Some African Wisdom..

The guy who came to drop me at the Cape Town airport owned a fleet of cars and dabbled in some other small businesses. As we chatted I came to know he had left his well paying managerial job to be on his own. Upon asking about his decision to “quit” while still in his early 40’s he had this profound wisdom to share :

“There comes a time in an organization when there are only two kinds of people left – the ambitious and thcabbiee insecure. Both are extremely dangerous. I know the organization has been there for past 50 years and it will still be there for the next 50 but the same is not true for me. My time on the planet with my kids, my family and my friends is limited. Yes, I don’t make that much money but I am my own boss. I took you guys out for sightseeing before the drop to the airport and nobody can ask me a question. What sort of value one can put to such freedom, such liberty ? If I consider small things like this I have more happiness, more fulfillment than I was ever having before.”

Usually I drink red wine on flights but this time it was double scotch on the rocks @#$$%&

 

Speed of the team….

A couple of days ago I read this wonderful quote in the Newspaper by Lee Iacocca – Speed of the boss is the speed of the team.

At the first instance it didn’t seem like much but as I pondered over it contrasting Mr. Lee’s wisdom with my own experiences over the last 17 years of corporate existence, I  discovered how deep and true was the meaning. Let us look at the word speed which comes twice in the sentence. Now speed could be either slow or fast which is obvious but at one level it also means alignment of goals and objectives along with the timelines  set for their achievement. I have seen many times that the goals set by the Bosses for Themselves are not communicated to the team and even if they are it is not necessary that the team believes in the value that they will bring to the individual or the organisation. An individual will always link the growth of the organisation to their own growth and if they cannot see this critical connect the ‘speed’ does not match, in direction and therefore not in velocity. The team feels that they are direction less and the Boss feels that the team is too slow. Ultimately it leads to friction and low motivation levels.

A classic case in point are the Indian elections. We have The BJP all aligned and motivated and running towards their goal of making Modi the PM, the congress slogging it out somehow, fearing the eminent defeat with little chance of victory and finally the AAP which is a congregation of headless chickens running in all directions not knowing why and where to?  While the BJP and its cadres are rejoicing in the sunshine they could have well been facing the heat as their counterparts are, had it not been for their Boss. Can you imagine if Advani was named the PM candidate ? Would BJP still be having the same drive jumping all over the rivals pumped up with their winning spirit ? Election results are due and we will have to wait and see if Modi was able to achieve the goal but at least the campaign was charged with energy and enthusiasm.

Going a step further in our analysis we would realise that it is the belief in the ability of the leader to win not only for himself but also for the team which makes all the difference.In a highly competitive environment this becomes paramount and the team looks up to a Boss who can show the way. The teams are pitched against each other and they know that the one which has not only got a great strategy but a plan to deliver effectively will win.The decision to make Modi their PM candidate was not an easy one but they were almost forced into it as he was the only one who had the vision, the capability and the plan for execution. And yes he also had credentials.  Rahul Gandhi had none of these and Kejriwal probably had the vision but is lost as far his execution plan is concerned. His Delhi exodus also put a big question mark on his credentials.

So much for the team…but let us also look at the Boss. Not every Boss is a Modi to be able to do some 1400 3 D rallies, travel 300000 Kms, work tirelessly for 18-20 hours and still have the energy to think and walk straight. Most bosses are not born leaders or supermen but are pushed up the hierarchy riding  on age and experience. It’s  quite possible therefore that the sparks of vision and creativity allude them or what they feel as the next big wave may just be a hump in the continuum.  They may lack the same energy level 24x7x365 and even suffer break down once in a while. What about Bosses alignment with their own Bosses ? They might have a great idea but it may not fit in well with the overall strategy of the company. While Modi played favourites and got away with it, not everyone would be lucky enough not to end up with a fractured group with small power centres within.

Can members on cross purpose achieve the same goal ?The resultant drag speed will certainly get compromised for the team and for the boss too. Managing aspirations within the team is a challenge as individual ego stems from self image as well as how others perceive you. Then there are comparisons made between grades, levels, remuneration where understandably most would not be willing to understand the Bosses point of view unless backed by impartial data and unwavering trust.

So while the statement made by Mr.Iaccoca  holds true in case of a great Boss and a good team to back him, it takes different dimensions when a gap exists and there are limitations. In my personal experience there are more gaps when we look around us than there are ‘ made for each other’ stories. I am not sure if a solution exists but I feel that if we replace the word speed with ‘pace’ things would get more sensible for lesser mortals like us.  While speed is about competition and keeping up with others, pace is about doing things that you believe and enjoying the journey more than constantly being anxious about the destination. Whether the pace will be gentle or  intense can be decided by the Boss and the team but one thing is sure they will be happy with the overall results.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Musing…

In line with the Shastras we must reduce our office timing as we grow old and have more experience – 1 hour less for every 5 years worked. The rest of our time should be spent in self study, meditation, mentoring. Execution must give way to vision and for that you can’t be sitting in front of your laptop keying numbers for 10 hours a day.

In fact someone with 20 years of experience should not need to come to office for more than 4 hours a day.

A hard working CEO should actually be fired 🙂

Lessons from Mumbai Dabbawalas

The story of Mumbai dabbawalas who deliver home cooked lunch to 2 lakh customers everyday on time every time has been an inspiring one and is much hyped since the management gurus discovered that there is more sense in their simple ways than there is in all management book combined.

In the last 5 years everyone from Prince Charles to Richard Branson to CK Prahalad have flocked their workspace ( streets of Mumbai) and every organization worth its salt has piled them with certificates on managing quality,supply chain,cost,change etc etc .They have been named as SIX SIGMA organization with 1 error per 16 million transactions.They have lectured at every management school from the IIM’s in India to Stanford and Harvard in the US.The list is endless..

The big deal is that all this has happened without a single computer in place ( assuming human brains are not computers) and more than 85 % of workforce (shareholders) being illiterate.

Without going into the temptation of demeaning the so called MBA’s I will straightway go to the lessons I learnt when I went to hear them out at the ISB last weekend.There are some key takeaways so more than what you read just sit back, absorb what is being said and then try to implement at your workplace.

1.Keep operational costs low – these are cost of doing business and eat profit

2.Do not invest unless it gives you assured returns and you will almost certainly loose out if you don’t

3.Customer is not the Raja but the Maharaja – Prince Charles was asked to met the dabbawalas at churchgate station so that the deliveries for the day are not affected

4.Complexity opposes compliance – workers shun tedious systems and processes and they do no good except bring down productivity and frustrate everyone around.Simplify as much as possible and create processes only when you can’t do without them.

5.Deviation from your core competency can reduce focus and affect current sales and profits negatively.Don’t jump around to the first idea to diversify just because the consultant tells you so.Use your own brain.

6.Technology is to support business and business is not there to support technology.Computers are for helping people and people are not there to help computers.Don’t put the cart before the horse !

7.Keep your organization as flat as possible.Hierarchies boost egos not your business.Let your people take their own decisions as far as possible.The guy who does the job knows best and one does not need to take approvals for going to the loo.That was OK in kindergarten – grow up please !!

8.Promote cooperation inside to take on competition from outside.If your employees keep working on thwarting internal competition they will be weak to take on external challenges.Do not have people within the organisation to compete amongst themselves.

Let the leaders emerge rather than get nominated.

9.Build extra cushion for exigencies and emergencies.The computers may konk off,people can fall sick,debtors can default and suppliers may delay.But it has to be business as usual for your customers. You can bounce back quickly if you are not on a rigid surface.

A word of caution though – the spring in your sofa keeps you comfortable but if its too cushy   you can start to spoil your spine.

10.Commitment matters – qualification doesn’t.It should matter what you can do rather than what you have done.

Your most talented and educated people are no good if they keep networking for pastures greener and use company infrastructure for scouting higher paying jobs.Put a question about what you gained during your MBA to any of the Ivy league institutes in India or abroad and they will say ” networking”.There could be nothing more silly and out of place than this.An unfortunate fact is that more than 50 % of fresh MBA’s switch  at at least 3-5  jobs in the first 5 years until they find a comfortable place to park their fat ass.

One committed employee can do more for the organisation than 50 educated ones who are looking for options outside.A committed worker will not be afraid to ask for a raise when he feels its due to him while a non committed individual will change jobs at the slightest pretext.I have come across folks who have changed jobs for a 5 day week !

11.Educate employees about the importance of what they do.Once they know they will make sure that errors are minimized and even in the absence  of a code of conduct they will strive to deliver better results for their customers – internal or external.

12.Use existing infrastructure – its free ! Look around your self and you may find stuff that you can use rather than buy or build on your own.If you can use Indian postal services at 2 % higher cost to reach out why create a logistics company of your own.When there is milk from the dairy farm why buy a buffalo ?

13.Abandon bad customers – hard to admit but a reality of life.If you have bunch of bad customers who bring down your efficiency,de motivate your people and cost you a bomb to serve you should not waste time in taking the “call”.Dump bad customers before the good ones dump you.

Good money can’t be chasing bad money as simple as that.

14.Promote self discipline rather than discipline and don’t be shy when it comes to penalizing wayward behavior. Bad behavior gets imbibed faster – remember no one taught you smoking but you picked it up just by looking at your friends.Each one of us knows what is the right thing to do and people cannot be allowed to make examples in bad conduct at the cost of organization.

Rules are meant to be broken – surely not in this company.

15. Multi tasking is another name for screwing up a lot of stuff all at one time.Cross fertilization is management bull shit peddled by managers to stay away from taking responsibility of a single task and its outcomes.

Unless proven to be ready for the next level an employee must demonstrate potential rather than flash his fancy degrees.Your customers don’t give two hoots about who delivered the Pizza as long as it was on time.

16.Human beings are emotional and that is what differentiates them from animals.What a hundred HR workshops can’t do can be achieved by a simple lunch together everyday. Money can’t buy love but it certainly can buy lunch once in a while when you want to celebrate the group’s success.

If one man in a team can stand up  for the other with a belief that when it comes to my partner even he would do the same, you know that you are ready to take on the world.

17.High salaries can attract mercenaries and pigs but not dedicated,inspired and motivated people.Narayan Murthy of Infosys was once asked that how he retained talented people during initial phases of the company and he said

” Everyone was giving them a job, I was sharing my dream with them”

Money takes care our bodies but it is our mind which moves the body.The choice is clear – a pat on the back at the right time and at the right place can do more to motivate and inspire than a wad of notes in the pocket which no one knows about.

18.The humble improve.Humility has to be promoted as religion in your organization.Fullness is an enemy of growth and one who thinks he knows all perhaps does not know that there so much more.

If you rest on your laurels you are probably wearing them at the wrong place.We all know the hare and the tortoise story  but a twist in the tale is that now the hare gets stamped by the bull from the stock market while he is asleep.

In the Jungles of Africa it does not matter if you are a Gazelle or a lion what matters is that when the sun comes up you must start running – If you are lion to catch the gazelle and if you are a Gazelle to outrun the lion.

Reliance Retail – engineered to Fail

As it appeared on Retail Angle.com :

As per an article on the website ‘Commodity Online,’ Rick Boozell, who worked as a Retail Consultant with Reliance, hired to help establish retail operation from inception, has said that having had an insiders look at Reliance, he felt the company organization itself is the failure. He is quoted in the article as saying “When the Store Operations vertical is not at the center of a retail company, the venture is doomed. For two years, I tried to convey this, but the other “Powerful” vertical heads – EPC, D&L, HR, FMCG, Marketing, Reliance One, etc, all dictated to the store operations team”. He further added “I have never seen such a dysfunctional company structure, and at least 75% of all resources expended were battling internally, versus trying to take care of the customer. The truth is, retailing is a simple business, and India is aware of this, Reliance wanted to make it a grand business venture, where all the retail leaders sit in nice offices, looking at reports – while rarely even entering a store. Reliance really never did enter into the retailing business – at least not a retailing business that the rest of the world would recognize as a modern retailer… It is unfortunate, as this could have been a great value for the Indian people. There are a few great Reliance leaders who could change this, but their words fall on deaf ears.”

I remember while looking for options outside of Wal Mart the consultant had given me two choices – ITC Limited or Reliance Retail.Needless to say that everyone I checked with was apprehensive about Reliance even though it seemd that they had plans to take over even Wal Mart at that point in time.Every newspaper,business magazine was talking about the so called “dream team” with smiling faces of industry stalwarts staring at you in all their glossiness.Well the dream team has turned out to be a nightmare.Fortunately for me the consultant herself suggested that it is much better for me to look at ITC as they offer a long term stable career with a growth opportunity.Almost at the same time my GM at Wal Mart left to join  some fancy position as CEO of Worldwide sourcing or something.It was amusing to note that he traveled  from Mexico to China looking to buy products for stores which were not even there !I cannot tell you the joy I felt about my decision after he left and joined Wal Mart back exactly 6 months after going to Reliance.Some say he was asked to leave due to internal politics but I believe he would have left of his own.A very hardworking and ambitious guy that he was.

Since then the horror stories have just not stopped.It seems Reliance retail has become one Hotel California with everyone sharing their macabre experience after coming out alive or crying for help if still trapped.Employees,suppliers,service providers you name it … and they have been  tossed like shuttles between so many departments and 100 vice presidents.What pains me most is that we are talking about human beings here not numbers or head counts.I have a friend who moved to Bangalore just 6 months ago and was asked to leave last month.He has a kid and even his wife left the job In New Delhi so they could shift.This is not funny.The guy who hired him should be taken to court for harassment.

While no one can challenge the enterprise  savvy and business acumen of Mr. Ambani the credibility of his commanders is certainly under the scanner.Some of the mistakes made were so basic that even a novice would have known better :

1.Over hiring -100 ‘s of people in merchandising and sourcing at humongous pay packages with no defined roles.(Wal Mart has 10 folks in footwear merchandising and PD ,our friends had 105 at last count. Merchandising karoge to kal subah se kaam par aa jaana.Are you hiring a maid or a manager?)

2.Not taking time to understand consumers behavior(You assume that everyone is looking for poor quality cheap stuff but that is not necessarily true 100 Rs this ,20 Rs that- people buy stuff not just the bar code.Reliance Hyper has suffered big time since it opened in Ahmedabad)

3.No clear positioning(you do not sell a Rs 99 t shirt to a customer who drives down on a Mercedes looking at BMW and Debnehams as he enters the mall- Ambiance mall,Gurgaon)

4.Multiple formats without proven ability to run any one profitably or successfully.(One could just look at other retailers in the west -are all of them fools at IKEA and Pier 1 to have stuck to just one line of product over the last 50 years? Uncle Uncle mujhe bhi kisi vertical Ka CEO banao na,pls.)

5.Indiscriminate placement of orders (100000 pcs was the minimum quoted at the time of negotiation and the order would be just 1000 -2000 pcs.Supplier expectations were set so wrongly that they were asked to set up special assembly lines with no CPFR in place.Reliance soon became a laughing stock among suppliers with their 20 page agreement,many of them wary of entertaining out of this world requests from under qualified,over enthusiastic buyers)

6.Buying produce with no prior relationship with farming community and selling in urban areas making so much noise like everyone else will get wiped out( UP was a disaster and Reliance had to shut operations firing everyone in the process.It also got the unwanted attention of UP politicians who thought of it as a golden opportunity to make a fast buck)

7.Deferred payment terms –  loading interest costs on a low margin product even when the parent company was sitting on piles of cash.Quick payments should have been the edge for Reliance where as it was just the opposite.I never understood the logic.

These are just some examples from the outside.The problem is that the party was spoiled by the top guys and the ones who are suffering are the CSA’s,Assistant managers and Merchandisers.There are no takers for them in a recessionary market at even half the price and their EMI’s are more than what someone will ever pay them.

It is really sad.All of us were looking forward to Mr Ambani making India proud once again but I guess the ones he trusted most failed him by giving a completely distorted account.

I hope that they get their act together,Sooner than Later.