What’s common between Delhi Metro and the Pamban Sea Bridge? 

Don’t know? They were both spearheaded by Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, also known as the Metro Man of India. 

The 88-year-old civil engineer and a former bureaucrat who has spent more than five decades building some of India’s largest infrastructure projects is a legend across the country. 

And with good reason. 

E. Sreedharan is the man behind the execution of some world-class infrastructure projects in India. The projects are a testimony to his project management skills as well as his ability to execute innovative solutions without compromising on quality and safety.

A Performance-Driven Work Culture

What’s the secret behind Sreedharan’s success? According to India's Railway Man: A Biography of E. Sreedharan by Rajendra Aklekar, Sreedharan attributes it to a unique performance-driven work culture built on the four pillars of punctuality, integrity, professional competence and accountability. 

1. Punctuality

Let’s first look at punctuality. Sreedharan is very particular about punctuality. When working on the iconic Konkan Railways in the 1980s and Delhi Metro in the 2000s, he told his team members that if they weren’t punctual, they couldn’t expect the trains to run on time either. 

He installed countdown clocks in all the offices and construction sites of his projects that kept workers on their toes. As a result of instilling this culture of healthy respect for time, today, Delhi Metro has a punctuality rate of 99.7%!

Thanks to a strong commitment to deadlines, Sreedharan’s team was able to build the Konkan Railway lines—a project involving  1,880 bridges and 90 tunnels through the treacherous coastal terrain of three Indian states—in just seven years.

2. Integrity

Sreedharan ranks the integrity of his workers higher than professional competency. To him, integrity means being transparent and upholding moral values in all dealings. 

Sreedharan built a functional administration that relied more on trust than slow paperwork. Thorough background checks were done on anyone joining his organization, which often led to a small, yet highly trustworthy team that could turn around projects in record time. 

3. Professional competence

Sreedharan recruited either very competent people or those who could acquire the skills on the job. He believed in investing in training and often sent his team members to other countries to learn about their train and metro projects. 

Never shy of acknowledging gaps and the importance of learning, Sreedharan hired foreign consultants for the first phase of Delhi Metro. He and his team used their learnings in the first phase and were on their own in the second phase. Over time, Sreedharan’s team has been able to transfer this expertise to various metro projects across India.

Sreedharan’s project management skills are such that he is not only available on the ground, but is also able to look at the big picture. 

It was because of this ability that he was successful in restoring the Pamban Sea Bridge for trains in 46 days—a job for which the government gave him six months. The bridge connects mainland India to the island pilgrim town of Rameshwaram near Tamil Nadu.

4. Accountability

Sreedharan has always maintained high standards of accountability and social responsibility. He always kept the end-user—the common citizen—in mind while executing his projects. These public projects were built with taxpayer money and he tried to cut costs by reducing delays and ensuring that citizens were not inconvenienced. 

While constructing the Delhi Metro, Sreedharan used extensive barricading, signals and lighting to manage the traffic around construction sites. He covered the entire construction site to ensure minimum dust and disturbance to the nearby residents. He even got the tires of vehicles coming out of construction sites cleaned before they hit the roads. 

Before starting the Konkan Railways project, Sreedharan had to acquire land from 40,000 landowners. Wherever he needed to demolish a house, he requested the owners to find and move to a house whose rent would be paid by Konkan Railways for a year and a half. Such measures helped him finish the acquisition within eight months.

 

Like Sreedharan, you too can succeed at work and in life. All you need is good habits and values. Harappa’s Leading Self course will help you understand yourself and put you on track to the top of the professional ladder. So sign up now and let your success journey begin.

(Image courtesy: Ministry of Human Resource Development (GODL-India) )


Nishant Singh is a Senior Manager in the Learning Impact team at Harappa Education. He is an incoming Fulbright Scholar at Harvard University who nurtures the dream of making world-class higher education and healthcare accessible to more people in India. 


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