There was no doubt that the company was doing well in the marketplace. Production was on target and things appeared well on course. However, after he returned to the company after a two-year sabbatical during which he studied for a PhD in Human Resource Management, Dr. Vishwas Bal, General Manager HR, felt a slight unease in the office. Outwardly, everything was okay, but Vishwas felt while talking to people that they were holding back something which he could not decipher. At coffee vending machines, in the canteen, in the table-tennis hall where a lot of people spent some time, Vishwas realised that everybody went certain distance and suddenly clammed up. He got confused.
As a part of his job, he was expected to handle all situations related to HR. So, Dr. Vishwas Bal started having personal meetings with certain youngsters who might give some clue to the silent unease in the company. The first encounter was with a young lady who had been with the company for a good ten years in an executive position. She was known to be a good worker and team-player. At coffee, this woman, Sunitee, talked of so many things under the Sun but started hedging when Vishwas mentioned about the silent unease he felt upon his return after two years. Slowly, she opened up and said, “Sir, in our company, most people feel that there is nobody who is listening to them…”.
Similar responses came from several people when Vishwas sought their meetings over coffee. One young man who had joined the company during Vishwas’ absence, was fair in his comment. He said, “Sir, because things seem to be moving well, the bosses are not bothered about listening to their juniors. But I realise that certain issues like appropriate compensation and proper working conditions need to be sorted out. But the bosses have no time to listen to what the employees feel. Nobody is listening, Sir.”
Deeper he delved into people’s mind more did Vishwas realise that the silent unease he felt might someday explode into hostility which the management would not be able to handle effectively at a later stage.
That was when Dr. Vishwas Bal put together a team of trusted colleagues to talk to colleagues at all levels in a systematic manner and try to open them up on key issues that might be hurting them. The task might take weeks, but “never mind friends, push on until you have talked to a sufficient number”, he said to the members of the team.
That was certainly a smart move.
For, in a couple of weeks, the team started coming up with fairly well documented details of what was hurting the employees at various levels. Certain issues were related to compensation in terms of wages. Certain were about post-retirement benefits. And many people came up with complaints that the bosses have developed a tendency to ignore opinions of their subordinates who could have some worthy suggestions to improve things. This happened at all levels, the investigating team found out.
Dr. Vishwas Bal realised that the issue was far more serious than he first felt. The details were fairly disconcerting and led him to have a word with the MD, an efficient administrator but rather stern in his demeanour and unwilling to extend conversation beyond a few words. Pleasantries were not his style and the big boss did not frowning if somebody approached him for anything.
Initially, Vishwas found it difficult to open the subject without feeling embarrassed because of the MD’s manner. But he picked up courage and presented the issue before him in as clear a manner as was possible in the given circumstances. The big boss was not convinced and even accused Vishwas of imagining things. It was at that moment that he reminded the boss as politely as possible that his PHD would be worth nothing if he were imagining things. The boss was hurt but allowed Vishwas to draw up a plan of action to counter the situation.
Picking up the point, Vishwas initiated a series of meetings with the management cadre, first at the senior levels and later at subsequent levels. He explained to them in the most patient and systematic manner the need to develop a listening ear and encourage subordinates to open up. Though first meetings drew a huge blank, subsequent interactions did produce some positive response.
Change was coming, and Vishwas now felt confident that he could make a difference. Still, the distance between the cup and the lip was too much and the effort took several months to start changing the administrative culture of the company.
But when some bosses started listening, the youngsters felt motivated to more meaningful contribution to the overall atmosphere. Productivity started showing an increase and the Board of Directors recorded satisfaction over the improving performance.
And all that happened because the bosses started listening to their subordinates.