February 24, 2013

There are books that talk and there are few books that make you sit up and listen. “Doing what is right: The Crisil Story” falls in the latter category. It is a great story of a remarkable organization that has played a significant role in development of financial market in India.
The book deftly takes the reader through the journey that Crisil undertook to become an awe inspiring and respected organization from scratch. It started with a leap of faith when there was hardly a financial market worth mentioning in India. The foundation of Crisil was based on the vision and potential of India. Long before “India Story” became fashionable, few visionaries like N Vaghul and Pradip Shah perhaps saw it 10 years in advance and had the courage and conviction to create a world class organization in India which played a critical role in post liberalized India to develop a robust financial market and environment that fueled the growth story of India.
The book has efficiently documented various stages of Crisil’s development and its rise to glory. This story will definitely find a place in the business history of India. However, the book does something much more significant than documenting the story of Crisil. It teaches the basic ingredients of building a world class organization that’s known as much for its work as for its upright corporate character and integrity.
After reading the book, the process of building a remarkable organization becomes crystal clear. The starting point is always a vision and a right leader. The right leader gets the right people on board. The leader and the chosen few people build a culture of excellence where facts and logic reign supreme even to hierarchy. The obsession for excellence builds the character of the organization. The business model is developed in such a way that the integrity of the organization never gets compromised while making sure that the organization keeps growing far and wide. A robust leadership pipeline is created to ensure that the organization never becomes a shadow of an individual. And lastly, the organization keeps evolving itself relative to the changing environment to identify new opportunities to grow. It is as simple as this!
For anyone interested in business, management, or business history of India, this book is a must read. While on one hand it lucidly tells the story of one of India’s best known homegrown business organization, on the other hand it teaches some good lessons in management to a discerning reader.
Overall, the book is highly readable, fast paced, and a page turner. You can finish it during a 2 hour flight and then wonder - “It is so amazing. I want more of it!”

November 27, 2011

Brands need to evolve with time. Every marketer knows this. Yet more often than not, established brands fail because they did not feel the need to evolve with time. The mentality that takes brands down the drain is - "why fix something that ain't broken yet?" The answer to this mentality is - "if your brand doesn't stay relevant to an evolving consumer, she will dump you and you will not know what hit you and when."

Some brands know this fact of life and adapt themselves and their communication from time to time in their quest to remain relevant in consumer's life.

Over the years, Cadbury has moved from "The real taste of life" to "Khane walon ko khane ka bahana chahiye" to "Shubh Aarambh" to "Mithe mein kuch mitha ho jaye" thereby always staying in the heart of the consumers and keeping the relationship glowing. Cadbury never becomes outdated.

Similarly, Airtel has kept its relationship with consumers intact and endearing through smart shift in communication - "Touch tomorrow", "Live every moment", "Express yourself", "Barriers break when people talk", "Har dost jaroori hota hai."

Tata Tea took the engagement level with consumers to a new high with the path breaking "Jaago Re" campaign and now it is making another shift through "Sonch Badlo" communication.

There are many more examples where successful brands have constantly evolved themselves to walk hand in hand with evolving consumers. The results are there to see. They are growing and becoming stronger in a highly competitive environment.

But there are perhaps an equal number of brands that have faded or are slowly fading from memory because they refused to evolve all the while thinking that there was nothing wrong with them. Some iconic and many good brands of past like Iodex, Amrutanjan, Keo Karpin, Vicco, HMT, Dalda, Binaca, Forhans, Halo, Ambassador, Boroline, Palmolive, etc. had to bite the dust because they failed to keep the connect with ever evolving consumers having numerous choices. Even generic brands are not immune to failure if they fail to evolve.

The lesson is simple - evolve or perish!

November 23, 2011

Many organizations have a bias towards having systems and processes for everything under the sun. The intention is always good but practical implications of this "excessive systems orientation" may be seriously detrimental to an organization's well being.

Once the system orientation has taken its roots, people get more concerned about systems rather than what is good or bad for the organization. As a result, systems and processes that were designed to be means to an end become an end in themselves.

If systems and processes for everything can run an organization, what is the need for human resources? By design, systems and processes should be efficient servants to help human resources run an organization. The moment they become master, trouble starts!

New frontiers of innovation and growth can never be conquered by treating an organization like a machine that can be run and controlled through systems and processes. Winning organizations believe in creating and nurturing an environment to unleash the human potential.

October 2, 2011

Working Under a Great Boss

Posted by Bizaholic | 12:20 PM | , with 2 comments »

Great bosses are rare. If you get one, you must be one of the lucky guys out in the corporate world. A great boss is not just a boss; s/he is also a mentor and friend who you can trust.

So far so good. But working with a great boss is not easy! Because great bosses are almost always highly demanding and tend to create high amount of pressure in the working environment. They purposely do it. It is not that their intention is bad; in fact they always have good intention for their subordinates.

A great boss doesn't look only in present. They also have an eye on future. So they tend to focus on building capacity in their subordinates. Like an expert sports trainer, they stretch their subordinate's limits continuously to build higher and higher capacity. They use all tactics at their disposal to create as many learning opportunities for their subordinates. And sometimes that means asking the subordinates to walk on fire!

If you work under a great boss, at times it may appear that the boss is too demanding and keeps you on your toes all the time while pushing a little too hard. But take all these in your stride as the boss is perhaps testing you and grooming you for bigger responsibilities. If you resent, you may be slowing your own chance of progress.

If you have a great boss, trust him or her and take everything as a challenge to give your best. And while you keep pace with your demanding boss, be assured that a benevolent soul wants you to succeed and is always willing to help, guide, and stand for you. Perhaps it takes some good karma to get a great boss!

September 26, 2011

The best way to judge a novel is to check whether it keeps one interested enough to turn pages. On this parameter, Tulsi Badrinath's "Man of a Thousand Chances" does not disappoint. This is one novel which keeps your curiosity alive. The portrayal of a typical middle class life has been beautifully expressed with vivid details. If one has lived a middle class life at any point of one's existence, one will relate to the characters of the novel and will feel a part of the whole drama.

But this is not just a novel. It is a story entwined with art, philosophy, a little bit of business! As the story unfolds, one is subjected to heavy dose of philosophy and esoteric topics like law of karma and fate. The last few pages seem to be more focused on philosophical discourse rather than on bringing the story to its logical end. One may enjoy this or get distracted depending on one's views on life and philosophy. And in between, courtesy a mad numismatologist, you get transported on a time machine to witness history ranging from court of Jehangir to battle field of Alexendar and Porus!

"Man of a Thousand Chances" is a novel about Harihar, a middle class man, and his wife Sarla. It is a story about their struggle, duties, responsibilities, aspirations, and fate. Harihar, a man of few means, works in a museum. Faced with his responsibility to marry his daughter and arrange a respectable marriage ceremony, he steals a rare gold coin of the Jehangir era to pawn it to generate short term cash for his daughter's marriage. He intends to replace it back in museum as soon as his fixed deposit is up for maturity. Then a string of events take place - bankruptcy of the finance company where he had his fixed deposit, followed by the coin moving into the hands of a numismatologist, planned robbery in museum, Sarla making big money in day trading, and murder of the sahukaar who had given loan in lieu of the coin. By the end of this roller coaster ride, Harihar and Sarla, who had developed emotional distance during the course of their married life, became more aware of each others presence and started coming closer, emotionally.

The only problem is that at times, due to excessive use of flowery language to vividly describe situations, the narrative becomes a drag and one wants to skip and jump. Also, at the end, the story does not appear to be realistic as too many unrelated coincidences happen one after another in quick succession to protect Harihar from the charge of theft. Law of karma, fate, or a novelist's imagination? It is for the reader to decide.

Overall a good read.

September 23, 2011

There are some leaders who talk a lot and others who listen a lot. Although this is more of a personality trait, it affects the performance, effectiveness, and morale of the men and women the leader leads. This prompts a question: who is better - a talking leader or a listening leader?

The essence of leadership is empathy. Without showing a high degree of empathy, it is very difficult to lead. While leadership is directly concerned with vision, direction, decision making, building capability, and delivering results, it is empathy which acts as an enabler. And high degree of empathy is directly linked with effective listening!

The problem with a talking leader is that unknowingly he ends up alienating the team instead of aligning them to a common goal. By talking too much and with authority, he discourages diverse view points on a subject and thereby forcefully imposes his own view points. This may work where the capability of his followers is weak and his experience exhaustive. But if he is leading a strong and capable team, he may get trapped within his own world view and miss other better alternatives and get bogged down with the side effect of sending the passion within the team for a toss!

To sum up, a leader needs to be assertive and decisive but not talkative and imposing. He needs to listen to the heart of his followers and then use empathy, persuasion, and experience to help draw the best possible road map and align the entire team to rally around it. Outstanding leaders do not impose decision; they make their followers feel as if the decision is their own!

April 20, 2011

Book Review: Consumer India

Posted by Bizaholic | 7:47 PM | with 0 comments »

India is a booming market that seems to be the new land of promise. But promises apart, Indian market is a complex labyrinth. Succeeding in Indian market requires careful unravelling of the minds of consumers. Naturally, any book written on Indian consumer generates interest. It started with Rama Bijapurkar's "We are like that only" followed by Santosh Desai's "Mother Pious Lady". The latest in this series is Dheeraj Sinha's "Consumer India".

Being a marketer, I picked up the book in excitement to enhance my own understanding of the Indian consumer. The book promises insights into Indian consumer's mind and wallet. However, the start seems to be more like a book on social history of India. The first half of the book is largely uninteresting with only occasional real insights. For most of the first half, the book seems to be a generalized version of cultural changes that happened in Indian society post liberalization. The flow of thoughts keeps swinging from one topic to another without a central theme and you wonder what story the author is trying to tell you. Very much like some of the Bollywood movies which fail to outline a plot till intermission happens!

The interest level gradually picks up in second half of the book. Chapter on "Meaningful technology" is an interesting read on how Indians view technology. The author successfully delivers a strong insight for marketers - in India, technology needs to be adapted to consumer's life rather than consumers adapting to new technology. In the middle of the chapter, "Branding the Bazaar", there are some interesting stories about some real brands and how they captured the imagination of Indian consumer. Following chapters on "Youth vs Youthful", "Seamless Savitris" and "Small is Big" are also interesting except for a few dull paragraphs.

To sum up, the book didn't live to its potential. It could have been much more interesting, insightful, and reader friendly had it been structured rigorously. Also, the author keeps changing his writing style. It wavers between academic and conversational which affects readability.

So if you are a marketer or business professional, you may read this book for a quick review of cultural changes that took shape in the post liberalized India. But don't expect mind boggling or path breaking consumer insights. To sum up, Dheeraj Sinha's "Consumer India" ends up as a poor cousin to Santosh Desai's "Mother Pious Lady".

June 27, 2010

About 6 months back, I tweeted, "In next 10 years, many successful organizations, irrespective of size, will become hierarchy free." After reading Vineet Nayar's extraordinarily revolutionary book "Employees First, Customers Second", I am confident that hierarchy-free organizations are possible!

Most of the companies are run based on rules and management theories conceptualized 30-40 years ago. Times have changed. The business environment has drastically changed. Technologies have changed. The way people interact has changed. But unfortunately, companies, even today, are run as if nothing has changed. The outdated ways of running business continues. Hardly any leader is seen challenging the conventional wisdom. "Employees First, Customers Second" challenges conventional way of running a business and shows that if conventional wisdom is turned upside down, the results are miraculous.

This is a very timely book for the management fraternity. The basic premise of this book is to consider employees as the top most priority and how this approach can create much higher value than any other management approach. But at a much deeper level, this book is all about challenging the status quo and not considering anything in the management world as sacrosanct. It is about a journey on executing radical changes in small bites rather than one clean sweep. It provides a fresh perspective on change management that is relevant to the current times and future.

"Employees First, Customers Second" outlines some radical ideas that transformed HCL Technologies. The idea of putting employees above everything else and empowering them is the core of the book. This is a revolutionary idea because it has the potential to change the entire dynamics of the organization. It can change the power equations, increase the degree of trust within the setup, enhance the level of engagement among employees, unleash a wave of innovation, increase customer satisfaction, and demolish layers of hierarchy to make the organization agile, aggressive, proactive, and creator of extraordinary value for all the stakeholders. In my view, this idea has the potential to become a universal management approach workable across various industries and organizations.

Another idea that makes sense is about clearly seeing where an organization is and where it wants to reach. This is a simple yet profound idea - feet grounded in reality, wings ready to reach for the sky. Often leaders and managers know where they want to take their organization, but they don't realistically evaluate where they stand at a given point of time. Due to this, plans that are made become flawed. The key to start any change management program is to start with an in-depth understanding of the reality of the situation. Without objectively looking into the mirror of present, one can never plan for the glory of future.

The book also talks about trust as the building block of superior value creation. In today's highly competitive times, there is more distrust than trust in most of the organizations. Instead of focusing on creation of value through collaboration, people are often worried about who is planning what and how to control information to their advantage. This level of distrust never allows an organization to realize true potential of its employees. The ideas in the book direct the focus on importance of building trust in an organization through transparency and fairness. It shares some radical ideas leaders can employ to win the trust of their employees and encourage a culture of collaboration to unfold the real potential of their organizations to create value.

The book talks about inverting the pyramid of organizational hierarchy to empower the employees operating in the value creation zones. This means making leaders, managers, and enabling functions accountable to the employees to the same extent that an employee is accountable to his managers, leaders, and enabling functions. It's about a new way of balancing the power. This radical approach has the potential to rewrite the rules of power. With this kind of reverse accountability, the powers that are normally concentrated in few hands gets equitably and democratically redistributed among the entire workforce. This approach in a single stroke changes the nature of power. Power, no longer, is generated through position or span of control; it is generated through span of influence! This is an idea that can instantly make art of management a collaborative process rather than the conventional authoritative process.

Another radical idea discussed in the book is about the role of a CEO. In today's complex and ever changing world, is it just to expect a CEO to have an answer for everything? Is a CEO sitting in the corner office the best person to judge a situation at ground zero and take decisions? Should responsibility for an organization's well being be only with the CEO or should it be distributed among employees? The book talks about recasting the role of a CEO to make him an enabler who helps his people who have the knowledge to take decisions. The envisioned role sees the CEO as a person who should ask deep probing questions and let his people answer them rather than try to answer questions. The whole idea is to recast the role of a CEO to let him focus his energy on making the organization self directed rather than directed through authority vested in layers of hierarchy.

Overall, the book is nothing less than a management gem. The ideas discussed in it are thought provoking and seriously challenge leaders and managers to think beyond what they know and practice. This book can be the start of the end of conventional ways of managing a business or an organization based on authority, control, and hierarchy. The ideas in the book have the potential to spark debate among new age management thinkers and unleash new management philosophies and thoughts for managing businesses that are more in synch with the time and make the conventional management practices outdated.

The book is a must read for every CEO and anyone, directly or indirectly, engaged in the practice of management.

June 21, 2010

Sense of Purpose

Posted by Bizaholic | 10:15 PM | , with 0 comments »

One of the biggest challenges that a leader faces is creating a 'sense of purpose' among his people. Human beings are moved when they are convinced that they are making a big difference and are part of something big. If people think their work as daily routine, they are never going to be deeply involved to the organization and its purpose. The challenge, then, is to involve each and every person right from the lowest rung to the highest. The key is to convince them that their work in some way, directly or indirectly, is contributing to the achievement of the bigger purpose and their work is valuable.

Take the example of someone who does clerical work in an organization.Most of the time neither he is aware how he is contributing to the organizational purpose nor the leaders think much about the work he does. His work is seldom valued even though if he is there the organization definitely needs him and he must be having a small role to play in the larger scheme of things. With this lack of connection between his role and the larger purpose, he works but rarely with his heart in his work.

Most often the leader engages less than 50% of his people. These are key people who may be contributing to the achievement of 80% of the purpose. But the 50% people whose work is linked to achievement of balance 20% of the purpose are often forgotten. As a result, half of the people are not at all engaged with what's happening with the organization. They work for the sake of working; not for making something big happen. In such a scenario, the organization works with half its human potential. An organization is a giant wheel with hundreds and thousands of spokes. To keep the wheel moving at optimal speed, one needs to take care of all spokes and maintain them well. Even a few broken spokes can either make the wheel slow down or result in an accident.

It is worth remembering that any organization is a bundled mass of human potential. Without a sense of purpose, you see and get what is on the surface. With a sense of purpose, the hidden potential lying beneath the surface explodes to create remarkable things - things which were never thought to have been possible!

June 12, 2010

Stability or Mobility?

Posted by Bizaholic | 11:17 PM | with 0 comments »

Is staying too long with a company good or bad? Is mobility in career essential for growth? These are the questions I am grappling with.

There are no right or wrong answers for these questions. It's a gray area where the correct answer will vary from company to company depending upon the internal and external factors affecting it.

There are instances when a company hires people from outside who have similar experience and talent as the inside guy at higher grade and remuneration package. The company in such cases takes the loyal insider for granted and frequently overlooked. It becomes an issue of unfair treatment where the guy who is coming from outside is treated like a royalty while the internal guy despite better talent and expertise seems to lose out.

Then there are instances when the growth of a manager becomes stagnant. If a company cannot provide challenging roles to its managers on a regular basis, chances are high that the manager's learning will suffer and he will get trapped in a well from where he cannot have a proper view of the other world.

There is yet another trap associated with working for long in a single company. One tends to get into a comfort zone. The problem with comfort zones is that if one enters it, it is extremely difficult to get out from it. Comforts zone spoils a manager and drastically affects the manager's ability to adjust in a new role and a new environment.

Here are few pointers which should guide one in deciding whether to stick to the company for long or move on to better opportunities in other company -
  1. As long as the company is providing new growth opportunities at regular interval, there is no harm in staying with it.
  2. When there is clear indication that learning curve is becoming flat, it is prudent to move on.
  3. If the company is fairly treating one in terms of benefits and compensation vis-a-vis new managers hired from outside with similar experience and expertise, one should stay on. In other words, if company undermines one's market worth, one may consider a change.
  4. The moment one feels that one is entering a comfort zone, it's time either to reconfigure the present role within the company or to look for new job.
  5. For a manager who has a desire to be known as a generalist rather than a specialist, it is prudent to change industry at regular intervals to get a hang of how things move in various industries.
  6. Lastly, one should be aware of one's inner feeling towards the current work in a company. If one is loving one's work, enjoying it, and finding it invigorating, it makes sense to stick to it.