Posted on Bangalore Calling: August 21, 2008 8:11 AM
Even in the best of times, organizations pay only lip service to skills enhancement. Instead, replicating a task repeatedly is perceived as the way to increase productivity and efficiency. Since growth is treated as a given based on the number of years one has been in a job, employees are given new and sometimes fanciful designations in the hope that such palliatives will indeed motivate them. Inevitably then, people tend to rise to their level of incompetence.
Thus, it should not come as a surprise to find brilliant programmers becoming team leaders or project managers who cannot deliver on time, cannot assure quality and invariably overrun budgets. The scenario is no different in other sectors. Managers today are so hard pressed for quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily, and in some cases, hourly progress reports that they do not have the time to learn anything new. Where then is the time to unlearn that which is obsolete?
A downturn represents a fantastic opportunity to correct this anomaly. Since the pressure for meeting deadlines or achieving targets is not very high, at least in a relative sense, organizations would do well to invest in people and enhance what Nobel Laureate Mohammed Yunus calls "Social Capital." Employees at all levels can be sent for outbound training activities that would improve their team building and team working skills, and bring in a sense of process ownership that can do wonders to the organization when normalcy returns to the industry and the economy.
In firm after firm, we see individuals who are great when it comes to their performance but fail to build teams or to be a part of a team. The organization finds it difficult to do away with them since they do contribute significantly, particularly in the short term. In the long term, however, such individuals are value dissipaters. Investing in training such managers in particular to develop the ability to look at the big picture and to act in ways that strengthen the organization is probably the best investment that a firm can make in a downturn.
It is not easy; it requires visionary leadership, a courageous attitude to look at a downturn as an opportunity to fine-tune the organization to realize its avowed vision. Equally, it requires an organizational culture that is tolerant of honest mistakes and that fosters a nurturing environment where employees are passionate about their work and hence can deliver whatever the organization wants. Sadly, this is easier said than done given the preoccupation with share price movements and the need to provide favorable projections to all stakeholders.