Sunday, August 8, 2010

THE DABBAWALAS

THE DABBAWALAS

The story of Mumbai dabbawals who deliver home cooked lunch to 2 lakh customers everyday on time every time has been an inspiring one and is much hyped since the management gurus discovered that there is more sense in their simple ways than there is in all management book combined.

In the last five years everyone from Prince Charles to Richard Bronson to C K Prahalad have flocked their workspace (streets of Mumbai) and every organization worth its salt has pilled them with certificates on managing quality, supply chain, cost, change etc. etc. They have been named as SIX SIGMA organization with 1 error per 16 million transactions. They have lectured at every management school from the IIMs in India to Stanford and Harward in the United States. The list is endless.

The big deal is that all this has happened without a single computer in place (assuming human brains are not computers) and more than 85% of workforce (shareholders) being illiterate.

Without going into the temptation of demeaning the so called MBAs let us straightway go to the lessons that can be learned from them. There are some key takeaways. So more than what you read, just sit back, absorb what is being said and then try to implement at your workplace.

01. Keep operational costs low – these are cost of doing business and eat profit
02. Do not invest unless it gives you assured returns and you will almost certainly loose out if you don’t
03. Customer is not the Raja but the Maharaja – Prince Charles was asked to meet the dabbawalas aqt Churchgate Station so that the deliveries for the day are not affected
04. Complexity opposes compliance – workers shun tedious systems and processes and they do no good except bring down productivity and frustrate everyone around. Simplify as much as possible and create processes only when you can’t do without them.
05. Deviation from your core competency can reduce focus and affect current sales and profits negavitely. Don’t jumb around to the first idea to diversity just because the consultant tells you so. Use your own brain.
06. Technology is to support business and business is not there to support technology. Computers are for helping people and people are not there to help computers. Don’t put the cart before the horse.
07. Keep your organization as flat as possible. Hierarchies boost egos not your business. Let your people take their own decisions as far as possible. The guy who does the job knows best and one does not need to take approvals for going to the loo. That was OK in kindergarten – grow up please.
08. Promote cooperation inside to take on competition from outside. If your employees keep working on thwarting internal competition they will be weak to take on external challenges. Do not have people within the organization to compete amongst themselves
09. Let the leaders emerge rather than get nominated
10. Build extra cushion for exigencies and emergencies. The computers may konk off, people can fall sick, debtors can default and suppliers may delay. But it has to be business as usual for your customers. You can bounce back quickly if you are not on a rigid surface.
11. A world of caution though – the spring in your sofa keeps you comfortable but if its too cushy you can start to spoil your spine.
12. Commitment matters – qualification does not. It should matter what you can do rather than what you have done
13. Your most talented and educated p;eople are no good if they keep networking for pastures greener and use company infrastructure for scouting higher paying jobs. Put a question about what you gained during your MBA to any of the Ivy league institutes in India or abroad and they will say – “networking”
There could be nothing more silly and out of place than this. An unfortunate fact is that more than 50% of fresh MBAs switch atleast 3-5 jobs in the first 5 years until they find a comfortable place to park their feet.

One committed employee can do more for the organization than 50 educated ones who are looking for options outside. A committed worker will not be afraid to ask for a raise when he feels it is due to him while a non committed individual will change jobs at the slightest pretest. There are folks who have changed jobs for a 5-day week.

14. Educate employees about the importance of what they do. Once
they know they will make sure that errors are minimized and even in the absence of a code of conduct they will strive to deliver better results for their customers – internal or external.

15. Use existing infrastructure – its free. Look around yourself and you may find stuff that you can use rather than buy or build on your own. If you can use Indian postal services at 2% higher cost to reach out, why create a logistics company of your own. When there is milk from the dairy farm why buy a buffalo ?
16. Abandon bad customers – hard to admit but a reality of life. If you have a bunch of bad customers who bring down your efficiency, demotivate your people and cost you a bomb to serve, you should not waste time in taking the “call”. Dump bad customers before the good ones dump you. Good money can’t be chasing bad money as simple as that
17. Promote self discipline rather than discipline and do’t be shy when it comes to penalizing wayward behavious. Bad behaviour gets imbibed faster – remember no one taught you smoking but you picked it up just by looking at your friends. Each one of us knows what is the right thing to do and people cannot be allowed to make examples in bad conduct at the cost of the organization.

“Rules are meant to be broken – surely not in this company”

18. Multi tasking is another name for messing up a lot of stuff all at one time. Cross fertilization is management ignominy peddled by Managers to stay away from taking responsibility of a single task and its outcomes. Unless proven to be ready for the next level an employee must demonstrate potential rather than flash his fancy degreees. Your customers do’nt give two hoots about who delivered the Pizza as long as it was on time
19. Human beings are emotional and that is what differentiates them from animals. What a hundred HR workshops cannot do can be achieved by a simple lunch together everyday. Money can’t buy love but it certainly can buy lunch once in a while when you want to celebrate the group’s success. If one man in a team can stand up for the other with a belief that when it comes to my partner even he would to the same, you know that you are ready to take on the world
20. High salaries can attract mercenaries and pigs but not dedicated, inspired and motivated people. Narayanamurthy of Infosys was once asked that how he retained talented people during initial phases of the company and he said: “Everyone was giving them a job, I was sharing my dream with them”
21. Money takes care of our bodies but it is our mind which moves the body. The choice is clear – a pat on the back at the right time and at the right place can do more to motivate and inspire than a wad of notes in the pocket which no one knows about.
22. The humble improve. Humility has to be promoted as religion in your organization. Fulness is an enemy of growth and one who thinks he knows all perhaps does not know that there are so much more
23. If you rest on your laurels you are probably wearing them at the wrong place. We all know the hare and the tortoise story but a twise in the tale is that now the hare gets stamp;ed by thebull from the stock market while he is asleep.
24. In the jungles of Africa it does not matter if you are Gazelle or a lion what matters is that when the sun comes up you must start running – if you are lion to catch the gazelle and if you are a Gazelle to outrun the lion

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