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Tehemtan Dhabhar conducting a training programme at Pirojshanagar. Participants at his programmes sit on mattresses and carpets. There are no chairs, tables and formal trappings.
Tehemtan Dhabhar
"Facilitator and People Nourisher"

It was in September 2002 that I had the privilege of first meeting Tehemtan Dhabhar in Vikhroli. With his long, flowing pepper-and-salt beard and simple attire, one got the impression that he must be a sadhu or a sanyasi. But as soon as Tehemtan got talking, with his irrepressible loud laugh and sense of humour, I realised how deceptive first impressions can be.

His visiting card, unlike the usual card most of us carry, shows that he prefers to be called a “Facilitator and People Nourisher” rather than a management consultant. Unusual, but there it is.

He has his own philosophy about management: “The core philosophy from which I work underlines what I believe should be the holistic TRANSFORMATION PROCESS, systems, strategy, skills, all of which make for the working edifice.”

It was in February 2002 that Dhabhar was invited by Godrej-GE Appliances Ltd. to conduct a programme on “Personal and Interpersonal Effectiveness and Transformation”. By then he had already completed 33 programmes for the workforce of Godrej-GE production units between July 2000 and December 2001, covering approximately 1,600 people working at the Vikhroli Plants and 200 at Shirval near Pune.

He had estimated that he would have to handle 12 to 14 workmen per programme, but found that “we could comfortably handle from 24 to 27 people”, and at Shirval he even went to the extent of taking a batch of 32 workers.

Dhabhar believes that to have an effective and powerful method of running the programme, it is necessary to abide by a well-defined process for which he has laid down certain rules:

  • Involvement and full participation of everyone from the most senior person to all those down the line.

  • The head of the department has to be present with every group in which his people are present.

  • The group has a "Magna Carta", which individuals subscribe to.

  • It is understood that everybody cannot implement every decision taken immediately.

  • It is understandable that for many people change is a difficult process, even scary at times, which makes it necessary to have the Teaching-Learning Community (TLC) provide "tender loving care to its members, and advisable that they meet for an hour or so once a month".

  •  There is a need for continuous follow-up in the first 18 to 24 months.

Dhabhar is of the opinion that “when managers and supervisors are seen to follow a particular pattern, with a value system and with a certain way of dealing with people, they become ‘role models’ for people down the line. This makes the transformation process easier for the subordinate staff. The one thing we consistently offer to our children, to our peers, to our subordinates, and to our students, is ourselves as role models. We function a lot from role models. That is the beauty of our culture. So why not use it?”

The whole process ends with openness to change, and many workers decide to change.

Dhabhar says: “It is important that we work as a team, that everyone interacts with one another on grounds of equality. There should be no one-upmanship. We need to treat employees as responsible and honest adults, and let them know and let them influence what is going on around them. They need to become involved in the decisions that affect them.

“A powerful way to bring about a change is to treat even the smallest unit in the Plant as a business unit responsible for itself, for its people, for its production and for its quality. However, respect is to be given for the person and not for the label.”

Dhabhar is aware that transformation is not an easy process. Why is this personal transformation on the part of supervisors so necessary? According to him, the three key “Ps” of effective transformation are:

Tehemtan Dhabhar chatting with the distinguished visitor, Dr. Manmohan Singh, while Jamshyd Godrej looks on. Dhabhar was conducting the “Training for Trainers” programme in Plant 11.

“The 3-day programme conducted by Tehemtan Dhabhar was very good. There are a lot of things we forget in our hectic lives. For instance, this programme reminded me how to appreciate children at home and how to deal with other problems. More importantly, it taught me how to bring about a change from within, starting with my personal life and bringing it into my day-to-day work in the factory.”

K. M. Suresh, Winding Shop, Appliances Division

Potency arises when people practise what they state. There will be a marked rise in creativity, openness, participation and involvement. “Say to yourself, ‘I’m not just responsible for myself and my behaviour, but as a member of the much larger team, I’m also accountable for the behaviour of my colleagues.’”

Anyone who does something new is bound to have a setback: “In a learning environment, one does not focus on failure. Change your focus to one of growth, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get going.

“The difference between those who are creative and those who are not creative does not lie in the setbacks. Everyone falls 99 times. The creative individual gets up the hundredth time, dusts the dirt off his pants and moves forward.”

“A couple of years ago, I attended the Interpersonal and Communication Skills training programme conducted by Tehemtan Dhabhar. Generally, the programme was good, but I didn't quite agree with all that Dhabhar said. For instance, he said that one should, under any circumstances, be polite to everybody. I deal with labourers who are constantly on the move. If I speak to them politely, they'll take me for granted and I'll never be able to get my work done from them! If a labourer is doing excavation and there's a leakage somewhere, I have to be aggressive enough to make him hurry with the job. My experience with labourers has always taught me that if you're aggressive and rude, the work gets done better and faster.”

Khushroo A. Pastakia, Construction Department

When people are making a change or a transformation they become vulnerable. “This is where a senior person provides protection for the time being until the other can say, ‘Thank you for being with me. Now, I’m on my own. Now, I can trust myself.’”

Dhabhar adds: “It has been my experience over 35 years that I’ve worked in the industry, that any short-term solutions which are intended to take the edge off problems, land up worsening the original situation.” In Albert Einstein’s words, “we cannot solve the problems of today by using systems and methods that we have learnt many, many years ago”.

Towards this end Tehemtan Dhabhar has started the “Training for Trainers” programme at seven different levels so that in-house skills can be developed. According to him, as role models, Plant Managers play a significant role. One of the key actions that they need to take is to ensure consolidation in the groups of managers/supervisors working together.

He remarks: “Transformation is not an easy process. For me transformation has been difficult, having travelled the path all by myself for a long time. At times it was a very lonely and extremely difficult path, but it became easier to change with a group of people. Till now, many people knew that they were unhappy. They had a vague idea why they were unhappy. Now they not only know the source of their unhappiness, but they also know what can be done to make the change.”

In parting, his final words were: “People who have been involved in participative planning are more likely to feel a sense of ownership for their part in the organisation. They are more likely to take action when they see a problem as an opportunity rather than assume it’s someone else’s responsibility.

“I found that in the 1,600 plus people who have gone through this programme, their intentions are good. This gives you an edge when it comes to transformation. Use this edge to speed up the transformation process.”

When Dhabhar concluded the programme with the last batch at Shirval in mid-December 2001, a senior Union representative speaking at the farewell function stated that they were happy to implement everything he had taught: “All we wanted was Company support, to load us with work so that we are kept busy. For the rest, that is quantity, quality and production levels, we should take full responsibility.”

With a warm handshake, Tehemtan Dhabhar slowly walked away.

(Tehemtan Dhabhar spoke to Pesi Muncherji)