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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Farewell, People's President!

Eminent jurist Fali S. Nariman pays glowing tributes to Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the president of India from July 25, 2002, to July 25, 2007, in an article in The Indian Express.

I have always known that Dr. Kalam's personal integrity is beyond reproach, but this has been quite a revelation.

He has, arguably, been the best president India has had since Dr. S. Radhakrishnan.

I do wish that he had been elected for a second term in office.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Human Resources (Mis)Management

The advertisement appeared in the jobs supplement, Power Jobs, of the Hindustan Times. An N.G.O. (non-governmental organisation), which runs an institute for providing vocational training to the youth among the economically weaker sections of society, had advertised a number of job vacancies. Among the positions advertised, was one titled 'Executive - Human Resources'. So, I went along to attend the 'walk-in' interview.

The N.G.O. is backed by and, I believe, receives substantial financial support from a leading India-based pharmaceuticals company that has a presence in over 100 countries and is a front-runner, globally, in the generic pharmaceuticals business, in terms of revenues. The N.G.O. even shares a part of its name with the pharmaceuticals company.

Much of what transpired during the interview was quite interesting. It provided an insight into how the organisation, otherwise involved in philanthropic work, treats its own employees and how much it trusts them.

The following is an extract from the conversation that I had with the interviewer, who was a podgy, dark-complexioned woman, with a pronounced South-Indian accent:-

Interviewer: What is the most important quality that a person working in the field of Human Resources Management should have?
Sidhusaaheb: He or she should be a good listener.
Interviewer: Any other qualities that are important?
Sidhusaaheb: He or she should be able to empathise...
Interviewer: No, those are wrong answers.
Sidhusaaheb: I would say that is your point of view and it is different from mine.
Interviewer: The correct answer is 'confidentiality'. The Human Resources department has all the data about employees' salaries and a lot of problems are caused when employees find out about their colleagues' salaries. So, the HR department has to ensure that the data about salaries remain confidential.
Sidhusaaheb: All the data about salaries are also available with the Accounts department, so how can the HR department keep the information confidential?
Interviewer: No, no...The HR department has to keep the data confidential. So, 'confidentiality' is the most important quality to have, for a Human Resources professional.
Sidhusaaheb: Well, I shall again say that is your point of view and it is different from mine.
Interviewer: Thank you!

I did not bother to take the time to explain to her that if the salary structure of her organisation was fair and based on criteria understood and accepted by all employees, the company would not have had to try and adopt such a cloak-and-dagger approach. Incidentally, in all of the organisations that I have worked with, most employees had a fairly good idea of the salaries associated with various positions, whether or not the information had been shared with them by the 'management'.

Such policies, I believe, are fundamentally in disagreement with the basic concepts of Human Resources Management in the modern world. Over the years that I have spent working, I have realised that those concepts are employed only in the name, in most Indian business organisations, even in this day and age.

Recruitment and Selection are, still, largely based on the personal preferences of those in charge. Decisions to conduct Training programmes are not based on any scientific Training Needs analyses. Money and material rewards are still thought of as the greatest motivators for employees. Performance Appraisals, even though these are ostensibly based on best practices, are rigged so that the results reflect the personal opinions that the bosses have of the employees being appraised. The concept of Self-Directed Work Teams is alien to organisations in this country and what has been very conveniently done is that units formerly known as departments and work-groups are now called teams, with the 'worker' now known as 'team-member' and the 'supervisor' as 'team-leader', without effecting any change in the functioning.

Team-building is limited to periodic trips to scenic locations, with pleasurable activities like rock-climbing, river-rafting, etc., thrown in and is not taken too seriously by any one, since the Appraisal, as well as the Compensation and Reward Management systems, are still based on individual, rather than team-based performance criteria. When I sought to implement a Team Reward System in one of the organisations I worked with, the COO (Chief Operations Officer) rejected the idea saying that he had worked for five companies, earlier, and none employed any such system, when he ran out of logical arguments against it!

In his book titled 'Organizational Behavior: Concepts, Controversies, Applications' (published by Prentice-Hall, Inc.), Stephen P. Robbins writes, "Throughout this book we've argued that national differences-that is, national cultures-must be taken into account if accurate predictions are to be made about organizational behavior in different countries." and "The research indicates that national culture has a greater impact on employees than does their organization's culture.". I could not agree more!

So, is there still hope and will the hypocrisy ever come to an end? I do not have a definite answer.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

2137 Dn. Punjab Mail

My ancestral village is located in Bathinda district, in Punjab.

One of the most convenient ways to travel there from the place in the National Capital Region, where I presently reside, is to travel on the 2137 down, Punjab Mail, up to Bathinda, from where one can catch a bus to a small town and then another one, on to the village.

The train is supposed to depart from the local railway station at about 7:40 p.m., however, I have never seen it do that since it is almost invariably late. So, obviously, it almost never reaches Bathinda on time either, which is not all that bad actually, because it allows me a few more hours of sleep. Needless to add, it also helps reduce the chances of my having slept past the station.

However, a reserved berth in a second class sleeper compartment does not always ensure uninterrupted sleep.

On a recent trip, I must have curled up a bit while asleep, for when I tried to stretch my legs, my feet met with an obstruction. I woke up to find that a middle-aged man had climbed on to my (upper) berth to occupy the vacant space beyond my feet and was seated there, quite comfortably. My first impulse was to pretend to go back to sleep and push him down to the coach's floor with my feet. I overcame it soon, however, and asked him, very politely, if he could share a berth with someone shorter in height. He was not one to give in easily though and said that there was no point in doing that since he was, in any case, going to get off the train in 'a few minutes', which, it turned out, combined to form more than an hour!

On another such trip, I was woken up in the middle of the night by a loud female voice.

"Nee Parsinni, langhyaa, aithhe taaN lammiyaaN seataaN vehliyaaN hi paiyaaN ne!"

(O Parsinni, come along, a number of long seats (she meant to say berths) are vacant here!)

Along came the T.T.E. (Travelling Ticket Examiner) instead and, after enquiring about the old lady and her companions' travel plan, advised them to move to an unreserved compartment, which they did after a few moments of animated discussion. I slept undisturbed for the rest of the journey.

Besides incidents such as these, what makes the experience of travelling on the Punjab Mail special for me is the beauty of the Bathinda station (which features in the second of the two photographs posted above and where most of the constructions date back to the colonial-era).

The web site of the Indian Railways Fan Club Association, provides the following information about the famous train:

"The Punjab Mail runs between Bombay and Firozpur. This was the GIPR train; there was another train of the same name that ran for a while between Calcutta and Delhi on the East Indian Railway. The Punjab Mail made its debut on 1st June 1912. Like the later Frontier Mail, the Punjab Mail too used to connect with the P&O steamships on fixed mail days and would steam off from the Mole Station; on other days it departed from Bombay's Victoria Terminus.

For a brief period, an extended service called The Punjab Limited operated between Bombay VT and Peshawar, on the GIPR and NWR; this was a rival to the Frontier Mail, but does not seem to have lasted as a service for long. (There is some doubt whether the Punjab Limited was an entirely separate special service or a special extension of the Punjab Mail.) The Punjab Mail was among the fastest trains in pre-Independence India (probably the fastest one at various times). The train had air-cooled cars in 1945.

It was hauled by a variety of locos. XC locos were used after the rake was extended by the addition of third-class cars in the 1930s. In 1929-1930 EA/1 electric locos were used experimentally. The train later ran electric-hauled until Manmad, where a WP took over. From 1968 the train was diesel-hauled until Jhansi and by 1976 or so it became diesel-hauled all the way. A WCAM-1 loco was used a few times in an attempt to provide continuous haulage without locomotive changes, in the 1970s. Since then, and continuing today, it is hauled by a DC locomotive until Igatpuri and an AC locomotive thereafter towards Delhi and Firozpur."