The popular perception about business is that it is simply the right mix of money, men and machine. All these are tangible entities which can be seen, felt and quantified.
Money can help you with capital expenditure that is in setting up factories or service organizations, building employee-friendly offices and customer-centric systems and outlets, branding and promoting what you wish to make and sell. Appropriate manpower can ensure that your resources are optimally utilized for the growth of the organization delivery of best possible product or service to different customer segments. Machine, today, pertains more to technology which has become the main driver of growth even in poor and developing countries which would rather promote employment than technology. But the business scenario today is such that one cannot do without technology. It has become an integral extension of our life. We cannot imagine of our lives today without information technology and IT-enabled services like telecommunication, whether it be in Kathmandu, higher reaches of the Himalayas or the vast plains of the terai belt.
Not just for business, technology is vital for mere sustenance and propagation of social welfare programmes. Contrary to popular perception of a few decades ago when technology was viewed as a job killer, it is now being accepted as an employment creator and enhancer.
But are the 3 Ms – money, men and machine – enough to make a business enterprise succeed?
Because men are not machines. They cannot be run with diesel, petrol, electricity and new means of alternative and renewable energy. Made of flesh and blood, humans give in their best only when their hearts and minds are in the best of shape and when their spirits are soaring. This is easier said than done. In fact, managing finance and technology is often easier than managing men. And who marshals money and machine? Manpower or what has come to be known in modern management parlance as human resource or HR?
So what are Nepal’s businesses doing to enhance their HR and, in the process, optimise their other resources like finance and whatever level of technology they are using? It may sound strange but it is true that the country’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have displayed better skills and ability at managing their relatively small employee bases. One may argue that unlike established corporates and big business houses, SMEs are not bound by a plethora or rules and regulations. They are not bound to pay high salaries and allowances. But that, I feel, is not the real reason behind the HR-friendly behaviour visible in most Nepali SMEs which have created large-scale employment in the country’s informal sector.
The reason lies elsewhere. It now figures on the top in the latest global management literature. It is all about communication. The world follows the principles of communication religiously to build inter and intra-business bonds. Through structured and informal modes of communication, ultra-large, big and medium business enterprises seek to ensure that their human resource remains on the same page particularly about the most vital objectives, changing state of business, new challenges, required changes, etc.
Continuous corporate communication inspires employees to sincerely relate to the vision and mission of the organization. Otherwise, routine vision and mission statements remain mere high sounding words to most workers and staff. But once employees find themselves being kept abreast of the latest developments, good or challenging, in the company and the related markets, they start viewing themselves as stakeholders in the company. They start contributing their best to resolve emerging crises and face new market challenges.
A person working on the shop floor for decades can often come up with technical solutions which would never strike the young or middle managers holding fancy qualifications. There is no substitute to experience.
Internal communication happens spontaneously in SMEs. Down from the proprietor to the load-heaving worker everyone has a good understanding of the state of the business and market. Most SMEs are closely knit units, generally driven by a burning ambition to grow. They are, therefore, the most innovative too. Not chained by company hierarchy, rules, regulations, forms and documents, SMEs can afford to be nimble footed. They can make changes much faster than files move in business conglomerates or government departments.
No wonder, SMEs are the largest employers the world over. Their role is unparalleled in Nepal where millions of our able bodied youth migrate to India and distant lands to make a living and ensure two square meals for their families back home via remittances. In the process, social fabric gets disrupted and it falls upon our womenfolk to run the family.
Go to any small or big market, bazar or hat in Nepal and you will find mostly women running the show. And how well they do it despite occupying the lowest station in Nepalese society! Hats off to them! While all needs to be done to guarantee women their rightful place in society, may I say hardship and discrimination has imbued in the Nepalese SME owners and entrepreneurs the grit and determination to carve out a niche for themselves.
Devoid of any false notions of business hierarchy, office-linked arrogance and snobbery, Nepalese women are fast establishing themselves as masters of the common man’s markets. Many of them have managed to scale up their businesses and entered into hitherto male-dominated domains like publishing, manufacturing, medical care, trading, banking, etc.
Women are natural communicators. They open their hearts, listen to others, share happiness and sorrow. Empathy comes naturally to do them. They bring people together and, invariably, turn out to be better employers and co-workers.
Compared to them, I find male managers in Nepal to be highly hierarchy conscious. Like tigers protecting their territories, the typical Nepalese male manager prefers to remain in his silo, shooting orders through phone and internet and once in a while personally. Bossing around is his passion. It is not for him to mingle with employees and co-managers, understand their needs and problems, acquaint them of the challenges being faced by the organization, and all else that could make things more open and transparent. Knowledge and information are power for him and he does not share them at any cost. The result is that corporates are riven with groups and coteries working at cross purposes.
The tragedy is that corporates are often so big that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Also being multi-layered and humongous they have the ability to suffer and sustain despite such tom foolery. SMEs do not enjoy such luxury.
So the heavens fall in big business houses only when lack of communication causes major bottlenecks like cash flow issues, material supply disruption leading to production delay or stoppage, compliance issue violations prompting regulatory authorities to go for the company’s jugular, etc. It’s often too late by then.
What will the best of money, men and machine do when companies excel at keeping their mouths shut? The 3 Ms have become a common denominator in the current scenario. Almost all big companies or business segments have access to these means and resources. I do not wish to name names, but we have seen multi-billion business trans-nationals in the neighbourhood and also in the advanced West come to grief because of sealed lips, lack of transparency and declining corporate governance. At the core of all such disasters lay misplaced, displaced or lost communication.
We don’t have to go far to learn new lessons. Nepalese women running SMEs around us can be our best teachers. But will our male managers be able to swallow their egos and learn from the ladies?
Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. (email@example.com)