Vande Mataram

Thursday, May 21, 2009

SriLanka and Tamils - An issue centuries old

Many voices and some fists have been raised in wake of the news of the LTTE head honcho Prabakaran's death in the hands of the SriLankan Army (or his suicide.) People tend to jump to a conclusion that with the death of Prabakaran, the Tamil-Sinhala fighting would be over. But I would say they are either overzealous about peace or have no eye for history. The Lankan Tamil crisis is not a one that had started during the British Raj. The Tamil-Sinhalese conflict and fighting is centuries old.

If we take a look at the history of South India, every one of the three dominant Tamil emperors the Chera, Chola and Pandias have had their war with the Sinhalese kings and had conquered the island then called Eezham. The Sinhalese kings have also shown their prowess by defeating the weaker kings of the Tamil dynasties. This has been continuing for centuries. The current ethnic problem has its roots in the history. Literature plays a pivotal role in fueling the fight. Sinhalese literature praises and lifts high of the Sinhalese king by showing the Tamils in dim light for the goods they've done and in bad light overall. The Tamil literature also boast that the Sinhalese kings lamenting about their ill-fate at the victory of Tamil kings over them, and shows the Sinhalese kings as born tyrants.

It is literature that gets more into the minds of the people than recorded history. Literature makes or breaks social harmony in such cases. But humans, with their emotionally charged mindset and fancy for fantasy, always prefer literature and it's mostly distorted visual form cinema. With exaggeration being the baseline of literature and cinema, the facts get distorted and human mind takes history as a reason to fight with others.

The present Lankan turmoil was due to the Sinhala only stance adopted by the Government of SriLanka. Instead of getting diplomatic pressure to deal with the potential ethnic cleansing, the Govt of India and the people of Tamil Nadu took the emotional path to deal with the issue, which made strategic thinking impossible. One man thought with a military mindset and he was left at the top with none to guide and mentor. He was Prabakaran and he gradually took course to eliminating other Eezham freedom fighters to hog the whole limelight. Had he been mentored properly, he would today have become the commander in chief of the Armed forces of Tamil Eezham with some political leader being the head of the nation state.

His unfettered desire with mentor-less thought process, lead to the separation of his own men from him, with which he lost trusted commanders like Mathaiya, Karuna etc. They were the people who translated the goal into military strategy into war tactics which lead to their invincibility for 30 years.
Also he earned the wrath of the people of India and the world with the killings of Amirthalingam, Padmanabha, Rajiv Gandhi, Neelan thiruchelvam, Lakshman Kadhirgamar and the level headed likes. His self-centric attitude brought to an end his life (suspicions surround this claim) and his organization, till someone else takes it up again.

The problem with the people of Eezham is that they don't like LTTE, but the TINA factor worked in LTTE's favor, as the people liked to hate the Srilankan armed forces. Military victory over the LTTE of the SL Army would not solve the Eezham crisis as it is an ethnic problem not a national problem. Both parties involved try to get the issue resolved in their terms. Negotiations have failed. Now that the remaining leaders of the Tamil political parties need to take up the initiative to take the cause forward, for which great men like Amirthalingam were killed.

Prabakaran's LTTE is history. But history teaches us not to trust the Lankan Government. So, the trained cadre of the LTTE shall be kept intact to get an edge in the negotiating table, since without an edge in the negotiating table, Tamils would be again put to trouble. We don't want another Black July and another Prabakaran's LTTE.

Eezham people want peace and tranquil life. It is the duty of Tamils worldwide to diplomatically pressurize the concerned Governments to get this done.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Vox Populi: 2009

The nation has delivered its verdict as to who would rule it for the next five years. Though there were hiccups in the election process, results have shown some positive trends and a clear message. The election results though have not given a clear majority to any single party, has not given the regional parties the upper hand, which is a positive national trend. One of the national parties, Congress has won 206 seats, while the other national party BJP has won 116. The one state wonders with high national ambitions, AIADMK and BSP, were shown their places, while the two state wonder with exemplary back pulling capabilities, the Leftist group, was drubbed in it's own forts.

The movie magic shows and empty rhetorics failed miserably. Performance and governance were rewarded, though they measured fathoms deep down from the required level. An interesting thing to note in this election is that the Opposition had high ambitions, but lacked proper planning and concerted efforts to achieve them. The campaign was perfectly planned and executed by the Congress, while the BJP and other opposition parties resorted to mere rhetoric and empty statements of extreme hope.

The Congress campaign was aimed at the common man, who cares for who cares. The issues concerning the common man like employment guarantee, better roads and railways etc were discussed and highlighted in the Congress campaign. BJP on the other hand tried the run the show based on national security, foreign policy, harping too much on Mumbai terror attack etc issues not within the understanding of the common man, only to be rubbed back with the Kandahar episode by the Congress. BJP was forced to change strategy in the midway with the casual and cool rejoinders of the Congress star campaigners, which projected them in the light of immaturity.

Overall, the common man had delivered his verdict, which is perfect in the national interest with two national parties sharing majority of votes and remaining in the top two positions. The much longed maturity that regionalism shall be a plank for regional elections not for the national elections, has been silently emphasized by We, the people of India.

Hope for the best is the adage. But being happily tainted and never caring about being tainted are the characteristics of the winner, the Congress party. Shall we anticipate more Quattrochi like releases, more corruptions right from Planes to pickles, or for a change a combination of growth in economy, and development in corruption?

I remember Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathiar, the great Tamizh poet who lamented, "Oh Fate!what have you in store for the humankind?" If you know the future for sure, the thrill of living would be lost. Let us look for the future with good hope and trust in GOD.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Taking Business Client centric

There is story told in almost management every management seminar, class or workshop. There was a telephone company which was leading the market with large customer base. They outsourced their billing and customer support to a company called Alice services in wonderland. There was a proposal in the telecom company to club the bills of one customer for different services. For example, if a customer has 3 phone connexions, one for office, one for personal and another for his wife they would be clubbing together the bills of all the three. This arrangement was to check the paperwork and reduce the billing expense.

Customer were given an option to choose for it or ignore it. The next month, there was a call volume spike at Alice services, with customers who opted for the new joint billing finding it difficult and wishing to return to the previous state. Now that the Alice services have no clue what to do in such a situation. The customer were pressing for a restoring previous status or threatening to close the account. There was no SOP for such a situation.

Alice services were given the business of soliciting new accounts and also closures as and when necessary. So, when customers insisted on closure if their demands are not met, they opted to offer closure, as they have no specific instructions for such a situation, and customers were also demanding a quick solution so, checking with client was also not feasible. The client realized the impact after a week and a loss of hundreds of accounts. Then a roll back of the scheme was announced and alterations made to take necessary care for the business to stay. But the damage had already been done, smarting from that took a lot of time and money.

This is one of the banes in outsourcing, but there is another side to this issue also. Taking everything to the clients. To service a customer's special request, the outsource partners would wait and get the clients approval, by which time the customer would have gone out of hands.

The same happened in a place where one of my friend works. He was with a team that handles critical issues and dissatisfied customers. His team was trained by the client and they were deciding on the solutions to be provided for the customers. Once there happened a management change and the new manager didn't know an iota of the business intricacies. He was much concerned about the industry basic standards of TAT, on-time calls, and metrics like same day case closure, delayed case closure etc. The business was of a nature that the customer's were to be taken care of in every possible way. When freebies were to be stopped due to recession-bite, these guys still managed to get it in a different way for the customers.

But the new manager insisted on metrics through numbers. He didn't care for appreciation letters, praising mails etc. He wanted numbers to show that he mattered. When client came up with new work arounds, he would not question back as to the nature of the customers the team was handling. Had he done so, the clients not so business conducive proposals would have been scrapped at the start. Without discussion, the client's proposals were implemented and when results shot back they would still take "gaalis and golis" from the client and go around with the new work around.

None seemed to have realized the famous words of Jack Welch,"If an idea doesn't stand for a no holds barred discussion, the market place would kill it ruthlessly". The manager had his infamous justification, "If client says crow is white, crow is white. Because he is client and it is his business." Finally some of the people who were veterans in the business were sent off as they were not doing their "allocated job" and were asking too many questions. Now people who were retained in the business are looking around for opening elsewhere.

Well, what is the moral of the second story. BPO businesses should been run client centric. But making it centered around the client and according a demi-God status to the client would definitely ruin the business for the client- they are also humans and would err by nature- consequently to the outsource partners.

It should rather be a cooperative effort by both the client and the partners right from choosing the people to run the business. People who run critical business should atleast have a minimum business intelligence, rather than a "Yes Minister" attitude. The business managers and leadership team should dare to question the client on his proposals keeping the business in mind. Outsource employees should have the feeling of ownership towards the part of the business they run for the client. This attitude could be brought through by training, orientation and encouragements by the outsource management and the management of the client.

Jack Welch, Louis Gerstner and Lee Iacocca have developed a sense of ownership for GE, IBM and Ford respectively and they succeeded because of that. For that matter, take any of the successful business managers. They own it, they win with it. If you don't feel you own something, you will have indifference towards it. If you have indifference towards it, you will not care for it. If you don't care for it, you're not fit to run it, be it business, family, nation or a bicycle. Business managers need to develop a sense of ownership towards the business they manage to successfully run the show.