Saturday, May 19, 2018

Use, Misuse and Abuse of Powers



Lord Indra has gone away from Amaravati, the capital of the Devas. A small misunderstanding with Bruhaspati, the Guru and chief advisor of his clan had brought a chain of bad tidings. After a series of undesirable happenings he was forced to abandon his abode and spend his time sitting in the stem of a lotus in Maanasa Sarovar, a divine lake in the Himalayas. The Devas were left without their leader and captain. This was not acceptable in the order of things. They were constrained to find a temporary substitute. Finding a suitable alternative to Lord Indra was no easy task. The position carried so much of power and responsibilities with it that it was indeed impossible to search for one who filled the gap perfectly. He had to be strong, knowledgeable and capable of controlling and commanding the loyalty of the mighty stalwarts of the upper world. The bigger problem was not in finding a substitute; it was in ensuring that the substitute vacates his position when the original occupant returned in due course. 

An acceptable substitute was finally found in King Nahusha, who was the emperor of the middle world, the earth. This King was indeed a perfect fit; he had administrative experience and was a friend of the Devas. There was no possibility of his betraying the trust of the Devas and joining hand with the Asuras, the occupants of the lower world. King Nahusha believed in the rule of righteousness (Dharma), did not believe in sticking to the chair as a limpet, and ever willing to shoulder additional responsibilities of any nature for a good cause. He was not ambitious and yet not shirking in accepting additional duties. When approached to take over the post of Lord Indra, he agreed without much conditions. The only condition he placed was that he should be free to access any source and stream of knowledge he desired that enabled his efficient discharge of his duties. An agreement was reached on seat-sharing and he took over as Lord Indra till the time the original incumbent returned.

King Nahusha entrusted his kingdom on earth to his son King Yayati, and proceeded to the heavens with his wife Virijadevi. As he progressed in his duties, all his ministers and subjects were much impressed by his administrative skills and problem solving techniques. He was an expert in judicious use of the powers vested in him. Agni (Fire God) and Vayu (Wind God), the two senior most ministers started wondering why the previous Indra and they themselves were not aware of their own powers and had not thought of utilising those powers in solving the various issues confronting them. Guru Bruhaspati, who was now back as the chief advisor was also surprised by the way in which Nahusha was able to exercise the powers vested with Lord Indra. Guru Shukracharya, chief advisor of demons and an adversary of Bruhaspati was also dumbstruck at the administrative acumen shown by Nahusha. He was now a made a part of the advisory council of the upper world, which was not even dreamt in the rule of the regular Lord Indra.

Instead of holding on to the powerful chair as long as he could, Nahusha started his pursuit to find the original incumbent and restore the seat to him. He enquired as to the reason for Indra's exile. Having come to know that Indra was hiding to escape from a evil force, he marshalled all resources at his command to get rid of the evil force. That would make way for return of the original Indra.

He chided both Agni and Vayu for not solving this issue earlier. "You are both bestowed with abundant powers for facing such eventualities. Both of you can fall back on your Omnipotent powers (Vishwaroopa dharana) during an emergency and thereby destroying the evil force. Even Indra could have done this. All of you did not use the powers already vested in you. Instead, you were looking for outside force to solve this issue. Now I am commanding you. I am also giving you detailed instructions for action. Go ahead and get Lord Indra released. This is my order!", he thundered.

Agni and Vayu were now transformed by the realisation of their own hidden powers. They succeeded in destroying the evil force. Lord Indra was released. Nahusha did not worry about losing the throne on which he could have had a much longer tenure. The seat was restored to Lord Indra permanently. The Devas also learnt the secret of exercising powers vested in them efficiently and effectively. Exercising powers was totally different now and they were indebted to King Nahusha for this valuable lesson.
*****

We often hear the words use, misuse and abuse in the context of exercise of powers by various public authorities and private enterprise. Some are unable to exercise powers vested in them. There are others who misuse the powers given to them. There are many others who go much forward and abuse the powers that are given to them by gross exceeding of their contours. 

What do these three words actually mean? When does use of a power become misuse? When does that cross even that border and turnout to be abuse of powers? In the context of what is happening around us in these times, it is indeed time to understand the real import of these three phrases of use of powers, misuse of powers and abuse of powers.

The word "Use" is so common that it is defined as "Making use of" or "Put into use". It denotes positive exercise of powers as it ought to be. Not using of one's powers is indeed a failing in discharge of one's duties. Many functionaries at all levels fail to exercise their powers. Some are not even aware of their powers. Some others do not know how to use them. Many are afraid to use them! All of them have wonderful arguments justifying their positions. Nevertheless, they cause irreparable damage by not using their powers. The real tragedy is that not exercising powers takes a back seat due to misuse and abuse of powers in the surroundings.

The word "Misuse" denotes wrong or improper use of anything. It is use of power for a purpose other than what is prescribed by law or rules. It often goes unnoticed and may not be harmful to others. It may not even be treated as an omission. The nature of misuse is such that many authorities consider it as normal use and others also consider it as a normal or routine thing.

The word "Abuse" represents unrestrained exercise of one's powers and authority with intention. Here the person abusing the powers is well aware of the actions and their impact on others. It encroaches on the area of others and denies what is rightly due to others. The element of "Mens rea" associated with criminal jurisprudence is present here. Abuse often brings personal gratification to the person exercising powers or his associates. Arrogance is its hallmark and preparedness to further abuse the powers to meet the consequences its main feature. Abuse is immensely harmful to the society and the institutions that they represent.
*****

Devudu Narasimha Sastry (1895-1962), popularly known as Devudu, was a scholar par excellence and well known literary figure. He was known for his mastery in Sanskrit, English and Kannada literature. He was an actor, journalist and novelist as well. He was also associated with film world and stage plays. He was an expert in various facets of vedic knowledge and revered for his good qualities. His commentary on Mimamsa, "Mimamsa Darpana" is a highly acclaimed work in that field. He had the fantastic ability to bring out the hidden knowledge in ancient works through novels couched in simple language and yet profound in their meaning and impact. His trilogy of works "Mahabrahmana", "Mahakshatriya" and "Mahadarshana" are masterpieces and won critical acclaim and awards. His short novel "Mayura" deals with the life of King Mayuravrama of Kadamba dynasty. Mayura was made into a film with Dr Rajkumar in lead role. The film is very popular and is considered as a milestone in Kannada cinema as well as Rajkumar's career.


Devudu's novel "Mahakshatriya" deals with King Nahusha's life and his tenure as Lord Indra. Devudu has made some subtle changes in the original story from Mahabharata and transformed Nahusha into a great character. The various aspects of use, misuse and abuse of powers are dealt in this novel in a simple and yet effective way. It is a book that all those who exercise powers ought to read and appreciate, especially in the present times. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Talent Crisis And Solutions


Banking industry all over the world is passing through tough times presently. Indian banking industry is right now facing perhaps the biggest crisis in its history. A series of scams and huge defaults in the corporate sector has pushed the industry to its worst crisis. The banking system of country which successfully withstood the banking crisis of 2008 is facing its most difficult test a decade later. Questions are being asked about necessity of continuing of Public Sector Banks. Certain developments in private sector banks are also posing serious questions. Bankers are passing through turbulent times. On the other side, there is abundant scope for growth in line with the growing economy of the country.  Growth opportunities in resource mobilisation are constantly increasing with channelizing of savings from domestic sector and inflow of investment funds from abroad.  Financial inclusion targeting sections of the society who were left behind earlier is also contributing its mite here.  Expectations of higher growth in the economy are likely to drive credit growth further and provide channels for profitable credit dispensation, despite concerns of bad loans (NPAs).  Higher demand for credit from service sector and savings generated from “Generation Y” is contributing its share for growth of the economy and thereby BFSI sector.  Higher absorption of technology leading to development of innovative products coupled with upswing in use of alternate delivery channels (ADCs) would ensure the continuation of this trend for the next decade.

Amidst all these happenings, there is a major cause of concern for the BFSI industry.  Challenges on the financial front can be met with the available resources, innovation in technology and product range. But needs on the human resources front requires a focused and revised strategy to remedy the crisis that has already set in and is threatening the very foundations of the industry.  This is an attempt to discusses the situation prevailing in the industry on this front and suggests alternative strategies for talent management in the banks.      

Overview

Social control over banks followed by nationalisation of major banks in 1969 and 1980 changed banking in India from “Class banking” to “Mass Banking”.  Large branch expansion in the 1970s and early 1980s was a watershed in the Indian Banking Industry.  Priority sector lending and expansion in rural and unbanked areas necessitated opening of large number of branches in nooks and corners of the country.  Banking operations were handled manually at that time and most of the operations were done by clerical and first level officers.  Entire operations were being done as per the directives of RBI and banks did not have any freedom to frame their own policies to develop and monitor different segments of banking. The manpower requirement was met by large scale recruitment of clerical and Probationary Officers. Basic knowledge of RBI and bank guidelines was the requirement for these posts.  There was hardly any need for additional skills or specialist employees. Even credit management was subject to “Selective Credit Controls” and “Credit Authorisation”. Mere recruitment of young men and women from the employment market was sufficient to meet the HR needs. As there was no additional skill requirement at higher levels, internal promotions took care of the requirement at the middle and higher levels as well. Internal training system of banks with apex training colleges supported by regional/zonal training centres met the needs of training and development of staff and officers.

Financial Sector reforms and advent of Globalisation and Liberalisation in 1991 marked the next major development in both business composition and HR processes.  This brought in increased liberalisation and freedom to banks for formulating their own policies, products and strategies.  Large scale computerisation and use of new technology changed the complexion of the industry and its contours.  Introduction of “Core Banking Solutions” (CBS) and advent of new generation of private sector banks changed rules of the game.  Focus on the business front shifted from “Deposit Mobilisation” and “Priority Sector lending” to “Profitability”. Each branch was expected to be a profit centre and cost cutting became a major action point for banks. Increased use of CBS and other technology applications resulted in large scale redundancy of staff brought up on manual operations. These staff members, most of them past middle age, struggled to adapt to computerised environment. Recruited in the 1970s and 1980s, they were drawing high emoluments and were not involved in useful work.  They could not take up the type of jobs that were generated by the new environment. Thus banks were forced to think in terms of “Golden Handshake” and “VRS schemes”.  Staff members were encouraged to seek early retirement and a “Recruitment Holiday” replaced the basic HR function of recruitment and training.

The looming crisis     

The above developments were not only necessary but inevitable too. Stiff competition and stress on net interest margins were indeed forcing cost cuts. Staff expenses being one of the biggest non-interest demands naturally received due attention. But in the maze of profitability and cost-cutting one vital factor was missed; that of requirement of people with enhanced skills to run specialised areas of bank’s functions. Talent management was lost sight of; recruitment freeze took its toll and gradually shortage of skilled manpower started showing its impact. Banks tried to train some of the existing staff to man these specialised seats and met with limited success.

Early part of the last decade saw many more changes in the use of technology and addition of a variety of products and services. Technology made large numbers of staff doing manual work redundant, but started creating many new roles requiring manpower with higher skills.  Universal banking and providing a wide range of complex products and services needed highly skilled manpower.  Ban on recruitment had reduced quantity of manpower. Now there was shortage of quality of manpower as well. A crisis was looming in the horizon.

Present scenario

Financial Inclusion has brought banking to a similar stage as it was during nationalisation. More and more branches are being opened in unbanked areas to cover every single person in the country with banking facility. All extension counters have been converted into full-fledged branches due to CBS advantage. There is a higher need for specialised branches to take care of international trade finance, hi-tech agriculture, investment banking and portfolio management and NRI banking. Risk management and technology management have become new focus areas.  The shortage of staff created by a long recruitment holiday is showing its effects. Above all, large number of officers recruited in the 70s and 80s started retiring. The vacuum in terms of numbers is confounded by vacuum in talent availability.

In order to fill the vacancies arising out of retirement of existing staff, recruitment has been speeded up. This has somewhat filled the gap of manpower requirement at lower levels. But they are too inexperienced to handle higher responsibilities. Faster promotions to higher levels have become the norm. Some banks could not find the required number of candidates to meet the targets for internal promotions even after relaxing eligibility norms in terms of length of service. Promoted officers are with inadequate experience. A yawning gap in requirements for managing positions and potential available in promotes has surfaced. Retirement of over 150,000 mid-level managers in the next three years is going to increase the problem manifold. There is a severe shortage of trained manpower at each level in middle management. This will extend to senior management level in a few years. This situation threatens the very foundations of sound management of banks in the coming years. This also has a significant impact on the productivity and quality of banking services to the clientele, many of whom are from the next generation. A hallmark of this generation is the expectation of quick and quality service and impatience to tolerate inefficiency. The situation requires drastic remedies and without any delay.

A part of this manpower gap is being filled by recruitment of specialist officers directly to middle level manager positions. Credit management, risk management and technical officers are thus recruited. These people are also to be trained in some degree of basic banking operations before they can effectively discharge their duties for their assigned special positions.

One possible solution to this crisis is providing intensive and focused training to these newly promoted and recruited middle level managers. Who should give them this type of focused training? Banks internal training system is unable to meet this need as senior trainers have themselves retired or retiring shortly.  There is a shortage of skilled trainers and internal training programs tend to become stereotyped in such situations. Exposure of the middle level managers to interaction with similar workforce from other banks will bring a whiff of fresh air in the training dimensions. Cost of extending the training infrastructure is also an issue in the background of shortage of resources. Any extension of the training infrastructure would result in an unused capacity in a few years as the situation will reach a new equilibrium in the next five or six years.

Importance of middle management

Middle management professionals are the key functionaries of any institution. While the Generals plan a war and the foot soldiers fight it out, it is the Majors and Colonels that actually win the wars. Middle management cadre acts as the bridge between front line staff and customers. They are the key decision makers in the chain with front line staff on one side and policy makers at the other. Lending portfolio and recovery mechanism is the key to the profitability of any bank. Large volume of credit dispensation in banks takes place through “ELBs and VLBs”. These extra-large branches and very large branches are usually headed by AGMs and Chief Managers. These positions are endowed with substantial credit sanction powers, often ranging up to Rupees 10 crores to 20 crores. Higher corporate lending also takes place through such branches and monitoring health of such Borrowers accounts requires specialised skills.  Similarly, these positions are crucial in administrative and corporate offices as well as all major implementation and monitoring is done by such officers. A quick action by banks now can retrieve the situation of shortage and skill deficiency and remedy it before these high positions are managed by junior and under equipped managers.   

The solution

The possible solutions for resolving the present “Talent management Crisis” in the BFSI industry revolves on the following key areas:    
  • Preparing a blueprint of manpower requirement for the next 5 to 10 years, especially at the junior and middle management levels. Such plan should take into account projected requirement for expansion as well.
  • Recruiting junior level (entry level) officers after identifying them and getting them trained by a reputed training agency/institution, on a no-cost basis.
  • Meeting identified training requirements of existing staff without creating idle capacity in the internal training establishment.
  • Providing exposure to the middle level managers already promoted and likely to be promoted shortly in training programs with similar managers from other banking institutions.
  • Utilising the services of experienced training professionals and ex-industry trainers and leaders to bridge the trainer requirement gap.
  • Tying up with a strategic training partner who provides bank-specific training, both in general banking and specialised functional areas. Short term training programs, say one to two weeks for middle level managers is the key to bridge the training gap.
  • Retraining the managers put through such training at periodical interval to update skills and build confidence levels.
  • Concentrating on core business activities and enlisting the support of a trusted partner for jointly managing the present talent crisis.
  • Well established and reputed training institutions who have specialised in training manpower for banking industry have a vital role in supporting such initiatives. The global standard infrastructure, well-set training system coupled with experienced faculty meets the important requirements for conducting such programs. Programs may be tailor made for the requirements of each bank drawing from the extensive support of each bank.
Summary

The present “Talent Management Crisis” in banks can be met by aligning with a suitable strategic training partner who provides cost-effective and competitive model of training to both existing employees as well as ready-to-employ candidates on an on-going basis. Providing specialised re-training to middle level managers provides an effective core management team for the present and a pool of talent for meeting future top level management personnel thereafter.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

I Am Tandon


This was in the same summer month, forty four years ago in 1974. They were the early years of my banking life. I was posted in a busy very large branch with total staff strength of more than sixty persons. The bank branches in those days had high counters with high chairs, and the feet of the person sitting on them never touched the ground. Foot rests were part of the counter to provide comfort to those feet. Branch Managers used to be in and out of branches on business visits. Branch staff did their normal work without much interaction with the branch manager as all functions of running the branch were taken care by the second in command. I was assigned a table at the end of the banking counter, just by the side of the wicket gate that allowed entrance inside the banking hall. Most of the customers work was done when they stood outside the counter. Very few came inside the counter for their work. My basic work related to receiving documents from customers against acknowledgement and attending the clearing house duties at Reserve Bank of India, located close to the branch at a walking distance. All work was manual with computers being unheard of. Even calculators were not around. The only calculator available was a book called "Kapoor's Calculator", a book with various tables for interest calculation that was done manually. 

On one such busy day, my branch manager entered the branch through the main door with our Regional Manager by his side. Entire South India was one region in those days and there was no system of Zonal or Circle offices. I recognised the Regional Manager as I had seen him once before. As they crossed the wicket gate and passed by my table, I greeted them and they acknowledged the greeting. They moved into the Branch Manager's cabin located behind me. I was still standing after greeting them when a tall distinguished gentleman entered the branch. He was carrying a leather bag which used to open at the top. Such bag was commonly carried in those days by medical representatives. He passed the counter, entered through the wicket gate and placed his bag on my table. He smiled and extended his right hand and as a reflex action I also extended my right hand. He shook my hands and said, "I am Tandon".

After shaking hands with me he went to the next person and continued meeting the other staff members. My Branch Manager and Regional Manager came out of the cabin to find that he was meeting all the staff at the branch. They waited for him to finish this round and later went into the manager's cabin. They stayed there for about half an hour and later went out together.

I went to my Assistant Manager and asked him who this Tandon was. He also did not know, but said that one Tandon was our new Chairman and Managing Director. It was confirmed to us later that he was indeed Shri Prakash Lal Tandon, CMD of PNB. 
*****

Prakash Lal Tandon (1911-2004) is considered as one of the best managers and most influential business leaders our country has produced. Born in Punjab, he was trained in London and was a Chartered Accountant before he moved into management roles. He was the first Indian Chairman of Hindustan Lever Limited, in 1961. He was a pioneer of management education in India. His student life in Manchester, UK and professional practice there gave him deep insights into sound management practices which he put to great use wherever he went later in his life. He was an advisor to top leadership in the government at that time and earned high respect due to his sound advice and integrity. After his stint in HLL, he was made chairman of State Trading Corporation (STC) in 1968. When he developed differences with the cabinet minister handling STC, he resigned the post. His high rating in the government circles did not permit losing his services. Government made him the CMD of Punjab National Bank (PNB) in 1971, which was one of the banks nationalised in 1969. This was perhaps the first instance when a non-banker and industry outsider was brought in as the CMD of a bank.

Banks like PNB in those days had a CMD and there were no executive directors. There was only one General Manager at the Head Office. We have come a long way since when such banks have 3 EDs and 40 to 50 General Managers. P L Tandon brought in various changes in PNB in his years of leadership at the bank. The present logo and fonts of name boards were among many changes brought out by him. Major branch expansions took place in those years and PNB became a truly All-India institution under his leadership.

Tandon was known for his talent spotting among the younger generation and encouraging them to take up higher responsibilities. His speeches in the AGM of the companies he headed were considered as essays in corporate management. He played a key role in setting up of IIM at Ahmedabad. He was highly respected in the academic circles as well. He was also associated with the National Council of Applied Economic Research.

Tandon was also known as an authority on Punjab affairs and is author of a trilogy of books: Punjabi Century, Beyond Punjab and Return to Punjab. His another book "Banking Century - A Short History of Banking in India and the Pioneer - Punjab National Bank" chronicles the growth of banking in India during the last century and the role of PNB in it as the bank was an integral part of it. He lived a full life of 93 years and remained active even after retirement from management roles.

*****

Prakash Lal Tandon is remembered in banking even today for yet another reason. In 1974 RBI constituted a working group under the chairmanship of P L Tandon to study and submit a report on working capital financing. This group did tremendous work and submitted a report in 1975. Inventory holding by various industries was studied in detail and recommendations were made covering various aspects of working capital finance. Current Ratio was brought into centerstage in working capital financing. The committee shifted the focus of working capital finance from security-based lending to need-based lending. The MPBF Method (Maximum Permissible Bank Finance Method) brought in by Tandon Committee is still used in working capital assessment of entities, with suitable modifications to suit present times. Working capital financing learning is never complete without taking the name of Tandon. 
*****

PUNJAB NATIONAL BANK was a product of swadeshi movement and started operations on Baishakhi Day in 1895, at Lahore, in the undivided Punjab. Punjab Kesari Lala Lajpat Roy was among the personalities who inspired setting up the bank founded on nationalistic values. Today, the bank is sadly passing through one of the worst crisis in its history. The bank has weathered many storms in its over 120 year journey. Partition of the country in 1947 and losing many branches and records in Pakistan was one such testing phase. One can be confident that It would come out of the present crisis as well and emerge stronger in the next few years. 

The memory of Prakash Lal Tandon and his management lessons are worthy of remembering in these difficult days and all concerned can derive inspiration from those ideals and values.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Your Name Is On The Tree


The village school teacher had come to the bank to withdraw some money from his personal account. I had recently taken charge of that branch. After his work was done, he came to the Manager's room (a room was made into a manager's cabin in the village building housing the bank branch) to discuss about a "Gramsabha" (village meeting) to be held for identifying some beneficiaries for the loan schemes sponsored by the government. Among the few educated people in the nearby villages (this was some thirty years ago), he was respected by the villagers and helpful in conducting such meetings in an orderly manner. Gramsabha can be a tricky affair due to various political affiliations and local politics. Persons commanding the respect of all villagers can be very handy in managing such meetings. This teacher was one of such personalities.

A farmer was waiting outside the room to meet me. He had apparently walked some distance in the hot sun in the summer month. As the talk with the teacher would take sometime, I called him to the room to attend to him. He reluctantly came in as the teacher was sitting in front of me. He was carrying four tender coconuts in his hands and placed them near the door. He stood before us and did not sit on the chair despite being asked to do so. I told him that I would not talk to him unless he was seated. He sat on the chair only after the teacher also urged him to sit. He wanted to grow some Tomato in his land and wanted a crop loan. I told him that I would visit his village the next morning and see his land and attend to his request. He thanked me and the teacher and left the room. As he was leaving, I reminded him to take the tender coconuts he had kept near the door which he had forgotten while going out.

The teacher started laughing and told me that I was punishing the poor fellow. i did not understand what was the import of his statement. "He has carried the tender coconuts in the hot son this far to give it to you. You are asking him to take it back all the way in the hot sun again. Do not trouble him by asking him to take them back. Please accept them. This is the way villagers show respect to people like you", he said. I took out a ten rupee note from my purse, handed it to him and asked him to have tea in the roadside tea shop. He looked at the teacher and after he nodded his head, took the note hesitantly and went away, leaving the coconuts at the door.
*****

There are regular visits of many officials to villages for various reasons. Villagers who grow fruits and vegetables in their lands believe in sharing some of it with visiting officials. Seasonality decides the availability of such fruits and vegetables. As the officials attend to their work, someone in the village takes the lead and collects such items. The bag is kept in the visitor's vehicle by the time the work is done and the visitor is ready to leave the village. This is a courtesy extended by the villagers and is accepted as well. It is neither demanded nor refused when offered. That is the way life goes on in the villages. At least, that was how it was in those days. 
*****

The bus was overcrowded when it pulled to a stop at the roadside shelter of the village, on the hot Saturday afternoon. I somehow got inside the bus and was wondering how the journey would be for the next hundred kilo meters. The bus conductor always has a seat near the back entrance of the bus. Conductors are unable to sit there when the bus is full and they keep moving inside the bus selling tickets and collecting money. But he always has the right of sitting there and can ask anyone sitting there to get up and vacate the seat. The conductor had got down at the stop and he asked the person sitting in his seat to vacate the same and asked me to sit there. This was a big relief and I accepted it without a question. 

A villager entered the bus behind me carrying a big bag and asked me to make place below the seat to keep the bag. I told him to keep it elsewhere as sitting on the seat with the bag below the seat was inconvenient on the long journey. The conductor intervened politely and told me to make way for the bag. As the seat itself was given to me by his courtesy, I complied without murmur now. The journey continued on the hot day, but sitting near the window reduced the discomfort to some extent. But the bag below the seat had left very little space for the feet to move. The bus finally reached the city bus stand. I was the last to get down. As I got down from from the bus, the conductor asked me to wait and said he would get an autorikshaw for me. I told him not to worry. He insisted on hailing an auto, got one and asked a villager to put the bag that was kept below my feet in the bus in my auto. I looked at him in surprise.

"Sir, this bag is given by Manjunath to be sent with you. He has kept some fruits for you in the bag. I have been told to handle this. Please take this as otherwise Manjunath will scold me", he said. I thanked him and proceeded home with the bag in the auto.

The bag contained an assorted variety of mango fruits. They were indeed very tasty. Manjunath had probably chosen the best of fruits available in his garden. The "Malgova" variety fruits were especially tasty and the best we ever had.

*****

Manjunath was a young progressive farmer who also worked as a Lecturer in the nearby town college. He came to the bank in the next few days for some work. "What did you do Manjunath?", I asked. "Sir, I had to arrange with the bus conductor this way or else you would have refused to take the bag", he said. I thanked him for the sweet fruits. "I will be in this village at the most for one more year. But your Malgova mangos have captivated my taste buds. Please give me some fruits from your garden every year, wherever I am. I will pay for it for sure", I said.

"Sir, this is a special tree in my grove. I do not sell the fruits of this tree. It is reserved for my family and friends like you. From now on, Your name is on the tree. The fruits belong to you. They will always be yours. That will be my pleasure", he said.

*****

I have never been able to go that village again and see that tree. But sweeter than the mangos were the words of that farmer. Those words bring sweetness whenever they are remembered. There is no seasonality for that. It was one of the pleasures derived while serving in rural areas.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

You Are Always Late


Friction at cash counters is not an uncommon sight in bank branches. Modren technology has rendered counting of cash and detection of fake notes much simpler than what it used to be some forty years ago. When cash counting machines had not yet made their debut, and digital banking and Alternate Delivery Channels (ADCs) like ATMs, internet and mobile banking were not heard of, large volume of cash had to be examined and counted by cashiers each day. Cash was to be first counted and received, then sorted into issuable and soiled notes, stitched into packets of 100 notes each and bundled at 10 packets per bundle. All this took the required amount of time and could not be dispensed with. Handling cash is different from other banking chores and a cashier is accountable for every single piece of currency note he handles. Any shortage is to be made good by the handling cashier immediately. Small denomination notes and cut and mutilated notes add to the problem. "Clean Note Policy" has brought some semblance of discipline in handling currency notes by the general public nowadays. The most important development is routing of large number and volume of transactions through paper-based and electronic payment systems. Despite all this cash handling is still a sensitive issue at bank branches.

Many branches in those days (around 1980) were working in two shifts, for the convenience of customers mostly in residential areas. Branches in market and industrial areas were working between 10 AM to 5 PM with business hours up to 2 PM. Residential area branches were working in two shifts; say 8.30 AM to 12 Noon and again from 4.30 PM to 7.30 PM. Business hours in such branches was restricted to first two hours in each session, say 8.30 AM to 10.30 AM and again from 4.30 PM to 6.30 PM. These branches worked for half a day (morning session) on Sundays and had holidays on Mondays. This was the general pattern of working hours with margins of half an hour on either side. These timings were convenient to working people and housewives as they could finish their banking transactions before going to office or in the evening free time. It also suited many staff members for various reasons. Bank managements were also considerate in posting staff in these branches. A small allowance titled "Split Duty Allowance" was also paid to the staff members to compensate travel to the branch one more time each day. 

Customer inflow (Footfall is the word used used for this nowadays) used to be high in such branches in the first hour in the morning and last hour in the evening. Staff were keen to finish the work and go home as early as possible in the evening. Transport facilities were not this advanced then. Of course, there were not such traffic jams as well. Finishing work was relatively easy in other sections as some things could be carried over to the next day. But not so in cash department as all the prescribed steps had to be completed before the cash is closed for the day and stored in the strong room. Head Cashier and Cash in-charge were the last people to leave the branch in the evening.

A customer bringing large amount of cash, that too in small denominations, was like a Red Rag before the Cashier Bull. There would be some violent exchanges. The intensity depended on the nature of both the customer and the cashier and the chemistry between them. In one of the branches where I was working as Assistant Manager and Cash-in-charge, there used to be a small exchange between the cashier and some customers almost every day. A mother does not always interfere when her small children have fights at home. She keeps a watch and interferes only when the fight tends to go out of control and one of the kids is likely to be injured. I had followed the same policy. Things were working out fine generally, except a few occasions when some action was required to cool the frayed tempers. Branch Manager usually was away in the evenings on business development calls and not available to handle such situations.

There was one customer who always came in the evening twice a week; on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He would come just before closing time in the evening and remit large amount of cash for purchase of DDs. His appearance at the branch door would immediately create some tension for the cashier and the DD writer. DD writer would manage to find the amount and prepare the DD in advance, place it on my table and go home. But cashier did not have this luxury. He had to receive, count and close the cash systematically. One Saturday evening things went out of control. "You are always late. You bring large amount of cash and always in small denominations. Why can't you come early? Why don't you bring high denomination notes?  You are always making my home going very late", he was telling the customer in a raised voice. The cashier was recently married. Had he been married for several years, he would have probably welcomed the idea of going home late.

There was indeed a need for interfering now. I called the customer and enquired what was the nature of his business. He was the proprietor of a Poultry Farm situate some 20 miles from our branch. He told me that Wednesday and Saturday were his collection days. He would be busy entire mornings in his farm looking after the birds, feeding them, collecting eggs and segregating broiler birds for delivery. After loading the eggs and birds into his delivery van after lunch, he would come into the city for delivering them and collecting payments for supplies made during the previous visits. This work would be over by sunset. With all the cash collections he would come to the branch, tender cash and buy DD for purchase of poultry feed for the next cycle. He had no control over the denomination of notes given by his customers. He politely said that he wants to come early, but his strict schedule does not allow him to come earlier than this.

I had a talk with the Branch Manager on the next day. I suggested that the cashier can be taken to the Poultry Farm during his next visit to enable the cashier to understand the problem of the customer. BM liked the idea and arranged for a visit to the poultry farm for the entire branch staff on a Sunday afternoon. This brought about a big change in the attitude of the cashier and the angry exchanges stopped. The customer and the cashier would greet each other now and carry on with their respective work. There was no early going for the cashier even now, but tension was reduced thereafter.

This episode gave a valuable lesson in people management at the branches. In the later years, during my field visits I took one or two staff members to the units, be they manufacturing units, trading ones or units of any other type. This brought staff at branch nearer to the customers and helped in appreciating the needs and constraints of the customers. 
*****

Empathy develops by seeing and experiencing things, not by mere words. People management skills are not a fixed schedule; they have to be invented and adapted depending on the given situations. Each delicate situation does indeed have some solution. These solutions have to be found by a little effort and imagination.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Raison d'être



Why does a mango tree exist? Does it exist for the purpose of giving shade? There are thousands of other trees that provide shade. Is it for producing leaves? There are several thousand other trees that can also give leaves. Is it for photosynthesis and releasing oxygen to the air? This is also done by many other trees around us. What distinguishes a mango tree from several other trees around us? It is the sweet mango fruits that this wonderful tree gives us once in a year. Giving shade, producing leaves which may be used for decoration on religious, social and cultural festivities are not the basic purpose of existence of a mango tree. The ultimate fruits it bears and gives to others defines the basic purpose for which the mango tree exists. Without these fruits, its existence is meaningless. A gardener may not even retain a mango tree which has grown fully and giving a lot of leaves and shade, but not fruits. He would rather cut it out and plant another mango tree that may give fruits in due course.
*****

Raison d'etre is the French word that is normally used to define the fundamental purpose of existence of someone or something. (Its Sanskrit equivalent is उद्देश्य, which is so in many Indian languages). It is defined in the dictionary as "the most important reason or purpose for someone or something's existence." Any other use or uses of the person or thing without fulfilling this basic reason or purpose is meaningless. By-product or a secondary or incidental product is something that is often derived as unforeseen or unintended. The action or process of manufacture is not for getting the by-products, but the desire to get what was originally intended to.

While evaluating a person or organisation, this is to be carefully considered. Someone wants to hire a driver. What should be the basic consideration for deciding on hiring? It is naturally the capacity to discharge the duties of a driver. If he is also a good actor, it is fine. But if he is an average driver and a very good actor, does he fit the bill? If the choice is between a very good driver but an average actor and an average driver but very good actor, the former is naturally be selected. But it is often observed that both at individual level as well at levels of many organisations, extraneous considerations are often kept in view while deciding hiring and putting people on various jobs.

Dr Laurence J Peter studied many hierarchies and came out with his famous principle known widely in management circles as "Peter's Principle". Dr Peter not only deals with raison d'etre while hiring but also while reviewing performance periodically. He stipulates that hiring and placing people in organisations should be done by always keeping core competency in focus. If an employee is able to discharge his duties effectively at a given level, he deserves to be promoted because he is competent. If he is not competent at a given level, he is naturally unfit for next promotion. It is the responsibility of the superior (reporting manager in today's language) to decide whether an employee is competent or not, in discharging his duties. No need to emphasise that the competency is to be determined on the basis of core competency. If the employee is competent, he deserves to be promoted. If he is found incompetent, he does not deserve promotion. It is as simple as that.

What happens if the reporting manager is unable to decide whether the subordinate is competent or not? Dr Peter suggests that such a reporting manager has reached his level of incompetence and time has come for his reporting manager to change him!

One of the greatest tragedies of modren management systems is people are promoted as long as they are competent, but promotion stops as soon as they reach their level of incompetency. Thus they continue as employees at their incompetent level since organisations do not send them one level down, the level at which were actually competent. Organisations are thus deprived of their competency but continue to hold them at incompetent levels! Thus incompetency rules.
***** 

The recent tremors in the Banking Industry has shaken the managements, employees, depositors, regulators and political masters as well. Knee jerk reactions and decisions have become order of the day. Some of the decisions are absurd to say the least. Cutting off the nose to get rid of cold appears to be the remedy. Many curbs are being placed on lending in various forms. The effect of these decisions will be known a year or two down the line. The basic purpose of existence of banks is to raise resources (deposits) and deploy them, mostly as loans & advances, and part as investments. Wholesale curbs on some forms of lending hits at the raison d'etre of these institutions. There is no doubt that the times are indeed difficult; but that has to be negotiated with calmness and firmness. Seeing a fraud everywhere and creating more panic does not help remedy the situation. The problems of the industry lie elsewhere. They are indeed to be addressed firmly. Running behind non-core areas as a reason for the present mess is suddenly coming to sharp focus. Shade and leaves is fine. What about the fruits which is the basic purpose?
*****

Dr Laurence J Peter was also known for his wit and humour. One of his famous quotes is: "The noblest of all dogs is the hot-dog; it feds the hand that bites it!"

This is incidentally my 300th blog post. I am thankful to all readers and friends who have encouraged me over the last seven years, on roundtheclockstories.