his early career an Assistant Manager in a Co-operative Dairy organisation of Bihar where I had joined in the position of Managing Director. It was early 1990s. The technologist whom I am referring to was then a very shy and simple gentleman but very much duty-bound. Talking to him after such a long gap reminded me of an incidence which happened during the period we worked together.
I believe, the incident that I am penning down will be of interest to our ‘Future Managers. It is a classic case and one of the novel ways in which an ‘effective manager’ can handle a tough situation to straighten quite a few hurdles in a single stroke.
This officer whom I mentioned earlier was the Section in-charge and in his section he had one class IV employee who was habitually late in reporting for duty. The section in-charge used to remind the habitual offender every now and then to report for duty on time.
The officer kept marking ‘late’ on the attendance sheet against the name of that erring employee. But no improvement was noticed in the behaviour of that employee. On the contrary, it was reported that the same employee used to provoke other employees also to not only to come late but idle away their time and misbehave with seniors.
This continued for nearly a month and then this incidence happened.
One morning this employee let us call him R quietly entered the chamber of his section officer in a Bollywood style and bolted the door from inside. He took out a dagger, a sharp weapon, and pointing it at the officer asked him to mark him present and ‘regularise’ his attendance sheet or else face the consequences. The officer got frightened but somehow managed to get that employee out of the room.
This officer, as I mentioned earlier, was of a shy nature and did not mix much with others including his peers. This is how this ‘incident ‘ went unnoticed for quite a few days. When employee R , noticed that he has not been summoned by any senior manager for his misadventure, he started boasting as if he has now become the unchallenged ‘gang-head’ of such type of employees.
In the process, he told many of his gang-mates about this “incident”.
For the benefit of future managers let me state that to be an “effective Manager” one has to have a very strong Intelligence net-work.
This I firmly believed in and thus I had people properly groomed who pretended as if they were not on my side but the fact was just opposite.
This strategy really worked for me and particularly for this episode.
I came to know about this episode, a few days later, when employee R shared the happenings with one of his gang-mates who in fact was my confidant.
Getting to know from the horses mouth
Generally, the Section-in-charge used to leave office only after I had left my office in the evening or seek my permission before leaving. On that particular day I sent my PA to convey to the officer to keep all the information of his section ready because the Managing Director will review the same sometime in the evening.
This I did with the purpose that he would keep himself ready to meet the Managing Director or else a sudden call from me may up-set him. That particular day I left my office a little early. My residence was in the campus just next to Dairy premises. After a while, I checked from the security and when found that everyone has left the office, I again went to my office chamber.
My chamber was in the administrative building whereas that officer had his office in the Dairy plant premises. On reaching my office, there was no one around, not even my personal staff. I was all alone. Then I called that officer over phone.
On his arrival, I started with just usual chat like how he manages his meals, how his parents are and when is he planning to go home etc. etc. I tried to make him comfortable. Once he was comfortable with me I gradually started checking about his official activities including the difficulties, if any, that he may be facing. Even after all this I found that he was reluctant to talk about that employee R .
I had to start talking about that employee R but he kept on simply nodding but after a while he gradually started opening up. He then became emotional and with a choked voice started narrating about what all had happened that morning. He also told me that the employee in question threatened him of dire consequences in case the officer shared this episode with the Managing Director. Anyway, I assured him of all support and protection and not to fear at all. I also asked him to give in writing all this so that I would take disciplinary action if required. He, I found from his expression, felt relieved and assured me that he will submit a report the very next day.
Inner Dynamics of the organisation
Before going any further, let me share with you some details of the inner dynamics of the organisation I was working for.
However, in my mind I was clear that this Threat we were facing was in fact an opportunity knocking at the door to set things right. But how ?
~ Composition of work force
We had people from different backgrounds. Some were from the erstwhile Bihar State Dairy Corporation which was put under liquidation by the Government. When ‘Operation Flood’ programme was launched by ‘NDDB’ to replicate Anand’ pattern of Dairy Cooperatives in Bihar , it was one of the conditions that the State Dairy Corporation will be put under liquidation and the employees of the Corporation would be screened. Those who are found suitable, would be given appointment by the newly formed Bihar State Milk Federation and those who are not made a part of the Federation will be absorbed in other departments of the state Government. So, this was one set of employees.
•Another set of employees were mostly freshers appointed by the State Milk Federation on behalf of different District/Regional Milk Unions.
Yet another set was of employees was working through labour contractors. Among them some were on daily- wage basis and others were working on piece-rate basis.
This was not the end …. There were people though working on the pay-role of the Milk Union but were not being paid a regular salary. Instead, they were being paid a fixed amount on monthly basis.
And finally, there was a handful of employees from the NDDB and I was one of them. I was appointed as the Managing Director initially on ‘lien’ which meant that I had the option to go back to my parent organisation NDDB any time but before the lien period is over.
I do not want to go into the details but I must mention here that except for the last group, all other groups had some or the other grudge against the situation they were experiencing.
I wanted to take action as I was sniffing an opportunity. But how? I had to take into consideration the inner dynamic of the organisation as also the prevailing political scene in the area.
Those days the district where this Co-operative Dairy organisation was situated had seven Assembly seats and one Parliament seat. And, one would perhaps not believe that on all the seven plus one seats, elected representatives were not only affiliated but were also active members of the CPI.
No wonder that those days this district was popularly called the ‘Leningrad’ of the state. Many of the duly elected Board members of the Milk Union also had CPI affiliation. Even the Board Chairman was a member of CPI. And this was not the end, let me tell here that the “leader of the opposition” in the Milk Union Board, who happened to be my worst critic, was also a member of CPI’s local polit-bureau.
The reader would now very well understand that most of the class III & IV employees, being locals, were under the influence of CPI. A good number of suppliers, transporters, even DCS members and their office-bearers had the same political leaning.
And to top it all, the employee R in question was also a political activist and was being openly supported by all the “people’s representatives”. The employee R was a frequent visitor to the village residence of the Chairman. The employee R would speak loose about me saying; “साहब बहुत हीरो बनते हैं, इनको एक साल पूरा होने के पहले भगा दिया जायेगा, जैसा कि पीछे हो चुका है” (MD behaves like a hero, but he would be kicked-out before he completes a year, as has already happened in the past).
What needs to be done has to be done
My lien with NDDB was for a period of one year.
There were many factors other than inner dynamics of the organisation and the political situation I am not narrating those as those were not that important. However, from the above narrative about PEOPLE & POLITICAL SITUATION, one can very well visualise that how difficult it was on my part to take any strong action against employee R.
I would now give account, step by step, how and what strong action we resorted to for getting rid of this erring employee. In very first place, I planned every action on my own and also carefully thought of the likely difficulties and threats that I would face and also ways for their redressal. I then identified the employees with whom I would share my planning and also get their opinion. I started calling the identified employees, not in groups but individually, at my residence in the late evening. My purpose of calling them one by one was to keep only those people informed who were to be involved in the ‘operation’. A manager should also take note of the point that at times it becomes necessary that important and grave issues can not be discussed in a group but only one to one.
This way one can avoid conflicts and also avoid leakage of the secrecy. My meeting with identified people continued till late that night and all identified employees, mostly officers were individually told what exactly they are expected to do. The strategy I adopted was to allow the identified employees to associate as many employees and workers of their respective section as they deem fit but they all should be their confidants. This I did with the intention of making them also feel big and important. I would mention here again that the Chief has to have a strong net-work of not only intelligence but counter – intelligence as well. I kept taking feed-back from this net-work. Let me also write here that under intelligence net-work I had people who were not even employees.
They could be persons from your vendors, transporters, contractors and so on. The Chief has to have the KUNDALI available generally for all those who are associated with the organisation in one or the other way. The saying goes “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER” and is hundred percent true.
I feel, if I do not write a few of the incidences which happened here in the past, it would not be fair on my part and will not be a justice with this case-study. Let me start with what had happened with my immediate predecessor.
He was a very accomplished officer with track record of a ‘good manager’ coupled with a strong socio-political background. He was upright as well. But what happened with him was most unprecedented and unbelievable. It was perhaps the worst thing to happen with an organisation head.
The ‘place’ where this cooperative Dairy organisation is located, was besides many more things, also notoriously famous as a ‘den’ of criminals. Unfortunately, the most dreaded criminal of the state was a native of that place. He had good hold in the working of the Dairy also.A good number of workers, suppliers, contractors etc. were either his blood relation or were under his influence. It was this dreaded criminal who, for teaching a good lesson to my predecessor with the intention of establishing his ‘dominance, i.e. absolute power’ in the working of the Dairy managed to kidnap him, I mean my predecessor. Good God, the Almighty was kind enough that after few days my predecessor was back home without any physical injury. But one can very well visualise the impact this unfortunate happening left primarily on the morale of the employees. It was very deep and long lasting.
To add to the crisis, the employee on whom this case-study is being written, happened to be a cousin of that dreaded criminal.
Since I do not want to undermine the main focus, I now avoid writing details of many such small yet serious incidents. But let me tell that one of the big reasons of such unfortunate happenings was ‘lack of cohesion and understanding’ among the employees.
Now back to the main focus …… next morning every thing appeared just normal. All employees for the first shift, which starts at 6 AM, in the Dairy plant were in position. Things were moving as a matter of routine. Office-staff also started coming around 9.15 in the morning because the office hours begin at 9.30 AM and end at 5.30 PM. I also, as usual, came walking, as I did always, and stood near the main gate. Talked to the Security commander, a retired Army officer, and then moved towards my office. Talked to all those people over intercom whom I had included in the team for the ensuing OPERATION. I found that the things were in proper order. Now the real drama was to start. The employee whom we had planned to take to task, a habitual late comer, used to come always after 9.30 in the morning. So, at 9.30 I rang the Security Commander and told him that he would personally ensure that the employee concerned is not given entry in any situation. Little over 9.30 am the employee R , as usual, in his unruly way tried to enter the gate but he was not allowed. In the mean time, I informed all the concerned persons to come over to the main entrance. I also came out of my chamber and moved towards the main gate. By this time, like a wild fire, the news of this employee R not being allowed entry had flashed. My personal staff requested me not to go out but I ignored their advice and reached the main gate. They also came along. By this time a big crowd had gathered, both inside and outside the main gate. Huge number of the supporters of employee R were trying to enter the gate with him but they were not allowed. I patted the security staff and reminded that no one should be given entry. Before I write further, let me share that with the apprehension of getting our planning leaked, I had not informed the police, though the police station was hardly 100 meters away. But one of the team members was told to inform the police once the drama starts. And this is what happened. I knew that local police would not do much but as a Chief it was required of me.
We pretended as if all this is a sudden development because of that very employee R who when asked to open his hand bag he started misbehaving with the security staff. This was true also.
Usually he would not get his hand bag checked but today the security staff insisted that he must get his hand bag checked. This he took as his insult and thus the real drama started. His supporters who had already reported for duty and were inside busy with their routine work also came out of the factory and offices and started soughting slogans like नहीं चलेगी – नहीं चलेगी….हर जोड़ जुल्म के टक्कर से ….. and मुर्दाबाद-मुर्दाबाद etc. They stopped work and the dairy plant operation thus came to a stand-still.
Then the flash strike
That was something we wanted to happen. On the other side of the main gate, i.e. on the road, even the passers by found something unusual and amusing therefore became spectators and this way the crowd started increasing. People from villages around also crowded the place and all-together a big chaos was created. For us, the team which had planned the operation things were moving the way it was expected. By this time the message had spread far and wide. The leaders, Board members started pouring in. They all wanted to enter the premises. But we had already planned that who all would be allowed. No small-timers were allowed to enter inside. The Board members were allowed entry. The Board members were soon surrounded by the employees supportive of employee R. We did not pay any attention to the Board members. I rather avoided them.
This we did with the intention so that people around see that attention is not being paid to the Board members. I tried to make them realise that in staff matters, it is the management whose role has to be decisive.
We had not made any sitting arrangements and it was also done with a purpose. The purpose was to make every one aware that the management would not entertain, who ever he may be, if he is a supporter of the erring employees. Our strategy this time was ‘now or never’. When the local leaders were not allowed entry then gradually the elected peoples’ representatives started coming. Many of the MLAs and also the MP came. They were allowed entry. As a part of our strategy, we then asked the employees who were present inside the premises that whoever is willing, can go out of the premises. As expected, many of them left the premises to show their allegiance with the trouble creators. A few of the employees remained inside. Now, as part of our game, one of the members of our dominant coalition took all the employees who did no go out, to the Dairy plant premises. Within minutes the plant operation resumed. As planned, a good number of office staff also supported in plant operation. This was then being spread purposely by people who were in support of management that they all together can run the dairy plant. On the other hand, Board members and the leaders who all had come were trying to talk to me but I myself was keeping busy with the team discussing the action plan. Had there been some other occasion, all who came would have been served with dairy-fresh lassi and sweets but today there was none even to enquire about water.
Things were moving the way we envisaged. This was a big boost-up for the ‘team-operation’ but not for those who were on the other side and they were getting desperate. Fence-sitters, most of whom had moved out of the premises, started seeking permission to come inside.
I then came to the main entrance with my team and under full view of the leaders who were inside and keenly watching the happenings, I allowed the fence-sitters to come inside. All who wanted to come were allowed in and straightway, with their guilty gestures, went inside the factory premises and without any hassel resumed their work.
In other words, the STRIKE they had announced did not click.
Time to take the bull by the horn
The strike did not click and then the time for management to confront and assert
Very-very unfortunate and unusual on the part of the leaders as they felt small which was very much evident from their faces.
Now was my time to turn to them. I moved towards them and within seconds they surrounded and started hurling hard words at me. They wanted me to take every one back who had gone out. But, as per my plan, I straightway told that whosoever has not returned in the first instance would not be allowed to enter now. So, the tug-of-war now started between the leaders representing the erring employees and the management on the other side. For the first time, I found that on this particular issue the Board Chairman and the opposition leader in the Board were unanimous in taking all the erring employees back and allow them to resume their duty.
For that matter, the entire Board, I mean here that all the elected representatives on the Board, without any exception, were of the view that all erring employees should be allowed to resume their work. But even after their great persuation, I did not give-up. Now was the turn of the leaders, the duly elected peoples representatives, few of the MLAs and also the MP of that constituency.
They started showing their might through their words but I was determined for two things – one was not to loose my cool and another, not to come under their pressure, what may come. They tried to terrorise me by citing the past happenings, including that of kidnapping. But I did not buzz at all. For them it was an issue of their prestige and image which they thought that they would lose if I do not buzz. On the other side, for me the issue of smooth running of the organisation, which was a bread-winner of thousands of families, was foremost. Added to it, the image of the cadre I belonged to, i.e. NDDB was also not less important. It would not be out of place here to write that while leaving NDDB, my boss had asked me that whether I will return back after my period of lien with NDDB is over. My reply was simply NO. And I feel proud in putting here that I lived to my words.
Ok, let me get back to the tug-of-war what was going-on. Finding that their threats were futile, the peoples representatives then asked me to put in my papers because I have failed to manage the Milk Union in a way it should have been. I found that the Board Chairman and the members were simply mute spectators. Now, I really started getting up-set. I, all of a sudden, started shouting , all intentional, and told them that I will get big locks and you all together put it on the entrance of this dairy premises. But, remember, I will not just end up there. I and all my team members will start telling people in the entire area as to how your leaders are bent upon closing this Dairy like they did with many other industries around.
Now, it was I who started threatening them that for a hand-ful of erring employees you are trying to create a chaos and build pressure on me to take them back. This really worked. Their tone then unexpectedly changed. They rather appeared polite. They came in a persuasive mode. But their issue remained the same, to take all people back to work. I said them to wait for a while so that I can take the opinion of all my team members. I, in the meantime, asked my PA to arrange for some chairs and also tea and refreshment for them. I then proceeded to my office chamber. My team members followed me. All my fellow members were almost blushing. We also had tea after this marathon race. We then discussed that now how to wind up this episode. I played here only as of a Moderator. The consensus was to take back all the workers but for that rouge. I also agreed to this. This made my team members feel that it was their victory, not of the Chief alone.
Later, I added that those who are willing to come back should sign a bond that in future they would not indulge in any such activity which is harmful for the organisation. I also put one more condition that every bond will be countersigned by another five such workers who had participated in to-day’s unauthorised strike. So, after all such decisions at our end we went out to meet the people who were anxiously awaiting to know from us the verdict. As expected, there was some reaction because we were very clear on not taking back that employee R . Some arguments and discussions took place and finding no alternative, they finally agreed to our suggestion, rather a verdict of the management.