Mumbai’s committed contingent of 5,000 dabbawallas (dabba = tiffin, container; walla = worker) delivers over 350,000 lunches per day to office workers across the megacity with a commitment for accuracy and service excellence. I recall my childhood in Mumbai when my mother delivered a home cooked meal (ghar ka khana in Hindi) to my school through a dabbawalla.
As I consumed my bowl of Kellogg today, I mulled that while Silicon Valley and Starbucks had become part of corporate folklore, the ethos of the dabbawalla system wasn’t as well known outside the Indian subcontinent.
Following an organizational realignment, my team felt stuck and unproductive after being officially asked to stay on a “holding pattern” through a vaguely worded memo. I also felt rather jaded after seeing email signature blocks that read […] “Make a Difference“. Trapped in this status quo, I felt that I was not enhancing my contribution potential and walking the talk of “making a difference”. I heard echoes of (the infamous) “how good managers set up their employees to fail syndrome” in a corporate environment. Resisting the default urge to assign blame, I felt an itch to do something constructive and, consistent with the global tilt, I searched for outsight (outside in focus).
“The planning process spins and spins, but nothing — and nobody — moves.”
Dan Pink, To Serve is Human, 2012
I’ve sketched a sensemaker’s view of the dabbawallas’ DNA so that I can bust the clouds in my head. The essence of the dabbawalla’s spirit is upserving, which essentially means taking the extra steps to transform a mundane experience into a memorable experience.
With a goal to become relevant in the conversation to mitigate strategic inertia and increase customer intimacy, I am going to learn how to help others get unstuck by being solution focused, adopt the Roles of Engagement of Host Leadership and operate like a dabbawalla in a corporate environment and co-create value. While I don’t have all the answers, this is an improvised performance of a lifetime and a growth opportunity to enhance my contribution potential.
A Leadership Team (LT) that has the courage of conviction will incorporate the dabbawalla culture in order to plant the seeds of service innovation as part of the company’s transformation journey. By incorporating key principles of the dabbawallas mindset any business can make a difference with attunement, benevolence and clarity (ABC) while serving a customer.