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While the Media and our WhatsApp have been on an overdrive, churning out many solicited and unsolicited analysis on demonetization, the one topic very less talked about is the way Bank employees have managed the situation. Stories about corrupt Bank employees are very quick to make headlines whereas the stories of some of these heroes seem ordinary. The one thing that I learnt in the last one month of this so called historic, economic and political mayhem is a simple yet powerful principle. Let’s call it Management by Purpose.

On the 8th of Nov, when the demonetization announcement was made, Banks were ill prepared to handle this adventure. They were closed on 9th for customers and thus had barely a day to plan for the change (no pun intended). Since there wasn’t much of a precedence to this sort of a bungee jumping before (not counting the 1978 demonetisation), leaders gave skeletal instructions to their teams which was mostly around the Scouts motto “Be prepared”.

Come 10th Nov and branches opened to crazy footfalls. Branch infrastructure was not enough to house hundreds of customers that were standing in queues for hours. The fact that rules and guidelines kept changing didn’t help. On one end they had an inflow of old currency which was hard to dispose, and on the other end, no or very low inflow of new legal tender. Customers sometimes became furious at the bank officials for their inability to exchange currencies and in some cases helping them with a so called favour. 12th to 14th being a long weekend on account of Guru Nanak Jayanti, employees had planned short out of town trips. And suddenly it was announced that Saturday and Sunday both days will be working.

And so amongst all this, you most certainly expect to see complaining employees, frustrated branch managers, poor customer service and fatigued motivation. But what was shocking was that the situation on ground was the exact opposite. It seemed suddenly there was an infusion of high octane energy and positivity in every single employee. They willingly cancelled their weekend plans and worked long hours without any complaint whatsoever. Employees who were not directly responsible for cash handling in the branch showed up to help their colleagues and worked equally hard to manage the crowd. Teams that had several issues working together in the normal times suddenly were not only seen helping each other but also complimenting and appreciating the other.

The same managers who we criticized for poor management skills were shining on account of their ability to manage the situation. Branch came together as a team and took charge of ways to comfort the customers. Building shades, putting chairs, offering biscuits and water, ensuring that senior citizens were not inconvenienced. All lessons from the service book were followed to the T. And all this without probably having the time to sip water through the day. And more amazing, this was done without a frown or fatigue. Suddenly there was a new energy that was coming through them.

These probably were the same employees that cribbed about the smallest issues in the branch. They quit because of pressure. They probably made a customer wait while they finished a personal call. And maybe left work on time irrespective of workload. So what changed? Why were these ordinary employees performing at their best? Usually the leader is quick to take credit for such a performance. But in this situation clearly it was not leadership but the cause that was bringing people to outperform, stretch, collaborate, go the extra mile and most importantly take pride in their work. The fact that you were part of this historic moment and step towards a corruption-free India was driving employees beyond their regular capabilities. It was building heroes. Creating stars where there were none before. Showcasing leadership qualities where you least expected it.

It makes me realize that all human beings want to be part of a story. A story that can be told, a story that is inspiring, a story that is remembered. It is bigger than any motivation money can buy. The power of a motive or of a cause can truly energise a workforce and achieve some of the unthinkable objectives. How else can we explain a sudden unity between people during a crisis? How else can we explain the sacrifices of many for a social cause? And most importantly how else can we explain those who are ready to give away their lives for the country?

So is it possible to use this management principle in our day to day organization life? I think Disney has used it beautifully in their vision “To make people happy”. Short but such a powerful purpose. I am usually not a fan of vision statements as they seem to me like a song in a Bollywood movie. Maybe entertaining, but makes you wonder what is the relevance with the story. But I think if organisations have a strong purpose and everything is woven around it, it would be enough to truly create magic at the workplace.

I have been an HR professional for long, yet the fervor of this cause gripped me as intensely as my colleagues… to be part of one of the most seismic events of recent memory. A cause which moved the nation.

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