A career in Plantations not long ago was something that many a fresh graduate from one of the premiere colleges in India aspired for. The job which was well paying, truly embodied the much maligned work hard and play hard credo. The job brought along with it several perks that included domestic help many in number, Club membership that hosted a few wild parties, close camaraderie which often lasted a lifetime and vacations that could include a furlough. Many facilities, amenities and perquisites clearly transcended the days of the Raj and were a regular part of a planter’s life. The life in Plantations was as close as you could get to a life in the armed forces. Hierarchy, command and control was a way of life. The seniors were expected to and mostly delivered what was good for you and the business. As a youngster or in the middle management you pretty much made one’s reputation implementing plans. In short life was as good as it came.
As is the wont things never stay the same, times change, industries and businesses evolve. Over the years what was once a flourishing industry that was protected and shielded from competition by government and policy alike woke up to the harsh reality that technology and entrepreneurship are a great leveler. Knowledge would never be proprietary and will always be accessible to who would seek it first. Free markets and availability of cheaper and better-quality produce from other parts of the world would mean that what was once a space that one strode like a colossus was now becoming increasingly grey and difficult to call out. In times like these when an industry goes through turmoil and change often there is churn. This churn includes people, ideology and the shape of the industry. Embracing change, mostly at the top is often the most difficult and hard part. Having been part of an industry for many years and attuned to a certain way of operating and often just a few more years of active service left many a times senior leadership does not embrace change. I hasten to add that not all organizations resist change but the ones that do, fall into a cycle of denial that translates into a slow yet interminable demise of the business. Non- Competitive Costs, poor productivity, disadvantages of geography, trade blocs and often illegal smuggling of plantation products now would have become the new normal.
It is not a hyperbole when one says that the plantation industry has changed and dramatically at that due to some of the reasons I have mentioned above. The change brought about by business compulsions and the landscape is best embraced and good companies that look at protecting its legacy do it with alacrity. These companies understand that complaining is no longer a strategy anymore. One of the key changes that they bring about is in their style of management. I will take the next few paragraphs to try and explain some of the changes these companies make.
The first change and the one I consider most important is transparency. With technology and real time information available the organization and specially the middle and junior level employees are very quick to pick up inconsistency. Possible decisions that are going to be made cannot be cloaked in secrecy or on misplaced need to know basis. Good leaders of agile organizations maintain the least number of layers of information. No employee wishes to or has the bandwidth to know everything that the company is doing but he/she surely wants to know why the organization is doing what it is doing. Obviously sensitive information cannot be shared but an employee feels included and responsible when he is made aware of what the organizational issues are and when plans to mitigate the same are disclosed individually or collectively. I believe that a management that exhibits a measure of vulnerability, humility and humaneness can feed of the positive energy that builds in the organization. Today our younger colleagues more than often are willing to take up challenges and contribute than ever before. What they do not like and quickly lose interest is when the narrative is are of facts that are obfuscated.
Walking the talk
Often senior leadership is prone to giving stirring speeches, replete with promises and exhorting employees to work doubly hard. There are talks about practicing austerity and taking one for the organization. Senior leadership that doesn’t practice what they preach are the first ones to be called out for hypocrisy and a subsequent loss of face. Every action of the Senior leadership is under a microscope and even small things like the travel face scrutiny. Employees expect bosses to demand as much as the bosses would themselves stretch to do. If one expects an employee to be out early in the plantation, it would be the same expectation from the employee that the bosses would do the same occasionally.
Creating a constant buzz
Very few employees are motivated or want to work long in an organization where there is no apparent intent or hunger for growth. Most young employees feel that the best and most productive years should be in an organization that is not just brimming with activity and action but should exhibit ambition. Employees want to be known as working for an organization that have growth plans, engagement at all levels and working towards a very clear goal and ambition. A constant buzz for the right reasons can keep people engaged and there is no power greater than an engaged workforce.
Care for the planet
Increasingly it is evident that not just because we are here talking about the plantation industry employee’s world over and younger ones at that very strongly relate to the planet and its sustainability. The new norm is to constantly monitor the how green the company is or what the company does to give back to the planet. Employees are deeply connected to the impact that they or the company makes to the sustainability of the planet. I have in my many interactions seen many youngsters talk and action on many of the burgeoning sustainability issues. Earlier small actions in offices to ban plastic bottles and give glass water bottles were considered as initiatives by HR but today many of my younger colleagues are turning Vegan just because of the purported links to saving the planet. In these times a good company harnesses these sentiments and ensures that not is it seen as caring to the planet but also actively works with the employees who rightfully feel that they could contribute so much more.
Now to think about it when I joined the plantations many years I thought all that was needed to succeed was to follow orders and the rest would fall in line!