Saturday, February 20, 2021

Accident, crisis, and communication

I have a habit of walking around the workplace at least once in a day. There are two reasons, one, you meet people, greet them, and get connected and the second reason is, you come to know what’s happening on the ground. Sometimes people share a lot of things while moving around. 

While working at factories, I used to walk around before resuming the work. Daily, I used to go to the shop floor, meet and greet workmen and supervisors working there. I used to question and challenge them if I observed some issues on the shop floor. During such rounds, workmen used to be attentive, at least they used to show that they are doing something. During one of the meetings, one of the senior managers who was an expat, gave this example to other managers. He was on the assignment on the improvement & productivity projects.

“I have seen, nobody bothers even when other managers and even the production head is on the shop floor. Workmen still continue to waste their time. But when Mr. Bidwaik is there everybody becomes more active because he challenges them. Workmen have taken granted for other managers.” He mentioned. I was involved in the change management, culture building process and productivity improvement project. The workmen, staff and managers were in their old world. Resistance was always high, not even from workmen but from white collar employees also. Being in HR, it was a totally different experience for me. The big challenge was on behavioural based safety. People used to take the shortcuts, not that much serious about wearing PPEs.    

It was a winter; the outside climate was amazing. I completed the round, it was a good walk, almost 4 km in the compass and shop floor. I went into my office, while I was unlocking my laptop, my intercom ranged. The production supervisor of one of the sections was on the line, “Hello Sir, please come on the shop floor immediately, one of the workmen had an accident.” He told me. I disconnected and rushed towards the incident. I saw a big crowd. The workman was under the roll of conveyor belt which had the weight of almost 600 kg. He was using the crane to move the newly manufactured roll of the belt at another location. The pulley tilted and the whole roll came out and fell on him. He was screaming. It was my first time to see such a horrible accident. Meanwhile an ambulance came. We took him to the hospital. His spine and vertebrae were damaged. His condition was critical. His family was communicated. 

I was shocked to see his condition. I updated this to the CEO, government authorities and senior management. It was decided to admit him in a specialty hospital in Mumbai. I was with him almost daily to support him and his family. During this process, I had to accompany senior leadership to speak with authorities. Dealing with locals, family members and unions naturally came to me. He was operated on 3 times and it took almost one year for him to recover from this accident, however he could not do the activities which he used to do earlier. We decided to transfer him to the back office. 

This incident was a lesson to all, company, managers, and workmen. They took safety seriously after that, but somebody had sacrificed to realize the same. Today whenever I see any unsafe behaviour, I interrupt the person and take his class. 

Safety is one thing, but I also learnt one of the elements of leadership. Leadership is about role modelling and reinforcing the right behaviour. This is one of the weaknesses of those managers and supervisors. Nowadays, MNC organizations have a strong safety policy and promote strong safety behaviours.

For me that accident was the test of my leadership skills, while dealing with that workman, family, relatives and of course union office bearers. It was a roller-coaster of all types of emotions. 

"It is true that turbulent times build great leadership skills."

In 2015, After almost 14 years of that incident, I attended the programme on communication during the crisis, conducted by one of the ex-BBC reporters. The learnings were as under,

  • Gather the facts, don’t try to cover up,
  • Tell the truth and be open,
  • Communicate the action plan,
  • Say, your priority is to take care of the people,
  • Speak about how the investigation is going on, communicate only facts,
  • Offer all support to government, police, and regulatory bodies,
  • While doing this, use appropriate words, very clear communication and don’t use the words like I think, I assume etc. Hence preparation is the key.

In the above incident, our managers and I had to face local authorities, police, local citizens, and families. I was not trained to handle this, but when I look back and recollect that incident, I must say that I learnt a lot and that is unimaginable.

Author's book are available on AmazonFlipkart and BookGanga 

Sunday, February 07, 2021


Company hired the Mckinsey & Company to benchmark and design the strategy for the expansion plans. It was expected that this exercise will result in some new ideas and businesses where company can further explore. I was one of the project team members along with other cross functional members from editorial, marketing, circulation etc. fifty percent members were from the company and fifty percent from Mckinsey. It was a great development experience where we learnt the thought process, platforms etc on which the Mckinsey works. It was a great learning about the way of working and identifying the core issue and proposing solutions.

There were a lot of initiatives parallelly going on like SAP implementation, new design of newspapers which company are publishing, lean six sigma roll out and convergence project (Convergence in media is linking one media platform to different platforms and design the content as per the platform and consumer behaviours.) Global top consultants were advising the company on those projects also.  

While we were discussing the progress of one of the projects, our Managing Director told me to leverage the learning from those consultants, develop the internal talent with those learning. In short, working on such projects was a great development opportunity for us. He also mentioned that consultants are good, and they have the huge data and we should use that data to improve the business, learn the way they approach the solution and their approach toward the design thinking. Personally, I gained a lot while working on those projects.

It was mid-summer in 2006. We all were in the final workshop with the management team and few cross functional senior members. Different workstreams presented their story. Finally, there was a presentation from the consultant on the recommendations. Every member in the boardroom was given voting pads.

Data was presented. The government was planning auctions of licences for radio frequencies. Members were asked to vote if the company should invest in FM, Events, Televisions Channel- entertainment or news or info-entertainment etc. Based on the presentation 90% participants voted for FM radio Channel. Finally, the consultant put the final slide on the screen with his recommendations to invest in FM Radio frequency. For other ventures like television etc we had a gap in capabilities. The workshop concluded with a lot of deliberations.

Next day, the Managing Director invited the meeting of the management team where I was also a part. He asked for feedback about the workshop and views of the participants. After listening all, he declared, “We will not go for the radio licence, we will invest in television channel.”

There was a pin drop silence, “We have a good benchmark, the team has done a wonderful job and our strategy is in place, but I believe that we should have ambitions. Unless you don’t have dreams, we will not be successful. We should take decisions considering our ambition. I believe that we understand our business and we should go for television channel. We need to discuss whether it is entertainment, info-entertainment or only news channel.”  He broke the silence. He explained the logic behind his decision, risk involved but he also explained why we should think big. He pushed the boundaries of the team to think big. 

After a lot of discussion, finally the project started and after 1 years the television channel started. Initially it was info-entertainment but later on converted fully into a news channel. Today the said channel is number 1 in TRP in regional language (Marathi). It is known as Saam TV.

We make decisions based on the data, however sometimes it is intuition and ambition which takes you toward success. Such decisions may be risky. But confidence, courage, conviction and calculated risk and trust on self and team are keys to success.  

(Opinions are purely personal & does not represent my organizations, current or past) 

Author's book are available on AmazonFlipkart and BookGanga 

(Income from books is donated to the NGO which works for orphans, street children & abandoned elders)

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