“Only for opposition’s sake!”- 12 November 2013
The staff found it extremely difficult to follow the new set of instructions at workplace given by the new boss, Jagannath Kumar, a young man who wished to leave blazing trail behind as his mark on the organisation. In fact, the company had been doing well for the past several years by any standard. Its market-cap had increased two-fold, its product range had got broader, and profit-after-tax, too, had gone up. Yet, when Jagannath Kumar took over, he found that the company was working much below its potential. So, he started taking a few steps to enhance the company’s overall results. His new instructions for the personnel were a part of his New Deal package of internal reforms (which the staff found extremely difficult to cope with).
Jagannath Kumar had thought of introducing certain changes in the way the company worked. When he was in the US working for an American multinational company, he had learnt a few very good things. Now, he wanted to implement those ideas. He was a nice man with bright ideas, but the staff, somehow did not appreciate those.
The trouble, thus, was of the attitude rather than anything else.
But which particular idea did the staff oppose?
The idea was to redesign the average work-day. And such a work-day had to begin with two important things — first prayers at one’s own work-station, and the second was a set of physical exercises that would last for about ten minutes, and those ten minutes were not to be counted as working hours.
So, every morning, the members of the staff and middle-level management were supposed to join prayers (whose words were chanted on the internal public address system) and then do a set of stretching exercises (that the staff could see on the internal CCTV sets).
‘Why all this fuss?’, staff asked indignantly. ‘We will do nothing of this sort’, said some others.
Jagannath Kumar, however, was aware of the possible opposition to such good ideas. He knew that the staff was not per se opposed to the idea of prayers and exercises; it was opposed to a change.
So, when his secretary told him about the staff’s reactions, he called a meeting of sectional heads. Right at the outset, he declared that he did not intent to change his mind, but would love to listen to everybody’s point of view. All spoke against the idea with no solid points. As he has assessed rightly, most of them opposed the idea only because they were not used to any such behaviour particularly at workplace.
So, Jagannath Kumar was right. He responded positively. In fact, he could raise a storm when the staff chose not to listen to official instructions. But Jagannath Kumar decided to play along. He asked, “Friends, can I explain why I want this idea to be implemented?” Nobody could say ‘no’.
So, Jagannath Kumar continued, “Look friends, the idea is to make a good start of the day — with prayers that would calm down our minds and we could concentrate on work better, and exercises is to ward of sluggishness which many of us may feel after a heavy meal at home before coming to office. My idea is not to start a fitness centre, but it is to give our collective day a good start. I would expect everybody to abide by this code, but would not force anybody if he or she chose to ignore it.”
His words were calm and his face showed no agitation. All Jagannath Kumar did was to stay calm and push his point, instead of ordering things around (which he could, of course, do officially).
His manner made the desired impact. For, one section head raised his hand to ask a question: “Sir, how can you stay so calm when we are opposing an idea you have floated? Don’t you feel angry that we are defying you?”
Jagannath Kumar just smiled and said, “My dear friend, daily prayers give me this ability to stay calm. And daily exercises keep me in good physical shape and I do not drop my stamina even after 16 hours of work in a day.”
The meeting got over inconclusively, but slowly members of the staff started thinking positively about the new instructions. A few of the staff members also started pushing the idea, and in a few weeks, daily prayer and exercises became an integral part of the company’s culture.
Such experiences are noted in almost all the organisations when the personnel oppose certain things just for the heck of it. If the leaders handle the situation with patience, they can win the game.