Article: Every time you get knocked down, get up and get on with it: MD & CEO, Tata Steel


Every time you get knocked down, get up and get on with it: MD & CEO, Tata Steel

Tata Steel’s MD & CEO TV Narendran talks about why organizations should not waste a crisis, the importance of shifting focus from past accomplishments to strategies for the future and being culturally future-ready, in an inspiring conversation hosted by SOIL Institute of Management.
Every time you get knocked down, get up and get on with it: MD & CEO, Tata Steel

“Don’t get over excited when things go well, and don’t get too pessimistic when things go bad” – TV Narendran, MD & CEO, Tata Steel. 

In this session of “Be the best version of yourself” webinar series hosted by SOIL Institute of Management, their Founder and Chairman Anil Sachdev, engages in an inspiring conversation with Tata Steel’s TV Narendran, about how the 110 year old organization is leveraging learnings as it experiences the second pandemic in its lifetime, why one should not waste a crisis, being culturally future ready and much more.

Here are some reflections and words of wisdom to stand by.

‘You can’t succeed and work very hard if you don’t enjoy what you are doing’

Sharing that he has always enjoyed his work, Narendran advised individuals to pick up a job or a company that they would enjoy working for. “If you have to succeed, you have to work very hard and do a good job. You can’t succeed and work very hard if you don’t enjoy what you are doing.”

Describing his experience with Tata Steel, he fondly expressed that he has felt enormous joy in whatever he did, whether it was selling steel, managing difficult customers or just working in a different environment - having been asked to build equity with people in a new geography at a rather later stage in his life as he recalled. “A job which keeps helping me develop professionally, teaches me things that help me contribute to the job gives me a lot of joy…You should look forward to going to work on a Monday morning. You'll then know if you are working for the right company.”

‘Let’s not waste this crisis’

With Tata Steel being among the few companies in the world that have lived through two pandemics, 1919 and now 2020, the organization has certain learnings to reflect on and live by, one of these being not wasting a crisis. “We look at what is it that we can only do during a crisis. What are the experiments that you can do today which you couldn’t have done when you were running fine?” Narendran reckoned that one must not waste the opportunity that a crisis brings along.

“Let’s not waste this crisis, let’s leverage this crisis, as much as we fight and deal with it.”

Amplify passion and collaboration

Narendran shared that for Tata Steel, it is the passion and emotional connection with the company that holds the leadership together, and enables them to function together for the institution with their multiple capabilities. This passion is shared by employees as well. “The passion that the employees and leadership have for the company, the confidence that exists around that we can address problems if we work together, the self-belief, the faith that we can come out on top, these are hugely energizing.”

Witnessing such enthusiasm feeds the soul of the organization.

‘A company which only talks about its past has no future’

Narendra highlighted that in the pursuit of excellence, companies that have been around for a long time have a tinge of arrogance and there’s a feeling of ‘we know it all’. He emphasized the need to translate that arrogance into confidence and self-belief, and bring in the humility to keep accepting that ‘what got us so far, is not what’s going to take us head’. That needs to be established, irrespective of past accomplishments. 

He remembered a powerful statement that left an impact on him - A company which only talks about its past has no future. “I think that’s a very powerful statement. We should be very proud of our past and celebrate our past, but if our predecessors only spoke about the past, we wouldn’t be where we are today."

"The past was delivered by our predecessors. As leaders, we should look at the future. What is the future that we are going to deliver so that our successors also have a past to celebrate?”

Respect people’s time

“All of us need to reflect on how we can make more productive use of people’s space and time,” urged Narendran. Speaking of how the recent months have helped us experience that technology can take productivity to a different level, he encouraged leaders and managers to be cognizant of the hours a majority of the employees spend in commuting on a daily basis. “The question we need to ask ourselves is do we really need them spending four hours commuting every day, when they can do the same job from home?" 

Success occurs when you have picked yourself up multiple times

One of the most crucial learnings from the session was a reminder on never giving up, “One should always persevere.” Narendran recalled a saying from the world of sports that stressed upon the importance of getting back up after a knock down. “It’s not over when you fall, it’s over when you don’t get up.”

“So every time you get knocked down, get up and get on with it. Success doesn’t come to you when you had a nice rosy path to wherever you are, but it’s because you picked yourself up multiple times.”

Encouraging everyone to learn to do that he said, “There will always be disappointments, but we should not give up if we have faith in ourselves.”

Making organizations culturally future-ready

While organizations are prepping to be structurally future-ready, Narendran recommended to also focus on being culturally future-ready. For his organization, with the cornerstones of innovation and agility, he strives to make the company culturally future-ready. However, he raised an interesting question to ponder upon - How do you bring agility with stability?

“What we need to be ready for is a world that’s going to be fairly volatile in terms of business, so a lot of the agility we need to build in needs to be built in much faster, and this crisis is a great opportunity to stress test us on agility. I see a fairly volatile environment from a business perspective, and we should be ready for that.”

Managing change top-down and bottom-up

There is a significant degree of change involved across functions and across organizations today. So how do organizations build a culturally ready workforce willing and prepared to adapt to that change? “For any change management program, there has to be a top-down workflow, but eventually it has to grow bottom-up. If it’s top-down it will only last as long as there is pressure from the top. But if that effort translates into seeds being grown and roots being grown at the bottom, then a cultural change takes place.”

Narendra believes, that firstly, leadership has to believe in the suggested change, “The leader must want that change, push for it and stand by it even if things are not happening. That is step one."

"Second is to communicate it, explain it, why is it important? It has to be relevant and people have to believe in it. You have to explain why does it matter and how will it change their life.” 

While change could be of any nature, these steps form the foundation of a strong change management program, but that’s not all. “You need to have a set of people who are believers like you and they don’t necessarily have to be direct reportees. You need to create a cohort of them and they become your evangelists. Then you start the bottom-up talks. Once that happens and you begin recognizing and rewarding efforts, then the momentum picks up.”

As global businesses go above and beyond to keep businesses running and ensure the safety and wellness of their workforce, they are bound to encounter several challenges and roadblocks that put them in a dilemma, with countless choices to make every single day. In such a scenario, pausing, stepping back and learning from those who have overcome crisis in the past, and continue to do so, is worth the time and more often than not, with a few tweaks, it can bring about much needed innovation in outlook, approach and processes.

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Topics: Leadership, #LeadTheWay

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