Case Analysis: Bas Karte Hain!
Kashyap, Jimmy and Varun should start talking this new language of hope not just among themselves but with everyone down the line
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If necessity is the mother of invention, adversity is the father of superglue. A disaster brings out the hero in us like nothing else does. And, in the process, brings us together like nothing else does. It happens all the time — families open up their houses to complete strangers, people risk their lives to save others , much recalled superhuman feats are achieved. That’s how it is… people unite against a common enemy. When it rains without stopping, all the animals come together on Noah’s ark to ensure the continuation of the species (in this case, the company). It is biological. This, however, is not the point of the Delaware’s Southern Region (SR) story.
What if the flood had not happened? The real story hinges on this critical what if. Assuming the rains hadn’t devastated the city and the Delaware operations, several issues are of interest.
The obvious questions to ask are around the conduct of the two protagonists — Jimmy’s envy, Varun’s pride (due apologies to Onida). How long would they have continued to squabble? Does it behove two senior managers of a company to behave in this manner, carping like five year olds, imperiling their employer’s interests, its relationships with the trade and customers? This is something for them to have figured out. Given time, perhaps they would have. Or not. Happily, thanks to the deluge, they apparently did. And we had a happy ending.
All three were actually playing a game, what TA (transactional analysis) refers to as the ‘drama triangle’. Jimmy, his ego bruised by Varun’s imperial manner, begins by playing victim, positioning a possibly unknowing Varun as the persecutor. Kashyap is the reluctant rescuer in this drama triangle. When Jimmy turns down Sales requests, he becomes persecutor with Varun as the new victim. When SR takes a hit in any way, Kashyap will be the victim and the other two will appear persecutors. The game can go on endlessly. Until the players recognise it for what it is. And put a stop to it. Bringing matters to the conscious mind would perhaps be the key corrective action to take. As the leader, Kashyap probably sees this already and, wisely, is reluctant to play the game. He, however, needs to do more.
Which brings us to the two questions I invite you to explore together — the role of leadership and the durability of the change. Let’s look at leadership first.
Did it have to take a flood? How long would Kashyap have allowed things to stray and what might he have done thereafter? One would never really know. But let us be a tad unreasonable and demanding. If Jimmy and Varun were not being responsible about their roles, as a leader, what should have been his? An organisation cannot wait for a flood simply to bring people together. Agreed, he did make some efforts — speaking to them individually, even philosophically, about what is smartness and what systems are for. But when this doesn’t work, you have to ratchet it up to the next level of managerial action. You are not a Zen master seeking solely to bring enlightenment to your disciples. You are a manager who has to deliver numbers. Quarter after quarter. If both can be achieved, great. If not, allowing an issue as critical as this to fester, borders on abnegation. Each leader has a stop loss, I guess, a point beyond which they will not let things slide. This judgement is vital. Should Kashyap have intervened earlier? Possibly.
Were his interventions effective? Possibly not. By not addressing the issue effectively, he allows the floods to actually rescue him. If we wear our ‘demanding CEO’ hat, SR would most likely, have drowned had there not been a flood! The flood actually may have saved them.
A leader has a wide spectrum of response choices. Let’s see how TA theory can help us again. Given their behaviour, Jimmy and Varun are clearly ‘in Child’ while Kashyap is ‘in Adult’. If Kashyap has to eventually have an adult-to-adult conversation — the right thing to do — he can perhaps first engage the child in Jimmy and Varun only by being ‘in Parent’. A parent can communicate to a child in many ways — as Rumi would say, a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground — but what is perhaps common in all these thousand ways is telling, not asking. A parent tells the child what they feel and what is the impact of the child’s behaviour. Kashyap possibly attempts an adult-to-adult transaction too early. He needs to be a bit of parent first. At one extreme, a parent to child conversation could even be a ‘close-the-door-and-sit-down’ conversation where he reads them the riot act. But many gentler variations of this can be offered. As their manager, he has many choices in his parent role, many tools in the box.
Some leaders use a strategy of keeping their organisations in a perpetual ‘flood’ state where people are constantly stumbling from one crisis to the next. This, they believe, keeps the team sharp, focused and together. Happily, not true. The disaster story has a short shelf life. And it has to be truly threatening. There have been instances of CEOs intentionally allowing things to degenerate a bit so as to foment a galvanising crisis. This is risky strategy. Since the case doesn’t tell us, we don’t know whether Kashyap was abnegating or simply giving his guys more rope, allowing a crisis (or not allowing a crisis to develop) to develop before stepping in big time.
Be that as it may, Kashyap’s two warring generals hugged and came together on that flood-and-alcohol enabled morning. And we must not question good fortune. The concern we should have, however, is ‘How do we make this last’? What happens when the waters recede? When the servers are up again? When Sales wants the next exception made for their VIP customer? When office life gets back to its normal groove? If adversity brought them together, could ‘normal’ times move them apart again? How do we ensure that Jimmy and Varun don’t go back to being the way they were in pre-flood times?
Making change last is a key challenge that CEOs struggle with. In this case, something that Kashyap should have high on his agenda. Externally induced change, especially, can be even more ephemeral. No one says it better than John Kotter — “In the final analysis, change sticks when it becomes ‘the way we do things out here,’ when it seeps into the bloodstream of the corporate body. Until new behaviours are rooted in social norms and shared values, they are subject to degradation as soon as the pressure for change is removed.”
What does ‘bas karte hain’ exactly mean? What leadership actions might be desirable? What steps should they take to make it permanent? This may sound very unromantic but there is a risk that unless the mystique of the ‘enlightenment’ moment is not made unambiguous and explicit (even if that renders it prosaic) both parties may lapse into their old ways. Are the bitterness of the past being owned by the two of them or are they going to be conveniently brushed under as nobody’s fault? Going forward, what behaviours will they adopt, what will they abandon? Between them, perhaps the unsaid needs to be said, the unheard to be heard and the withheld to be acted upon.
As Jimmy and Varun’s relationship deteriorated, so must have those of the cross functional teams below them. Likely, these too will need to be healed, the ‘bas karte hain’ message evangelised down the line. A helpful outcome that can be designed could be new systems and processes that could minimise conflict. What Kashyap should perhaps do is point out to Jimmy and Varun the business benefits from their now healthy relationship and encourage them to transform behaviors into processes — formal and informal — that will hopefully seep into the ‘corporate bloodstream’ over time.
An interesting side issue that this case raises is, I believe, of organisation culture — which Kotter refers to as ‘the way we do things here’, the social norms and shared values. Culture is a leadership choice. A foundation stone for culture is conversations. I refer to the informal banter that happens before meetings begin and the several small, frank one-on-ones that pepper a typical work day. In Delaware SR, these could be the conversations between Jimmy’s and Varun’s team members after every ‘episode’ of management lockdown. You can imagine what these must have been like. Not just words — the tone, the gestures, the totality of the communication between people — all these make up the building blocks of an organisation. When these conversations are positive, not cynical and reflect the concerns of the company as a whole, not those of a single department, we know that the organisation is on to a good thing. Kashyap, Jimmy and Varun should capitalise on the moment and start talking this new language of hope not just among themselves but to everyone down the line. The flood waters will recede. A happy, cheerful, optimistic culture, probably not.
Often, organisations cannot anticipate that a current interpersonal impasse is going to hit a huge crisis or that some act of God will bring solutions and understanding. Or even that a seeming friction is in fact turning into a messy situation for the organization. There are people who work with teams and individual managers to help them see what they themselves cannot often see but need to. Atul Mathur comments on the kind of diagnostics a consultant could use and some intervention options that could be considered.
Cure or Care?
The most effective coaching engagements are those where objectives are explicit and worthwhile and the duration of the assignment is appropriate to the task at hand
Organisations are a bit like cars – they run well if you look after them. Most days they run smooth and silent. But they will periodically need a wheel alignment to ensure all wheels are turning in exactly the same direction. Many, many analogies…but you get the point.
Question is, when things appear to be going awry, what is an appropriate leadership intervention? What options should a leader consider? For example, as in the Delaware case, when two generals in your army are not talking to each other? When the infection is beginning to spread to the reporting teams? Something has to be done. You cannot wait for the rain to rescue you.
To continue the car analogy, interventions can be both preventive, like regular servicing, or curative, addressing dysfunctionality. Interestingly, in either case, an intervener may do almost exactly the same thing. Only, perhaps with differing tonality.
Before any intervention is thought of, to ensure it is appropriate, a proper diagnosis is necessary. In the given case, a very superficial analysis would indicate that Jimmy ‘started it all’ by being jealous of the spotlight swinging away to Varun. And thus ‘he needs some talking to’. But what about Varun? Must everyone simply adjust to his perceived ‘insensitivity’? Or is there a genuine cause underlying his behavior? And Kashyap – how long a rope should he give his team? A diagnostic conversation with Jimmy might just unearth something organisational rather than personal. For instance, does Commercial as a function, suffer from Sales-envy? (the Sales function’s easy measurability makes it an ideal subject for reward and recognition which often evades ‘softer’, less measurable functions like commercial or HR). In which case the intervention will have to be significantly different from simply treating it as an interpersonal problem. A diagnosis can be made, inter alia, through one on one interviews, direct observation of team meetings, and perusal of secondary data such as 360° reports.
There are a number of well-respected models to assist a consultant in the diagnosis process – Weisbord Six Box, Nadler-Tushman, Burke-Litwin to name a few. But my favorite is Beckhard’s GRPI (Goal, Role, Process, Interactions) model for its sheer simplicity. Models help us to see the big picture and identify organisational blocks with greater accuracy.
No matter how ‘scientific’ the approach is, an experienced consultant often relies on what I call ‘data based intuition’ to create hypotheses that he tests out with employees and uses as the foundation for the intervention design. Having said this, it must be remembered that diagnosis itself is an intervention and creates the first ripples of change.
Depending on the diagnosis, interventions can be at an organisational, team or personal level – singly or in combination. Selecting the appropriate intervention is vital. To expand on Beckhard’s model, if the problem in a team is lack of clarity around goals, roles or processes (G,R, or P), no amount of ‘team bonding’ is going to solve it.
Managers often feel an outdoor programme is the solution to all team issues. While I am a strong proponent of outdoor methodology, this choice must be made after deliberation. An outdoor programme – corporates have curiously christened them ‘outbounds’ – is a powerful tool to bring people together on the same page and to enable the flow of honest and open conversations. These conversations can then be directed at whatever has emerged from the diagnosis. It is the skill of the facilitator how he directs and channelizes these conversations towards relevant issues. Otherwise it would be like a ship, after weeks of sailing, calling at the wrong port! Team time, when everybody is together, is precious. A skilled facilitator, who has made an accurate diagnosis, will ensure that conversations stay on course. It is worthwhile to remember that candid conversation is the goal. The outdoors is a means of getting there. And there could be others.
Interventions at the personal, as opposed to organisational or team levels, generally take some form of coaching. Depending on the diagnosed need, coaching emphasis may be on performance, leadership development, transition or skill development to name a few. The most effective coaching engagements are those where objectives are explicit and worthwhile and the duration of the assignment is appropriate to the task at hand. Get these wrong and you are setting yourself up for failure.
To conclude, increasingly I am coming to believe that methodologies, models and theories are just props; crutches for the coach-consultant to lean on. Her true caliber lies in how much she is able to internalise into her authentic self and transmute into her very presence. The Knowing and the Doing have to be subsumed by the Being. A process of shedding and forgetting. A state where we ourselves are the instrument and the intervention. How do we get to this state, this consultant ‘nirvana’? On this thousand mile pilgrimage, where will we put our first step?
The writer is a coach and an organisational consultant
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.