Yearly Archives: 2016

17May/16

How to Quieten the Mind

A quiet mind does not involve itself in its thoughts or get run away with by them; it stands back, detaches itself, lets them pass, without identifying itself, without making them its own. It becomes the witness mind watching the thoughts when necessary, but able to turn away from them and receive from within and from above. Silence is good, but absolute silence is not indispensable, at least at this stage. I do not know that to wrestle with the mind to make it quiet is of much use; usually the mind gets the better of that game. It is this standing back, detaching oneself, getting the power to listen to something else other than the thoughts of the external mind that is the easier way. At the same time one can look up, as it were, imaging to oneself the Force as there just above and calling it down or quietly expecting its help. That is how most people do it till the mind falls gradually quiet or silent of itself or else silence begins to descend from above. But it is important not to allow the depression or despair to come in because there is no immediate success; that can only make things difficult and stop any progress that is preparing.

Sri Aurobindo

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25Apr/16

Challenge of Execution – III Shaping Goals and Charting the Path

The first step in execution is to convert vision or mission statements into clear, simple, precise and measurable goals. For example, the new Chairman of Unilever, Paul Polman, has projected an audacious environmental vision for his company: “To reduce our overall environmental footprint, to source our agricultural resources sustainably and to help 1 billion people get access to nutrition and wellbeing.” This vision was converted into 50 measurable goals in six categories: health and hygiene; nutrition; greenhouse gases; water; waste; sustainable sourcing; and better livelihood. (Polman P, 2012). Similarly Rockwater, a global engineering and construction company has the vision to be an “industry leaders in providing the highest standards of safety and quality to our client.” And this vision was converted into the following strategic goals:

  • Service needs
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Continuous improvement
  • Quality of employees (Kaplan S and D.P.Norton, 2012).

The website of Mind-tree, an IT consultancy firm, states its mission as: “We engineer meaningful technology solutions to help business and societies flourish” and explains further each word, what does it mean. According to Subroto Bagchi, Chairman of Mind-tree, a company’s vision should have three types of goals:

  • A financial goal: reaching a certain level of business, profitability and return on investment in a specified time-frame.
  • An admiration goal: being among the best employees in a given category or to win an industry-level award or recognition.
  • A goal towards social sensitivity, something that organization would stand for.

The vision of Mind-tree for the year 2007-2008 was:

  • To achieve $ 231 million in revenue.
  • To be among the top 10 percent in our business in terms profit after tax and return on investment (ROI).
  • To be on the top 20 globally admired companies in our industry.
  • To give a significant portion of our PAT (Profit After Tax) to support primary education. (Bagchi S, 2006).

Charting the Path

This is the essence of strategy. Strategy should figure out the broad direction in which company has to move to reach its goals or vision of the future. When Jack Welch became the CEO of GEC, his mission was to “become the most competitive enterprise in the world” and charted a three fold strategy:

*        Move away from businesses that were being commoditized towards businesses that manufactured high-value, technology products and sold services instead of things.

*        To be No. 1 or No. 2 in every market and fix, sell or close to get there.

*        Massively upgrade human resources with a relentless focus on training and development. (Welch .J, 2005)

GEC, in its more recent website states its mission as “Finding solutions in energy, health and home, transportation and finance, building, powering and curing the world” and its strategic advantage as “placing its bet on 40 high impact projects that will help increase our speed to market, improve the quality of our products and services, significantly reduce costs, and drive competitive advantage for our customer and our company”.

Apart from this broad direction, strategy must provide a more detailed plan or inputs in the following domains:

*        A clear, objective assessment and understanding of the present conditions of the firm and the business environment

*        What are the conscious steps to be taken to move from this present condition towards the strategic goals

*        Both these factors have to be described interms of present condition and future plans of requirements in the area of human resources, skill-set, knowledge, infrastructure, products or services, quality, competitive landscape, opportunities, threats, trends.

From the angle of execution, there must be a constant stress on realism or practicability while building the strategy. Most of the strategic thinking turned out by consultant and academics tend to be theoretical and conceptual. Though conceptual, big-picture thinking may be necessary for strategy it must be balanced by down to earth realism. One way to do this is to encourage probing questioning and debate on the practicability of ideas during strategy sessions. Larry Bossidy and Ramcharan give the following example to illustrate this point.

A divisional leader of a multinational firm presents his strategy for entering successfully into the German market. The CEO of the firm very much appreciates the presentation and says, “It was inspiring.”   But the CEO asks probing questions which exposes the pragmatic weakness of the strategy. For example, the CEO asks the leader, “How many sales people you have now in Germany.” The leader says, “Ten.” The CEO probes further and asks “How many your main competitor has?” The leader says “two hundred.” The CEO doesn’t ask the further question, “How you are going to succeed in this market with such a large gap in the sales force.” The very question brings out the loopholes in the strategy. After some more such probing questions, the CEO suggests to the leader to tone down the strategy. “Instead of trying a broad assault” says the CEO “Segment the market and look for competitor’s weak spots. What are the gaps in the product line? Can you innovate something which can fill them.” The main lesson we have to learn from this example is that while vision can be inspiring, strategy has to be more realistic. The strategy-team should have people who are not overawed by the inspiring tone of the presentation or the brilliance of the idea but probe deeply into the pragmatic value of the strategy. (Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, 2011)

There is one more factor which is vital in our present environment to create a winning strategy: differentiation. The strategy has to provide an innovative idea which differentiates the company from the competitors. In this task, an innovative new concept is “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. As they explain the distinctions between blue and red ocean:

“Imagine a market universe composed of two sorts of oceans: red oceans and blue oceans. Red oceans represent all the industries in existence today. This is the known market space. Blue oceans denote all the industries not in existence today. This is the unknown market space. —In the red oceans, industry boundaries are defined and accepted, and the competitive rules of the game are known.—Blue oceans, in contrast, are defined by untapped market space, demand creation, and the opportunity for highly profitable growth.”(Kim.C and Mouborgne. R, 2005).

A good strategy has to provide an innovative idea for breaking into the uncontested market-space in blue-ocean. For example, South West Airlines created a blue ocean of low-cost flying, by providing the speed of air travel with the cost of automobile transport.

M. S. Srinivasan

 

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13Apr/16

High Attrition in a Considerate Corporate Culture

High rate of employee turnover and attrition is a major problem in the contemporary corporate environment in India, especially in the information technology (IT) sector. One of the suggested solutions is to build a more sensitive and considerate culture. But is that enough to stop the constant exodus of young people? This case study examines the problem in the light of integral management.

Case Study

Ramesh Chandra is simultaneously worried and bewildered by the unfolding events in his company in the past few months.

Being the CEO of Ram Informatics, a mid-sized and growing IT-services company based at Pune (a second-tier town in India), Ramesh has been able to triple revenues and quadruple projects since he took over the company from his father. He attributes his success to the unique culture he has created with an emphasis on genuine caring for employee’s personal as well professional needs, and a participative management where all employees are given the opportunity to share and discuss their ideas with top managers. For example, the company has a department called ‘Human Support’, made up of executives whose sole job is to listen to employee’s grievances, problems and needs and find solutions by discussing the issues with the top bosses. The perplexing fact was that despite such a genuinely caring culture, the company is losing a large number of young talented people to competitors.

During a regular evaluation meeting with Romila Chatterjee (Head of HR) and Ramu Adhikari (Head of Operations), Ramesh wearily queries: “What is the latest excuse a deserter has put in your exit interview?” Romila replies looking into the pertinent exit form, “This guy Gambhir, when I warned him that he won’t get this kind of attentive and responsive culture at the XYZ competition told me bluntly, ‘Caring is OK, but what I want is a little more money than caring.’” Ramesh retorted with an edge in his voice “All that these kids care for is that extra couple of thousands. People like Gambhir are immature and short-sighted about their lives and careers. They refuse to understand the kind of growth and experience they can gather being a part of an organization like ours.”

After a pause, looking at his colleagues Ramesh declared: “Let us come to the crux of the problem; how do you both suggest that we stem this problem?” Ramu turned to Romila, “Do you see a pattern behind this exodus in your exit interviews? Do you think most of them are like Gambhir running after money?” “Not all!” enunciated Romila. “Some of them, a little older and matured, decided to move away for better career prospects, enriching experiences of working on bigger or more diversified projects and some even for offshore learning opportunities.” Ramesh sighed, “Again I’d say, these guys are also not very forward thinking. Ours is an expanding organization. If they perform well and stay steadfast with us for some time, we as an organization and all of us individuals have the scope to grow bigger and better than the top IT names today which have already reached their peak capacities and now have even started declining.”

After a contemplative silence after this speech, Ramesh probed, “Now can you guys suggest some solutions?” “I am not sure whether it is really a great problem,” said Ramu firmly. “I agree that our present attrition rate is a little above the industry average. But I suggest we should not get unnecessarily bothered if greedy and immature personnel like Gambhir leave the organization. We should concentrate on how to retain experienced and talented employees who can contribute substantially to the growth of our company.”

Ramesh nodded his agreement, “Yes, that’s what I also propose. We have a culture which is genuinely employee-friendly and empathetic, and as far as I know our ‘Human Support’ department is not only unique but also proactive in addressing the concerns of our workforce. This is what makes us different from other companies in the industry who only care about the bottom line. As we expand, our Human Support system can be a major factor in attracting and retaining people. Meanwhile can we do something to bring down the attrition rate?”

“Yes, I think we can,” exclaimed Romila “As you have pointed out, most of people job hopping don’t think of the long term. In our induction programmes, we have to make a greater effort to emphasize on the importance of such long-term thinking to these young people and the relevance of our caring culture to their personal well-being. Secondly, we have to think more seriously about providing a long-term career growth and more learning opportunities to people in a systematic and planned manner.”

The Commentary

A caring, compassionate corporate culture is undoubtedly a great asset to a company and very positive plus point in retaining talent. As Ramu rightly points out, in a small IT company a fair percentage of attrition will always exist when it has to compete for talented and innovative personnel with big, successful companies (e.g. Infosys, Tata and Wipro in India). The main problem is how to prevent capable, high-potential employees (who can contribute creatively and meaningfully to the growth of the organization) from slipping away.

Ideally, as a part of long-term planning every company has to make a conscious, sustained and progressive effort to fulfil an entire spectrum of needs of people within the organization. There are many theories on these human needs and the most well known and also most intuitive is the Maslow’s need hierarchy concept. In general, we may classify these needs into seven categories:

  • physical needs for survival and security;
  • stimulatory needs for wealth and enjoyment;
  • emotional and social needs for harmonious relationships and societal existence;
  • vital needs for power, status, and achievement;
  • mental needs for knowledge; understanding, learning and progress;
  • ethical needs for higher values or a cause or contribution to the society; and finally
  • spiritual needs for self-realization and return to the spiritual source of our being.

In each individual, a specific cluster of needs may dominate the nature and the rest may remain dormant or secondary. The true meaning of ‘caring’ is to understand the exact and precise needs of each individual and try to full fill it as much as possible.

In most young people, such as Gambhir, the need for enjoyment in life can be very strong. Even when the higher-order needs are met, this need for enjoyment can still be there and influence their decisions. For example, Arvind Eye Hospital in Pondicherry provides a high honourable purpose and excellent opportunities for professional development, yet R. D. Tulasiraj, Executive Director of Arvind, states that “retaining doctors is a constant struggle.” Dr. G. Venkataswamy, the founder of Arvind, also points out, “Once they get experience and make a reputation, quite a few doctors decide to move on to places where they get more money.” So people like Gambhir should not be lightly dismissed as greedy and immature. Many talented and high-potential young people may have this strong desire for more money not for its own sake, but because it helps them enjoy life to the utmost with all the comforts provided by technology and at the same time save money for building a future, which is a legitimate need of the young people. Companies such as Ram Informatics have to process and arrive at a right, balanced strategy for fulfilling these legitimate needs of its young and talented employees. Paying market rates is one way of fulfilling this need. The other way is a performance-linked salary structure. The third way is to provide easy loans for buying appliances of enjoyment such as cell phones, laptops, TVs, cars, foreign trips or even soft loans to build homes.

At a higher level, the older group who are awakened to higher needs cannot be motivated by money alone. These categories of people (especially those contributing substantially to the growth of the organization) need a much greater and careful attention from management. There must be a regular dialogue and discussion with them at the individual level to understand their needs, problems and aspirations, personal as well as professional. Here is an illustrative example:

Mark was a very experienced loans officer and a star performer at a multinational bank. The management of the bank was very satisfied with Mark’s work, and pampered him with a multitude of monetary and non-monetary benefits. However, Mark was not feeling very content and was planning to leave the bank. When the bank management came to know about Mark’s intentions, the management of the bank, along with Mark’s boss, had an in-depth dialogue and discussion with Mark to understand the true cause of his dissatisfaction. It was found that Mark was not happy because he felt that his job was not intellectually challenging any more. He had started feeling stifled because of his job profile, which had remained the same for many years. Assessing his aspirations and needs, the management shifted Mark to the research and training division of the bank and was able to not only retain a gifted, experienced employee but also added to their larger talent pool.

Another important factor which needs careful consideration by Ram Informatics is the conciliation of its workforce with the nature, culture and values of the organization. The company management has to be clear on the type and nature of organization it wants to build in the present and future, which means maintain a constant balance between its long-term vision and goals and the type of people required to build that future. If this factor can be interlinked into the recruitment, training and HR policies of the organization, it can be a safe and sure long-term remedy for rising attrition rates and the problem of retaining talent.

M. S. Srinivasan

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14Mar/16

Concentration and Time Management

Generally when men are in a hurry, they do not do completely what they have to do or they do badly what they do. Well, there is a third way, it is to intensify one’s concentration. If you do that you can gain half the time, even from a very short time. Take a very ordinary example: to have your bath and to dress; the time needed varies with people, doesn’t it? But let us say, half an hour is required for doing everything without losing time and without hurrying. Then, if you are in a hurry, one of two things happens: you don’t wash so well or you dress badly! But there is another way—to concentrate one’s attention and one’s energy, think only of what one is doing and not of anything else, not to make a movement too much, to make the exact movement in the most exact way, and (it is an experience lived, I can speak of it with certitude) you can do in fifteen minutes what you were formerly doing in half an hour, and do it as well, at times even better, without forgetting anything, without leaving out anything, simply by the intensity of the concentration. And this is the best answer to all those who say, “Oh, if one wants to do things well, one must have time.” This is not true. For all that you do—study, play, work—there is only one solution: to increase one’s power of concentration. And when you acquire this concentration, it is no longer tiring. Naturally, in the beginning, it creates a tension, but when you have grown used to it, the tension diminishes, and a moment comes when what fatigues you is to be not thus concentrated, to disperse yourself, allow yourself to be swallowed by all kinds of things, and not to concentrate on what you do. One can succeed in doing things even better and more quickly by the power of concentration.

— The Mother, Sri Aurobindo Ashram

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