Thursday, May 22, 2014

‘Why am I doing what I am doing?’ Give employees the ‘big picture’

A few days before Tamil Nadu went to the polls in General Elections 2014, the Press Institute of India conducted a discussion on the role of the media in the elections. One of the participants was T.S. Krishnamurthy, former chief election commissioner of India. Towards the end of the programme, one of the young reporters present came up to me and enquired who the speaker was. When I mentioned Krishnamurthy’s name, he seemed a trifle nonplussed and went on to ask me who Krishnamurthy was. To my response – how did he not know a former chief election commissioner and that too, from his own home state – his nonchalant reply was that he had only recently joined the newspaper (a leading national one at that).

The incident set me thinking. Is even basic knowledge coming at a premium these days? A reporter or a journalist is supposed to have a fairly broad understanding of life around. Are youngsters not reading enough these days. Have social media and selfies left little time for anything worthwhile? How do you encourage people to read, how do you motivate staff and bring them up to speed with developments? How do you impress upon them that journalism is a sort of calling and that it entails a social responsibility?

I remember visiting The Times of India press in Kandivali, suburban Mumbai, a few years ago. I was doing a story for the WAN-IFRA Magazine. While taking me around parts of the plant, Sanat Hazra, the technical director, stressed that the plant employees were encouraged to innovate and take risks, and adequately trained to handle contingencies and become effective managers. The quest for quality and the effort to maintain quality standards were evident from posters and messages pinned on boards. A list of values on display in the reception area proclaimed that employees were taught to have mutual respect for each other. ‘Think beyond traditional boundaries’ and ‘Recognise and appreciate people for giving good ideas’ were some of the values inculcated.

When I asked him whether there was a philosophy that drove the team, Hazra said you have to go through the mission statement and keep talking to people all the time. Everybody is part of the problem-solution team, part of the success story, according to him. “Employees then really see their value, what they are contributing to the newspaper. You have to create a culture of innovation and generate new ideas; and then effectively execute these ideas to generate new products and services for our customers… Responsibility is not only the manager’s, it has to be pushed all the way down to the person unloading the roll. A huge task that takes time, but it gives results.” The most important thing, Hazra pointed out, was to give employees the big picture and get them to ask ‘why am I doing what I am doing’. “A person pushing the roll should know what impact it has on the operation, or why the floor has to be cleaned. Once you make people understand, they do a wonderful job.” 

How true! But such things seem far easier to implement on the shop floor than in a newsroom.


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