Bridging the Distance Between Minds

The stories we hear of a CEO talking to a shop floor worker on a daily basis and discussing the problems he is facing are usually case studies of successful MNCs or in biographies of global leaders. Which is why it is a rare treat to hear it from the horse’s mouth when t horse in question is from an Indian company and a Public Sector Undertaking to boot. The general perception is that all PSUs were sick, overstaffed and a complete waste of the taxpayer’s money? Rourkela Steel Plant under the leadership of Mr. Sanath Mishra made for one of the many perceptions we have learnt to break from. The visionary C.M.D. turned the fortunes of RSP dramatically in under a year from a sick company to a profitable organization and an asset base for Government and the society in general.

How did he do it? To be very modest as he said himself and taking away all the credit of his hard work, he didn’t do anything. He utilized the same resources in a different manner. He just made bridges between the same minds that were there before and through these bridges removed the gaps between their minds and made them a close-knit unit. To do that he organized daily community meetings in which all the workers along with their supervisors, managers and general managers sat alongside and brainstormed ways to bring their company out of the red. He introduced in the workers a sense of belongingness for the company so that they were ready to go the extra mile for its sake. These were the same workers who when alienated from their organization had threatened to bring down the doors of the company.

Like Rome these changes were not made in a day, and neither did the old nexus that feared changed and work give in without a fight. In typical resistance to established patterns and protection of hierarchical systems, Mr. Mishra was asked, “How can general managers sit along side workers and have discussions in the community hall? This has never happened before.” But it did happen. Union leaders threatened him and refused the idea of communication between the top management and the workers without being routed through the Union.

The vision of a prosperous RSP was the underlying chain that kept his own motivation levels high and his conviction that no amount of resistance could thrown him off the path he had set. Once the workers were given a free say they had exemplary ideas on cost cutting, changes in the operations management and assembly line adjustments. When these suggestions were implemented and the concerned worker rewarded for the same, morale rose substantially. Now almost everyone was involved in the betterment of ‘their’ organization and with the feeling of community and identification with the organization, success is inevitable.

“All the bridges that you burn
Come back one day to haunt you
One day you'll find you're walking
 - Tracy Chapman
(from the Grammy award winning album Crossroads, one of the songs she sung in the April 1988 Freedomfest concert for Nelson Mandela)

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