Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, 15 Jan 2010
In Indian folklore, there are four characters. There is Shekchilli. There is Gangu Teli. There is Mitti ka Madhav (some say Gobar ka Ganesh) and there is Raja Bhoj. They most aptly describe the kind of people we have in our organization.
Shekchilli is a dreamer. One day he gets a pot of milk from his master. He deams of turning the milk into curds then churning it for butter and selling the butter and making some money and using that money to buy more milk and make more butter. And in time making and selling so much butter that he would not have to work. As he dreams of the possibilities, he stumbles and falls on the road. The pot of milk in his hand breaks and out pours all the milk into the ground.
Gangu Teli does not dream at all. He likes to implement things. He calls himself a ‘realist’ and focuses on practical things like doing the task and measuring their effectiveness and efficiency. That’s what the world should be doing. He has a disdain for dreamers. His name Teli suggests that he is an oil presser. Just as an oil presser uses force to push oil out of oilseeds, Gangu Teli uses pressure to get work out of his team. Carrots, he says, are dreams; sticks, he insists, are reality. The story goes that when the wall of the king’s mountain-fort kept collapsing, the astrologer recommended the sacrifice of a woman and her newborn to appease the gods of the mountain. The only person whose wife and child were available for sacrifice – either voluntarily or under pressure, we will never know – was that of Gangu Teli. He is the frontline warrior; he knows. When times are bad, he will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. The buck stops with him as he stands in the market. He is therefore most valued in the immediate term. Since he knows that, he often suffers from an inflated self-importance.
Mitti ka Madhav (also known by some as Gobar ka Ganesh) is neither a dreamer like Shekchilli nor an implementer like Gangu Teli. He is what you want him to be. On his own, he is neither. He is a reactive member of the team, doing whatever pleases you, with no mind or opinion of his own.
That brings us to Raja Bhoj, the ideal leader, a dreamer as well as implementer. If a 2×2 matrix of dreamers and implementers is created, then Raja Bhoj sits in the top right hand box while Mitti ka Mahav sits on the bottom left hand box. Raja Bhoj knows when it is time to dream and when it is time to implement.
Mr. Pyne realized, to his horror, that his organization is full of Gangu-Telis and Mitti ka Madhavs, when the recession hit. And he had to admit that it was his own fault. For six years the going was good. The demand for the copper pipes he made was greater than the supply. So he hired a number of executives who thought tactically and could sell. “No dreamers for me,” he told his HR department, “I want people who implement.” Mr. Pyne had his experience with dreamers. They sat all day, made presentations to him, never moved out of air-conditioned offices, and imagined the market. He had to pay them a fat salary and there was no output of theirs that he could implement or measure. It was a waste of time. “All this strategy nonsense is good for other companies. Not more me,” he said. So he created an organization where it was all about tasks and measurements. No creativity was celebrated. “Lets just copy what the competitor does,” he said, “Why waste time thinking ourselves?” Things went well for a long time. Growth in quarter after quarter. Bigger offices, more people, more sales, and with good profits. Then came the recession.
All the businesses showed a degrowth suddenly. No one wanted the copper pipes. Pipes sold were being returned. Payments were not being made. The salesmen were frustrated. Everyone shrugged their shoulders helplessly and hung their head in shame. Mr. Pyne looked around and realized there was no idea he could copy to get out of the situation. Everyone was in the same boat. Almost everyone. There was one small company, belonging to one Mr. Raut, that was doing reasonably well. Their salesmen were not complaining and no one in his team feared losing a job. Mr. Pyne called on Mr. Raut and Mr. Raut was kind to share his secret. “You see when the going was good, I imagined a time when things would not be so. Every boom is followed by a bust. So I created a small team to imagine a situation where there is no demand for copper pipes. How would we survive then? They came up with many ideas and I invested a small proportion of my profits to experiment with them. Most of them failed. But two ideas that they came up with are proving to be viable in these trying times.”
Mr. Pyne realized that Mr. Raut was a Raja Bhoj who had created a team of Shekchillis. Together they had dreamt of bust even in boom times. And this had enabled them to survive the bust. If only, he had functioned like that. But then, he was no Raja Bhoj. He had taken pride in being Gangu Teli and now that the fort had collapsed, it was time for him to make the dreaded sacrifice of all that he dearly loved.