Management Talk: Face the problem head on

I am sure many who live in India understand the concept of ‘dhobis’ (the neighbourhood launderers. They offer doorstep service at a price per cloth, which has not necessarily followed inflation; it continues to be highly affordable). In many ways they are indispensable, not that they do something unique, but they relieve several families the pain of washing (now a days the washing machine has made this easy) and pressing clothes each day., Business

02 May 2016 | By Suresh Ramakrishnan

Their setups are nothing to write home about. It is usually in an alley in an overcrowded locality and a fairly dingy place, where they have a table with a mattress and a neat cloth covering it. The ironing device is mostly electric run with a flat plate structure and the efficacy, I am told, far outweighs the modern machines that are available today (The surface area is much larger, besides it is economical - easy to maintain and repair and supposedly has a longer life too). In places where there are frequent and longish power cuts, they tend to use the traditional irons that are somewhat boxy in nature to accommodate burning charcoal to heat up the base.

The ‘dhobi’ who has been serving us for more than fifteen years is a frail looking man who runs his setup with his brother - both immigrants from another state. (These migrants are typically peasants who migrated to the city in search of a better livelihood. They take turns to be with their families during different periods in the year. Their hard work in the city has helped their children earn a decent education back home).

The first time I visited his setup, he was working out of a dilapidated garage which was falling apart in places. He chose one neat corner to press clothes and another to cook. Since then, his setup has been uprooted several times. There were a few occasions when he did not maintain his weekly schedule (rare though) and upon enquiring he used to tell me in a faint voice that he has to find a new place. Our own urgencies used to drive us to his place and each time we only came back overwhelmed at the condition he worked in.

Over the last fifteen years

  • He never came back with a sob story
  • Never used his situation to ask for any kind of advance or increase in price per cloth
  • Had an efficiency percentage of 95% +
  • I don’t remember him messing up with our clothes
  • We moved to another location, which was at a distant, but he never gave up. He uses his rickety bicycle to service us even today with a smile and not willing to give up.
  • Never did he take advantage of our faith and trust in him to over bill us for the services he provided

I am happy to report that now he has graduated to a decent setup. You may call it progress or otherwise, but he seems to have grown his business to be able to afford better working condition and living.

Some management lessons:

  • There is a solution to every problem. It may take time and effort, but facing them makes way for some learning and progress.
  • Don’t sit and grumble about a problem, look ahead. You can spend your time grumbling, finding faults and necks to hang, but, as they say, to err is human. So look ahead and see what it takes to set things right.
  • Your chances of winning increase by facing a problem. Human beings tend to align themselves to people who come forward to face problems and you may actually find friends along the way helping you
  • You get hired for the problems you faced and solved. Yes, your ability to solve problems is what wins you assignments, as the lessons learnt would be invaluable.

Suresh Ramakrishnan is the publisher at Haymarket Media (India).