Thoughts & Ideas

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kursela Days 13 - Quality Circles



The minimum qualification for joining the Bank as a PO was a simple graduation in any subject and so I had applied for the job after completing my BA since I was desperate for a job. I had also applied and got admission to the Management Faculty of my University to do my Masters in Management Studies since passing my BA. Luckily I got selected by SBI and by the time I was called to join them, I had completed three (out of total four) semesters of the MMS course. The Bank very kindly gave me leave without extension of probation (which went all the way to the top honcho for approval). Like any rookie management graduate, I was therefore bursting with ideas by the time I joined the Bank. During probation there was little opportunity in trying out my ideas, but when I got my final posting at Kursela Branch, I resolved to start trying to implement at least some of my new fangled ideas.

One of the management fads, much in news during those days, was something called “Quality Circles” and I was mentally toying with the idea on implementing a Quality Circle at my branch but did not have a clue on how to go about it. I had read some articles on the subject and also invested Rs.100/- in purchasing a book by a management guru named S A Chandra on the subject (I had occasion to meet this person when I moved to Bangalore more than 10 years later – and what a thrill it gave me).

On one of those non-public working days we were sitting and chatting and working desultory at the Branch when the subject came up on the nature of training session one of the staff members had recently gone to. It turned out that he had gone for a one day course on Quality Circles, but on my enquiry as to what had he learned at the training session he gave some inconsequential replies and by way of avoiding further conversation on the subject mentioned that I could get more information from another staff member who had gone for similar training programme earlier. This gentleman, though more enthusiastic, also did not give me any more leads. Anyway, I had something to start with.

On the next non-public working day, after we had finished our work I called an informal staff meeting to discuss Quality Circles. I spoke about the subject for about 10 – 15 minutes with all the enthusiasm I could put in and got wall of silence in return. But I persisted and started eliciting responses on how we could improve the quality of the branch’s functioning. Then out of the blue, the branch messenger U S Choudhary (U S Choudhary who was called Ulta Seedha Choudhary by everyone) spoke up. His viewpoint was how important it was for the branch to have proper filing systems. He was responsible for finding and handing over any form, file, or ledger which anyone wanted and because things were not filed properly, he found it difficult to get leave. We therefore spent the next hour or so on how to improve out filing systems and who would take responsibility of which aspect. But by this time, a lot of latent enthusiasm had started building up in the other staff members.

On the next non-public working day, the enthusiasm was in full flow with everyone coming out with ideas. We started off with realigning the branch layout. I was surprised to see that in a place where the existing culture dictated that all work requiring manual labour like moving ledgers and vouchers etc., which was meant to be done only by messengers, people had got so involved that they had forgotten this aspect of their cultural values and were actively involved in lifting and shifting desks, chairs, and even the counters. By the end of couple of hours the branch layout had got fully re-arranged. The new layout was more spacious and reduced the need for messengers to carry vouchers. It was also more customer friendly and everyone was pleased with the result.

We thereafter had these Quality Circle meetings on a regular basis, at least once a month, and carried out a number of improvements in our internal branch processes, and also had a lot of fun doing it. What I learnt from this experience was the importance of getting all participants emotionally and mentally involved in any change process, for the change to be successfully implemented. The Branch Manager was initially aghast and very much against the idea of starting Quality Circles. His take was that if we let clerical staff into the decision making process there would be no end to their demands, which would be difficult to either accede of control. But the way things moved, I never faced any such situation.

After I got posted out of Kursela, I was asked by my Bank to implement Quality Circles in other branches, since I had picked up some kind of reputation in running Quality Circles. I tried the experiment twice in two different places and failed totally. I think the trick lies in having the group identify themselves totally with the QC group. At both the places where I tried to implement the QC concept, I was an outsider and remained one, and as such, there was no acceptance by the group.

This experiment of running QCs had another totally unexpected repercussion. Sunil Kumar Jha, the Award Staff Unit Secretary passed his written exam to be inducted into the officer cadre. One of the first things he was asked in course of his interview was something to the effect, “Oh! You have worked in Kursela Branch. Tell us something about QCs.” Sunil Jha, very proudly explained the experiment and based on this was promoted to the JMGS-I cadre. He came very proudly to meet me in Patna after getting his promotion. I was very glad for him.

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