A Better Way To Work - Workplace Democracy

 


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Recently, during a discussion with Suman, a co-worker in the car while stuck in a traffic jam on the way to a client meeting in Gurgaon, I shared the vision of transforming Srijan into a company in which all its members collectively manage the growth, direction, etc. In response, Suman said, we already have a good work environment within the company; and why we should think of such measures at all?

I tried but could not provide an answer; and asked him to allow me to write down why, as I am better expressed that way. On the way back, I did manage to provide an answer, but decided that I would still write it, to share it across our company and possibly consider publishing it in a supportive media publication, to let the idea rub-off on other companies as well.

Unlearning the ways of the world

In the last few years, I have been deeply influenced by books such as “Built to Last” and more recently by “Maverick” and “Seven Day Weekend” by Ricardo Semler talking of his experiments with ‘democracy at work’ in his company Semco in Brazil. I have also been influenced by the late Sh. P. L. Tandon, the first Indian chairman of HLL, and well-known economist, with whom I had several late evening discussions on ‘management’ with the heart.

To add to all this, we have an advisor to our company who believes in complete transparency at the work place, as a basic tenet to ‘building great companies’ of the future.

Through months and years of training, or may I say, ‘questioning’ and then ‘unlearning’ the ‘thought paradigms’ and ‘values’ taught to us by society, have I now begun to initiate processes which are transparent, idealistic, and really how, companies must run.

Purpose of a business

Firstly, each company must have a reason to be in business. Earning as much money as possible', having the best car, foreign trips, etc. for the promoter and his/her family, could be the motivation. However, this reason alone creates the insane world we live in, with such huge inequities that 60%-70% of our population lives ‘below poverty line’. Now, I refuse to be drawn into the technicalities of the BPL category; people, actually much more than the percentage above, are struggling daily to meet their daily basic survival needs. This is poverty; and I do not care if they earn the US$2-3 subscribed as a benchmark by World Bank or IMF to define the ‘poverty line’.

When I formed Srijan, we did not have much of a reason, except generating financial security, so that I could be involved in areas of political reform in this country. Over the years of training and ‘unlearning', it is now a personal dream to create a ‘great company’ which works for a larger purpose than fulfilling the gluttonous appetite of the shareholders or promoters or even the employees, for money.

So what is Srijan's purpose?

Srijan will work in areas of ‘national significance’ such as those which address the social needs of the people of the country, and in-turn the world at large.

We believe that Information Technology and Media, both of which culminate in the Internet, has the power to transform lives of millions, by giving them a voice, and an opportunity to come together, share and learn from each other. Srijan will continue to work at the forefront of this revolution.

Over the last few years, we have seen the power of communities at work, where one person's willingness to share his university project code, has culminated in an OS which has challenged the might and monopoly of Microsoft, in a manner that no large corporation in the world has been able to do. Linux, is getting mature, and its acceptability increasing by the day. It has given birth to an Open Source movement which is giving the power of choice, affordability and security to the end-user. It is for the first time, in the last 30 years or so, that small businesses are being able to afford IT for increasing their business efficiency. Small IT companies, such as ours, are being able to find a niche for themselves in the product segment by adopting and learning various Open Source products and implementing them for customers. The sense of appreciation in most companies using open source products is quite high, and sooner or later, they do contribute to the movement and the community in effort, money or materials. Srijan remains at the forefront of this movement, with its specialisation in helping customers in the Small-Medium Enterprises, Government, Education and Social sectors, use ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’ gainfully for their business/purpose enhancement.

Information Technology is only the beginning. At Srijan, we dream that in the near future we shall be able to diversify and create “successful business-models” and work in

a) renewable energy;

b) promote ‘sustainable’ organic agriculture;

c) water security;

d) environment sensitive products’ development and marketing;

e) health – through preventive alternate medicine and practices;

f) micro-finance

g) Consulting – to help Indian companies become efficient and effective;

h) Education

Srijan is already working on building a ‘consulting’ division within our company through association with a couple of highly-recognised management consultants, and began our first project in ‘assessing water security’ of villages in hilly regions of Uttaranchal.

We are already working in the sector of micro-finance, though currently at a personal level. I recently lent our domestic-help a few ten-thousand rupees to enable purchasing land in his village, which would in the years to come enable him to become independent and an entrepreneur. Who knows, he may get to run a Petrol pump one-day on this piece of land which is on the road leading to Chilka lake. The only condition remains that once he is doing well for himself in the future, he would help others in-need and with an opportunity, become independent as well.

Initiatives at Srijan

So, how does all this relate to my discussion with my colleague, mentioned at the beginning? Well, the only ‘humane’ and ‘sustainable’ way to grow and diversify into these areas, is by involving a group of inspired people to work towards these ‘shared common goals’. It makes this movement (or the company) much more stable, sustainable and one that lasts.

Such a company could only provide a ‘loving’ and ‘balanced’ environment, required for creating new brilliant ideas, which will give new direction and new areas of business and thus, profits to the company; and a more equitable society.

The challenge is to find the right kind of people. A company must share and ‘live’ its culture rather than talk about it. It is what one ‘does’ and not what one ‘says’ that will help put in place such a culture.

At Srijan, we have a good work environment. Inspite, of being small, we are now able to afford better salaries for our people. We have recently redesigned our office to improve the environment and the ambiance, thus making the work hours more comfortable. In order to bring in transparency in management, we

share information on the company's billing to its customers, each other's salaries are known to all key people, including the normally hidden perks to the top management. :-)

Although, everyone does not have an opinion in all decisions, we still ensure that everyone is consulted or apprised before any major initiatives. All of us, in capacity as Account Managers, build relationships with our customers. There are ‘strategic consultants’ associated with us, who are encouraged to make project bids, building customer relationships, deliver the work – independently, without bothering with the bureaucracy of control-based centralised Project Management practices. Quality does not suffer at all. We trust that we are dealing with adults, who are aware of Srijan's ‘quality practices’ and the ‘code of conduct’.

This is not where it ends. We have a long-way to go in creating a company led by its people. There is still a lot of unlearning to do, to create a truly great company. However, our open and transparent management practices, often inspired by the leadership of our highly-charged advisors, will ensure that new inspired initiatives keep cropping up, leading us to new directions and new business initiatives within the company, which will help achieve and expand our ‘purpose’.

Rahul Dewan
Managing Director
Srijan Technologies Pvt. Ltd.
http://www.srijan.in/

Rahul Dewan is the Managing Director of Srijan Technologies Pvt. Ltd. , an IT company based in India. Under the guidance of J. Sen Gupta, his mentor and a Management Consultant with over 30 years in the industry in TQM and Organisation Development, Rahul worked on bringing democracy at his workplace as well. Initially, sharing revenue statements with people at Srijan, was unimaginable, out of apprehensions that they may either think the company is not too profitable (we're doing very well now) or on the other extreme may think, that they were earning much less than the company's earnings; however, none of this happened, and although people are more vocal about their expectations and desires (this is exactly what we wanted to achieve), their is a more loving environment we have been able to create in the company. Sengupta, enthused by the way Srijan is re-creating itself, has recently agreed to join it full-time.

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