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Winston Churchill is quoted to have said “An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity”.

This maxim applies to the corporate sector aptly in all circumstances, especially when the world is locking itself down in the era of COVID 19. World Bank while assessing the global slowdown said, “Global growth is projected at 2.5 percent in 2020, just above the post-crisis low registered last year. While growth could be stronger if reduced trade tensions mitigate uncertainty, the balance of risks is to the downside. A steep productivity growth slowdown has been underway in emerging and developing economies since the global financial crisis, despite the largest, fastest, and most broad-based accumulation of debt since the 1970s. These circumstances add urgency to the need to rebuild macroeconomic policy space and undertake reforms to rekindle productivity”. The Corona Pandemic has not helped the World Bank outlook. On the contrary, there are fears that the economic impact will worsen the global economy and take the levels perhaps below the meltdown figures of 2008. Kenneth Rogoff said that 2008 was like a dry run COVID19 in his analysis in the Guardian.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 6.3 percent, or more than 1,300 points, to close at 19,898.92, its first close below 20,000 since 2017 and the broad-based S&P 500 dropped 5.2 percent to finish at 2,398.10, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index tumbled 4.7 percent to 6,989.84, reported ET.

In UK, USA, Japan, India and EU, business is coming to a halt with hardly a trickle of output. Nations are wringing their hands and placing further restrictions while at the same time trying to reach out or enhance medical equipment producers to supplement national reserves. In the organized sector, corporates have downed their shutters. IT majors have asked their people to work from home. Transportation and logistics chain is standing still except for a teeny weeny segment catering for essential services. LOCKDOWN translated into a lockout, though no employer or government is willing to look at the status as a lockout.

ProductionMaintenance of buildings and infrastructure

A number of compromises are accepted and even ‘unsafe’ equipment are milked to prudent capacity in order to meet production targets. While we work from home, it would be better that those friendly calls from foremen, those little notes from section heads/junior managers or even workmen are pulled out and synthesized. A dedicated team (if one doesn’t already exist in the company) now goes through these in order to make detailed plans, identifying suppliers for replacement, contractors for installation, permits and passes that need to be obtained from various authorities, etc.

We should not finalize the plans just by such expert committees alone. This is also an opportune moment to consult with the people who actually work on these equipment hands-on and take their advice if they have a better one.

There are two benefits of doing so: one, the man on the field will feel important. Two, the industry may benefit from a more practical suggestion than those availed through ‘experts’.

The scenarios presented in the box are representative. The scenarios will be far truer and lengthier when such a focused “audit” takes place.

Processes

Rarely in the daily life of a corporate can the luxury of time be indulged than during the present calamitous era of COVID19. Many friends of mine who are up to their neck in the corporate world have, however, a different opinion. COVID or no COVID, they just want to get back to their offices fast. The reason stated by them is the cause of this paper. Their ‘video or con-call’ starts at 0800 and continues till about 2100 or more on a daily basis!! They would rather be at work in their office.

Scenarios

There is no activity more damaging to productivity than a prolonged conference. From Harvard to Timbuktu, there is as yet not even an iota of proof that calls and con-calls have produced anything more than humour, some well-intended and mostly acrimonious. Instead of perennial con-calls (my apologies if the way I spell this appears satirical!), the following activities may serve to bolster productivity and help in the reconstruction of business when COVID19 is bid adieu.

Review Performance: Performance Assessment Reports, by whatever name they are called are a standard HR tool to assess retentions/promotions/adieus. However, most of the managers who write them, like the ones who review them, have been chased and hounded over production targets when these assessments were due. This is a time when the appraisal process itself can be holistically reviewed to see whether it matches the organizational objectives or has come to stay as a bureaucratic tool to chastise angels and celebrate demons, (or vice versa if you please). This is also a time when the senior management, assisted by HR, can re-review them to see if they have missed a man who should have been promoted or raised a man who didn’t much deserve. The luxury of contemplation can be indulged now.

Review Performance
Reinforce
Sales/Marketing Ethics
Cost-to-Process
Training & Development
Compliance Regime
Legal Battles
Ancillaries/Subsidiaries
Support Staff
CSR

Reinforce Sales/Marketing Ethics. Yes, ethics. A number of middle and lower level managers either step to the left or right of this domain particularly when QE reports are due. A review of sales figures can now be undertaken to find sudden spurts in the third month of any quarter. If consistently seen with reference to a particular Branch or office, time to check. In the process, if it is seen that certain procedures for checks and balances need to be strengthened, now is the time. It is also a time when random sampling can be used to contact high value customers to find out their honest assessment about the marketing/sales team as well as the product.

Cost-to-Process (CTP). This is a concept I would like to talk about at this juncture. We are pretty familiar with CTC, cost of production, cost of sales, etc. However, it is not difficult to appreciate that even processes incur costs. Take for example, the need for certain stores in the production line. How does the workman demand? How fast is it processed? The intangible phenomena is actually worked by people who get paid to move this cycle. Can they actually move it faster than now? With time in hand, this question can be studied and company specific models can be evolved for implementation when normalcy returns. Use the opportunity to propagate to the last man down the line that efficient processes and efficacy of business actually mean the same.

T&D. Training and employee enrichment is an activity that can be done at peace. Virtual Conferences and training sessions, limited in time, of course, can be formalized to impart training to employees while they sit at home in front of their mobile/tab/laptop/tv screens. Virtual feedback on how to utilize the knowledge for enhancing productivity would pay dividends.

I am reminded of a boss of mine who would insist on a personal interview before and after a training program. He had just two questions to ask.

Before the training session: What do you expect to learn?

After the Training Session: State any one point you learnt and tell me how will you implement?

I had seen many of my colleagues opting not to go for Executive Development Programs so long as he was the boss!!

Compliance Regime. The compulsions of time and targets would have resulted in striking compromises in compliance regime in the so-called peacetime. While waging the war on Corona, it would be good to visit compliance policies and their execution. Take, for example, Effluent Treatment. When global warming is threatening life on earth, it would do well to emerge as a Green Company. Apart from the advertisement value, the service to the community will set you apart. Innovative ideas to emerge as one during these times can pay rich dividends.

Legal Battles. There is no corporate that doesn’t have a folio of cases and a troop of legal minds to fight its cases in courts. It is time now that the senior executives visit details of each case to review the company stand. It is also time to foreclose cases where a bit of generosity to an employee can bolster the company image.

Ancillaries/Subsidiaries. This is the time for senior management to interact with them, notwithstanding the wealth of information already available through middle-level managers. What problems do they face in interacting with the company, what their observations for betterment, have they faced any specific trouble with any individual employee (in official capacity), how are they coping with the lockdown? Is there that the ‘big brother’ can do for them? These are but few questions. Interactions at leisure now can yield inputs that may help energize activities in future.

Support staff. are actually what their nomenclature suggests – support. COVID19 time is a good time to tell support staff that we are concerned. Even state/provincial authorities can be approached for centralized assistance to their families in terms of medicines, provisions, etc. A dollar spent on them in their hour of need will repay thousands in due course. We must remember that loyalty is a two-way passage. What comes down will certainly go up!! Incidentally, we should not forget the housekeeping/security/other such contractors. Since most of their labour is likely to on daily wages, reaching out to them will earn the kind of goodwill that only a challenging time like now can present.

CSR. Nothing builds a company image like good CSR initiatives. In other times, top management may not have the time to innovate. But as Churchill said, CSR is the order of the day in crisis times. An assessment of the outlay having been taken, corporates can divert substantial amounts for substantiating medical and paramedical equipment/accessories. The big house can even create medical facilities, donate ambulances, critical care equipment and carry out huge sanitization drives in conjunction with the state administration. Smaller entities can supply and add on to these resources in any manner that is feasible.

CSR can also look to providing for SHGs of women who are into tailoring, for example. Such units can be provided with the cloth and raw material necessary for manufacturing safety attire, scarves, masks, aprons, etc for the medical community which is fighting to save mankind. Such an initiative will not merely bolster small and micro industries but will provide financial relief to families dependent on them.

Conclusion

The objective of this article is to rekindle the thought process of corporate minds. Every success story is necessarily written by blood and sweat. More importantly, it is co-written by the capacity to introspect and evaluate one’s own self in times of crisis. Corporates, it is accepted, exist because some business needs to be carried out and profits earned. But beyond those profits, there is a necessity to introspect from an angle that is out of the box, for such introspection when opportunity affords it, can turn the corporate’s business as well as social image gainfully. By avoiding wasteful exercises is merely consuming time in the lockdown scenario of COVID19, much could be changed for better productivity if we avail the opportunities presented by compulsions of time.    

Title image courtesy:https://www.witf.org/2020/05/14/

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies.

References

1.https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/global-economic-prospects

2.https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/08/the-2008-financial-crisis-will-be-seen-as-a-dry-run-for-covid-19-cataclysm

3.https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/markets/stocks/news/covid-19-impact-dow-jones-sheds-more-than-1300-points-in-latest-us-stocks-rout/articleshow/74701979.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

4.For those who have missed some good humour in the wake of corporate pressures, I recommend Parkinson’s Law by Northcote C. Parkinson.

Gp Capt (Dr) R Srinivasan VSM

By Gp Capt (Dr) R Srinivasan VSM

Group Captain (Dr) R Srinivasan VSM, retired from the Indian Air Force after 33 years of service. He holds MSW, LLB, and a Postgraduate Diploma in International Humanitarian Law. His PhD is on Political Sociology (Governance, Citizenship and Environmental Movements) from UMISARC Dept of South Asian Studies, Pondicherry University. He is a SCOPUS Indexed author and has published 12 Book Chapters, 13 Conference Papers on Governance, Local Governance, Regional Cooperation, Women and Armed Conflicts, Political Economy of Northeast India and associated areas. He is also conferred with Visisht Seva Medal (VSM) in 2012 by President of India. He has a deep interest in the promotion of human rights. He is an independent researcher, deeply interested in providing opportunities to young research scholars in Social Sciences and Strategic Studies. Towards this, he has launched the Electronic Journal of Social and Strategic Studies (EJSSS) online. He also trains young aspirants to join Civil Services/Armed Forces.