An interview with the dean (June 6, 2015)

We must have this culture of helping each other


Dr. Ranjan Banerjee took over as the Dean of SPJIMR on June 6, 2015, and moved quickly to set up systems for free-flowing interaction as he signaled his intent to listen, build a culture of openness and work together before setting the road ahead. In his first interview since he took office, Dr. Banerjee elaborates on some his ideas. Excerpts:

I think I'm barely into the job but around a couple of weeks before I joined I addressed the faculty…really for me the joining started at that point in time. The response of the faculty has been very warm and people are very open. We have started a few small initiatives and by and large, from the responses I get, I see that they are responding well. I think this is a very authentic Institute, an Institute that is uniquely poised, with a history of being innovative, an Institute that has a strong foundation and hence a lot to build upon... there is a lot to do and a lot to contribute.
I think people are good, and that's to the credit of the people here. It has nothing to do with me. The only thing I have done is convey that I'm open and approachable. I would like to understand the Institution before I start taking action. As intent and as an approach, that has been well received.

Let's go stakeholder by stakeholder.

First the faculty, research associates and all other staff: A simple message is let's work together. Together, we can build a great Institute. And whatever we do, we must do in a way that is engaging, collaborative and inclusive. Alumni: We want to co-create a future with you. We would like to be India's best Institute in terms of academia-industry collaboration and ties, and you are our strongest asset to help us get there.

Students: You are the future ambassadors for the brand…we would like to work closely with you to equip you for success not only within the Institute but in the years beyond. Some key words that capture the approach are openness, two-way communications, a willingness to listen, approachability, the self-belief to create a model of education that is locally relevant and yet has global impact.

Industry: We will be proactive in reaching out to industry and suggesting ways in which we can collaborate. This collaboration can be in terms of courses, research, deeper industry faculty exchanges, case studies, consultancies, but essentially one of the things we are saying is our faculty members will try to be current in terms of what is industry best practice, what are the pain points of today's CEOs, and must have the ability to bring the latest concepts to Indian industry .And

Society: First, all our students need to understand India and Bharat and this is something this Institute has done and we need to build upon it. The second is that we need students who are value conscious and we will ultimately need to create leaders for Indian society at large. While there a lot of students who go into conventional corporate roles, we will be very happy to have social entrepreneurs who set up social businesses and as an Institute this is something we will actively encourage.

Good to Great is really what the journey is all about. We are already a top five Institute. The largest part of Good to Great is how you become the best that you can possibly be. And I believe that in any organisation, if you talk to people within the organisation and those outside who care for the organisation, like alumni in our case, they already have an informed point of view on what needs to be done. So 50% of any change or any transition to the next level can be achieved if you just listen to what your people are already saying and then act on it. That is what really 'Good2Great' seeks to do. It is also symbolic of intent. So the intent to create an environment of two-way communications and approachability is what I think it seeks to do. The big part of the 'Good2Great' initiative is not that we are doing it but it is how we act on it because if people give you feedback once and you don't act on it, they do not give you feedback a second time. So what is imperative is that we take eedback and act on it and go back to people in terms of what we are doing about it. So we become an Institute that is truly responsive to the needs of the community - and community to me is defined at multiple levels.

On "Working Together": I think what happens in a lot of organisations is that as you create accountability at an individual level, you also start creating silos and then people become protective of turf. We want to dispense with that turf mentality. We have a faculty team which will jointly plan the direction of the Institute. We have programme heads and functional heads - while they are responsible for their programme and functions, they constitute a leadership team and this team must work at a larger level. So may be the head of the one year programme presents his plans but then all of us pitch in. We must have this culture of helping each other because our first employment is not with a function, not with the programme, but with SPJIMR. That is one level of working together.

The other is when you work with somebody, let's say someone is reporting to you, what needs to be clear is the decision making matrix. So who takes what decisions? I have this simple concept: Yours, Mine, Yours (but you can ask) and Ours. So to anyone who works with me, to work together, I would like to define a decision-making matrix which says: 
a) These decisions are yours, I'll not touch them; 
b) These decisions are mine, I'll inform you but you'll not touch them; 
c) These decisions are ours, we will take them together; 
d) These decisions are yours but if you want my guidance, you can ask. If you want to successfully run an Institution at scale, you must be clear that you are not doing somebody else's job because there is nothing more disempowering than somebody else doing your job.

We will have Big Hairy Audacious Goals but the goals will come out of a consequence of a deep-rooted commitment to excellence. And I'm deliberately being conservative in what I say on goals right now because the biggest is how you create them. These goals will be co-created with faculty at a retreat a month from now and they will be done after I have immersed to a certain extent. I do not want the growth of this Institute to be seen to be driven by an individual. It needs to be driven and owned by a group of talented individuals and those groups of talented individuals are already in this Institute. It's my job to help shape the path.

I'm looking at Good to Great more as a generic term and not necessarily as Jim Collins, because if you look at what Jim Collins has said, or what Tom Peters and Bob Waterman said In Search of Excellence, you'll find some broad commonality in terms of what it takes to create an excellent organisation. Let me give you three tenets. If we are able to achieve these, we would have made the path: I'm talking only at an employee level first. The desirable goals are: 
1. Every employee must be aware of the shared direction of the Institute and must personally believe in it, 
2. Every employee must feel that he/she has a significant part to play in shaping the achievement of that shared direction, and 
3. Every employee must be clear of his or her role within the organisation and believe that he or she can and does make a difference. You get these three, and everything else is done. So when talking of 'Good2Great' or on any other initiative, I'm not drawing on any one management guru but let me put it this way: The highest form of competition is competition with the self. That's what we need to do. We need to work towards realising our potential and my role is to create the environment to help people realise their potential. If the Institution becomes great, I would not have done it. I may have catalysed it, I may have created the environment but we are only as good as what our people do on a day to day basis.

I admire the courage to blaze your own path, authenticity, innovative offerings, a mix of traditional academics and industry experience in the faculty profile, and I don't know if this is admire or like - location.

1. Internal vs external orientation: We may be the most externally focused B-School in India but we are still very internally focused. All B schools in India are very internally focused; we are no exception. We don't engage proactively with academia and industry, we don't seek out what are today's and tomorrow's industry and social problems and then research and work to address them. 
2. The belief that we can be number one or the belief that we can be the best - I don't know if it is there yet, and let me add, lets build on our strengths and move forward. That's it. I don't need five!

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