October 22, 2006

Never hire a homogenous group. Promote diversity of thought and personality.

Often, while dealing with colleagues or team members or subordinates, we tend to get attracted towards those who make us feel ensconced in our comfort zones. The typical mentality is to work with people who are like us. We get attracted by people who we feel are like us and get repelled by people who we feel are different from us. But in the reality of organization and the kind of problems that has to be solved, the homogeneity factor is less effective and efficient than heterogeneity factor. Colouring the entire organization or a team in one shade is never a good idea as it kills creativity and discourages innovative solutions to various problems.

When diversity of thought and personality is present in a team or organization, it gets turbo-charged. A problem gets viewed and analyzed from various perspectives depending on the personality and thought process of the individuals. This results in a spurt in ideas to solve problems in a creative and innovative way. Even the friction – that often gets visible in a heterogeneous group – is fuel to fire creativity and effective problem solving if managed in a matured manner.

Where a homogeneous group approaches any issue or problem, it views it from one common angle; while a heterogeneous setup approaches the same issue or problem and views it from multiple angles throwing in numerous possibilities.

Ultimately, for an organization it pays much higher dividend if a culture of heterogeneity of thought and personality is cultivated.

October 15, 2006

Never allow information, knowledge, or power hoarding. Ask all managers to be always ready with their replacement.

Many times there is a sense of insecurity among managers. This insecurity gets manifested in hoarding of information, knowledge and power. Though this tendency may give a feel good and secure feeling to such managers, it is disastrous for the organization. The worst aspect of this tendency is failure to develop and groom the managers down the order resulting in vacuum at some places within the organization. Once such insecure manager leaves the organization, there is no one who can immediately and effortlessly move into the shoes of the outgoing manager. And the organization suffers.

Another offshoot of this tendency is the improper dissemination of information and knowledge across organization often resulting in lack of right information at right time at right place. Again it is the organization which is at loss.

So the way out of this problem is to ask each manager at every level to be ready with their replacement at all times. This will ensure that managers invest in grooming people below them through information sharing, knowledge transfer, and delegation of power. This will result in a cascading effect that will ensure that the entire organization at all levels is well informed, knowledgeable, competent, and on top of the situation.

October 8, 2006

Where should the CEOs reside – in their cushy corner offices or in the thick of the corporate action? Traditionally, CEOs are considered those thick skinned gentlemen (pun intended) who are hard nosed and meet only their key people and make public appearance to the ordinary employees once or twice a year. It worked in past. But it may not work now and in future. The reason is simple: Business has become complex and getting more complex by the day.

The problem arises in the corner office, selective audience approach because the CEO loses touch with the entire organization. Often this results in CEO becoming unaware of the ground realities. With selective audience approach, the CEO gets selective information about the organization, often filtered through the eyes and intentions of his right hand men, which is of course not a healthy sign.

Another issue that comes up with this sacrosanct corner office approach is that devoid of the understanding of ground realities, the CEO often demands something in good intention which turns out to be a productivity killer and distraction for the people. The right hand men, often to remain in the good books of the CEO, never protest even if what CEO is demanding in impractical, useless, and wastage of time. This entire thing often results in a confused organization where the people at the frontline are clueless about what is happening and why. And the organization keeps dancing to the whims and fancies of a CEO and real business issues are relegated down the order.

Ultimately what this corner office, selective audience CEO does is harm the future of his organization.

In current times, I don’t think any organization would excel if the CEO keeps himself away from his people. In fact, he can’t afford that. All the people in the present day organizations are intelligent people who have ideas, problems, solutions, questions, etc. Being the leader of his people, the CEO is expected to keep himself abreast of what is brewing in the organization. He has to open channels of communication, possibly with technological interventions, which ensure that each and every employee finds him accessible. Moreover, the CEO needs to have significant face time with his people through personal interaction in cafeteria, parties, get-togethers, video conferencing, meetings, talks, etc. The people must relate to the CEO and must feel that he is one of them and not some kind of a demigod who often acts like a devil.

And mind it, this is not micro managing. It’s more about letting the people run the show and deeply empathizing with them and guiding them through the organizational goals. It’s what I call “bear hug leadership”, a style of leadership where the entire organization emotionally bonds with the leader and his organizational agenda. And there cannot be a better way than “bear hug leadership” to effectively communicate the leader’s vision and agenda throughout the breadth of the organization – from his right hand men to the guy at the shop floor or in the market place.

When will the CEOs learn empathy management?

October 1, 2006

A few days back, I was having lunch with some friends at Pizza Hut. While my friends were busy deciding what to order, my eyes decided to scan the buzzing restaurant. A rough mental calculation showed that around 50% of the customers present were chirpy college goers (either dating or just killing time), 35% were executives who had dropped for a quick bite, and balance 15% were general junta who had come to enjoy the once in a while outside food or to enjoy a birthday treat or something like that. Well, this was at 1 PM and the composition might have changed drastically in the evening hours.

But I was not at all concerned about composition. I was wondering why we Indians madly run behind these Mcdonald, Pizza Hut, Subway, and the ilk. What is so special about them? Why not the same rush and enthusiasm for our desi food stuffs? Why no organized peddling of our desi khana in India and abroad. And why the entire world can have a chain of thousands of outlets of Mcdonald and Pizza Hut and not even a single international chain of desi khana like samosa, chola bhatura, litti, vada pao, idli, dosa, uttapam, etc.?

After a little mental gymnastics and some soul searching I realized that there are essentially two reasons for this:
  1. We Indians have a subconscious intimate love for anything from the land of goras (read America and Europe).
  2. We Indians still lack the critical mass of entrepreneurship required to establish Internation food chains like Mcdonald, Pizza Hut, Dominos, etc.
The next question that popped up was: WHY?

Why we have a soft corner for Made in USA and Made in Europe? To me it seems that subconsciously the urban Indian is dictated by the western way of living. So anything the west does, becomes fashionable and worth showing off in public. So eating Pizzas, Burgers, and drinking Coke and Pepsi becomes de rigueur while eating samosa and drinking nimbu paani is considered not so cool. It has more to do with the mental conditioning that west represents richness and aping the west will give me an outward expression of richness. It’s more about feel good factors and display of one’s westernized self. Similar logic explains the seemingly absurd westernized spoken English of some ostentatious youth in the super metros. And similar logic explains why the Omkara type curse words are considered filthy and derogatory while the western equivalent of the same is rampant and publicly displayed by the ultra westernized youth of today. So it’s cool to use F*** as an exclamation in every sentence one speaks but it’s so derogatory and uncivilized to use the Indian equivalent of the same. I don’t understand why this double standard; a curse word in any language is after all a curse word. Do we, urban Indians, wear some kind of mask?

Now coming back to the original issue, why is it that we lack globally scalable entrepreneurship particularly in the ready-to-eat segment? Because we are still naukri seeking people. In the Indian society, if you say you are an entrepreneur, people assume that you didn’t find a decent job so you are doing small time business. Moreover, for ethnic food items people who set up shops are basically thinking of running a family and sustaining the grind of life. The daily drudgery is perhaps so overpowering that hardly anyone thinks of exploring national or global expansion. These joints get confined to a city or a region and build a reputation good enough to flourish where they operate. But the primary reason for lack of scaling up of the ethnic foods is the typical mentality majority of us have regarding entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship doesn’t generate as much respect as an IIT, IIM, IAS, AIIMS type pedigree generates. As a result, young people who may have the ability to turn these ethnic foods into globally scalable businesses are doing their 9 to 6 jobs and happy with a cushy salary that gets deposited in their bank account every month.

So, if you want to see Samosa King in New York or London or Melbourne or Paris just like the ubiquitous Mcdonald then start promoting,
  1. Supreme love for Indian culture, language, food, attire. In short, promote anything that is Indian.
  2. Entrepreneurship and view entrepreneurs with same respect that you bestow on engineers, doctors, IAS officials, economists, professors, and any other respectful profession.