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 The outdated ways of running business continues.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.

June 9, 2010

There is one management principle that never fails to deliver. It is - "whenever faced with a critical situation demanding urgent action, think that you are the owner and think of what all you will do if your personal money is involved."

Two instances, in last few days, have demonstrated that managers can solve a problem faster and more effectively if they think of business problems as their personal problems and show the same kind of urgency they would when their own business or money is involved.

One mechanical billboard was malfunctioning since a couple of month for which the company was paying a monthly rental of Rs 4 lacs. Despite efforts from the various company personnel and agency, it was not getting properly rectified. Then a senior colleague told the company personnel entrusted with the job of getting it rectified to think that every month Rs 4 lacs is going from his pocket rather than company's pocket for the faulty billboard and asked him to do all he could if it were his money. The billboard got rectified in 2 days time!!

There was an outstanding recovery problem involving Rs 20 lacs. Somehow it was getting dragged for last 10 months. Nobody was taking as much interest in solving this problem as the gravity of the situation required. Then the same senior colleague gave his evergreen mantra to the sales manager - think that Rs 20 lacs is your money and what all would you do to recover it. Last heard, a chain reaction of actions took place to understand all aspects of the problem and evaluate all possible options to recover money!

The point I want to make is that this approach works. The moment one thinks that it is my money or it is my business, a sense of urgency sets in that helps in quicker decision making and problem solving. Any manager would do well to consider business problems as their own problems and then think of ways to solve them had this problem been their own. It would not be an exaggeration to say that outstanding managers view business problems by putting themselves in owner's shoes and responding like an owner.

Miracle happens when a manager thinks like an owner!

June 6, 2010

When in company of boss, most guys speak the language of the boss. If the boss gives a strong opinion, 99% of his subordinates will give their opinion which validates the opinion of the boss. It's subordinate psychology. One always wants to be in good books of boss and doing something that validates the opinion or action of one's boss is a good way to earn brownie points. It's another matter that one may not believe in what one says or does to please his boss. As a result, decisions are taken based on the sole brain of the boss rather than the combined brain power of the team. This happens even though the intention of the boss may have been to utilize the collective wisdom of the team rather than force his own agenda.

Bosses need to understand this subordinate psychology. They must appreciate that putting forth his views too early may kill many ideas before they get a chance to be aired. A smart boss who wants to use the collective wisdom of his team must put forth a question and listen. Even the question needs to be framed in such a way that it doesn't indicate the opinion of the boss. If the boss, after asking the question, just prods others for their mind and keeps his opinion to himself till the time everyone has expressed their minds, chances are that the discussion will be more lively and fruitful. With this approach, ideas are judged by the merit they have rather than by the opinion of boss.

It is always prudent for a boss to speak his mind only after hearing the minds of his people. Any other way and the chances are high that the collective mind of the team will get coloured by the views of the boss.

June 4, 2010

Character of a Manager

Posted by Bizaholic | 11:49 PM | with 0 comments »

How do you assess the character of a manager? The simplest way, as far as I know, is to observe how he treats people who are below him. Everyone treats or pretends to treat his superiors with respect and dignity. But not everyone treats people who are junior with respect.

I have seen managers going overboard to the extent of openly buttering their bosses and people who can influence their career. But these same managers change colour like a chameleon when interacting with people who are junior or who don't have power to influence their career. I am astonished to see that even basic norms of courtesy are forgotten.

A great manager always treats his subordinates with the same level of respect that every human being deserves. He values the contribution of people junior to him and acknowledges it. He knows that treating people respectfully and fairly is the basic tenet of effective human relationship in every sphere of life. More often than not, this human quality helps a manager stand out in the crowd.

June 3, 2010

I Me Myself

Posted by Bizaholic | 10:59 PM | with 0 comments »

These days a special breed of "I me myself" managers seems to be growing rapidly. These managers start their talk with "I" and end with "I" without blinking their eyelids. It seems that the sole purpose of this breed of managers is self glorification without acknowledging the efforts of other members of the team.

What a "I me myself" manager fails to understand is that his antics cannot sway a seasoned manager. Sooner than later the "I me myself" monologue becomes irritating. More than irritation, it throws some deeps insights about the "I me myself" manager like:

"He cannot be trusted with a team."

"He can never become a team builder."

"He will always try to steal credit from his subordinates. As a result motivation of his subordinates will suffer."

"He can create negative vibes in work environment."

"He has limited leadership capability."

It is always better to get rid of a "I me myself" manager for he is a big liability for any team. The sooner he is discarded, the better it is for an organization as he is a virus that can inflict significant collateral damage.

June 2, 2010

Two weeks back, while preparing for his presentation to his unit, a senior colleague was a bit puzzled on how to effectively communicate the vision without sounding boring and at the same time fuel them up with passion. Casually, I suggested to use the story of the transformation of a caterpillar to butterfly. After some discussion, he agreed to use the story to communicate his message.

The business unit in question is a nascent one. Small in size at present but with promise of future. Over the last one year, after he took over this small unit, he has remarkably transformed the unit and filled it with energy and enthusiasm that was never seen before. His passion became contagious. He wanted his team to understand and appreciate the bigger picture and not become complacent in newly found success. He wanted to convey that the future is going to be ten times brighter provided they keep working smartly in the right direction.

The story of the transformation of a caterpillar to butterfly gelled well with this situation. The transition phase of a caterpillar to cocoon and eventually to a beautiful butterfly after undergoing pain, struggle, and complete physical transformation provided the right backdrop for the unit. When he told the story to people in his unit, they related with it. When asked which stage were they, they promptly replied that they are cocoon and undergoing rapid transformation. They realized that a lot of hard work is still needed before they can fly like a beautiful butterfly. The story did it job. The message my colleague wanted to deliver got delivered; not in a boring manner but in an entertaining way that also generated positive energy.

The point that I want to make is that storytelling is the new way to effectively communicate in the corporate world. The world has become complex. Making sense of things in this complex world is increasingly becoming difficult. Too many models, too many theories, too many scenarios and most people sleep through the presentation.

Execution happens only if people understand the purpose and feel passionate about it. For this one needs to communicate effectively so that the message is hammered deep into the psyche without being annoying or confusing. And here storytelling scores over any other method of communication. All one needs is a good story to grab attention and then relate it to the business situation and the desired behaviour.

June 1, 2010

If an organization or its people are failing or under-performing, then the leader is to be blamed. The organization is worth as much as the capability of its leader to lead. Not any more or less. If the people fail to deliver results, the leader lacks the skill to lead. If the culture of an organization sucks, it is because the leader encourages, directly or indirectly, such culture. To sum it up, the buck stops at the leader's table.

When things are going wrong, there is no point in looking for scapegoats. One thing that needs to be carefully analyzed is whether the leader is leading the right way. In all probability he is not. For every ill of an organization, the cause leads to some element of the leadership.

If people are not performing, the leader is responsible. Either he has not communicated his vision properly, or he has encouraged incapable people to stay for too long. Or perhaps he has failed in putting right people to the right job.

If the organization is not doing well to deliver top line and bottom line, the leader has in all likelihood mismanaged resources and their allocation. Failing to diagnose business environment accurately to understand emerging trends and act on them may be another reason.

If culture and work ethics of an organization is a problem, the leader has failed in setting up processes that lead to desired culture.

So if one wants to analyze failure, success, or problems of an organization, the best place to start is at the top for everything at the bottom flows from the top!