By Harveen Herr
What do Maruti, Eicher Consultancy, Pepsi and Mahindra & Mahindra have in common apart from being profitable market-leading companies? A different approach to the most significant and impactable resource—their employees
Corporate organizations have always had profit as their sole objective. A prerequisite for profit is getting maximum results at the least cost of resources. The most profitable companies are the ones which do this best. It is not surprising then that in the muddle of conflicting priorities, the human resource is largely taken for granted. In fact, in most organizations, the role of the human resource development manager is more of a compensation administrator, ‘body’-buyer and arbiter in case of conflict.
Development in real terms is largely confined to management doublespeak. That really is myopic, considering that most people working in the corporate sector spend practically all of their waking, conscious, productive and creative hours in their offices. Moreover, stress is increasingly exacting a heavy toll. Says Dr. Bimal Chhajer, who runs the SAAOL heart program in Delhi, India: ‘What multiplies stress hundred fold is the fact that today executives are constantly working against time, creating an information and time overload.’ Fortunately, market leaders are beginning to get wise to the need to better utilize their existing human resources.
In the new global, competitive scenario where the old rules of the game have changed faster than field hockey, the rules by which human resources have been looked after had to change, too. Clearly only quality people can produce quality goods and services. To that end, programs catering to the physical and mental well being of employees are getting institutionalized. These include stress-buster plans, personal growth programs and communication workshops.
This is obviously going a few steps beyond the standard medical expense reimbursement and motivation workshops. Many of the new meditation and personal growth workshops being tried out are New Age in nature. In fact, Deepak Chopra, the USA based ayurveda proponent and best-selling author, commented that the first signs of New Age consciousness in India first appeared in the corporate sector.
Opinion on the pace of change, however, varies. Lt. Gen. S.S. Apte, PVSM, a consultant who strongly endorses the direct relationship between corporate health and employee well being, doubts whether the corporate sector sees employees as a resource to be nurtured. In the public sector specifically, Apte feels that frequent top management changes hinder growth schemes from getting the required gestation period to take root. Nurturing the employee takes many forms, for example, worker empowerment, facilities for physical exercise, counseling and new approaches to the worker management interface. The single most critical factor affecting productivity of workers is stress.
Corporations are increasingly acknowledging it. As expected, they are looking to traditional Indian systems such as yoga and meditation for inducing peace and relaxation. The erstwhile DCM Co. of India, which is now trifurcated, has a long history of introducing programs to tackle executive stress. Siddharth Shriram, CEO of SIEL, is bullish about yoga—he turned an enthusiast over six years ago, and never misses his daily yoga session. He is willing to sponsor his employees for memberships to clubs that teach yoga.
More than the industry dowagers, however, it is the leading edge electronics and telecommunications companies that are increasingly adopting the new approach. Weston Electroniks chief Sundar T. Vachani is not only personally committed to yoga, he had employed full time yoga instructors for the staff at his Kalkaji Headquarters in Delhi, India.
Amul Behl, CEO of Logic Control, who follows Swami Parthasarathi in using Vedanta in management, generously shares his farm with his employees, which is the venue for regular retreats and workshops, open even to people from other companies such as Vam Organics. Another transformed company is Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd. (HFCL), and not just because of the volume of team service business it has bagged. As the company grew rapidly, so did the quantum of employee stress. Three years ago, Vinay Maloo, a promoter of HFCL, introduced the meditative technique of preksha dhyan, devised by the Jain Guru Acharya Tulsi, in the company.
The results reported by the management; greater teamwork and improved individual effectiveness. Meditation, once considered the preserve of Himalayan yogis, has proved to be very successful in a number of organizations. Some years ago, DCM Shriram organized a series of workshops on meditation, beginning with a common session for employees, followed up with individual sessions that taught techniques of stress management. The response was tremendous. In Bombay, employees of Benzer have been taking a 10-day break to learn Vipassana meditation. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s transcendental meditation too, is in demand because it is said to help boost productivity, cut down absenteeism as well as medical bills. The Maharishi Institute of Management (MIM), which teaches the technique, has set up a separate cell to deal with corporate development programs.
Tata Tea and Tata Chemicals have got the full treatment from MIM. Visiting professors from the Maharashi Vedic University in Holland, conducted sessions at Tata Tea headquarters in Calcutta, and then visited the company’s tea gardens in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, two Southern Indian states, for a repeat. ACC, the Oriental Bank, Indian Petrochemcials Corporation and Reckitt and Colman are some other companies that have called in MIM. Says N. Ramanathan, president TQM and People Development, SRF Ltd. We chose the TM program to achieve well balanced personality development. SRF conducted TM programmed in its offices in Delhi, followed up with sessions at its plants in Bhiwadi and Gwalior, other Indian towns. Its Chennai office, in India, is next on the agenda. A preliminary session introduced employees to the system, and they were invited to learn the technique along with spouses and children.
Employing systems with religious or spiritual overtones raises the issue of values, not quite unwelcome. Says Anil Sachdev, Managing Director, Eicher Consultancy Services (ECS): ‘The single biggest conflict for employees is their personal values clashing with the values dictated by business practices. Often, ECS has willingly sacrificed the interest of the company for a set of principles—something that every new recruit may not be comfortable with. Humanity and ethics are the foundation of ERCS’, says Sachdev.
He believes that if the leadership of any company is willing to walk the talk, it inspires everyone concerned. Personal growth, communication workshops, yoga, group activity and meditation are very much in place in ECS but ethics remains paramount. Management guru Mrityunjay B. Athreya is often described as having developed the Vedic style of management. He recommends the universal principles from the scriptures or principles that are consistent with our culture and ethos.
Professor S.K. Chakraborty of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, is another guru who teaches a connection to Vedic principles in management. He heads the Management Center for Human Values, a research center of management through based on traditional Indian ethos. He says that only after reading several Japanese books on management did he realize that Indians could turn to the scriptures for inspiration. The research center is supported by the Tata Group , Union Trust of India, HDFC, the Bhilwara Group, and Indian Oil. Like Athreya Chakraborty also points at a lack of rootedness in the modern value system that leads to overwhelming stress.
A number of organizations have been lining up for the programs based on 18 years of research. A unique stress busting program developed by him has been used by companies as diverse as TELCO, Shriram Fibres, Salora and BHEL. The Japanese management principles, too, are finding many takers in India. In today’s push button existence, one is reminded of the startling results of a study done by some Japanese auto companies. In one plant, the assembly line system where one worker put in one component, was changed. Instead, groups were formed where one entire crew completed the assembly of one car.
The new system led to improved productivity, although logically this should not have happened. It is well known that Maruti Udyog has tried to copy the Japanese management ethos here. When it introduced a common canteen a few years ago, it was considered revolutionary. But today, argues R Vasudevan its DGM Personnel in a new company, the same step would be received in a more matter of fact manner. The standard uniform code (gray) also prevails, which makes the employees equal and which is the first, external symbol of a flat organization. The lower you are in an organization, the higher the sense of satisfaction about commonality says Vasudevan. Similarly, everybody, bar none, punches in the morning and punches out at the end of the shift.
At the regular morning meetings, the supervisor or group leader also leads the group for a few minutes of exercise. External faculty is regularly called in to conduct stress management programs On the first Wednesday of every month, the plant is stopped for one hour in every shift for small group activity a total of 600 groups meet to discuss changes, improvements and solutions, in their area of work. Another company committed to worker empowerment is Belgaum-based polyhedron, which manufactures hydraulic valves. Its managing director, Suresh Kundre, was inspired by management books based on Japanese principles.
Kundre tries to keep the company functioning totally transparent. The 120-odd employees do not have to be assigned task, as they set their own targets, and handle functions such as placing purchase orders without constant management vigil. Attitudes towards propriety, personal and spiritual growth are changing widely. Earlier, the boss had to be tough: the managers could not show that they were stressed or worried. Says Swami Premananda of the Sivandanda Yoga Nataraja Center in Delhi: They had to show that they were tigers in the filed. And 10-15 years ago, if your boss revealed a spiritual side, or talked about yoga, he was a weirdo.
Today, these qualities and extra value to the person. The Sivananda Center has taught asanas, pranayama, and meditation to companies such as NTPC and ABB. Swami Premananda recommends yoga as the more holistic approach for, as he says. Allopathic medicine will cure the headache, but not the stiff neck, not the root cause. You still wake up with low energy levels. Another system, rarely heard of earlier in corporate quarters, is reiki. To contain stress, the Bombay-based Mahindra & Mahindra uses the Rational Emotive Therapy developed by the US psychologist Albert Ellis. It works on the precept that a small crisis engenders negative feelings stress and turmoil soon balloon the incident out of proportion. The system requires that the employees involved write down their negative feelings.
Then, a contrary statement is also written down, leading to catharsis. Given the demand, seminar leaders, counselors and consultants are moving in to work with the corporate sector. One familiar names is Shiv Khera’s who runs open house programs that have proved popular. USA based Khera, who periodically visits India, has a three pronged approach, to impact attitude, ambition, and action for the transformation of people into Total Quality People in their professional as well as private lives.
Dr. Salim Sharif and Dr. Shakuntala David, who run Sandarshan in Delhi, started counseling the corporate entity with BHEL, Bhopal, as their first client. They look at the holistic health of the organization through counseling programs on personal growth, interpersonal effectiveness, team building, and workshops in related areas. They have worked with Escorts, Pepsi, Engineers India, DCM, Max Page, Shriram Foods and Fertilizers, among others. Says Dr. David: When the company moved from the trader to an organization, a lot of institutionalization had to be done, but does that mean that you lose the organizational values that the Lala had?
Sandarshan recently held a family communication and problem solving workshop with the employees of Bluestar, and a workshop on counseling skills and human resources with senior rung management of DCM Consolidated. The Company’s brief was that it wished to break the hierarchical style. Sandarshan also ran a program for Pepsi Foods at its plant in Patiala, where the spouses of employees were involved in the workshop. Dr. Vanit Nalwa, director, Empower-Counseling Psychologists, who had worked in the UK, encourages companies to work towards developing the full potential of their employees, even if it means completely relocating them.
She has found employees most responsive to workshops on parenting skills and communication, followed by programs on assertiveness training. Says Dr Nalwa The increase in output is incidental. We monitored whether the employee felt that he was personally benefited. Programs to improve the physical health of employees have also gone beyond providing for table tennis in the common room. Companies such as NIIT and Cynamid have set up fully equipped gymnasiums at their corporate offices and the facilities are available before and after office hours without any membership chargers.
A&M magazine and the Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India were quite open to the idea when employees asked if they could run aerobics classes within office hours. A happy median was reached when the space was made available, and employees in both organizations decided to forego their lunch break in favor of an aerobics workout. It appears that there are today more innovative and progressive pro-happy median was reached when the space was made available, and employees in both organizations decided to forego their lunch break in favor of an aerobics workout. It appears that there are today more innovative and progressive programs for employees as the human resource function is given more teeth in the organization.
Most of these programs are designed to improve the overall life of the employee and not just to improve a certain set of skills. Most companies do not see these as additional costs when they do cost benefit analysis. Apart from this communication being so sharp these days, if, an organization shows commitment to the all round development of its employees, the good word spreads fast, good for PR. What remains true, however, is that most of the new programs are usually confined to the top brass in a company. It is always the top management that decides whether employees at lower levels too should under go the same training.
Admits Anant P. Dehadrai, country head of Sumitomo Corp: Yes this movement has to be top down, but in some instances, the top has no problem; it is the down that may not be ready just yet. He quotes examples of companies where there is suspicion about such moves being some sort of management drama, and the union has not been entirely convinced of any benefits accruing to workers. In such cases, where the management is committed, it will decide to start a program with only union committee members; different kinds of stresses operate at different levels of work. At the other end of the spectrum are some companies like NIIT, which try to impact the life of the employees way beyond the work area. The company has evolved a personal effectiveness program that allows each individual to prioritize and work on targets in all areas of life.
Says Sanjiv Kataria, vice President, corporate communications: Feedback suggested that a major concern was balancing work and personal life. The company has evolved such schemes as the Granny Gratitude Day (because values are learnt from parents and grandparents), since the stability of the individual at home is important to functioning well in office. Unlike other companies, NIIT encourages employees to find a marriage partner within the organization (We attract the best people, and they should make the best partners too) and offers the couple two months basic salary as gift apart from interest-free loans. Undoubtedly, companies have to become more sensitive to worker issues instead of just paying lip-service. The momentum has to be sustained, and if the organization takes a step in this direction, the employees have to ensure that it is nurtured. Growing the employee will grow the organization but, like Kaizen, these cannot be one-time inputs, they have to become a normal way of life.
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