SOCIO-ECONOMIC VOICES

"To Move Towards a Better & Productive India, a Productive Mindset is Needed, Not Robots"
-Sagar Amlani,CEO, Zapro Consultants, Building Productivity Mindset
"India Must Re-calibrate the Reservations Clause: Ensure Merit-based, Economic Strata-Based Placements"

Intro: What are some of the biggest challenges towards better productivity growth in India, despite having a very vast young population? How can individuals and organizations develop a productive mindset that encourages innovation, creativity, and continuous improvement? How can India's education system better prepare young people for the demands of a productive workforce? This and more were answered by Sagar Amlani, CEO, Zapro Consultants who aims at building Productivity Mindset in India. Sagar shares how productivity is a skill and not an output measurement. Senior Journalist Mahima Sharma brings you this exclusive insight at the Socio-economic Voices on Indiastat.

MS: In your analysis where does India stand in terms of productivity on a global scale and why?

SA: Productivity can be analysed from different perspectives such as labour productivity, total factor productivity (TFP), and multi-factor productivity (MFP). As a former Vice President of a Tier 1 company serving the automotive industry for over 10 years, I have observed that India has significant potential for growth in the automotive market. However, it faces various productivity challenges, including inadequate infrastructure, high logistics costs, and a shortage of skilled labour like any other manufacturing sector. India’s Labour productivity in the automotive sector is lower than other countries for example 25% lower than China and 13% lower than Germany.

However, India's engineering talent has helped in setting up R&D centres for many global automakers of which I have worked closely with Hyundai and Renault Nissan are a few to name, which have significantly contributed to developing new products and technologies for the global market. However, it should be noted that within South Asia, India stands out with higher growth of productivity. India's labour productivity growth rate has slowed down in recent years, from an average of 4.4% during 2000-2007 to 2.8% during 2014-2019. But higher than the average growth rate of 2.4% for other emerging market economies.

The reasons for India's laggard productivity performance are multifaceted, including inadequate infrastructure, poor quality of education and healthcare at the grass root levels, lack of access to credit, and inadequate technological innovation.

MS: What are some of the biggest challenges towards better productivity growth in India, despite having a very vast young population?

SA: Having a vast population which lacks skills is the main reason for reduced productivity. As a Productivity Enhancement Consultant, I have observed that there is a skilled manpower deficit, the current workforce is not inclined to take up responsibility and ownership, and there are only 15% within the whole organisation who are willing to take proactive action. The current generation is delusional about the entrepreneur world. If everyone wants to become an entrepreneur – who will work for them?

Where are we heading to? I agree that it's an era of a GIG economy, which requires skills and talent, business acumen, and the art of management. A retail outlet which I recently visited has four branches across the city but lacks basic customer service due to unskilled labour and poor communication skills Imagine interviewing 20 candidates to finally get 3 potential candidates of which one has refused to travel for a marketing role.

The second major issue is connectivity. For example (I will take my own example not to point any fingers), it will take 1 hr 20 minutes for me to reach Bengaluru from Hyderabad and then it will take 3 hours for me to reach my client in Hosur. Imagine, in a day I invest 6 hours (including wait time at the airport) in total for 30 minutes of an in-person meeting.

The next major issue is inconsistent power supply and non-equally widespread internet connectivity. Let me share some real-life examples. It is unfortunate to hear about the challenges faced by MSMEs in Surat, Manesar, Kanpur, and Jalandhar due to power shortages. Such power cuts can severely impact the production output of businesses and cause financial losses, especially when combined with high prices of raw materials.

The situation in Haryana's Manesar is particularly concerning, with regular power cuts in industrial areas. The reliance on diesel generator sets as a backup source of power can add to the financial burden of MSMEs, given the current surge in fuel prices. Even large corporations like Maruti Suzuki can be adversely affected by such power shortages.

MS: How can these challenges be addressed in an extremely fruitful way?

SA: These challenges can be easily mitigated by taking a few necessary and stringent steps. I am sharing the most important ones in detail.

  • Creating centres for excellence and ensuring the training provided in such centres is monitored and evaluation is conducted periodically, as the quality of education in these institutions is highly compromised.
  • Train manpower in the skills for continual improvement, proactive approach and critical thinking.
  • Reduce bureaucracy and ease regulation. Let me again state a real-life example; I was working with a client who wanted to start a factory for API which has zero discharge. It took 2 years to get clearance from various departments which need NGO’s NOC. The red tape is too tight and time-wasting.
  • Invest in Infrastructure to create better roads and reduce potholes to reduce transport time and cost. Investment in strengthening the power grid, and encouraging users to implement non-conventional sources of energy will ease the issue a little. I have installed a solar panel which reduces my energy consumption from the grid by almost 80%.
  • The reservations clause should be relooked and recalibrated to support the truly affected and needy economical individuals and not just by caste which was established 50 years ago. That will ensure the right person with the right mindset will be placed based on merit and not based on class.
  • Some several MSMEs and SMEs still use old machines or labour-intensive jobs - to avoid investment in technology resulting in poor quality. For example, we had one of our local suppliers who would pack the material with hand-stitched LDPE bags causing damage to the internal goods in transport against the material we procured from Germany - which was vacuum sealed, high quality and low cost with zero wastage.

MS: How can individuals and organizations develop a productive mindset that encourages innovation, creativity, and continuous improvement?

SA: Building a Productive mindset incorporates Critical thinking, Creating opportunities from adversities and Consistency.

  • Critical thinking involves evaluating and exploring ideas and information to make informed decisions and set clear goals and objectives to align with core values. It requires individuals to analyze and synthesize information, question assumptions, and consider multiple perspectives.
  • Creating opportunities from adversities involves adopting a positive attitude and persistence in the face of challenges. This requires individuals and organizations to view setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth and to focus on finding solutions rather than dwelling on problems. It is focused on improving and optimizing performance and outcomes. Individuals and organizations should set clear goals, regularly evaluate progress, and constantly seek out new opportunities for innovation.
  • Consistency involves maintaining a commitment to one's goals and priorities over time. This requires individuals and organizations to develop routines and systems that help them stay focused and organised and to avoid distractions and procrastination.
  • Celebrating milestones, and remembering happy and engaged employees are 12% more productive, says the Gallop study.

A productive mindset is a way of thinking that focuses on maximizing one's productivity and achieving goals efficiently and effectively. It enables them to achieve their goals with a sense of fulfilment, navigate challenges, and continuously improve and grow.

“Stop Being a Robot - Be a Human again - Build the Productive Mindset”

MS: What are some of the key characteristics of autonomous work culture, and how can it contribute to productivity and quality management?

SA: An autonomous work culture with accountability is characterized by a high degree of trust, flexibility, and self-management among employees. It involves giving employees more autonomy and control over their work and empowering them to make decisions and take ownership of their responsibilities.

Being a certified Internal Auditor for ISO 9001, IATF 16949 and a certified trainer for Kaizen and 5s, I strongly see the correlation between culture and quality management.

In the book "Good to Great," Jim Collins emphasizes the importance of building a culture of discipline and empowering employees to take ownership of their work. He also discusses the concept of "Level 5 Leadership," which involves a combination of humility, strong will, and a focus on long-term results and how it can contribute to creating a high-performing organization. I will now share some key characteristics of autonomous work culture and how it can contribute to productivity and quality management:

  • Empowerment: In an autonomous work culture, employees are empowered to make decisions and take ownership of their responsibilities. This can lead to increased motivation and engagement, as employees feel a greater sense of control and investment in their work.
  • Trust: Autonomous work cultures are built on a foundation of trust between employers and employees. When employees feel trusted and valued, they are more likely to take initiative, be creative, and innovate. By building trust, employers can empower employees to take ownership of their responsibilities, make decisions, and collaborate more effectively with one another.
  • Flexibility: Autonomous work cultures provide employees with greater flexibility in terms of when, where, and how they work. This can help to reduce stress and improve work-life balance, which in turn can lead to greater productivity and job satisfaction.
  • Accountability: In an autonomous work culture, employees are held accountable for their work and are expected to take responsibility for their decisions and outcomes. This can help to foster a culture of continuous improvement, as employees are encouraged to learn from their mistakes and strive for excellence.
  • Collaboration: Autonomous work cultures prioritize collaboration and teamwork, as employees work together to achieve common goals and objectives. This can lead to greater creativity, innovation, and problem-solving, as diverse perspectives and ideas are shared and explored.

MS: How can organisations ensure that employees have the necessary autonomy and resources to be productive and innovative in their work?

SA: It starts with clarity in communication right from setting KRA (Key Results Area), and KPI (Key Performance Indicator) with targets and providing the right process in place for employees to perform better. The setting of Goals in the first place with clear expectations sets the flow of productivity in motion. It will create a culture of autonomy with accountability. We used to conduct a monthly review meeting where each department shared their results against the targets and also shared their action plan for the next month -this created transparency and gave the teams the confidence to openly share their achievements and failures.

To be productive and innovative, employees need to have healthy work-life integrations which create a sense of fulfilment. Organizations should encourage this by providing flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting or flexible schedules, and by ensuring no calls after office hours unless it is a critical emergency.

Employees also need to feel valued and recognized for their contributions. By recognizing and rewarding success, organizations can motivate employees to continue to be productive and innovative.

Organisations can also use suggestion schemes and internal champions to create healthy competition to increase employee engagement. Kaizen is a Japanese term that means "continuous improvement." A simple change like providing a forklift at a loading and unloading station can increase efficiency by 12%. Replacing a nut bolt arrangement in a dye setting with a pneumatic lock saves dye change time and helps in increasing production.

A suggestion scheme is a program or system that encourages employees to submit ideas, suggestions, or feedback about ways to improve the organization's processes, products, or services. The goal of a suggestion scheme is to harness the knowledge, creativity, and expertise of employees, and to provide a mechanism for continuous improvement.

To support all above - a Sense of Awareness has to be created by providing the right skills, tools and access to informal and formal education to acquire the required skills. Coaching & Mentoring employees can bring sustainable change and lead an organization to the Zenith of success.

MS: What are some of the most effective strategies for improving productivity at the organizational level, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises?

SA: Here I recommend the DIVE strategy. Let me explain what it is.

  1. Diagnosis: In this step, the organization should diagnose the current state of productivity and identify the areas that need improvement. This could involve analyzing productivity data, conducting surveys or focus groups with employees, or observing work processes to identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies.
  2. Implementation: Based on the diagnosis, the organization should develop and implement a plan for improving productivity. This could involve introducing new tools or technologies, changing work processes, or providing training or coaching to employees. The implementation plan should be specific, measurable, and achievable, with clear timelines and milestones.
  3. Validate: In this step, the organization should measure and validate the effectiveness of the productivity improvement plan. This could involve tracking productivity metrics over time, gathering feedback from employees, or conducting surveys or focus groups to evaluate the impact of the changes.
  4. Empowerment: Finally, the organization should empower employees to continue to improve productivity over time. This could involve providing ongoing training and development opportunities, encouraging employees to suggest new ideas or improvements, or implementing a suggestion scheme to harness the knowledge and creativity of employees.

Let’s understand the above via an example.

  • Diagnosis - An Artificial leather cloth manufacturing company, was struggling to increase its production output due to high changes over time for different colours, after analysis and changing standard operating procedure (SOP) and changes in the marketing process.
  • Implementation - A small experiment was conducted at the regional level marketing team where they changed their strategy to get all the orders from customers for the coming month on the 25th of the previous month. Orders for March were received by 25th Feb 2023. This helped the production team to plan their production and combine similar colours which reduced change over time. Which in turn increased output per day.
  • Validation - The whole system took 3 months to stabilise. Once validated it was implemented across all regions and a new SOP (standard operating procedure) was created for order-taking and production planning.
  • Empowerment - Training was provided to all employees to sustain the new process. Within 6 months they were able to produce 2X output with the same machines and infrastructure.

MS: How will the recent lay-off by Meta, Amazon, Microsoft and Google etc impact the global and Indian IT industry in particular? How can this impact be reduced?

SA: The recent layoffs by major tech companies such as Meta (formerly Facebook), Amazon, Microsoft, and Google could have significant implications for the global IT industry, including in India. This may lead to increased competition for jobs, changes in the labour market, and a shift towards the gig economy.

With layoffs happening frequently, it may drive some of the affected employees to start freelancing and work in the gig economy Furthermore, it may lead to companies investing more in automation technologies, which could change the skill set required for IT jobs.

India's IT industry may be particularly affected since it relies heavily on exports to the US. However, the impact of the lay-offs will depend on various factors, including the strength of the global economy and the pace of technology adoption.

Coming to the second part of the question, to reduce the impact we should encourage reduce in working hours per employee and divide the workload to retain some staff at reduced rates. The Government can offer some tax relief to sustain more staff. Companies can also offer early retirement to some who wish to voluntarily move out. Reduce the payout to top management and use the same to retain more staff. Create more accountability partners, and counselling for employees to manage stress. Create alternative job counselling and placement assistance for such employees.

MS: How can technology, AI and more be leveraged to boost productivity in Indian businesses, particularly in traditional industries? At the same time, how can one evade creating job cuts as an organisation while leveraging the latest technology?

SA: Technology and AI can help Manufacturing sectors in Data analytics which can help identify patterns and trends, leading to more informed decision-making and better resource allocation. Which will help to reduce COPQ and also reduce breakdown times. AI can also help understand customer behaviour and help in better production planning (Predictive analysis). Automation can help reduce errors, improve efficiency, and free up time for employees to focus on more complex tasks.

Recently at one of the businesses that I was helping ahead with, there were continuous calls from customers to check on dispatch details, driver details and so on. Just adding a Chat BOT which keeps the customer updated on the logistics details - eased the job of the dispatch department and they were able to focus on getting better deals and club deliveries for surrounding areas which in turn reduced transportation costs.

Now in such cases where AI has reduced mundane tasks' finish time, the human capital can be reassigned to better tasks which need creative thinking, and emotional intelligence and upskill them to align with a new changing world. Hence if we look at redeployment, realigning their strengths and upskilling them we can easily mitigate the risks of job cuts. With AI it's very evident that repetitive tasks will reduce and we will have more time to think and do tasks which are more creative and need a more human touch.

Additionally, with the use of the latest technology, the output will increase and overhead costs will reduce. By using predictive analysis additional opportunities and offerings can be created with the use of the latest technology. So instead of reducing the workforce companies can utilise them (Job Rotation) for additional opportunities and creative ways to expand the business and work on complex processes which earlier were overlooked due to work pressure.

MS: Job cuts in the name of less productivity - in many instances, this is given a reason by HR, while handing over a pink slip. The fact or truth not at all times, what it is. What’s your take on the same and what is the right way ahead for India?

SA: In my experience, it's the incapability and incompetency of their management systems and processes which fails to get the job done.

I will share one example from my recent assignment, a certain employee was termed as non-performing and management wanted to terminate him. We got him placed elsewhere where his skills matched that of the goals. To cut it short, the employee has been in the new role for 9 months and has been promoted to head of the department already. So was the employee not performing or was the system inadequate to help him with the right infrastructure or was the skill-set mismatch impacting the productivity? You have the answer.

Unfortunately, some companies may use the excuse of low productivity to justify job cuts, when the real reason may be related to cost-cutting measures or other strategic decisions. This can create a sense of insecurity among employees and damage the employer-employee trust relationship.

The right way ahead for India is to prioritize transparency and honesty in communication between employers and employees. Companies should be upfront about their strategic goals and the reasons for any layoffs and should provide employees with sufficient notice and support to minimize the impact of job loss. Additionally, companies need to invest in their employees through training and development programs to improve productivity and reduce the need for layoffs.

Moreover, the government can play a vital role in this regard by developing a robust regulatory framework that promotes fair employment practices and ensures that companies cannot exploit employees in the name of productivity. This could include measures such as a minimum notice period for layoffs, job protection laws, and mandatory reskilling and redeployment programs for affected employees.

MS: How can India's education system better prepare young people for the demands of a productive workforce?

SA: We have the largest pool of young generations and there is no doubt that productivity should ideally remain restricted to machines and not a human brain. For humans, we need the term Productive mindset. To prepare the younger generation some ways that I strongly suggest are

  1. Instilling a culture of Gratitude by simply journaling (daily) - 3 things that they are grateful about, 2 friends that they want to thank and 1 act of volunteering service in the surrounding.
  2. The Education system should take a more practical approach rather than just a marks-based system to judge everyone on the same scale. The system should provide opportunities to create work-based learning and develop industry skills using apprenticeships at all levels.
  3. Help them develop resilience and patience - as the real world is very different from social media by providing coaching and counselling, encouraging open talks, and conducting workshops/ seminars for problem-solving.
  4. Build an attitude for lifelong learning as that can help them stay humble and learning will help them to stay up to date - Link appraisals with soft skills and targets to read min of 2 books a year Being from Slums I understood education was the only key to my growth, I have a personal policy to take one formal/informal education every year.
  5. Creating enough opportunities in India to avoid brain drain, and work more on branding the nation and its industries by improving infrastructure, reducing power cuts, better connectivity and ease of starting new companies will help retain the talent within the country.
  6. Provide technology learning opportunities at all levels of society, by providing e-learning centres, local post offices that are now not so active can become local centres for upskilling and centres for workshops and seminars.

About Sagar Amlani

A Chemical engineer with a master’s in management from Middlesex University and certified trainer for 5s, Kaizen and other continuous improvement tools. He is an internal auditor for IAFT 16949 and ISO 9001. After his latest stint in Hyderabad where he served there in a leadership position for about 10 years as a Vice President where he worked with Hyundai, Kia, Renault Nissan, Volkswagen, TVS, Royal Enfield and many more for various projects for automotive upholstery. Sagar ventured into his consultancy firm Zapro Consultants working with family-owned businesses to build an Autonomous work culture. Claiming to have transformed more than 22,000 lives across India, UK, Russia, Australia, Singapore, and Dubai as a global speaker on ‘inculcating a productive mindset’, Sagar has now taken up the full-time role of a Productive Mindset Consultant and Trainer.

Sagar is the author of two books, the first one (At the Crossroads of Life) in which he shares his rise from the Mumbai slums to the streets of London for completing his master’s at Middlesex university. The second one - The Key: 26 Proven ways to build The Productive Mindset - is well-acclaimed as well. Sagar was awarded the global Indian in 2021. Sagar claims to have worked with over 50+ Leaders and CXO and over 7000+ professionals to build their thought leadership and establish their brand.

About the Interviewer

Mahima Sharma is a Senior Journalist based in Delhi NCR. She has been in the field of TV, Print & Online Journalism since 2005 and previously an additional three years in the allied media. In her span of work she has been associated with CNN-News18, ANI - Asian News International (A collaboration with Reuters), Voice of India, Hindustan Times and various other top media brands of their times. In recent times, she has diversified her work as a Digital Media Marketing Consultant & Content Strategist as well. Since March 2022, she is also an Entrepreneurship Education Mentor at Women Will - An Entrepreneurship Program by Google in Collaboration with SHEROES. Mahima can be reached at media@indiastat.com

Disclaimer : The opinions expressed within this interview are the personal opinions of the interviewed protagonist. The facts & statistics, the work profile details of the protagonist and the opinions appearing in the answers do not reflect the views of Indiastat or the Journalist. Indiastat or the Journalist do not hold any responsibility or liability for the same.

indiastat.comApril, 2023
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Anubha Srivastava, Ph.D., UGC NET, M. Com, CertIFR (ACCA)

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