Change your mindset or face extinction!
By Antony Motha
Dian Gomes, Group Director at MAS Holdings in a stirring speech on ‘Aligning Organisations to be World Class,’ at the K Sivagananathan Memorial Oration last week said, “If you want to change people, change their mindsets through emotion. They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Quoting Mark Twain, he said that people learn through the heart, not the eyes or the intellect. Gomes said that, at Harvard, he had learned some really sophisticated management concepts from case studies of Microsoft, Coke and Hewlett-Packard. But the most important management lesson that he has learnt is that emotion can drive people. Emphasizing the need for change, he said, “Organisations don’t act; people do. If you don’t change, you’ll become a dinosaur!” Variously described as a boxer, a writer, an art connoisseur, Dian Gomes is very obviously a people’s person. He is possibly the only Sri Lankan to have been profiled by Wall Street Journal and has a reputation for not taking ‘No’ for an answer.
Talking about MAS adventure training, Gomes described how management teams are sent to the jungle, where everybody shares a tent. But this is not a holiday trip: On their return, participants have to – among other things - describe their learning experience, list the new friends that they have made and prepare action plans.
In his oration - replete with anecdotes and video clips that illustrated his point - Gomes narrated how, on a raft expedition in a boat made of barrels, he dropped the oars down. He was faced with a volley of obscenities from his ‘co-passengers’ that caused him to pick up the oars again and row.
This experience taught him that leadership is situational. On that boat, he was not the Chief Executive! Gomes ridiculed the habit of competing with the neighbour’s car, the cousin’s examination results and the colleague’s sari. “Compete on the right things,” he exhorted. Going on to describe the unifying power of competitive sports, he indicated that 45 MAS employees represent the country at international events. This includes three cricketers who will be at the World Cup 2007 – T. M. Dilshan, Farveez Maharoof and Malinga Bandara.Talking of the Slimline boxing phenomenon, Gomes indicated that MAS has broken the Army’s twenty-year dominance of the National Boxing Championship. MAS has won the championship four times during the 2000-2006 period. “Take away the fear of failure from employees and give them courage instead,” he encouraged.
Speaking to The Sunday Times FT after the event, Gomes attempted to quell apprehensions about inadequate succession planning at MAS Intimates. “I have at least three people who are being groomed and can take over my role over a two or three year period: Nathan Sivagananathan (currently Chief Executive Officer) and a couple of people who are lower.” Nathan is the son of K. Sivagananathan, whose memory was being perpetuated that evening.
MAS Intimates has spent nearly US$ 1 million on employee training and development during the past year. Fifty employees have been sent for INSEAD programmes and to the National University of Singapore for training, Gomes disclosed.