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Managerial Qualities
in the Indian Co-operative Dairy Sector

M.J. Arul

Working Paper #39

Institute of Rural Management Anand,India, 388 001 March 1993


Abstract

The paper shares some of the reported perceptions of managers in the Indian co-operative dairy sector. It examines the extent to which selected managerial attributes are perceived to be available. Data derived from a self-exploratory exercise of 262 managers show that attributes of ontinuing sensitivity to events, problem solving, and creativity are fairly available, but balanced learning habits, relevant professional knowledge, self-knowledge and mental agility are in short supply. The paper also examines the inter-relationships among the managerial attributes. Based on these relationships and on the relative distribution of individual attributes, the paper discusses some of the implications for management development. The findings suggest that attempts to inculcate balanced learning habits and self-knowledge might have the highest return on investment in terms of synergistically harnessing most of the qualities of a manager.


Introduction

Dairying is a major industry in India: Over 70% of the country's rural households are engaged in it, making India the second largest milk producer in the world, next only to the United States of America. Milk is also one of the very important agricultural commodities in the country. Hence, the significance of the dairy sector in India's national economy can be accepted without much ado. It is in recognition of this significance that the central government has been making efforts to boost the sector. One such effort may be seen in the plan outlays. The outlay on animal husbandry and dairying was Rs.220 million in the first Five-Year Plan; it was steadily increased, Plan after Plan, and the seventh Plan had an outlay of Rs.11,346.2 million (Chatterjee 1987). Another major effort was the creation of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), which designed and launched an integrated dairy development programme, known as Operation Flood, whose objective was (and continues to be) to link rural milk procurement centres with urban demand centres so as to stimulate milk production and marketing.

Operation Flood started in 1970 and is now in its third phase. The programme covers all the major milksheds of the country, 170 in number, and has a total membership of 7.7 million rural milk producer families, as of January 1992. Most of these families are small and marginal farmers, owning just one or two animals. These farmers have been organised to form milk producers' co-operative societies in their respective villages. There are 64,100 such village co-ops today, united under 166 district-level Unions and four state-level Apex Milk Unions. The 166 Unions have formed 15 state- level Federations. These co-operatives span the whole country and they manage 135 dairy plants, handling 12 million kilograms of milk a day as of March 1992 (NDDB 1992).

So broad-based an economic set-up, founded on the multitudes of small and scattered farmers, would certainly call for, inter alia, managerial qualities that are no inferior to those required for managing other businesses.

Managerial Qualities: A Review

What makes a good manager? What attributes do successful managers possess? What are the qualities that make a manager effective? The answer to these questions must arise from an understanding of either what managers actually do or what they are expected to do; it would require, in other words, an analysis of managerial roles.

The manager in an organisation is invested with formal authority and status, giving rise to roles: "With authority comes status; the status leads to various interpersonal relationships, which influence access to information; and information enables the manager to make decisions and strategies." Following this line of argument, Mintzberg (1975) in his analysis of the manager's job, both folklore and fact, identifies ten roles managers play: three interpersonal roles (figurehead, leader and liaison), three informational roles (monitor, disseminator and spokesman) and four decisional roles (entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator). He suggested the following eight skills as critical for effective performance in the above cited roles: Peer skills, leadership skills, conflict resolution skills, skills in decision making under ambiguity, information-processing skills, resource-allocation skills, entrepreneurial skills and skills of introspection.

Bennis (1984), in his five-year longitudinal study of successful managers in the public and private sectors, discovered four common traits or competencies in them:

1. Management of attention: Good managers hold a compelling vision that can mobilise action;

2. Management of meaning: To make their vision apparent to others, good managers communicate effectively so that followers personally enroll in the vision;

3. Management of trust: Good managers are ideologically and/or behaviourally consistent over time and people can count on them;

4. Management of self: Good managers know themselves and employ their strengths and skills effectively.

Robert Katz (1974) identified three broad categories of skills as necessary for an effective manager: the technical, the human, and the conceptual skills. The `technical' refers to skills for dealing with "things" and subject specialties, while the `human' refers to skills related to the various aspects of dealing with people. The `conceptual' involves clarity of thought and the ability to see the enterprise as a whole and in the perspective of the industry and the nation.

Pedler and his colleagues (1986) have, more recently, identified 11 attributes which they found were possessed by successful managers and not possessed by less successful managers--across organisations. The attributes are listed below, along with a brief explanation of each of them:

1. Command of basic facts: Knowledge of the organisation's long- and short-term goals and plans; an awareness of the various roles and the inter-departmental relationships.

2. Relevant professional knowledge: Knowledge of the technical or specialist aspects of one's job as well as of basic management principles and theories.

3. Continuing sensitivity to events: One's ability to tune in to situations and perceive what is going on; attention to facts and figures as they emerge as well as to the attitudes and feelings of people involved in the situations.

4. Problem-solving, and decision/judgement-making skills: Ability to analyse information, weigh the pros and cons and take decisions; logical skills are necessary, but at times they may have to be dispensed with and intuitive judgements made when information required for an analytical decision is inadequate, hard to come by or is just not available. Tolerance of ambiguity, therefore, needs to co-exist.

5. Social skills: Abilities related to interpersonal communication, delegation, negotiation, conflict resolution, and dealing with authority and power.

6. Emotional resilience: Given the stresses and strains of a manager's job, emotional upsets are a reality. The manager, however, cannot afford to wallow in this state for long; he must be able to regain equanimity fairly quickly. This would include self-control that allows one to give in when necessary and bounce back when opportune, unwarped by the stresses.

7. Proactivity: Responding purposefully to events. Even while responding to immediate situations, successful managers bear in mind the possible impact their actions may have on the organisation's long-term goals or its mission.

8. Creativity: Trying out newer ways of doing things on one's own or recognising new and good ideas from others and putting them to effective use.

9. Mental agility: Ability to think on one's feet and switch rapidly from one problem to another as demanded by situations.

10.Balanced learning habits and skills: An attitude of openness to various sources of learning and the ability to reflect on one's own experiences so as to formulate tentative theories and test them out by application; not being limited to any one conventional source of learning or adhering to one pet theory.

11. Self-knowledge: Awareness of one's own goals, values, beliefs, attitudes, perceptual and behavioural styles, and feelings. This is necessary for self-control, which will facilitate emotional resilience as well as one's overall self-development.

These 11 attributes seem to subsume the various skills and qualities suggested by other studies. Mintzberg's peer, leadership and conflict-resolution skills are subsumed by Pedler's social skills. His skills of information processing and decision making under ambiguity are spread out in Pedler's attributes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 (i.e., command of basic facts, relevant professional knowledge, continuing sensitivity to events, decision/judgement-making and problemsolving skills, and emotional resilience); the skills of resource allocation may very well be part of proactivity and professional knowledge; the entrepreneurial skills are captured in creativity, mental agility and learning habits; and the skills of introspection identified by Mintzberg are addressed by Pedler's balanced learning habits and self-knowledge.

Similarly, Bennis' management of attention relates to Pedler's command of basic facts and proactivity; management of meaning to continuing sensitivity to events, creativity and mental agility; management of trust to relevant professional knowledge, decision making and social skills; and management of self to emotional resilience, balanced learning habits and self-knowledge.

The 11 attributes can also be seen as elaborations of the three sets of managerial skills that Katz identified: Attributes 1, 2 and 4, for example, expand on Katz's "technical skills"; his "human skills" are spread out in attributes 3, 5, 6 and 11; and attributes 7, 8, 9 and 10 may very well converge to evolve what Katz calls the "conceptual skills".

The 11 attributes, identified by Pedler and his colleagues, thus, seem to be useful variables in a study of managers. It also stands to reason that these attributes are appropriate for and applicable to managers across organisations. This paper is a tentative exploration of how far these attributes obtain in the Indian co-operative dairy sector.

Method

The data used in this paper came actually as a by-product of a diagnostic exercise that was part of the management development programmes (MDPs) which the respondents attended. An instrumented pedagogy was used in the course. The selfdiagnostic purpose, the contingent power of the instrument and the confidential nature of data processing and feedback were explained to the participants. To reduce the possibility of multiple interpretations, unfamiliar terms in the questionnaire were clarified to the group on the black-board. Additional clarifications were given orally in response to queries. The purpose of the exercise was to help the participants explore themselves in a methodic way so as to enable them to reflect on and use the emergent data for their self-development. There was no intention of research. Therefore, certain demographic and other data that may be necessary and/or useful in a research design are not available. It is, however, known that the 262 respondents are above 30 years of age and hold positions of Assistant Manager, Manager, General Manager and, in a few cases, Managing Director--all in the co-operative dairy organisations of Operation Flood and from all parts of the country except Punjab and Haryana. Despite the unfortunate lack of a research design, the significance of the data available may be too good to ignore: The self-diagnostic atmosphere of the exercise is likely to have warranted in the responses a shade of authenticity that would normally elude such self-reports given in response to research attempts.

The questionnaire, designed and recommended by Pedler (1986) for self-diagnosis of managers, was administered as described above. The participants responded to items in terms of how often they felt or behaved the way as described by the various items ("a" for never at all, "b" for sometimes, "c" for often and "d" for nearly always). With 10 items per attribute, there were 110 items in all. Here is a sample: "I don't have a clear understanding of how my organisation works; I find that I do not know enough about the technical aspects of my job; I am not able to pick up quickly whatever is going on around me; I have difficulty in analysing a situation into its various aspects; I find that other people don't listen to me properly; I have difficulty in sleeping at night; I respond to pressures of the instant, thus losing sight of longer-term considerations; I find it difficult to come up with new ideas; I have difficulty in thinking on my feet in tricky situations; I'm not able to convert my experiences into valid theories; I don't spend time thinking about myself--my strengths and weaknesses;..... "

The responses were scored as per Pedler's method and fed back to the respective respondents. Participants were then encouraged to recollect relevant job situations, examine how they typically behaved in them and how far the present scores represented their on-the-job behaviour. There were reactions of surprise, both pleasant and unpleasant, but hardly any denials. Of the 262 managers, four had difficulty accepting their results on two or three of the 11 variables. One manager wouldn't accept his results at all and he reacted rather sharply. He had a high score on self-knowledge as well as on eight other variables; his scores on the remaining two variables, proactivity and mental agility, were even higher. Higher scores, in accordance with the method, meant lesser presence of the corresponding qualities in the respondent!

Data Analysis and Discussion

The scores could range from 10 to 30. A score of 10 would mean that the respondent, by his own reported perception, possessed a fairly high degree of the corresponding attribute. An increasing score would represent a decreasing possession of the corresponding attribute.

The actual scores were divided into four categories and reversely labelled as High, Satisfactory, Inadequate, and Low. The frequency of respondents under each of these categories was then computed for every attribute. See Table 1 for the summary of results.

Reading the first two categories together, the sector seems strongest in social skills and continuing sensitivity to events, with 68% and 66% of the managers, respectively, reporting to be in possession of these attributes at least to a satisfactory level. Problem solving and creativity seem to be the next forte, with 56% and 54%, respectively, of the managers perceiving these skills in themselves. The rest of the required qualities are perceived to be poorly distributed. The sector seems to be weakest in balanced learning habits, followed by relevant professional knowledge, self-knowledge, mental agility and emotional resilience, in that order.

Although, according to the data, the sector appears well endowed with social skills, subsequent discussions with the respondents in class revealed that, on the job, these skills predominantly took the form of shying away from confrontations with colleagues and being nice to them; conflict-avoidance and compromises were said to be indulged in "for the sake of peace and harmony, so very necessary for a smooth running of the organisation." Many a conflict may, however, need to be resolved rather than glossed over or avoided. The social skills of a manager, therefore, must not exclude confrontations and firmness.

While 56% (18 plus 38) of the managers perceive themselves to be good at problem solving, 59% are poor in proactivity and 74% inadequate in professional knowledge. Could this mean that problems are often solved in an ad hoc, reactive and fire-fighting manner? According to the results of cross tabulation by the three variables (Table 2), only 11% of the managers are professional, proactive and good in problem solving.

Similarly, 66% (25 plus 41) per cent of the managers see themselves as sensitive to events, but only 22% report possession of balanced learning habits. Could this be indicative of the possible failure of the managers to pick up useful lessons from the day-to-day situations they face? On cross tabulation by continuing sensitivity to events and balanced learning habits, only 17.6% of the managers turn out to be in possession of both the attributes (Table 2).

Self-knowledge appears scarce,too; less than one-third of the managers (30%) are seen in possession of it. This might deserve further probing. A person may possess certain attributes, but remain unaware of them. If this were true in the context of our data, one could reasonably expect that the percentage of managers high on self-knowledge and low on most other attributes (referred to as the true negatives) be appreciably smaller than the percentage of the false negatives, i.e., those low on self-knowledge and low on other attributes. While a high or well developed self-knowledge can concur with perceptions of high or low actual possessions of other attributes, a low self-knowledge is highly likely to accompany low or no perception of attributes possessed. Table 3 shows that a strikingly large percentage of the dairy managers who are low on self-knowledge report themselves low on many of the managerial attributes, indicating the possibility of a perceptual blind spot operative in them. In such a situation, the use of one's strengths is prone to be sub-optimal.

To examine how the 11 attributes relate amongst themselves, Pearson's correlational analysis was done. Table 4 shows r-values ranging from 0.29 to 0.53, all of which are significant at p<.001. Balanced learning habits (the least available attribute in the sector) show a strong association with proactivity (r= 0.53) and mental agility (r= 0.52); relevant professional knowledge, the second least available attribute, correlates strongest with command of basic facts (r= 0.47) and next with emotional resilience and balanced learning habits (r= 0.40); self-knowledge, the third least available attribute, is most associated with proactivity and balanced learning habits (r= 0.42). The fourth least available of the 11 managerial attributes is mental agility, whose association with balanced learning habits has already been cited (r= 0.52); its next three strong associations are with proactivity (r= 0.49), problem solving (r= 0.47) and creativity (r= 0.46).

Implications

Operation Flood III aims to consolidate the achievements of its earlier phases by: a) improving the productivity and efficiency of the co-operative dairy sector; b) improving the institutional base; and c) strengthening institutional management. The outlay for the programme is Rs.10,100 million (NDDB 1991). And one of the conditionalities contained in the letter of understanding to be signed by the participating state governments is transfer of assets to the co-operatives. If all this is to help build a viable and self-sustaining national dairy industry, it would place enormous demands on the managers in the sector. With the recent economic liberalisation policy of the Government of India and the impending entries of corporate giants into the sector, the challenges are even greater.

Where is the industry now? This paper does not purport to do a performance appraisal or a financial analysis of India's co-operative dairy sector. Information on the overall health of the sector, however, may be relevant. As on 31 March 1991, 134 of the 166 district Unions (80.7%) were in the red, making 13 out of the 15 state Federations suffer accumulated losses that ranged from Rs. 378.24 lakhs to Rs. 3,433.86 lakhs. According to an audited statement of NDDB, the industry had an accumulated loss of Rs.23,397.68 lakhs, as on 31 March, 1989.

The causes of the sector's current predicament may be legion. Some of them may be the legacies of factors that prevailed before the launch of Operation Flood and some others may be related to various factors at present. Nonetheless, the paucity of competent managers, indicated by the findings, would certainly qualify to be an important determinant.

What is to be done now? Realistic considerations would rule out the alternative of flushing out all those managers who do not possess the 11 qualities. Upgrading of these managers may be more practicable and that is what the sector seems to have been trying to do since long: Managers are sponsored for training and development programmes of varying duration, year after year. And yet, going by the results, the paucity in question persists.

The present situation in the industry warrants a dispassionate scrutiny of the design and contents of the programmes the managers are sent to. Do the programmes focus on the current needs of the managers? Let us see what the participants have to say on this. Arul (1989) has recorded some of the reactions. Several of them are relevant here: "Faculty R is too bookish; Faculty S is very good, he listens to us when we point out his blindness to the field; What are these cases and the so-called case facts? We have lived a lot more cases: identified relevant facts, analysed the issues and solved the problems! These case analyses and the rest of the stuff may be useful for freshers, not for working managers; Well, we learnt a few jargons, all right; We would like to know how managers operate elsewhere in the world; We don't feel any better off now than when we came here".

Broad-based management appreciation programmes, therefore, of however high quality will not meet the present criticality in the sector. The sector has a depleted inventory of the managerial qualities discussed in this paper and the inventory needs to be augmented. The MDPs must, therefore, address themselves directly to those of the 11 managerial qualities which may be judged strategically urgent.

To start with, rich dividends can be expected of an MDP which is designed to coach the present managers in balanced learning skills and habits, currently the least available of the 11 managerial qualities. Developing this attribute will not only remove the greatest weakness of the present, but also, by the very nature of the attribute, make the managers self-starters on other fronts. Such a design can easily integrate the self-knowledge component, too. A programme designed to integrate the components of balanced learning skills and self-knowledge will facilitate synergy by reciprocal reinforcement between the two attributes. This mutually reinforced pair can potentially trigger off a spiral effect (see last paragraph under "Data Analysis and Discussion" above and Table 4) along the attributes of mental agility, proactivity, creativity, problem solving and continuing sensitivity to events. So much for the managers who are already in the sector.

As regards new entrants, merit must be the over-riding criterion of recruitment and selection. Merit, in the case of experienced candidates, must mean possession of the 11 attributes. For the freshers, actual possession of professional knowledge and an aptitude for the other attributes (specially balanced learning habits) must constitute the criterion. It may be borne in mind that periodic booster doses of relevant professional knowledge is a must for all managers, green or gray, to reinforce the learning habits and to beat obsolescence.

Continued ...