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`Breakthrough' management — the new mantra

N. Ramakrishnan

The key to breakthrough management is to unlearn what has been learnt and learn new strategies.

Chennai , Sept 2

BREAKTHROUGH management. That may well become the new management buzzword in the Indian industry if it wants to grow at an accelerated speed.

With a number of Indian companies having adopted total quality management (TQM) practices, a Japanese management expert believes "breakthrough" management is the next big thing if they are to adopt radical business ideas.

For companies to grow at a higher speed and pursue radical business ideas, breakthrough management is what they need to adopt, says Prof Shoji Shiba, an expert in the subject, who has been working with four Indian companies over the last one year in this area. The key to breakthrough management is to unlearn what has been learnt and learn new strategies. According to him, breakthrough management is the third of the management concepts, after control and `kaizen.' The history of the quality movement, according to him, started in the 1930s with the control management era where everything came from the top management. This was followed by `kaizen' — Japanese for continuous improvement — that started in the 1960s and 1970s.

After the mid-1990s, the business environment around the world changed dramatically, requiring companies to adapt quickly, including even a change in their line of business. While kaizen was a step-by-step process of continuous improvement, as a management tool, it was not intended to change the business.

Prof Shiba, a visiting professor at the Sloan School of Management in the US and recipient of the Deming prize , says breakthrough management has three aspects — opportunity focus (to create new customers), total dedication (to make the required big jump) and continuous unlearning (to forget traditional past).

According to him, in Indian companies, the chief executive officer has a strategic vision for his business, but this is lacking in the next levels of management.

The second and third levels of management have achieved operational excellence, but are weak in strategy. This is what he hopes to change through preaching the concept of breakthrough management. "This gap between operational excellence and business excellence needs to be filled," he said.

For the past one year, Prof Shiba has been working with four Indian companies — Brakes India's foundry division, Ucal Fuel, Sona Koyo and Technova — thanks to an initiative of the Confederation of Indian Industry. Prof Shiba believes in working with a "community" rather than with individual companies. This, he said, helps each one learn from the other and catalyse change. He also does not believe in telling the companies what to do. He prefers to guide them and then let them learn from each other. Breakthrough management, according to him, consists of perceiving the subtle voices for change and making these changes a reality through a scientific process. Hidden changes in companies appear in the periphery rather than in the centre, and this can be noticed only by close observation.

"It is time for Indian companies to take off. Top companies pull the industry (forward). I want to contribute to such a locomotive." Once a critical mass of breakthrough leaders is available, India will be ready for the next big push in breakthrough management. Prof Shiba accompanied the four companies that he had been working with to visit two enterprises in France to learn more about breakthrough management.

The companies have shown good results, he said. For instance, he says, one of the companies achieved a breakthrough in the shopfloor — a 50 per cent cost reduction in manufacturing, 30 per cent improvement in productivity and a 50 per cent reduction in energy cost.

There have also been breakthroughs in the R&D process and business strategy, Prof Shiba added.

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