7 Elements of Leadership to Succeed amidst Pandemonium Times – Element 4

Element 4: Empower People

Empower people to take decisions. Empowered people handle crisis situations far better. Some decisions could go wrong but it is fine. The world has hardly seen anything of this kind and that is why I call it as a “No Reference Point”. With no reference point to fall back upon decisions have to be taken based on the data available and also based on instincts.

What we found as a common thread among winning organizations is that they empowered people to make imperfect decisions. Some of the business leaders could quickly identify people who have seen crises and displayed enormous resilience in their personal lives. They were able to quickly identify such people and empowered them to take swift decisions. Another important attribute to look for in people who need to be empowered is the fact that certain people are task-oriented and also are fast-paced. These people are generally called Go-Getters. Go-Getters normally take quick and tough decisions.

It is evident that some of the top leadership encouraged people in the frontline to take tough and unconventional decisions. Jack Welch talks about 4-E’s model where he talks about the Energy, Energize, Edge and Execution as the vital characterizes which differentiates top performing managers from others. The third E in the model is the ‘Edge’ and edge is nothing but the ability of the leader to take ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ tough decisions without the fear of being disliked. It is such people who are essential for the success of any institution in times of pandemonium.
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It is because of the fact such kind of empowerment was already there in the DNA of certain organizations that they could succeed. Corporations where empowerment was less due to the unwillingness of the top leaders to ‘let go of things’, found it difficult to get into what is now being called ‘the new norm’. One of the big responsibilities of the leadership is to transform the culture and DNA of their organizations to empower the right people to take decisions.
UPL which is a multi-billion global company is a classic example of succeeding amidst these pandemonium times by empowering people. In order to understand their success story, I had spoken with Melwyn Moses who is Supply Chain Management (SCM) Head of Asia and India for agrochemical business of UPL on May 20, 2020.
The first thing that was done at UPL in March 2020 was setting up of the Rapid Response Task Force with four control towers, one for people and community, one for manufacturing and operations, one for logistics and planning and one for procurement. Each of these control towers were entrusted with adequate amount of powers to take decisions and for resolving the problems that came along the way.
We noticed that several organizations which got back to operations quickly created a command center or war room or some called it a Rapid Response Task Force for engaging with the key stakeholders. This is a crucial element to get into action mode.

What we need to understand is this is a pandemic. Not a normal situation. Most organizations and governments which we have, however good or bad they are, are designed and skilled only for administration under normal or near to normal situations. But a pandemic situation demands more dynamic skills with a more sustainable and flexible approach to it.

We need leaders at each level. Leadership has to be decentralized and more powers have to be given at the local level with guidance from expert committees. The leaders should inspire people and not threaten them to get things done. A crisis management team should take over the power of action to deal with such situations, maybe who have experience in their field. This is what had proved to be the success story of UPL and also across various sectors we have seen the same pattern.
The situation demanded that all Factory Managers at UPL had to take a lot of decisions, which some of them had not taken before as they used to get escalated and decided upon in two or three days. Now they were immediately given powers to take decisions on the spot. “Empowerment of people on the ground turned out to be an important aspect in UPL getting back on the feet very soon.”
At UPL things are always moving fast and people are usually entrusted with a lot of responsibilities and powers. Suppose a factory has to be set up in a record time of 12 months; then the team which is responsible to set up a factory would have already worked in that kind of environment. There are some areas like Capex where the controls and prudent financial management are still there, but in general, the amount of freedom people enjoy in UPL is generally higher than what you would see in many other companies. These attributes are not discouraged but welcomed. There may be momentary pull-ups, but in general, it is acceptable as long as they don’t violate the safety, health, quality norms, and are not unethical.

According to Melwyn, there was no time or means to supervise, monitor and had no time to even communicate the decisions to be taken in the frontline. There was no bandwidth available to communicate the information so that decisions can be taken at a higher level.

So, when you run out of bandwidth to communicate and when you run out of time, you actually tend to get into action and complete the tasks. The time-squeeze has actually helped UPL to push more decision-making to the front-end people and reduce the quantum of decision-making at the senior levels.
The purpose of the Rapid Response Task Force was to ensure that all the decision-making happens at the front-end and to filter the decisions and escalate only one or two decisions to the top management so that quick resolutions can happen.

When GDP’s across the world were negative UPLreported a 27% jump in sales in April, May & June quarter of 2020. The operating profit was up by 29% and margins rose by 500 basis points to 22%. The reported financials had beaten market expectations including the margins.Empowerment of people played a vital role in this stellar performance of UPL.

Finally, who are the right people to be empowered?

1. Look at their lives: if they have faced personal crises and came out on top or have they faced a crisis in the business before and they had solved them. In fact, HR should have this question in their interviews for recruits and also when they appraise people. They should have a database of people who have seen it, done it and come out of it either on top or without being hurt too much.

2. Are they fast-paced and task-oriented because speed is the name of the game and being too much people-oriented means they would have fear of being disliked by others for tough decisions? How many people liked lockdown but was it a tough and bold decision? It is a different story that people who communicate such decisions need to do with empathy and human touch as discussed in the empathy element. Decisions need to be taken by those who are task-oriented but communicating the same needs empathy and that should be done by folks who are people-oriented.

JVC Sreeram

Author of “No Reference Point” Listed No. 1 Hot New Seller in Entrepreneurship category at Amazon

The Ultimate Handbook to succeed amidst a Global Pandemonium & Beyond Available at Amazon, Flipkart.
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