Synopsis: Communication For Productivity
Letters written to some 7500 Workers / Managers / Union Leaders, following a period of strike / Go slow / Murders (1979 - 1987), at Mumbai factory of Larsen & Toubro Ltd. This direct / open / honest communication led to a remarkable atmosphere of trust between Workers and Management, which, in turn, increased productivity at 3% per year (ave).
May 22, 1984
I am inspired to dialogue with you once again. In the months to come, you will hear from me and I do hope you will also talk to me. A dialogue is a two-way traffic !
If you are wondering why I was "silent" for the last one year or so, the obvious reason is that the Union office bearers kept me awfully busy and you cannot blame them since they were merely following your wishes!
Coming back to what has inspired me again, someone asked me the other day in the worker Education Class.
"Sir, why have you stopped sending us "Japan Works O.K.","Britain Works O.K." etc ?"
I turned around and asked others what they thought of these write-ups.
There were several voices, all at one time, saying that they had enjoyed reading these articles and that they really missed these! Yes, they would like me to share with them what is happening around the world in the matter of productivity and in the matter of industrial relations (to me, simply "human relations in the industrial context"). So here we go again !
This time it is a real-life report on the American car industry - all the way from the city of Detroit.
If you have an atlas at home, try this evening to locate Detroit on the map.
Way back in 1956, I spent one summer vacation in this city, working as a draftsman in a tractor manufacturing company. Every Sunday (Saturdays I used to work overtime!) I used to take a long walk on a road called "Grand River Avenue". Mile after mile after mile, on either side of this road, one could see yards filled with thousands of second hand cars -some of these hardly one or two year old models and none more than 5 years old !
The thought that used to pass my mind was - How cheaply are Americans able to manufacture brand-new cars so that they can afford to buy a new car every third year? Apparently they were able to produce them fast (in fewer man-hours than any other country) and produce them cheap (at a lesser cost than anyone else).
This was 28 years ago when many of you were not even born and I had not heard the word "Productivity". In those old fashioned days, the Americans simply worked "hard" and worked as a "team". They just had to be "best" and the "first" and in this one matter there was no difference of opinion between the Unions and the managements.
From the enclosed article you will notice how the American car industry has completed one full circle in these 28 years - from excellent Union-Management cooperation of 1956 to total confrontation of 1970's and back to the cooperative mood of 1984.
But then it is natural to forget the internal differences and unite to protect yourself against an external enemy. Could it be that this recent show of unity and cooperation is only because the workers and the managers - both are equally concerned about saving their jobs ?
And if this is the reason, what would happen when the Japanese competition slackens? Will the Union and the Management resume their attitude of confrontation? Today, both the Union and the management regard Japan as "Enemy No. 1". When they have defeated Japan through increased productivity (brought about by increased cooperation), will they start fighting each other?
If this happens it would be indeed very sad.
Sad, because this repeating cycle (of hate and forced love) cannot go on very long before it completely destroys the industry. I hope the American managements and Unions realise this and learn to love each other naturally and permanently.
In L&T, our products are not facing any competition from abroad because imports are not allowed.
But competition from other Indian companies is getting fierce. If you wish to know how serious is this competition, request your production manager to invite the concerned Sales Manager to your next unit level Productivity Committee Meeting. He will tell you that the Indian customer today has many "options" - other than L&T.'
In L&T, can we take a lesson from Detroit, and learn to cooperate naturally while we still have time?