Experts often quote Chinese master Lao Tzu (who lived 600 BC) about evolving a robust internal communication in an organisation: “Use attitude instead of action. Lead others by guiding rather than ruling. Manage people by letting them act on you instead of the other way around. In this way, you develop a sense of self-government”.
When Anisha joined the company as General Manager with mostly women in her large workforce, she was fully aware of the Lao Tzu quote, having read extensively about it in her B-school a few years ago. She was also aware deeply that there could be many women in her organisation not liking a woman as the boss. Thanks to her study of psychology as a major subject for graduation, Anisha felt that she should use the wisdom of Lao Tzu quote to create a culture of effective internal communication in the company so that everybody felt connected and concerned about the company and its progress.
Of course, considering the issue in such a light was a task that needed an intelligent and smart application of whatever she understood as a first-class communicator herself. Yet, when she pondered over the enormity of the task at hand — of winning over the largely women-dominated workforce — Anisha felt all the more determined. Yet, she warned herself, she had to start carefully and patiently.
Out of that awareness came her plan — of abandoning her personal lunch in her ante chamber, and moving to the company canteen. So, one afternoon, Anisha arrived at the canteen and asked for a ‘thali’. She picked up her platter and moved to a group of women already seated for lunch. All women felt confused, surprised, and yet happy. For, they had never seen a GM joining them like that for lunch. What followed was just a casual conversation about everything under the Sun — from marriage to children to cooking to sarees to driving to work in a stormy morning …! There was no talk about work. The whole thing looked like a very casual conversation meandering around subjects, but no gossip, no loose talk.
It is not difficult to imagine how things moved then on. It took Anisha several weeks to establish a casual connect with most people in the workforce. It was at times painful as well. For, her lunch-time or coffee-time sessions stretched a little longer than regulation hour. At times, she had to sacrifice her work as the GM and do it in afterhours. But, slowly but surely, the effort started bearing fruit. For, in less than a few months, the workforce had generally accepted Anisha not as a GM but as one of the ranks.
Afterwards, everything moved smoothly, barring a few glitches here and there. Anisha was happy about her success, but felt strained and stressed all the time for having to go extra distance all the time to connect with her people. Back home, her husband and mother-in-law often criticised her for trying to be too good to everybody. “One day, this may land you in trouble”, warned her husband who also was a senior VP in another company.
Yet, Anisha persisted with her plan, which fortunately worked well. About a year-and-a-half later as GM, Anisha can claim that she has succeeded in helping her colleagues at all levels evolve a robust internal communication that connected every employee with the organisation as a family, and not as a job that remunerated them at the end of each month.
The visible effect of this cultural evolution was that the company whose graph was dipping for a few years started moving upward again, howsoever tentatively. For Anisha, as well as for the Board, it was a good sign, particularly when many other companies were getting harassed by severe recession and economic downturn. So good did things sound in a while that managers elsewhere started asking Anisha the secret of her success.
To all such questions, Anisha would smile and say, “I moved inward.”
That might have sounded rather mysterious, but that was how this story goes.