Article (February-2018)


When leadership escapes from the root cause

Anil Malik

Designation : -   Management Consultant HR & IR Strategies

Organization : -  AM HR Solutions, Indore


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In any organisation, each position has its role and responsibility with accountability and ownership. We cannot even imagine running the organisation without commitment and ownership at leadership level. Ideally, this should happen but does it? Here is the example of plant level leadership where a person named Mr. Banerjee occupies the position of Dy. Plant head. Typically, as it happens in most of the manufacturing industries in our country Mr. Banerjee also being a plant head takes care of its production processes only but does not take the ownership of support function like HR. He wants to run operation of the plant through the people but does not keep the habit of interacting and caring them.
The Dy. Plant head must have the ownership of entire plant operation in absence of Expat plant head but when the matter  is related to disciplinary action against the undisciplined workman he not only keeps himself away from the processes but ensure that no one from his core work area of production should be involved in the disciplinary processes.
In the current, case one such worker Mr. Jagpal working as a plant operator has strong influence over other fellow workers. However, his this strength of influencing his co-workers had been perceived as a negative attitude and arrogant character. An incidence happened when line operator instructed him to overstay & complete the target and he refused and left the plant by abusing and threatening the line Manager. Line manager has verbally informed HR about the incident. Whereas he was supposed to give written complaint. HR head also initiated investigation and jumped on the conclusion to suspend Mr. Jagpal who had a strong network and could successfully built up collective pressure on management.
In the entire processes role of plant leadership is missing. He could have analysed the situation internally by interacting at every level. The influential leadership could have been encashed in favour of proactive actions of management. Why people are in support of Mr. Jagpal? Why not in line with our Shop managers and the Dy. Plant head? It clearly indicates lack of communication, non - availability of communication channels and absence of Grievance handling procedure at plant level.
Mr. Banerjee could have gone into details and sought answers of following questions :-
  • Why Mr. Jagpal could not achieve target within his shift time?
  • Why Line Manager instructed Mr. Jagpal to overstay?
  • What prompted Mr. Jagpal to abuse and threaten the line manager?
All these questions remained unanswered. As it happens in general at shop floor many reasons of no - production or low production are hidden under the carpet and labour problem being the weak link is surfaced. Here also the same situation was observed. As a plant head, Mr. Banerjee always had an opportunity to create value for the organisation by exhibiting his commitment and leading the solutions instead of shifting the problems on other's shoulders. However, instead of doing what was expected from him, he directed HR to take the action against Mr. Jagpal. On one side, Mr. Banerjee wanted that action should be taken against Mr. Jagpal but without any written complaint by line manger & evidences from the other shop floor Manager. Typically, when HR head decided to suspend Mr. Jagpal, surprisingly Mr. Banerjee was the first person who stopped him by taking such action on the pretext of possible loss of production. This is another well - established and frequently used terminology of the shop floor managers and the Plant head. The root cause of such strange situations is lack of labour law knowledge and lawful system of disciplinary procedure.
Fundamentally, one should accept that the Industrial relations starts from the shop floor not from the cabin of HR Heads. Gone are those days when an office used to be there near Main security gate known as labour office where the grievances were controlled by many means and ways. The time has changed. The Communication, Council, conferences, are the convenient mode of convincing our stand instead of command and control way of solving issues in past.
Now HR alone cannot work away from business and operational processes. He apart from his HR and legal processes must possess the knowledge of operational processes, its need and dynamics. All the wings or operation needs to work with combined approach. Here there was a wrong expectation of Mr. Banerjee that unless HR gives the guarantee Mr. Jagpal cannot be suspended. Such double standards at plant head level cannot earn the respect from his subordinates. Instead of that, Mr. Banerjee should lead the situation and after his assessment and in coordination with entire plant team, suitable safe direction could had been given to HR.
How Mr. Banerjee can exclude himself from the situation and say, "I dam care about your procedure and legality". "Do not tell me stories and excuses". "Plant people are not here to become witnesses and exposed to threats". This is a live example of escapism from the roots of the issue. No leadership can afford to do so and survive long time with this approach. Leadership without ownership and commitment is a Skelton without soul. Leader creates leaders and demonstrate instead of dictating the terms. Mr. Banerjee has missed the opportunity as he could have lead the situation and interacted with people in mass.
He Could have encashed the opportunity by listening people by giving them patient listening and could have arrived at the amicable solution. But instead of that he shifted the ball on head of HR as if HR is not a part of plant operation. Management must exhibit its strength as a whole team. A joint efforts right from line managers to HR can always give better result in such situation.
Unfortunately, Mr. Batra as HR Head could also handle the situation in a better way. He could be strategic and diplomatic with transparent approach. HR professionals should understand that why there is HR function in helm of affairs. Just not to command rather it is a support function to the business operation. Before initiating the disciplinary action, he should have talked to the people in general, for understanding the situation and reason of supporting people to Mr. Jagpal on in disciplinary issue. He should have identified the pain points, which must be hurting to the people in general and Mr. Jagpal, who might have reacted on the issue as a leader. A mass reaction must have been pre-empted by him. He could have explained to every stakeholder of the plant about the entire processes of disciplinary actions and the risk involved. Then should have followed the final verdict of plant head with his ownership. Leadership by magic does not work for long - term goal and one has to be ready for the last march. Both plant head and the HR Head must realise that ultimately value driven leadership works and respecting others in critical situation gives an opportunity to lead effectively.