December 16, 2005

Take the middle path. This is an often-repeated sermon in life. Many a time this ‘middle path’ approach doesn’t work in business, particularly during times of rapid change. Management of organizational change has to be in either white or black. Anything grey is a sign of disaster.

Often organizations fail to reap the fruits of change because they want to ride two ships at the same time. On one hand they don’t want to completely give up the comfort level of the past and on the other hand they want to march into the progressive future. The end result is an organizational concoction that tastes bad and is also unhealthy. And the person responsible for this is the leader of the organization.

Any large-scale change is always accompanied by chaos. But there is a choice. Either experience the chaos at the very start of the change process by shaking up people and processes to bring them out of their comfort zone or walk the middle path and experience chaos at the end. A changing organization cannot escape chaos but definitely the leader can manage and time it for best results.

Why middle path does not work?
The biggest problem with ‘middle path’ approach is that it creates conflicts in the organizational goals. Any initiation of a change process has certain objectives. ‘Middle path’ approach simply tries to negate it. As a result, organizational discord sets in and the organization appears to being pulled in opposite direction with equally opposite force. And in the end it lands nowhere. It gets trapped.

Let’s take an example (yes, real life example). A family managed business run in a traditional manner thinks of changing itself to a professionally managed world-class organization. So it hires professionals. It gets the best technology. It tries to develop the best processes. It finds out best practices and tries to adopt them. So far so good. But the problem starts when the leader doesn’t feel comfortable to shun his comfort zone. He is not ready to relinquish control. The key decision makers are still old people who have been in the organization for long and are quite experienced but have their own set of limitations. They have limited vision as well as limited thinking horizon. Sophisticated new technology gets manned by old people after brief initiation training. Old people develop new processes. Paternalistic attitude continues. And while all this is going on the newly hired professionals are either executing the commands of old timers who still call the shots or leave the organization after a while in frustration. Isn’t it a classic case of ‘old wine in a new bottle’?

This is not the end. After a certain timeframe things turn to worse. You have sophisticated technology in place but faulty logic running them. You have high-end softwares and platforms but people managing them don’t have an idea of their true potential. To streamline your supply chain you start sophisticated forecasting methods but at the end forecast is wrong because the old fashioned frontline manager who has to revalidate sales forecast is neither technically competent to understand the nuances of sales forecasting nor he understands the relationship of forecasting with other spheres of his operations. Babu culture still prevails in the office and files take ages to move. Incompetence is still tolerated. Attrition rate is high, mostly of professionals who come with a dream in their eyes to accomplish something challenging but leave highly disillusioned. Blame game, taking undue credit, and passing the buck on others are still the norm. In other words, there is this ‘feel good’ factor but hardly anything good. Basically, it is a confused organization.

It’s people and processes ultimately
Any change initiative is basically all about people, processes, and empowerment. If you have the right people with the right empowerment at the right place with the right process at the right time then three-fourth the job is done. But if you have all the technologies of the world and all the resources at your disposal except qualified and empowered people then the job is yet to begin. Here comes the supreme role of the leader leading his organization to change. He is one person capable of putting in right people with right empowerment at the right place. This is also the time when the leader has to talk straight and then walk his talk. First the leader has to come out of his own comfort zone before asking his people to shun their zones of comfort. Then he has to send a clear message across the organization that “either shape-up or ship-out”. There should not be a third option available if the organization is to orchestrate the change in the way it has envisioned it. Times of change are tough so the leader has to be tough. And tough leaders often make great change leaders. If Jack Welch was a great change leader it was because he was ‘neutron Jack’. Patience is not a virtue while leading an organizational change initiative.

It all boils down to saying that change is a process that requires a lot of courage and guts from the leader. And taking a ‘middle path’ is definitely not a courageous proposition. Either do it all or don’t do at all.

December 11, 2005

Reports, useless reports and more useless reports! Is corporate life all about making and reading reports that hardly make any sense? Well what will you say if someone makes reports for October in December. Then a high level team, comprising of senior level people, sits over it and reviews it for one full day. So we had some problems one-and-a-half months back and we have just started to analyze it. Great!

People talk a lot about keeping things simple in business. But how simple they are really making it? Here come reports to make complex things simple. One report, then another, one more and it goes on till infinity. Great job, you now have a complex network of reports to keep things simple. And how do you manage the complex network of your reports. Simple, you just make a checklist that runs into pages with a list of all reports that are part of this complex network. Then you make it further simple. You hire a full time person to keep this checklist with him all the time and roam from cubicle to cubicle and cabin to cabin whole day following up on reports and putting a tick mark on the checklist when a precious report lands in his hand. Isn’t it so simple? Aha! This is not finished yet. Once all the reports of the checklist are collected, you have a 100 page bunch, which is good enough to put to sleep an insomniac in 5 minutes flat. KISS (Keep it simple, silly).

And one thing I just forgot. There are not only checklists and various reports. In between there are REPORT INDEX and REPORT SUB-INDEX for each of the reports mentioned in the checklist. Well, I am sorry my mental capacity is not big enough to explain the intricacies of INDEX and SUB-INDEX. In fact, I am confused and still trying to understand why there are INDEX and SUB-INDEX and why every bullet mark and numbering scheme has to be exactly same as that on the holy INDEX and SUB-INDEX.

My experience tells me that one of the biggest reasons for managerial inefficiency is reports. I am not saying that reports are bad. I am just saying useless reports are bad. The purpose of making any report is to analyze something and take action for prompt resolution of issues. But how many times we do that? The standard practice seems to be making reports for the sake of making it or for the sake of sending it to Managing Director or whoever matters. So there are reports which not only waste the precious time of managers but also the precious A4 sheets of the organization (Mr. CFO, please take note as you have a valid case for cost cutting here). Why these reports are there in the first place? Because some hot shot moron thought that it would make sense.

There are other reports which are great and can provide excellent business insights. But the problem is that these are made and studied 30-60 days late. By that time the problem has either become sufficiently old and very likely more chronic or totally irrelevant. It is no surprise that these reports are not of much value because of faulty handling and delay in making and studying. So you make a great report late and then people act on it late. Anyway, it is useless by then. Wastage of time isn’t it?

Many sane people in organizations understand these things and admit that too much of reports are making things messy, complex, and unproductive. But if that is the case, why don’t they change the system? Not an easy task. It’s like asking, “Who will bell the cat”?

December 2, 2005

Since last one month I am a worried man. The cause of worry is simple. My waistline is increasingly showing an inclination to break the 32" benchmark. Though I am in sales management, these days my work keeps me full time in office. There is hardly any market visits. So my cozy chair provides good fuel to inflate my tummy. Earlier, market visits used to keep me on my toes for 10 hours a day and that was good enough of physical exercise to keep me fit. Being a market oriented manager at heart, I often feel guilt pangs on seeing the growing bulge on my tummy. Sales managers and pot-bellies don't make great bed fellows. A genuine cause of worry.

But a few days back there seemed to be some relief on this front. A recent sales conference saw the confluence of sales team from all the corners of India. And to my utter surprise I noticed that I was not the only sales guy who was on verge of developing a pot-belly. Out of curiosity I just counted the number of sales guys who had moderate to severe bulge on their stomach. To my astonishment approximately 30% qualified. This startling revelation has ensured that I don't feel too guilty on biting one more cube of Milk Cake.

Jokes apart, I am wondering what the future of an organization holds which is plagued with obesity of its key resource - the sales team? Sales team of any organization is the face of the organization. It is the sales team that interacts with customers and trade on a day-to-day basis. They act as the catalyst which shapes up an organization's image in the minds of customers and trade members. Is it hard to guess what the impression of a company or its products will be if majority of the sales team is obese? Nothing is truer in sales than the cliché "First impression is the last impression". And obese sales people don't make a good first impression despite all the charm and talent they might have.

Secondly, obesity directly affects individual productivity, effectiveness and efficiency. This is especially true in a physically demanding and stressful profession like sales. It is very likely that obese sales people might not be giving a company what it deserves in terms of sales growth.

So isn't it the right time for organizations to build awareness among its human resources to shed those extra pounds. So many systems and policies are made everyday in organizations. Business leaders are always busy removing organizational obesity. Shouldn't they focus on removing obesity of their people as well?

Or will they move into action only after some management guru writes a fancy book on "Correlation between organizational growth and obesity of its human resources"?