“Keep talking to them” -29 October 2013

When Dilip Rao took over as GM of the manufacturing Division of the company, he found that a strange silence had fallen over his core team. People did not seem to enjoy talking one another. All worked in a near-total silence. That was strange, Dilip Rao wondered to himself.

In the subsequent weeks, Dilip Rao was to come across a work culture in which internal communication was the minimum, restricted to things related only to work. And Dilip Rao was also to stumble upon very bad production figures that were disproportionately low against the numerical strength of the work-force.
Of course, for him, it did not take much time to figure out why things were bad. For, when people do not talk to one another on a regular and natural basis, how can the team’s productivity be high? The Division core team had got frozen in a mould that was difficult to break.
Yet, as a new GM of the manufacturing division, Dilip Rao could not ignore this reality. He had to do something to break the mould and start a new work-culture.
A daunting task! — Dilip Rao exclaimed to himself!
Yes. His early experience in the new posting was hardly encouraging. Right on the first day, he had called a meeting of all section heads. After all 20 of them had filed into the conference room, Dilip Rao had initiated the discussion. The response was poor — nobody spoke a work extra, and replied strictly to the question asked. If there were no questions but only statement from Dilip Rao, the section heads just kept straight faces and kept quiet.
There was a little tension in the room as Dilip Rao would not know how to proceed at a meeting in such a silent mode. Yet, that very moment, the phone on the conference table rang and Dilip Rao responded. The switchboard operator had passed his wife’s call since she said, it was urgent.
That call gave Dilip Rao an idea. After he disconnected, he said, “Friends, it was my wife calling for an urgent matter. I am sorry for this interruption. But this has given me a little idea to discuss in this meeting. I would want all of you to tell the meeting one by one something about your respective families.”
No one would speak. After a few minutes of silence, Dilip Rao spoke up himself. He told the colleagues about his wife and kids and parents and others at home of his joint family. He talked longingly and passionately about his people at home.
Slowly, one by one, all section heads started opening up. The meeting was a roaring success. For, all spoke without inhibitions, and ice had been broken, so to say.
But from that point on, there was no progress since everybody seemed to have returned to his shell.
Dilip Rao was, of course, not to be cowed down by such experiences. He kept his efforts on to make people speak. On his round of the facility, he would stop by at anybody’s workstation, put his hand on the guy’s shoulder, and talk to him smoothly — about anything, from the weather of the day to the guy’s wife’s health to his kids’ schools etc. Everything except work.
That started making a little difference. For, whenever he came along, workers and colleagues started giving Dilip Rao a warm smile, something the Division had not experienced in years. For, Dilip Rao had proved to be the first leader who could break the frigid culture of the division.
Once this was achieved, subsequent results came rather easily. The whole process took some time, but in about a year’s time, the division’s core team started talking to one another. That also led to a stronger personal bonding in the team, and that had a nearly dramatic effect on the performance.
This highlights the importance of internal communication on an overall basis and not just restricted to official work. Good managements often promote such internal communication that goes beyond the loose talk that may actually mar the clean atmosphere in the organisation. Dilip Rao’s effort as General Manager paid dividends.
Today, however, as he looks back on the initial days, he just shudders.

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