article was written for ‘Business Magazine’ and appears in its Nov 2013 issue with a different title.]
Industrial relations are like a
Bollywood movie. The ‘formula’ is same, no matter where it is played. There is
a hero and a villain and an elusive heroine. There is a fight scene to reach
the climax and then there is a group photograph a la AVM movies style!
Like in Bollywood, the trend
setting ‘new wave’ or ‘art’ films which raise and explore deep issues of
relationship, there are organisations which do it in Industrial Relations. And
unlike formula movies, these are not-so-common pieces of work, usually do not
have ‘high profile’ actors, but those who are trying to establish in the
industry or do it because they love it.
We read about Bajaj Auto, and
about Maruti Suzuki, and the like, because the Press enjoys covering it. There
is captivating drama in a conflict. The feelings of hostility are on public
display. Relationship building on the contrary is like wooing and cooing, which
is known only to the players [or so they think]! Many initiatives of good organisations
are not known to people because nobody speaks about it. But they exist. And
like art films they are on show only at few places, one has to make an effort
to find out. For a person in search of inspiration it is not a difficult job.
There are organisations which
have done soul searching in their HR meets. Not just presentations. There are
organisations which realise that the focus should be on building culture, on
developing right work ethic and not just on ‘engagement.’ The questions that
they explore and the answers, or more questions which they beget are not easy
ones. They also discover what ‘constructive dissatisfaction’ means. There are
organisations which decided that there should be no union in their
establishment, and when one came on the scene, they decided to follow the
‘maha-mantra’ of building relationship – Be honest, Be open and Establish
boundaries! [Believe me that this trend is increasing, I have been working with
some of these, but many good organisations are either publicity shy or resist
making of case studies. So there are not many well written case studies on
positive industrial relations in recent times].
For every such organisation,
there are a dozen other organisations that will resist unions, enter in a power
game rather than focusing on retaining influence on their employees. Maruti
Suzuki and Bajaj Auto are cases in point in my opinion. And for every mature
union leader, there are a dozen ‘leaders’ who connive with managements to get
rid of unwanted workers. I can certainly mention a few names but only at the
risk of inviting libel suits.
Is the archaic law coming in the
way of striking good industrial relations? Let us ask ourselves, what really
matters in a relationship building – law and rules or perceptions and trust? In
Vanaz Engineering at Pune all employees [were asked to and] resigned and more
than 50% reapplied for the jobs, and re-joined on reduced salaries. This
organisation came out of bad weather and emerged a winner. Were there
possibilities for workers to go to court in this case? Yes sir, at every stage,
but what held them back was that the action was rooted in trust and confidence.
And a commitment to broader purpose. Nobody likes a constraint, certainly not
the one imposed by law. Like the hero’s [or heroine’s, why exclude him?] father
in movies who says ‘Yeh shaadi nahi ho sakti’, and yet is persuaded at the end
to bless them, it is all about perceptions and mindset.
Let us move away from movies. Let
us look at aspirations.
Blue collar workers are buying a two-wheeler
in two years of their employment, they wear branded clothes, wear branded
sports shoes and are tech savvy. A shop floor leader of a certain engineering
company in Pune searched my profile in Google and LinkedIn before meeting me! I
thought only placement consultants did it!! The lifestyle changes among white
collar employees are indistinguishable from those of managers. They buy a car,
visit the same mall, pub, and travel abroad with a tour operator and aspire to
be in managerial cadre within a short time. Girls from poor families are
wearing western dress [their parents are usually very conservative about
women’s dress] to work in malls and that is changing many attitudes and
removing taboos. Are we aware of the changes that are happening around us and
its impact on aspirations of employees?
An industrial relations manager’s
job is unenviable and difficult – on one hand he must be aware of the gradual
social changes that become perceptible only in the long run, and on the other
hand he must be aware of the vicissitudes of economy and its impact. This is
like keeping one eye on microscope and the other on telescope!
Managing industrial relations
means knowingly setting traditions through managing conflicts and also building
relationship. These are like the two wheels of a bicycle; you move ahead when
you keep both wheels running at same speed and also maintain your balance. No
one aspect will suffice. People who run ‘unicycle’ – the cycle with one wheel,
are found mostly in circus and usually the jokers in the circus do it!
But whoever said that managing
industrial relations was easy? And whoever said that easy assignments were the
most satisfying assignments?