Everyone is aware of the fact that service in banks, especial¬ly nationalized banks, has deteriorated over the years in our country. Many attribute this to job security, which nationalization has given to the bank employees. It is this confidence in job security we thought, that infused a great deal of arrogance and indiffe¬rence among them. But a reading of the book under review shows up vast areas of hitherto unknown, behind-the-scene activities of bank personnel.
P.K.S. Menon, the author, has built up a very convincing case, the main theme of which is that management of banks’ personnel is done more on the terms set forth by the bullies among its cadre than by any competent authority. The author calls them the ‘Un-crowned kings of the red-light areas of management’. Adorn¬ing the garb of union leaders, these bullies have influenced the personnel of banks over the last 15 years, often collud¬ing with self-interested and compromising bosses.
Poor service in banks may be thus attributed directly to the ethos which evolved in the industry under such leadership. Dedication to the job is un¬heard of among the new breed of employees. What matters is the extent of benefits which they can extract from the management by adopting pressure tactics. The most dis¬heartening factor is that various levels of the manage¬ment cadre are willing to toe the line simply to purchase their own existence.
The opening chapters set the tone for the rest of the book. Describing the multifarious activities of the bullies, the author also comments on the life-styles of these super-bullies. They are found on the forefront of all types of agita¬tions in banks. Even if it is a personal clash, it will be escalated to the point of mak¬ing it appear that the very fundamental interests of the employees is in peril. Given the super-bullies’ influence with top management, lower level management personnel can hardly hope to put up a successful resistance.
To quote from the book, ‘If there is trouble at the branch, the manager fears that instead of mustering courage to tackle the bullies, top bosses will make him a scapegoat. … It is this scapegoat fear, apart from the timidity in facing bullies that makes every manager subservient to the bullies’.
But the question arises why should the top management play this game. The author provides an answer in the last chapter entitled ‘Top Philo¬sophy’. Here he describes the different kinds of bosses and their general attitude towards bullies. In another chapter, ‘Centralization vs Decentrali¬zation’, the author suggests a second answer to this ques¬tion. As banks grew in size (with the accompanying growth of problems), the con¬cept of decentralization gained popularity. ‘What can’t be managed must be delegated.’
More often than not, such delegation come as the end result of failure of top brass to identify potential problems of administration and take reme¬dial measures in time. The outcome of such delegation is that at each level Managers seek to settle disputes by con-ceding whatever they can within their powers.
The reason for such timidity is, according to the author, the need to purchase their own existence. This is a cons¬tant refrain throughout the book. Managers at every level seek to purchase their exis¬tence. Thus we have a situa¬tion where employees don’t care a fig for management because their existence is un¬shakable and the management at every level sits on pins and needles because its continued peaceful existence at that level of authority is well nigh impossible without the co¬operation of the employees. This has led to the present malaise afflicting Bank Management.
How has this phobia develop¬ed among Managers? The answer is succinctly provided in the chapter ‘Operation Butcher’. Explained here are the various methods which the employers, led by bullies, often adopt to make their position known. This chapter is a masterpiece. Every banker who aspires to become a Manager is advised to read this chapter and decide on his course of action. To the lay reader, it gives an excellent account of what challenges lie in the path of a Bank Manager. A slip here and there can sometimes produce disastrous consequences. Bul¬lies may even resort to charac¬ter assassination, which in many cases destroys not only his career, but also a peaceful family life.
Elsewhere, the author deals with indiscipline. Official enquiry into indiscipline sel¬dom gets off the ground, and if it manages to get ahead, it can be easily frustrated by delaying tactics adopted by the delinquent employee. Some¬times, even the evidence simply vanishes. The ultimate result is no charge is established against an erring employee. The author wittily puts it thus: ‘If an employee is reported to have committed grave mis¬conduct, the only way of saving him in the bank is to order an enquiry against him’. But there is dead seriousness behind this humour.
We often wonder why is it that Bank Managers do not reprimand employees when they openly defy them in front of customers. Perhaps, it is an effort to become popular? An accommodating Manager is ever popular. In the chapter ‘Alchemy of Popularity’, the author explains how some Managers become popular. A popular Manager should always be prepared to forget and forgive. Very often, the employee who defied the Manager in the morning will privately pacify him in the evening!
Altogether, a lot of details are given up in this book without hiding any sensitive points. However, the work is not without defects altogether. For example, in the chapter entitled ‘Upward Mobility’, some of the illustrations are not pro¬perly conceived. The index provided at the end is superflous in a work of this kind. It is there for the sake of being there. Judged by the current Indian standards in publishing, the odd printing mistakes may be excused. The language of the author is very lucid, and the humour makes it entertain¬ing reading. Menon has called a Spade a Spade, and the tel¬ling way he attacks the issue will make every reader, espe¬cially those employed in banks, to sit back and think about it. The book has come not a day late and deserves a reading.
N. Ramakrishnan is a young executive working with the Syndicate Bank.