Book Review – THE ACROBATICS OF CHANGE

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Book review- THE ACROBATICS OF CHANGE by Moid Siddiqui and R.H.Khwaja

Acrobatics of Change
THE ACROBATICS OF CHANGE
Moid Siddiqui and R.H.Khwaja
Sage Publishers ,2008
Pages – 304
Price – Rs.450/-
Reviewer
Shailaja Chandra
Former Secretary, Department of AYUSH, Government of India and Chief Secretary, Delhi

Part I: GENETICS OF CHANGE

The first part of the book is written by Moid Siddiqui, a senior corporate professional possessing considerable experience in the public sector.

Siddiqui’s portion of the book has two sections and 12 chapters, each chapter introduced by a quotation which moralises about the lessons to follow. The book is full of fables, parables and stories from mythology. His analogy of change management being akin to a trapeze act is persuasive. The criticality of understanding the need for change and boldly exchanging the swing to land on the opposite platform of the trapeze is used to depict the difference between “statusquoists” and those who seize opportunity. The lesson held out is that there will always be hindrances and limitations and an unwillingness to shrug oneself from the “comfort zone,” but unless that is overcome, there can be no new beginnings. He however cautions that the change process needs to be punctuated at the right intervals.

In the section on change techniques, Siddiqui describes the five hats that change-makers must don; or the five associates one must find to play five different roles. These are the role of the discoverer – Columbus, the artist who presents a new way of looking at things, the judge who is both critical and constructive, the Sufi who plays the role of the conscience- keeper and finally the warrior who doubles up as general and soldier. Not only does Siddiqui formulate a sequence for each such persona but follows it up with a portfolio management and strategic analysis for each player. Inevitably all this leads to subchapters, boxes, numerals and bullet points – making the book sound like a heavy version of the usual management books.

Siddiqui’s tips and techniques, some ascribed to Japanese examples ultimately percolate down to questioning the ‘why’ of a problem and the ‘how’ of solving it. This is followed by dwelling on the benefits of brainstorming, trigger sessions, wild idea sessions, SWOT analysis and suggestion schemes – all well-known techniques-but not necessarily practical for those who have to grapple with priorities that change each day.

Later, Siddiqui recounts three stories of success that is of Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT), Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) and the Nagarjuna Group’s achievements, all examples of great leadership which had sometimes to be sacrificed at the altar of misplaced policies, squandering away the glory of past accomplishments.

The first part of the book is then a good read for middle level public sector managers who need stories and parables to relate to situations. However it is not of much practical value to top executives and managers or for that matter senior officers working in the government, simply because the urgency and criticality of what they confront cannot be addressed through management homilies.

PART II: THE SINGARENI LOVE STORY

The second part of the book is written by R.H.Khwaja IAS officer who was the Chairman and Managing Director of Singareni Collieries Company (SCCL).The enormity of what was achieved at Singareni has been captured very effectively in the author’s Annexures at the end of the book which depict a spectacular turnaround for SCCL: the accumulated losses in 1997 were more than RS.1200 crores. In nine years the company wiped out all its debts and became profitable. Coal production and dispatches improved by nearly 25% when the workforce was decreased by 25%. The number of strikes reduced from 310 witnessed in the pre-reform period to just 11, nine years later. The welfare expenditure per employee went up from around Rs 14,000 to Rs. 54,000. Nonetheless it remains a sincere effort at acknowledging and saluting the good work of all those who helped Khwaja achieve what he did.

One strong message that come out extremely well and should be something which Indian Chief Ministers should be reminded about, is the tremendous political will and support that was extended to him by the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. It is very easy to appreciate how a supportive Chief Minister can make or break organisations as well as their Chief Executives.

Khwaja tells of two stories when Singareni collieries (SCCL) had to confront twin disasters in the year 2003 which had a vastly sobering influence on the management. In one disaster, 17 workers perished due to water inundation and in another a roof collapse led to the death of 10 miners. Both these disasters could have completely demoralised senior managers besides leading to terrible labour unrest and the immediate transfer (and humiliation) of the CMD. But Khwaja recounts how they overcame adversity and even after he offered to leave, the Chief Minister stood by him and he continued. In these days of intolerance for the role of the civil servant and the leadership role he plays, the SCCL story reinforces faith in the system and reinforces a belief that trust begets trust.

Taken as a whole, it is a story of what can come about when relations between the PSU and the government are good; the loyalty that a kind, considerate and sympathetic CMD can command; and most important of all – what a level-headed Chief Minister can do to support good officers and good organisations. Equally it is a story of how small but thoughtful investments in people, and in this case the coal miners could reap huge dividends for the company. It also shows how a little generosity from the top can go a long way in winning the trust and loyalty of labour.

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