Saturday, July 6, 2013

Managers or Damagers?

Book Review 
Sharu Rangnekar.
In the wonderland of Indian Managers
Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi. 2010. pp. 165, Rs. 137 (Flipkart)

This is one of the best and honest books that describe the quirks and habits of Indian managers. A Carnegie-Mellon University alumnus, Sharu Rangnekar has extensive experience working in well known companies like ICI, IBM, Union Carbide and Searle. He has conducted many training and lecture sessions on management practices and the book is an extension of that. 
The book has been written in 1974 however much of what he has written then is still relevant in the Indian scenario especially in the MSME segment. These MSMEs are still run by the owner and his/ her family with the help of one or two trusted “managers” who have been promoted to the rank simply by obeying orders or supporting any decision of the owner however twisted it might be. The owner feels secure that my “manager” is supporting me which means my decision is absolutely right and the manager in return is happily enjoying the cushy life without the need to perform. Basically, the manager is more of a damager.
The first chapter on decision making (or rather not taking any decisions) is a master-piece. Readers will be able to relate to innumerable such incidents in their lives. No one wants to do the hard work, go into the details and make a sound decision that is beneficial to the company. The biggest issue is lack of ability of the management to seek accountability and efficiency from their managers while bestowing all kinds of unjustified privilege. It is a different matter that the manager still feels inadequately compensated.
While touching upon topics of recruitment and training, it is the section on “five faces of Indian managers” that is hilarious and lathered with sarcasm. Every word is however true. Many of the managers are glorified head clerks who are given fancy titles that they do not deserve at all. The decisions that they make are flawed, unjustified and weak but no one is there to question them. The owner is in his own halo and it is the company that keeps on bleeding. When statistics say that about 50% businesses fail in the first five years, lack of experience is said to be one of the prime reasons apart from incompetence, neglect and fraud.
The section on “problem of illiterate managers” is essential for small business owners who for whatever restrictions often hire below par people and end up promoting them to higher levels. The quantum of inefficiency keeps on increasing and interestingly the owner keeps grappling for the reason of his business’ underperformance. What these so-called managers resort to is defensive management where practically nothing gets done and a whole lot of resources are wasted. Or they manage by creating crisis thus building up a pseudo sense of movement and urgency.
There is often halo around organizations that they have systems and are system – driven in their approach. Fact of the matter is they are run based on the directions of the top management. Rangnekar points that the executives and managers are more of implementers rather than true managers who are supposed to be playing the role of management. That is why they lack any kind of professionalism, cross functional dependency and awareness or the ability to visualize the big picture. The larger issue is the inability to learn new skills or technique and inch towards obsolescence from day one.
As Leo Rosten said, “First-rate people hire first-rate people, second-rate people hire third-rate people.” This is what often happens in Indian firms. The top people hire less threatening people below them so that their own position is not challenged. And this concept percolates down. Everybody wants to hold on to their positions without performing or taking a bold step.
Though the book was written decades ago, its relevance still holds prime even today. The book beautifully analyzes what is fundamentally wrong in the way we run our businesses and the root cause of our non-performance. Reading through the book, the reader will easily remember a known acquaintance that fits into each one of the characters or examples described.  Interspersed with cartoons by R.K. Laxman, the book is a wonderful read and its short to the point chapters are truly appealing for the time – constrained reader. Every business owner micro, small or big must read this book. In my opinion, this book is not prescriptive; this book is not the answer to the problems. This book highlights the problems in very simple terms, problems that can be avoided or corrected for superior performance. How it has to be done will vary from company to company, person to person.
The book might be cynical and mocking in its tone but really gives a reason for the readers to contemplate where the organization is going wrong. There is probably no other book written in these lines which is so hard hitting and honest to the core. To succeed, we have to attack the core bottleneck and not try to control inventory of C class items.

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