Maybe stories are just data with a soul.
~Brene Brown

Spry Motors – Talent Management

By Harish Raichandani*

When Amod Bakshi (AB) took over as the head HR of Spry Motors 1990, (Spry was market leader in commercial vehicles segment in India with market share in excess of 70% with 50% of Industry’s capacity with Spry) many eyebrows were raised – amongst HR functionaries in company, inside Spry as well as outside Spry. For, it was an unusual move for an Electrical Engineer with over 20 years of successful career trail as main-stream manufacturing .  Some even found Managing Director’s decision outlandish; for, people felt that the circumstances warranted a seasoned career HR professional – the circumstances being

  • Company had gone through a major period of Industrial unrest in immediate preceding years
  • Had plans of rationalizing its 20,000 work-force
  • Automotive sector, was getting liberalized (‘broad-banding’ was already been introduced – a concept introduced in mid 80s by Rajiv Gandhi government to allow tight-fisted licence-permit auto industry manufacturers freedom to chose the type of vehicle which they could produce, albeit the total volume of vehicles produced remain unchanged) leading to start of unprecedented competition from Japanese (Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, Mazda having entered/ tied up their local partners); in an otherwise stable environment where people at Spry would join company for life – already quite a few talented middle & senior management staff quit to take up tempting career offers from competition
  • Spry had discovered that it’s competitive advantage hitherto (in the previous four decades, since independence of country, the three-fold increase in size of company achieved through vertical integration by setting up captive forging, casting & machining etc.) was becoming a golden chain and it had to quickly re-invent itself even to survive in fiercely competitive market

Bakshi, within few months discovered all overt and covert nuances of HR processes and was settling down comfortably in his new role.  As the time unfolded, the activity syndrome of this white collar function plunged him into 70-hour a week schedule (perhaps more grueling than in his engineering responsibility).

In 1994, unprecedented HR challenge of key-talent attrition set him reflecting

  • Spry executive remuneration was not competitive vis-à-vis multinational auto majors setting shop
  • An organization structure formed on the foundation of 9-grade long hierarchy resulting in round-robin career growth almost all (as they say in Hindustan Gadha, Ghoda – Ek Barabar)

Surely, the company had a process of identifying talented employees through a unique ‘Potential Assessment Process’.  This was a 10-point scale (1 – 10 with 10 being highest) on 13 behavioral parameters, with superiors rating their sub-ordinates once every year.  This was to be basis for their promotions.

Bakshi knew the true picture through encounters/ stories he had come across over past couple of years

  • Two years ago, while analyzing the ‘Potential Assessment Process’, his team-member Chaturvedi had presented data on high potential people. The revelation was
    • Over 80% of target managers were rated 7, 8 or 9
    • 90% of high performers were also rated ‘high on potential’
  • About a year ago, Dharmendra, Spry lost one of their best design engineers to Eicher Motors, which decided to set shop in India.  Subsequently Bakshi learnt that Dharmendra was rated “5” on potential assessment by his boss who was known for his strong likes & dislikes. And soon Bakshi discovered that high performers who were causing insecurity to their bosses, often received low rating on ‘potential’ – sole purpose being to use it as a weapon (Raam Baan as described in an exit interview) at the time of career growth decisions.

Bakshi knew that 90% of high performers couldn’t be high potential; he also understood that Dharmendra’s case was not isolated.  He concluded – ‘potential assessment process is weak at Spry Motors and something must be initiated immediately’.

Case conceptualized by VK Verma, CEO ‘Talent Sculptors’
* Harish Raichandani, CEO potentia & Consultant Tata Chemicals (2007)