delivered this address at the Seminar of the National HRD Netwrok’s South Gujarat
Chapter on Feb 25, 2012 at Bharuch. This is an edited version.
Peter Drucker said it all: Create Learning
begin the discussion, let me say that Peter Drucker’s Theory of Business holds
good even today. Just in case I sound very academic to you, let me mention what
Peter Drucker said. He said ‘every organisation is built and run on a set of
assumptions about markets, customers, competitors, value perception and so on.
When those assumptions are in harmony with the external reality there are
conditions for growth and success. When there is a mismatch, the seeds of
crisis are sown.’
message is clear. If you want to run your business successfully, first reflect
on your assumptions about everything in business, have clear understanding of
the reality and ensure that there is a match between the two. Everybody knows
that this is easily said than done.
Drucker just stopped short of saying that the organisations need to be
‘learning organisations’ in order to be successful. Peter Senge coined that
word. We know that a learning organisation has the capacity to adapt and
change. It actually takes Drucker’s thought forward. It is important because it
also shows us a way of how to prepare our organisations for future.
Learning Organisations Create a Shared Vision
first hallmark of a learning organisation is a shared vision. Much has been
said on this subject so I am not going to talk about it except pointing out
some wonderful exercise done by State Bank of India’s Chairman Mr OP Bhatt.
screened the movie ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’ for his employees. Now you will
notice that the word Bagger Vance is phonetically so close to the word Bhagwan.
This is not without reason. This is a story based on Bhagwad-Gita itself. This
movie is about two persons - one is a golfer but he has lost his swing, or in
cricketing terms, he is out of form, and the other is his caddy, who doubles up
as a guide. Mr Bhatt used this effectively to convey the point that State bank
of India is out of sync with business requirements and needs to get its act
together. That was a very interesting way to share the reality and share a
vision to get people to subscribe to it.
Learning Organisations Create Opportunities for
Reflection and Dialogue
second hallmark of a learning organisation is that the people discard old ways
of thinking which they use for solving their problems. I am reminded of the
report in the Times of India on Jan 7. I will read out a part of the news
report. It has the statements of two MDs of auto companies, Maruti Suzuki and
Toyota. I invite you to listen carefully and note the difference.
we go - ‘Maruti Suzuki which lost 83,000 units in sales -
worth around Rs 2500 crore - due to the labour unrest that hit its operations
last year, is clear that part of the problem was a communication gap between
the workers and the management. "I hope the workers in Manesar understand
that an internal union better represents their interests," said Maruti MD Shinzo Nakanishi. While the strike hit
Maruti's sales and profitability, its parent was clear in how it viewed the
problem. "Suzuki has a lot of experience handling strikes in Japan and elsewhere,"
said Nakanishi. "If a market is growing these problems are not possible to
avoid and every company will face this kind of situation. How quickly you
handle the issue is important." Remember
what Peter Drucker talked – he talked about assumptions about everything
including how to manage conflicts. Do the remarks of Maruti Suzuki’s MD show
that he has learnt anything from the two strikes that happened in succession?
The same news report also
quotes Mr Vikram Kirloskar, Vice Chairman of Toyota Kirloskar. Remember that
Toyota also had their share of the labour strife. Here is the relevant part – ‘Said Vikram Kirloskar, Toyota Kirloskar Motor vice chairman:
"We're trying to improve communication with team members and instil
ownership in the company. When we started out, we ended up with fresh hands and
failed to understand their demographic and personal requirements. That's why we
had labour problems in the first plant but the second plant the going has been
smooth. We have promoted career development and ensured a mix of experienced
and new people." Don’t the remarks of
Toyota Kirloskar’s Vice Chairman show that his organisation has learnt
the big point about a learning organisation. People must examine their ways of
thinking, and assumptions; they must discard old ways of thinking which they
use for solving their problems. Toyota seems to have got it right, Maruti
Suzuki is yet to learn. At this stage you might ask me how to get people to
examine their ways of thinking, and assumptions; and make corrections? This is
a valid question. Let us discuss some answers to it.
are two aspects about any change which are so vital – the first is about the
culture. You are aware that Toyota faced a big crisis in Aug 2009. A Toyota
Lexus went out of control and resulted in death of a family. That resulted in
recalling several thousand vehicles and tremendous cost to Toyota. The book
‘Toyota Under Fire’ recounts this story and culls out lessons for managers.
This is what the authors say, I am quoting them:
‘The chief questions to ask
yourself about how your company will respond in a crisis are not about
contingency plans and policies, but about your culture and your people. Have
you created a culture that rewards transparency and accepts responsibility for
mistakes? Have you created a culture that encourages people to take on
challenges and strive for improvement? Have you created a culture that values
people and invests in their capabilities? Have you created a culture that
prioritises the long term? Most attempts to change during a crisis fail.’
culture will promote or prevent learning and adapting. We as HR managers must
focus on developing culture. That task is not easy. It is now clear that the
language determines the culture. That is one of the ways to change it. We have
to examine what language we use at work place. Is it a language of complaint or
is it a language of commitment? Is it a language of blame or is it a language
of personal responsibility? And to rephrase the point of Peter Drucker that a business
is built on assumptions about everything – Is it a language of assumptions that
hold us or it is a language of assumptions that we hold?
discussed three cases – Those of State Bank of India, Maruti Suzuki and Toyota
Kirloskar. I leave it to you to conclude what language their managers were
speaking – did we hear a commitment or a complaint, and what assumptions which
they held were revealed in their remarks.
Change the Language to Create Desired Culture
language of complaint is counter-productive because it is easily expressed, and
it says what we can’t stand. It generates frustration, it is
non-transformational, and it is energy sapping. On the contrary, the language
of commitment is spoken not casually but intentionally, and it expresses what
we can stand for. It generates vitalising energy and is transformational. The
language of personal responsibility has similar characteristics.
issue then is how can we promote a different language, a culture-changing
language, within our organisation? The answer, to my mind lies in what we speak
to ourselves and how we can create opportunities for meaningful dialogues.
reflect on events in our work life, our interactions with people to understand
what meaning we make. It determines how we see the world around us and how we
act in it. How we talk to ourselves determines how we act. This does not happen
automatically but it must be done intentionally.
interpersonal talk on the other hand must show greater empathy. You will recall
that the 5th habit of the famous seven habits of successful people
is ‘Understand first and then seek understanding.’ We are discussing ‘Preparing
for Future.’ Ladies and Gentlemen, my submission is that we must focus on the
language we speak in our organisations and arrange dialogue between various
groups that would lead to better appreciation of each others’ view point.
Seamless organisation is another characteristic of a learning organisation, and
it is achieved by promoting dialogues.
now going to talk about one more hallmark of a learning organisation. I am
acutely aware that the time is short, and this is the last session, so I will
conclude after speaking about this aspect.
Organisation Citizenship Behaviour is promoted through
magazine Frontline published a story in September 2010. The caption is
‘Poisoned Ground.’ It is subtitled ‘Hindustan Unilever is avoiding its
responsibilities to its workers exposed to mercury in the thermometer factory
it owned in Kodaikanal.’ It alleged death of 23
workers due to mercury poisoning and several others are affected. The article
said that the 360 Kgs of mercury was spread over the factory site. But the
company that is Hindustan Unilever denies all this. In case you think it was
sensational journalism, let me tell you that the Frontline cover story was very well researched with 102
In other words we have a case of a corporation which is accused to have negligently caused harm to its own employees.
I am sure that you would have read that when fire broke at
AMRI Hospital in Kolkata, the staff fled the scene! [TOI Dec9, 2011].
And here is another story. Contrast it now.
watched with horror the terrorists’ attack on Taj hotel in Mumbai. While Taj
Hotels did a splendid job of helping the victims and employees, it probably
received world-wide attention after an article was published in Harvard
Business Review. The story is titled ‘The ordinary Heroes of The Taj’ and is
sub-titled ‘How an Indian hotel chain’s organizational culture nurtured
employees who were willing to risk their lives to save their guests.’ We are
aware of the story, and all here are aware of how the ordinary waiters and bail
boys moved to save lives of their guests.
case the organisation is allegedly responsible for their workers’ death and in
another case the employees are willing to die for it! In one organisation staff
runs away on sighting fire, and in another organisation the employees work
three days incessantly in spite fire and firing by terrorists! What a contrast!!
makes the employees willing to place the organisation’s interests before their
own lives and their interests? This cannot be achieved through training or
clauses in contracts. Only organisation’s culture can create this magic. This
perhaps is the highest point of a learning organisation.
all about ‘Preparing for Future.’ We must create a learning organisation in our
quest for building an institution, not just an organisation. As one book has
put it ‘Institutions are more enduring than organisations, have capacity of
continuous growth, ability to cope and adopt under diverse pressures and pulls
to make thrust into the future, in addition to having an impact on the society
or community in which they exist. They perform services and functions which are
valued in the community or society and also play the roles of a change inducing,
a change-protecting agent within the community.’
to submit that ‘Preparing for Future’ is all about institution building.
Labels: dialogue, HUL, Learning Organisation, Maruti Suzuki, Mercury Poisoning, Organisation citizenship behaviour, Organisation culture, Organisations in Crisis, Tata, The Ordinary Heroes of Taj, Toyota Kirloskar