800 371 Kamal Karanth

One of my occupation hazards is frequent flying. However in recent times it has allowed me to pen a few lines like I did this piece on a MH (Malaysia Airlines) flight to Delhi. I have been flying MH for the past 10 years with no fuss. But now, all that has changed – I have a new routine to adhere. I have to reconfirm to my mom and wife soon after landing that ‘all is well’ no matter how late I arrive at my destination. Well, all said, I know that my family have their reasons and those reasons in the recent wake of things are real (when at one point those very reasons taken for granted!)

The day MH 370 vanished, I was on a plane from USA to Bangalore and when a Bangalore bound MH 192 crash-landed in KL, I was to take the same flight from Bangalore to KL; and when MH 17 crashed for a reason beyond belief, I was taking an MH flight to Bangalore on that very same evening! My connection to MH has been coincidental as you can see but now this gives my family much concern and every time I fly MH.

But then, beyond my family, we all get paranoid on these fixations, don’t we? If we feel this, imagine the families of casualties and employees of Malaysia Airlines who are confronted with these series of unfortunate incidents that has and is continuing to traumatize their lives and that of their family in a manner we will never can imagine! Losing a loved one, a trusted colleague and a valued customer is bad enough…losing more than one is devastating! And then there are talks about customers shunning the airline; the steady loss of profit for the airline which is now seeking turnaround; and the loss of livelihood for the employees of the airlines and its chain of suppliers and vendors. These are indeed tiring times for Malaysia Airlines and add suspicion, hurt and lack of trust to the equation – the word ‘agonizing’ comes to mind!

I can relate to the feelings of MH employees in a twisted way. In my career, I’ve been a part of many biz units which were in turnaround states. During my tenure in those units, I received as much encouragements and also huge bouts of disbeliefs. As much as organizations/leaders knew the importance of having those biz units turned profitable, they also placed caveats/ controls which very often brought moments of grief.

The first time I took on such an assignment, the organization placed me with much fanfare as I was a star performer and it was glamorous for my bosses to say “Kamal’ will turn around the business in 6 months.” Unfortunately, when 6 months went by with no magic in sight, I was reduced from being a hyperactive participant in conferences to someone who hardly spoke. To make matters worse, I also attended quarterly reviews only to see the businesses I had left behind doing well while the one I was undertaking performing dismally!

Despite the bosses giving me reassurance over drinks that things will be fine, my biz unit was the talking point for all the wrong reasons in open formal forums. People around me conveniently forgot that I was there to fix the issues and did not have a hand in the mess it was left in. Funds to invest were also difficult to come by; even regular expenses and additional head count required justification. All of a sudden, I felt like I had taken a loan and defaulted on my payments! And whatever the intent of the organization, my mind started to question my role and its impact on the organization.

My take is that organizations should look at ‘turnaround’ units like we look as parts of body which have an injury or a sprain. An injured part of the body possibly needs attention, care and some soothing words to the mind for healing. Applying more stress to an injury can only reverse rehabilitation. Similarly when organizations/leaders use the whip approach on turn around ailing businesses, more often than not, it backfires. Anything which is conducted in the ambit of fear is not going to last and will eventually break into pieces!

Many times I was lucky to have had a few of my bosses put their arms over the shoulders (during quiet moment in meetings and over drinks) and tell me how much they trust me. That was good enough for me to want to prove them right. But there have also been situations when bosses act like strangers to the realities of their subordinates; I have seen my colleagues walking away to take shelter beneath shadier ‘trees of faith’- what I meant is that they resigned!

My choice is to instill confidence in leaders who have to get it right in their mind. I believe that’s the recipe for a turnaround to happen. I also believe that it’s important to seek a 360 approach to support – the boss; the leader; operations; and support functions – as very few challenges can be solved single handedly. I believe the boss too has to spend a substantial amount of time communicating to the leader in charge of the turnaround. Silence/over delegation in these cases can be seen as shunning away.

Back to MH, I took MH flights twice a week when I lived in KL 5 years ago. At that time no family members nor friends cared for details; today, I continue to take MH flights – similar to how I back people who take up such acts of turnarounds in an organizational context.

I take my next MH flight next Friday. I’m with you MH like I have been for last 10 years

I wish turnarounds were as easy as turning around our bikes!

Leave a Reply