There is gloom in the Indian tech industry. An opinion has been expressed that it must shed lethargy and that the rank and file must work with greater vigour to face the turbulence. Where and how should this start? Revival strategies require several actions but this piece will deal with the first among them, that of boosting morale to endure the long haul. Since organisations will be reluctant to admit any deficiency in their policies or practices to elevate morale, the only method is to show what has actually worked.
The success stories of the top four software outfits in the country Infosys, Wipro, HCL Technologies and TCS are illustrative of what it takes to make it big. The first three were owner-driven for decades, with all of them coming from modest backgrounds with a passion to see their dreams through and the perseverance to endure the long haul. A notable trait among all of them was the desire to inspire and motivate co -workers by sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Decades back, Azim Premji sat in a corner in a non-descript building in Gogha Street, an obscure bye lane off Flora Fountain in Mumbai. Narayanamurthy has a frugal life style even now, after making thousands of his employees millionaires. Shiv Nadar plodded for decades to make HCL Technologies what it is today. All the founders have liberally subscribed to charities and upliftment of society in various ways. TCS, the other gem in this exalted group had FC Kohli, the grand dad of software, persevering assiduously for decades in low profile without tantrums, to build the crown jewel in the Tata Empire. In the past, all these organisations laid stress on long-term growth not through the pyrotechnics of a privileged class but by toiling for decades, shunning glitzy rewards, inculcating a sense of shared values among its employees and leveraging the collective strength of all human resources.
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Successful organisations ensure productivity through people where the average Joe performs better by giving him or her dignity and job safety said Peters and Waterman in their best-selling book “In search of excellence”. Great achievements follow more often when the entire workforce of an organisation is galvanised to perform a few notches above the line rather than through the brilliance of a few and this has been demonstrated in institutions, organisations and even countries. The two truly scintillating achievements in the automotive industry in the last say two decades have been the emergence of Honda as the two-wheeler leader overhauling entrenched competition and the total transformation of a number of rickety old companies post-liberalisation, to near world class levels. Both were the product of dedication of the work force. From travelling cattle class in airlines to common canteens to calisthenics, CEOs stayed close to employees to demonstrate commitment to a value system where everybody counts and this has found resonance among the rank and file. At an outstanding automotive organisation, the workforce transformed an industrial estate unit to one which is tracked by global multinationals. How? Senior management has taken increment cuts in time of distress, eschewed lay-offs, given over a thousand-fold return to employees on stock options and transformed lives of fitters and machinists, who now have their children in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
A few examples of the positive reinforcement of a shared value system as also the deleterious fall out sometimes, in encouraging shooting stars, will be illustrative. Lee Iacocca drew a salary of $1 to produce one of the most dramatic turnaround in American Corporate history. At the other end of the spectrum, we have wonder kids who have brought disrepute to organisations. John DeLorean, the youngest President of GM North America till then,went on to rely on drugs to fuel his soaring ambitions and was apprehended by Federal agents. Jose Ignacio Lopez, the purchasing wizard of GM got embroiled in a serious case of espionage and criminal misconduct.
In a fightback by the tech top brass, the Infosys saga and the payment of staggering sums to a few has been rationalised as mandatory megabucks for talent. Raining fortune on a few and pink slips on the masses cannot produce morale.
Tech industry must accept that staying close to grass roots is not a comedown and life with a sub-eight figure monthly emolument is not deprivation. A more inclusive approach across the industry and a roll back on premium emoluments such as at Infosys will be a good starting point.