Leaders as Architects: The Four-Pillar Approach

Deeply seated and entrenched in the daily operation of the city, Mumbai’s dabbawalas operate a business that is noteworthy. Poorly educated, without the use of cell phones or any IT system, this work force is indeed a force to be reckoned with. An article in November, 2012 Harvard Business Review entitled, “Mumbai’s Models of Service Excellence” suggests that the dabbawalas can teach any company a thing or two about service.

The dabbawalas rely on the alignment and mutual support for the success of their Four-Pillar Approach: organization, management, process and culture. In most corporate environments, it is unlikely that management pays specific attention to all four, and in many cases, it is the forth pillar, culture, that is over looked, over shadowed and soon sacrificed. People are expendable, people are replaceable; employees are as easily fired as hired. It takes a skilled leader who can actually “fine-tune” all four pillars, maximizing employee potential to craft an organization that is both reliant and supportive, diverse yet unified. The craftsman or architect builds from the ground up, knowing full well that the cornerstone of any building or corporation has to remain in balance in order to weather even the slightest storm.

The dabbawala service was founded in 1890. It has endured, it has thrived; it remains the backbone of the Mumbai work force. And today, their business model has become an exemplary example for corporations worldwide.

Image: By H. Dukes, India, 2007