[This is the first in this three articles series on "The Inner Game of Industrial Relations."]
find metaphors very useful. On my blog I recently published a post in that I
mentioned the similarities between a Bollywood formula film and IR. Both have a
hero, a villain, and an elusive heroin that is desired by both. Then there is a
big fight; then misunderstandings are removed and then there is family
this metaphor will not serve our purpose. So I thought hard what could
represent the game better and I found the answer. The game of chess. Yes, the
game of chess.
is one peculiarity about a game of chess. It is seen and analysed in three
stages. There is the ‘Opening game’ in which players build positions, then
there is the ‘Middle game’ in which there is lot of give and take and an
immense power game, and then the ‘End game’ when one emerges a victor, he
closes it all.
this to setting up a factory like many companies have done it recently. Why
factory you can take any establishment, even retail chain. Fortunately I have
been associated with both, so I know the problems. There is a lot of planning
that goes for ensuring high productivity and sometimes for setting the right
culture. Some succeed and some fail. This is the ‘Opening game.’
‘Middle game’ is full of drama. Sometimes the unrest among the employees
develops which impacts negatively. Sometimes a union comes on the scene. The
conflict develops, gets escalated very often as a power game. The conflict
‘End game’ is when the parties decide to part ways. Sometimes due to closure,
sometimes they part ways because of heavy downsizing, retirements voluntary or
a metaphor helps us understand deeper issues, no metaphor can offer full
explanation; it is only a tool to gain insight. The similarities cannot be
ignored. Business is run on logic, cold logic if you prefer. Employee relations
involve interplay of emotions. Emotions of employees can be a ‘data’ or ‘input’
for some though not for all for making decisions. There are hard decisions to
be taken when you set up a new establishment, when you revitalise or rejuvenate
an old establishment and when you close it down. There is an objective to
achieve and serve and there is a resistance to nullify – call it influencing.
the metaphor of the game of chess pictures two players pitted against each
other. It is an adversarial relationship, no facades there. In employee
relations, the relationship should not be adversarial, but there are times when
conflict of interest is inevitable. Yet, there is always enough and unexplored
ground of collaboration. In that sense the metaphor of a game of chess does not
fit. I have used it because it helps me put things in context easily.
Nevertheless, I would like to acknowledge this shortcoming of the metaphor and
would request you to bear in mind.
us focus on what happens in the opening game. In the opening you want to get a
rapid development of your primary pieces. You also want to safe guard your
king, generally by castling. It is in this phase of the game that you want to
try and achieve dominance over the middle four squares of the board. That’s
happens when you open an establishment? The project team works hard to ensure
that they establish processes which give them higher productivity. They make
sure that the manning is lean. They establish metrics to measure productivity. If
you had a plant elsewhere, then you study what is not okay there and try to
avoid it in the new plant. So right manning, right work practices and learn
from past experience to avoid certain things. You train people extensively
because you want the right work practices and productivity.
recruit people with some thought. You prefer people who are not locals. As such
for a new establishment in India the environment is usually hostile. If you
allow the locals to dominate you, then you had it. Maruti is known to have
recruited people from other states. Indal [as it was then, now Hindalco] at
Taloja faced tremendous difficulty – the local MLA said that he will join the
recruitment panel. Indal is reported to have stood firm and not allowed it. For
a few days the work came to a grinding halt, but Indal settled the equation in
their favour. Elaborate tests are given to select a worker. This ensures people
with requisite skills are only selected.
the new factories there is a practice of selecting only the Diploma engineers
as workers. An educated worker will not go to the union is one of the unspoken
premise. What is articulated is that even the worker will have a chance to be a
manager with this training. We find this policy in Bajaj Auto and many other
Simpson group in the South, workers in different age groups are selected when
they establish a new factory. One of the underlying beliefs is that older
workers will have sobering influence on the younger workers.
is interesting to see how carefully appointments are done. The first step is to
appoint workers as apprentices, then as trainees and then as probationers. In
other words you cannot be a permanent worker unless you have put in about three
years of service. What is the logic? Obviously the organisations do not want to
have any black sheep among workers.
new factories are established, the work practices are defined. Workers are told
to come before start of the shift. Breakfast is served in the 15 min before the
starting of the shift. They are to start work at the very minute the shift
commences. Long back in the eighties Mr Keki Randeria made a presentation on
how Voltas was setting up the Warora plant with a lot of thought about
recruiting workers, about designing their jobs, about work practices. Mr
Randeria was earlier HR head at ITC and had just moved to Voltas. To the best
of my knowledge, that Warora experiment was a trend setter. Incidentally he was
speaking about the Warora plant which was near Nagpur. The grapevine has it
that this experiment unfortunately did not succeed. We have no clue as to the
reasons. But it must be lauded for it proactive stance in defining work and
work relationships. Subsequently I have seen presentations of many
organisations, notable among them were the presentations made by Marico. They
seem to try and do something new at every factory they set up. And they have
been very successful too.
have seen that the opening game is all about developing your pieces. It is
about safeguarding your king, usually by castling. Did you see how this is
done? What are the underlying beliefs about non-management cadre employees?
employers like Marico are different. They experiment in every factory they set
up. So they said that workers need not punch cards or use access cards. You are
treated as present unless you apply for leave. They repose trust and confidence
in you. Will not the workers misuse the facility? Their experience is that no,
they don’t. Developing your pieces does not mean ensuring just high
productivity alone for them; they play the game to develop a good work ethic.
is the point. During the opening game we have to focus on developing good
work ethic, not just productivity and work practices. Developing good
work ethic requires managers to be a role model. So the work really starts from
focusing on ourselves. It is really difficult not to treat the workforce
differently from the management staff. We realise that we must treat all equal
but even the Indian culture is so hierarchical that it is difficult not to be
influenced by it. It takes a great effort to break away from the influence of
culture and create a work ethic.
said that let us look back and see what forces operate to develop employee
relations positively or otherwise, at the Opening game. Here are four
statements which we can make:
We have to focus on developing work ethic and this is the best opportunity
since there are no past experiences and no hardened attitudes. Managers have to
realise that they have to be role models if good work ethic is to be developed.
Focusing on productivity and work practices is essential and must be done
We have to act out of hope and not out of fear.
Managing the hostile environment effectively is essential at this stage because
it sets the tone for further interactions.
do you think? Coming up next : The Middle Game, and then The End Game.
Labels: Chess, Employee Relations, Industrial relations, New Factory, The opening Game, work ethic