Monday, June 30, 2014

Great Companies to Work in India:Why There are Only 2 PSUs in the 2014 List of 100?

Today morning, while glancing through the business news, there was a not-so-important news coverage that got my attention. The news was about some organization doing some research to publish the list of 100 odd companies that are found as great places to work in India. 

Google India Pvt Ltd topped the list.[ surprisingly, Google's Indian wing, though registered as a private limited company in India, does not have a website of its own!] As per available information, Google India Pvt Ltd has 1625 satisfied employees, who really feel their company is a great place to work in India. There is no need for any one to doubt that, because it is the satisfied employees of Google who made their company- a small business venture registered by two PhD students of Stanford University almost recently in 1998- to become a 50,000 employee strong multinational entity whose name has become synonymous for internet search. Even this blog that you are reading would not have been possible without the dedicated work of many of these people who work for this great company.

Now the same Google helped me to find more information about the research finding that I was reading in the newspaper in the morning. I have found out the list of those 100 best companies which are declared as great companies in India to work during 2014 and also more information about 

When I observed the list closely, I find most of the companies are either privately held or privately owned public limited companies, except two companies that are government owned. The latter in India are commonly called the Public Sector Undertakings (PSU). 

Having decades of experience in a PSU, it is not any thing surprising for me that many PSUs are not in the list. But as I have guessed rightly, I could find the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd (NTPC) and the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) in the list, thought not in the first fifty. 

NTPC, though a PSU has been born with a work culture that is much different from other PSUs. Much of this work culture is because of the top leadership of this company right from its incorporation. This company was some how fortunate to get good top management team right from the beginning. For individuals and for corporate entities, good genes make lots of difference! Thus this PSU company was able to develop a good work culture and produce good leaders from within. Its present CMD, Dr Anup Roy Choudhury who has been leading this company for more than a decade now is an eminent technocrat who could maintain that work culture and improve it even under the severely constrained work environments that PSUs generally face. [You may also read: Why Indian Public Sector Undertakings Fail to Perform Now?]

When NTPC was founded way back in 1975 as a government of India owned, central PSU for setting up and managing large scale thermal power plants, the government handed over the small Badarpur thermal power station which was a poor performer and a small power producing utility to the management of NTPC. From less than 100 MW power production at Badarpur in 1975, NTPC now is a company with an installed capacity of over  43000 MW of coal based thermal power. With a workforce mostly drawn from other PSUs, this feat is some thing of a remarkable achievement and a fine example of exemplary work culture that this CPSU has been able to develop and sustain! There were many of my colleagues who preferred to shift to this company way back in the beginning of the 1980's. I do remember a senior colleague who shifted to this company calling me too join them giving due regards to my experience in thermal power chemical control and water treatment! Though I declined that offer due to personal reasons, I was a keen observer of the work culture of this PSU and the outstanding progress this company has been making as compared to other PSUs which could not emulate the NTPC work culture!

Let me narrate one or two examples of that work culture that I have personally experienced. Some time in the late 1990's the PSU where I worked, faced some serious problems with some of its captive thermal power plants. These problems were essentially related to poor management of the power station chemical control including its water management. These captive thermal power plants were my initial work place, but when this incident happened I was no more working in the power plant department. Yet some member in the top management of our company remembered me and called me to get my advice to overcome the problem.

I studied the problem and gave my suggestions. Our company could have gone ahead to implement the suggestions that I gave. But the work culture of our company had become too complex by then that the top management wanted me to undertake an all India tour to other thermal power stations to study those problems in a few other thermal plants and then give my technical study report for further actions.

So I visited a few large and small thermal power plants owned and managed by a few state electricity boards, some other private companies and also one super thermal power station at Ramagundam managed by NTPC. When I reached, Ramagundam by road from Vijayawada, after visiting the thermal power plant there, I was not knowing what to expect as I did not know any one there.

I did not have the opportunity to observe the NTPC culture till then. When I reached, the gate of the power station I found the security forces of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)- the para military organization of India which is mandated to provide security to most government owned industrial establishments in India. Having experienced the attitudes of CISF jawans in some other places including the PSU where I worked, I was a bit apprehensive. The existing work culture of the place does affect these forces too and many a times people find it not so pleasant!

But to my surprise, I find the officer of CISF at NTPC-Ramagundam  very cordial and cooperative which was not what I was expecting. This officer helped me to get in to contact with the right officer of NTPC and talk to him over phone from the security gate. The response from the NTPC officer too was a pleasant surprise. This officer- who was junior to me by the PSU rank- instructed the CISF officer to make the entry pass for me and the CISF officer did that immediately. (In many other PSUs, this thing could be a harassment even for the company guests!) The NTPC officer told me to wait for a few minutes till he sent one company vehicle to pick me inside. That was another surprise because, the company where I worked, even the top executive might also find it difficult to do such a thing! 

The company vehicle arrived at the gate to pick me within a few minutes and I was taken to the officer whom I knew only just a few minutes, that too over the intercom of NTPC at the security gate. 

For the rest of the day, I had a rewarding professional experience. I got the opportunity to meet almost all the officers of the plant and interact and exchange our professional experiences. I could visit the plant with them and I was greatly impressed to know about their working style, a style that invariably reflected on the upkeep of the plant.

I was impressed by the office ambiance that my contact officer of NTPC had there, some thing many other private and government companies never bothered about. With all that atmosphere and authority that his company provided, I could feel the professional pride and satisfaction of my contact officer of NTPC. Obviously, such employees are going to make their company perform well! How the employee feels that way was obviously the distinct work culture of this CPSU which got developed due to the vision of its top management from the very beginning!

During the professional interactions, I found that NTPC Ramagundam was adopting a technique that was a bit more complex to manage a technical issue pertaining to its cooling water management. It was the same problem of our captive power plant too, for which I was sent by our management for detailed investigations. I gave my suggestions to the NTPC fellows too as I did to our top authorities. 

To cut the story short, within months, I learnt that NTPC Ramagundam implemented my suggestion where as my report eventually went to rest in my own organization with nothing happening. Later the situation in my organization with regard to the captive power production deteriorated further. Later, some of the captive thermal production facilities of our company were handed over to NTPC to be managed by an NTPC controlled joint venture. The power plant where I began my career too went under the management control of this new joint venture.

The first major change for these units under NTPC controlled management has been the drastic changes in the employee benefits and facilities. NTPC began their actual control of operation and management only after all the employee facilities had been created as per their own standards! And that is what makes NTPC different from other PSUs.

But that does not mean that NTPC or any other such organizations which find their name in the list of best companies for employees for 2014 would remain as such in the future too. They may change for better or worse in the future. And that all depend on the attitudes of the top management and the rest of the key authorities in their respective organizations who are responsible for making the people work earnestly, taking pride in their organization. 

If corporate history is any indication, there would be many companies that would compete in the future to find their names in the list that I mentioned above. That is a matter of prestige and some top corporate managers are too willing to do any short cuts for gaining such prestigious positions without honestly making any real cultural change within their organizations.

That is true with all management systems, be it of total quality  management (TQM), corporate social responsibility (CSR), Environment Management, Safety, etc., etc. 

In short, every thing ultimately boils down to people. If the organization is made of people having the 4 C's that I wrote some time ago, things would naturally follow a better path and the company would naturally be a great place to work. The more such people in the organization, the more it would be a better place to work! 

But there is a critical mass in this case too. When the numbers of the  4 C-people go down below a certain limit, the company or organization begins to collapse as it would not be easy for the company to make any positive changes by its own.

It would be an interesting study if any one ventures to study why only 2 PSU's were liked by their own employees! Of course, such studies and their findings would be of any use only when there is some one to examine those for positive actions!

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