Sunday, June 9, 2013

It is the ability that counts!

The young Branch Manager (BM) had a big problem on his hands.  Authorities in the bank had specifically briefed him about the new assignment.  Recently promoted, he was posted as the In-charge of the bigger branch with a heavy customer inflow and growing business levels.  Eye brows were raised when the inexperienced greenhorn was handed over the reins of the sensitive branch.  He was aware that he was under scrutiny of his peers and many of them desired that he should fail.  Manpower shortage was a problem for the entire industry and his branch was no exception.  With business growing month after month, managing the affairs of the branch with limited manpower was indeed a challenging task.  He and his two Assistant Managers were very active and had formed a core team to manage the affairs of the branch.  One of the senior clerks in the branch was as good as an assistant manager and shouldered far more responsibilities than expected of his designation. They were early years of computerization and  this branch was chosen for a initial implementation of a new software for advanced computerization of operations.  Quantity of manpower was limited and its quality compounded the problem.  Aging staff members fighting to upgrade themselves to handle the requirements of new environment presented a pathetic sight.  But the show had to go on.  Each day brought new and unexpected problems.  He was more into fire-fighting and trouble-shooting than attending to the requirements of business development.

Bank organized a three day workshop on computerization and he was directed to attend the same.  He was sitting in the program next to a very senior BM who was due for retirement in less than a year.  Partly due to age factor and partly due to the deliberations which he hardly understood, the old man often dozed during the sessions.  He would suddenly wake up in the middle of his stupor and ask a question of the moderator.  Even before the answer was completed for the irrelevant question, he would be back in his sleepy world.  This was an irritant for the moderator but provided comic relief to the others.  On the third day of the program he suddenly got up from his drowsiness and uttered a sentence: Kuch nahi hoga (Nothing will happen).  The senior man resumed his sleep before our hero could ask him what was the meaning of his statement.  Fortunately, the veteran was wide awake during lunch time and this gave a chance to our hero to pull him aside and ask him the meaning of his comment during the session.  The veteran smiled and replied, "You see, they are talking of new machines and new technology.  Machines do not work.  Humans work.  Aaap jitna bhi accha machine lagaao, Chalanevaale wahi gadhe hain!" (The machines (computers) and software may be of excellent quality, but those who run them are the same old donkeys).  BM was left wondering how true the experienced man's uttering was.

When the BM returned to his branch from the workshop, a rude shock awaited him.  The senior clerk was promoted and transferred to another branch.  A substitute was provided in the next two weeks.  He was an elderly man who was weak in application of interest and arithmetical calculations.  Most of the bank work revolved on these requirements.  Assistant Managers found difficult to work with him and complained about him to the BM.  BM cursed his own fate but decided to get on with things and face the situations as they unfolded.

The branch had its share of complaining customers who frequented BM's cabin with their complaints on various issues.  Their number came down progressively over the next two months.  BM was pleasantly surprised at this development and probed the matter.  He realised that the complaining customers were spending more time with the new elderly clerk and left the branch thereafter with a smiling face!  This man was very good in public relations and had his own way of tacking tough customers.  He could not manage routine counter work but was an expert in understanding human behaviour and meeting customer expectations with unorthodox approach.  Most of the complaining customers were pensioners and senior citizens.  This man was very effective in making them feel important and solving their emotional concerns.  Once emotional concerns were attended to,  they were not much worried about minor service issues which resulted in complaints earlier.  Suddenly BM found an alley in the substitute clerk who gave him relief and time to attend to business matters.  He slowly stated relegating some other issues like liaison with software and hardware vendors and follow-up actions with Government agencies etc.  The substitute clerk did not have the ability to manage routine banking hall activities but able to deliver out-door errands quite effectively. In course of time this clerk was even better than the two Assistant Managers form utility point of view.  The branch won the "Best Branch Award" that year and the new clerk had made substantial contributions for the achievement.

There is a maxim in HRD: It is the ability that counts, not the inability.  Every person is bestowed by the creator with some qualities or the other which could be used effectively.  Effective leaders are able to spot such talents quickly and harness them for achieving team goals.  Of course, the leader should have the time and patience to work on this belief.  Otherwise most of the team members in many teams may be declared as useless or ineffective.


  1. Quite an interesting narration. Doing our best during crisis and handling situations is indeed a difficult task. Kudos to the Branch manager and his team.

  2. It is true that every humsn being has different capabilities. The success of a leader lies in his ability to identify this in individuals and work on the positives of the team member. No point in putting round pegs in square holes. A management ledson Well narrated and simple as usual.
    s. Raman

  3. made very interesting reading.
    you should conduct seminars or workshop on HRD to illustrate your views. you have the 'ability' to tell absorbing and fascinating stories based real-life events. congrats! keep up the good work.

  4. Excellent article with lot of insights .


  5. The Manager should recognize the abilities of the staff and utilize them properly and appropriately. Using right appliance for wrong application makes it a wrong appliance and reduces overall efficiency. However, this is the case that is happening in most of the banks today. Blind managers, inefficient HR Departments which do not realize the above maxim and frustrated staff members. That is the story of banking on 21st century. I might not have seen much but I have seen enough to understand this.

  6. Very nice.

    R Jagannathan.

  7. Excellent Teaching Sirji. Thank you so much for such an encouraging blogs and too at this age. Keep it up Sirji and once again thank you.

    Pranaya Rai

  8. This is a nice in sight for all of us who always keep lamenting this worker is not good, that worker is not good etc. I feel jealous of Keshavji for the ease and flow with which he narrates and bring home the point.

    ts renganathan

  9. After being in bank and able to see behavior of staff for the last two to three weeks, I can correlate the above story to the abilities of the people in the branch. As your last lines rightly says that effective leaders makes that talent count. Sir very impressive and it is one of the best. I am eagerly waiting for your next article.

  10. Sir so that senior manager in the workshop was right? Or partially right? What is the conclusion?