Transform Spectators Into Participants

Tata Steel in Jamshedpur, after economic liberalization, saved Rs. 700 Crores in a single year merely by turning its population into participants. Mr. Muthuraman, MD, speaks about their program ‘Manthan Ab Shop Floor Se’, which means churning up the energies of the shop floor.

“Every few weeks, workers from different departments get together for a three – hour meeting, with no one from the management except facilitators.” These worker driven gatherings have spawned a hundred innovations which are rewarded at the ‘Innovation Exhibition’ where the workers get to talk about their work to Mr. Ratan Tata himself.

Every month in MD Online, a company – wide cable TV broadcast, Mr. Muthuraman, in a skillful blend of earthy Hindi and English (‘Our workers need to learn English too’, he says) speaks to over 2000 people where everyone is free to ask any question. Shop floor democracy at its best. ‘I believe everyone can be innovative if we provide the ambiance and the structure for innovation’, he says. Their program ‘Aspire’ creates an ambiance for stretching towards unreachable goals.

‘Consider a fine athlete running the 100 meters, which was once run in twenty seconds and can now be run in better than 9.69 seconds. He reflects and consults sports medicine experts, dietitians and physical therapists. Then, he changes his diet, exercise patterns, turns to successful coaches and so on…. It is the impossible aspiration that drives innovation’. He echoes Jack Welch of GE, who set dream targets like, ‘Let us reduce inventory by fifty per cent’.

The whole strategic planning process starts in November with an impossible starting point or wish. The Theory of Constraints identifies the bottlenecks in the value chain and solves them one by one. Dream targets are set and projects linked to strategic challenges are kick – started. The annual business plan is completed by march, with thirty per cent unsolved components. ‘We have a whole year to solve the bottlenecks as we go along’, Mr. Muthuraman concludes.