Thursday, December 18, 2014

Picking the Right Person for the Right Job: An Artistic Skill Possessed By Successful Leaders!


Some time ago, I had written a blog in this forum,  a case study highlighting  the differences in the working styles of two chief executive officers in the same company that impacted the company positively and negatively respectively. 

I had named these two CEO's as Mr.X and Mr.Y in my case study-Mr X being the one who made the positive impact and Mr Y who caused the negative impact. In the case study, the incidences that I had mentioned were personally involving me and known to me. I had written this as an example to remind the readers about the importance of the personality traits of leaders, both inherent and acquired, in ensuring organizational success.

Successful leaders do have the knack of identifying the potentials of people and taking advantage of the hidden potentials for the collective benefit of the organization and ensuring organizational success. It may be easier for some people to know about the qualities of individuals who are directly in touch with them. However, higher level interactions in most large organizations tend to become highly formal which result in people getting evaluated mechanically and statistically with total neglect of their human values. 

The so-called human resource management (HRM) in such organizations, where the top leaders become careless about HRM, becomes too routine and mechanical. Soon, people of such organizations become mere entities with employee numbers rather than human beings with warm hearts and responsive minds! The organization becomes too socialistic with all employees getting treated more or less in the same manner, disregarding their individual functions, experience and expertise! The Human Resource Department (HRD) takes over and determines all aspects of human resources routinely and mechanically instead of the CEO's or other functional leaders within the organization. The role of the latter in HRM becomes too insignificant in such organizations. At this point onward, the organization begins to slip down to its failure!  

The top leaders in such circumstances slip away from their fundamental leadership quality of picking, projecting and mentoring (what I prefer to call as the PPM process) the individuals who are the keys of sustainable success for their respective organizations.

Many of the successful start up companies have leaders who possess the leadership skill in PPM. Many failing organizations (companies, governments and the like) do turn around when they get a CEO or equivalent leader who is artistically skilled in PPM.

Mr.X about whom I mentioned above was one CEO who possessed the PPM skill. I would like to tell about two other instances, personally known to me, in which this skill in him made the difference.

Let me call him ERC instead of calling him Mr.X.  He was the CEO of a large public sector organization employing some 70000 people at that time. At that time I was a junior level chemical engineer  in this company engaged in metallurgical production in massive volumes. During this time, I was moved to the in-house design and engineering department of this company entrusted with the task of finding solutions to production problems arising out of inadequacies in water management systems in this huge metallurgical production facility. 

At that time one additional steel production facility got commissioned and the management was constantly trying to enhance production to its rated capacity. The new facility which was to produce steel slabs through its continuous casting machines was not able to produce quality steel slabs. The slabs the machine produced were with many surface cracks.

Foreign experts were called and there were several international experts working to solve the problem, but unfortunately none of them were able to find the root cause of the problem and to find a solution to the problem. As days and months passed, the CEO Mr ERC became a worried person. 

Then perhaps he remembered me as the young engineer who solved the chocking problem of the Gas Cleaning Plants that affected commissioning of the steel converters some months ago, by suggesting some unconventional ideas.

There was an apparent communication from the CEO's office to my head of the department (HoD) that forced the latter to call me personally to his room and asking me to study the problem independently and suggest ideas to resolve the problem just as I did earlier.

I knew nothing about steel making through the continuous casting method. Yet, I accepted the challenge and made my first visit to the new continuous casting department, interacted informally with many engineers and other technical persons. I also studied about all the aspects involved in the process of steel casting through the continuous casting machines. The slab cracking could be due to several reasons, such as machine speed variation, casting powder quality, steel chemical quality, cooling inadequacy and the like.

Just as the experts kept working on these issues, I too thought about all these through my fresh engineering mind which was totally unbiased as I was no expert in this area. Then it struck me. The problem was apparently due to a defective secondary cooling. I thought about it in detail. Then I got convinced and found the reasons of the problem. Inadequate secondary cooling zone water spray cooling was indeed causing the cracks due to partial chocking of a few spray nozzles here and there over a period of few days. The spray nozzle tips were irreversibly getting scaled with water impurities in a hot area affecting the spray distribution geometry.

I thought about the possible solution. The solution was to isolate the secondary cooling zone from the rest of other cooling water circuits and to use specially treated water for this purpose. It involved some technical issues and installing a new water treatment facility. 

I gave my findings and my suggestion to my HoD who in turn forwarded it to the CEO's office. Just in a day's time, the CEO studied the suggestion and gave his decision. His noting entrusted me to work out the detailed feasibility report (FR) in line with my suggestion so as to enable the company to take the necessary approvals to set up the new facility as suggested by me. I prepared the detailed FR in a month's time. 

I remember Mr ERC personally pursuing the FR and getting the approvals of the company Board in a week's time, some thing exceptional for the company. I was made the lead engineering consultant for the project. The project got commissioned two weeks before the scheduled date. And the problem of steel slab cracking got resolved for ever.

Later, a new government came in to power in India. Mr ERC was called for a meeting in Bangalore with the new minister concerned with our company. Mr ERC never returned back. He was unceremoniously removed from the post of the CEO for reasons still not known!

Being an eminent steel professional, Mr ERC was soon picked up by an emerging steel company in western India with huge ambitions in the Indian steel business. He was also in the director-boards in a few other private companies as well at that time when privatization trend took momentum in India.

I had seen Mr ERC from a distance only. Being a junior officer of the company, I never had an opportunity to interact with him directly, face-to-face.

After Mr ERC left our company some time in 1989, we were not knowing much about his whereabouts. During that period, the private steel company based in Western India, started recruiting professionals for various senior positions for their proposed integrated steel plant project in the west coast. There was one senior position that appeared as well suited to my experience and qualifications. So, I too applied and I was called for the interview.

The interview was scheduled at the company's steel project office quite away from a well known city. The company had arranged vehicles to take the candidates to the interview venue from their city office. 

I was quite surprised to find more than 50 people who had turned up to attend the interview for just one HoD level post. Most of the people had been from the private industry, for whom jumping from one post to the other was not a big issue as compared to the few people like me from the public sector and the government.

The interview began at around 11 a.m. For each candidate, they were taking about half an hour. They were also not allowing the people who got finished to meet the others who were waiting. I began to feel a bit irritated when my turn was not coming even after few hours. Then I decided to quit without attending the interview. But my problem was the transport to go back to my hotel in the city. Unless the company provided some vehicle, it was impossible for me to go back.

I decided to approach the concerned HR personnel. To my surprise, I was directed to a person whom I find was a senior officer  who superannuated some time ago from my own company. We knew each other to some extent. I told him my intention to go back without the interview and my disillusion with the whole process that they were adopting.

When I insisted, this old man suddenly asked me a question. He asked me whether Mr ERC was someway connected to me. I did not realize why he was asking that. I knew Mr ERC as our company's powerful ex-CEO. But we never interacted one-to-one and there was no chance that Mr ERC knowing me, just one among the thousands of engineers who were in his past organization. So, I replied in the negative.

Then this person produced a paper from his table drawer. He handed over that paper to me and I read what was written in it. Mr ERC had scribbled something on it which surprised me a lot. He had instructed the HR department to get me to be appointed for the post. He had written my name, my then place of working and other details quite unambiguously. 

My senior now sitting on the other side then told me their part of the story. He said that this instruction,  from Mr ERC who had become one of their directors, came after they took actions for advertising for the post. They were thinking of approaching me directly. But then they saw my own application among the people who had responded to the advertisement. Their job had thus become easier.

He then informed that I was their choice for the post. Now the interview that was being done was a formality and also an opportunity for some of them to assess my potentials. That was the reason why they had deliberately kept me as the last candidate for the interview.

My interview took place late in the evening. The interview board consisted of very senior and aged people. I was quite young and would have fumbled facing these stalwarts from the industry. But soon I realized the manner in which they interacted with me. They were treating me like an industry expert in my area of specialization. It was a true professional interaction.

Soon they announced about my selection to the post. I remember, the full bus load of candidates returning back to the city with all the rest congratulating me for my selection.

But I did not accept that offer due to some other reasons. That is another story.

I have wrote this to illustrate the special skill of Mr ERC in evaluating people under him even when he never directly interacted with them. He had his own channels of knowing the pulse of his organization. He had his own methods to know about the potentials of the individuals who worked in the organization even when he never had the necessity to meet any one of those individually. 

Knowing people and using the PPM process wisely were some aspects of his successful leadership.

Many of our leaders in the industry and in other areas unfortunately ignore this and make their respective organizations risk potential failure.

If successful companies become suddenly unsuccessful and if governments fail to keep up the expectations of the people, it is all because of the failure of the concerned leaders in recognizing the individuals that form the organization and their failure to make use of the people appropriately.

Would you respond with your views on this?