Employee Speak: Sunil Kulkarni, COO, Akshayini Oorja

A brief on Sunil Kulkarni: Sunil Kulkarni has a bachelors’ degree in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Mumbai. He has an extensive ‘Power Sector’ experience that spans a period of about 26 years primarily in the hydro sector. He has spent about 13 years with BHEL, 11 years with Tata Power and 1.5 years with Reliance Power. Apart from the technical expertise in hydro power domain, Sunil has had opportunities to develop keen insights into project management. He is currently looking forward to putting his expertise and insights in to the development of a healthy small hydro sector.

1. Can you explain Akshayini Oorja’s unique business model for the benefit of our readers.

With the increased awareness about environmental issues and growing energy needs of large populace, Renewable Energy Sources are receiving additional attention. Governments are increasingly offering incentives in the form of subsidies and assured purchase at reasonable rates. Carbon credits are also available to many of these projects under emission control regime. This has de-risked the business to a considerable extent and hence has generated a lot of investor interest. In spite of this, you do not see many projects coming up. This is mainly because of the lack of proper technical expertise, project management skills and inadequate financial resources. This opens up a good window of opportunity.

To capitalise on this opportunity, India Value Fund (IVF) has formed the company Akshayini Oorja recently to manage (by providing technical, project management and financial expertise) their investments in renewable energy sector, with primary focus on small hydro power projects. We look forward to building a portfolio of about 300 MW in a period of 3 to 4 years.

2. Akshayini Oorja is about to invest in the first hydro power company. Apart from acquiring hydro power companies what would your focus areas for the coming year be?

Now we are in the start up phase. So our main focus areas apart from the core business activities would be to establish the company in the true sense. So we would invest in building the team, setting up processes, developing the competencies of the team etc.

3. According to you will performance management of the organization be a challenge for your kind of set up? In what way will it be a challenge?

This is a start up with a difference. The team has no entrepreneurial stake in the business. A professional team would be meeting the entrepreneurial ambitions of IVF. Recruiting the right people, getting them to work together and leveraging their expertise and experience to meet the business goals are the challenges in the first year. In the first year building a strong team will be important.

4. How are the performance parameters different in the kind of business model that you have as compared to other types of organisations?

The parameters will be more related to desirable behaviour patterns like team spirit, integrity, holistic thinking, leadership etc. Things like domain specific skill excellence will come later. Encouraging cross functional skills will be an important parameter. Everybody needs to understand what the other person is doing, so that he/she can support and stand in for his/her team members when the need arises. Team performance will matter more than individual excellence.

Performance management has to be informal initially. Later the companies in which we have invested can replicate our model in them. Ultimately their performance will be a critical parameter for assessing our performance.

5. I know it is early days; but what are some of the mechanisms you are planning to put in place to ensure you achieve your organisation vision?

We are defining processes in HR, Finance and Project management with help of experts in these areas. When the full team is on board, all the relevant structure would already be in place. This will help us ramp up quickly.

In the initial days informality would be the key. Maintaining the cordial environment for the team to coalesce as one unit and each member to find his/her slot itself would be good Performance Management. Pre-defined KRAs and evaluations based on them will be counterproductive in the beginning. It may even generate performance anxiety.

6. What according to you are the characteristics of high-performance teams / individuals?

While the usual ‘Never say die’ attitude etc is important, there are a few characteristics of high performing teams that are not talked about. One is diversity in the team, not only in terms of skill sets, but also in terms of temperaments. In a team everybody can’t be a Virendra Sehwag, Rahul Dravids are also required and one person cannot be the match winner always. So while somebody could be of a brooding nature, another could be bubbly. Essentially they should be able to support and complement each other. The second characteristic is the basic cross functional appreciation that team members develop across functions. Sehwag knows what Bhajji does and understands Bhajji’s value for the team.

7. Based on your experience how can organisations and leaders encourage and support high performance among teams and individuals?

Every organisation and leader do encourage and support high performance. Some over do it, some under do it. There are various ways…

  • The key is to having at most transparency in the process of measuring the performances.
  • Non monetary avenues can work well. It could be a mention in an assembly, nominations for conferences, exhibitions etc.
  • Special Reward and Recognitions programs for both individual and team performances were developed by HR in one of my previous organisations. That was received extremely well.
  • Delink the process of reward from annual increments, bonus etc. According to me this creates unnecessary division in the team.
  • Fast track schemes where talented people get higher responsibilities and rise faster in the organisation, can motivate higher performance in the individual.
  • Job rotation also helps in acquiring the cross functional appreciation and acts as a motivator. Cement industry is a good example of this where an engineer works in all important departments in the span of 10-15 years and understands his strengths to choose the right career path at senior levels.
  • Performance Management System should not just be a measurement process. One needs to go beyond it and actually focus on managing and improving performance.
  • We need to adapt Performance Management Systems to the nuances specific to the sectors and industries. For example, the Performance Management System mostly designed for FMCG or Software industries are imposed on the hapless people in the power sector where output is difficult to quantify. Smart people always develop a method to cheat the system and sincere ones can get deterred from taking on challenging goals.
  • Getting the ownership, of the people running the business, for the Performance Management is very important.
  • One also needs to nurture diversity in the team.