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The Most Important Decisions That we Make as Leaders

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

In 2006, I was being interviewed by Saint Gobain Glass for a role in their customer service, production planning and logistics team. I had to go through 2 levels of screening by the HR agency, followed by an aptitude test, an interview with the hiring manager, the HR manager and then finally by the MD himself.

I was told that the final interview for every employee hired in the organization was done by the MD himself (it was a 250 employee organization when I was being interviewed), irrespective of the role the employee is being hired for. That did not make sense to me at that time as the role for which I was being was too insignificant for an MD to conduct an interview for.

However, I now realize the importance of his actions. It is easier to hire people for their fit to the organization culture that you want to build as a leader than to change the culture later. No wonder we had a culture of high performance all around us and at the same time we all enjoyed working together in that organization.

So, one of the most important task as the leader of an organization is to ensure that you are hiring people whom you trust to be a good fit for the culture. Equally or even more important is for you to be decisive and quick in moving people out of the organization if they turn out to be a bad fit.

I understand that this can be a tough ask in a fast growing organization or an MNC with hundreds of employees being hired every day. However, in that case, as a leader, we still need to find time ourselves or hand-hold the local CEO/MD at the country/department to ensure that they meet and talk to every person that is being hired to ensure that there is no cultural conflict.

This is one of those activities that in the face of it doesn’t seem very significant, however in the long term there is no other action of the leader that can have the impact this one action can have.

So, in my opinion, the most important decision that we make as leaders is “Whom to Hire” & “Whom to Fire”

So, what is your hiring mantra? Do you hire for attitude or for culture? Do you know what is the culture that you want to cultivate in your organization? Do you know what kind of people will thrive in such a culture?

IF the answer to any of the above questions is a “NO”, now is a time for you to start thinking towards finding an answer. In the long term this is what will make the distinction between a good leader and a great leader.

In your opinion, what is the most significant action that a leader could do and why?

PS: Watch Tom Peters Talk about hiring the last One Percenters

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As Leaders, We all Should Follow Rule No. 6

September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

In his book, “The Art of Possibility“, Ben Zanders offers pearls of wisdom. One of the most important piece of wisdom that we can learn from the book is what he refers to as “Rule No: 6”.

 

  • If as leaders, we follow this rule, we could potentially make less mistakes and learn much more from the one’s that we do make;
  • If as parents, we followed this rule, we create the possibility of a long, well nurtured and meaningful relationship with our children;
  • If as spouse, we followed this rule. we can create the possibility of a much more deeper and meaningful relationship with our partner;
  • The authors recommend that if we make a mistake, we should say out loud (& hence mean) “How Fascinating” and learn from the mistake. Add this to the Rule No 6, and we could have a lot of fun along the way

So what is Rule No 6? IT simply states: Don’t take yourself so god damn seriously!

So, what are the other rules: “None”

There are no other rules!

As parents, teachers, spouses and leaders, we take ourselves and our position of power too seriously and lose our ability to laugh at ourself.

If there is anything that could dramatically improve our quality of life and the ability to lead in uncertain times, it this this ability to not only laugh at our own mistakes and learn from them. This rule also suggests that you could learn from everyone around you as much as they could learn from you.

So, let me follow Rule No 6 and “How Fascinating” this is !

Do share your thoughts about this approach to life and leadership.

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You can also subscribe to my weekly newsletter here.

 

Some Possibilities for Re-inventing Video Advertisements

September 20, 2013 4 comments

One of the most sacred piece of consumer advertising in the past was the 6 second spot in Television. Advertisers qued up to buy the spots and display their advertisements. Ad agencies and spot buyers were in vogue as they were the levers that enabled brands in their quest for more consumers.

All this is about to change and the advertising agencies are in for a disruption. This opinion of mine is based on the following trends that I see playing out in the markets:

  • Despite having changed medium (Television to online streaming videos), video advertising did not change. They still play advertisements either at the start of the video or in the middle of the video, just as in Television, maybe with a little more control on the target audience.
  • Compare this with the evolution of online advertisements. From the old banner ads to targeted, contextual advertisements even within your email client (Gmail) or promoted tweets in your twitter stream.
  • Most brands have now become content creators and act more like media houses online. Most of the brands have their own content team and continuously generate content.
  • Recent announcement of no-cash deal between Kit Kat and Google to name their latest Android release Kit-Kat.
  • More and more brands want to create original content to get the attention of a specific niche of the consumer market. From streaming content created by the studios to creating their own original series, Netflix has come a long way. Same is the case with Coca Cola. The amount of original video content that they develop and share online has increased multiple fold.
  • Advertisement free content (ad free HBO) is becoming more prevalent now than ever before.

All of these trends point to a future of video advertising which is very different from the current 6 second or 20 second ads.

I think that based on the existing trends, we shall see the following:

  • More brands will come together and plan joint campaigns. For example a washing machine brand, a detergent brand can come together and do joint campaigns. IF brands can tie up with other brands that can be logically coupled (same consumer, part of the same “jobs to be done” family of tasks, similar positioning, etc).
  • Brand placements inside of the movies and Television series has been around for a long time but never became mainstay. This will change. We shall start seeing more and more brand placements in original content.
  • This could then potentially lead to original content being created around these brands. For example, there could be a series like Friends, where every time the friends sit together and share memories, they do it with a can of Coke. Every time they speak on a phone, they use an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S4. It the story requires them to go out for a trip, they could visit India (of course sponsored by the Indian Tourism Industry). You get the point. What is even more interesting is that It might even cost much less to create these content than to pay for a six second spot during the program for the brands. This also enables the brands to have control on the audience segment that they want to create the content for.

So, you can see a host of original video content being produced by some of the leading brands.

Is that good or bad for the brand, I don’t know. However, this is great news for all the artists who have ideas and want to convert them into original series. They will have a lot more people willing to invest in them to create good high quality content.

As a consumer, I don’t mind who creates the content as long as the content is interesting and engaging and I am not interrupted in between the program to show some advertisements.

So, this does create a positive cycle for everyone involved.

Do you think this is what we shall see in the near future or if my understanding is totally flawed? Lets discuss this as comments on this blog or on twitter.

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You can also subscribe to my weekly newsletter here.

Three Conversations that Help you Remain Customer Centric

September 18, 2013 Leave a comment

In a blog post, Eric  Barker shares the insights from Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda, author of Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter and list down “Denial”, “Hubris” and inflated “Egos” as some of the most common mistakes leaders do. The post also talks about some good advice that leaders can do well to heed to.

I think that leaders need to create and keep an open line of communication to three kinds of people to stay grounded to reality.

  • Frontline staff: Regularly engage your front line employees who sell/service your customer for a frank and open conversation. Keep these conversations open and use them as a pulse check for ground reality and bullshit detection. This will work best if you schedule some time every week and randomly pick staff and engage with them directly, without having to let any of their managers know about the discussion. This keeps everyone on their toes. Most importantly, act on the information that you learn as part of this conversation. This will ensure that your staff will also take these conversations seriously.
  • Customer and customer Staff: Meet your customers (your counterparts and end-users of your products/services) and talk to them about the product or services. Try and learn why they do business with you and how they benefit from the product/service. Also, ask them about their opinion on how could you make it easy for them to work with you. Take their inputs with a grain of salt and find ways to use these conversations to explore better ways to work with your customers and make it easier for them to do business with you. Again, it would be best if you use your CRM system and get your assistants to schedule some of these appointments or calls directly.
  • Someone who is not from your industry but serves the same market segment: Some of the most interesting insights about your customers can be gained by talking to other businesses (from different industries) that also sell to your current set of customers. You can then use these insights to improve your business and interaction with your customers.

If you are able to do these conversations regularly (at least weekly), you shall remain grounded to reality and will never have any dearth of ideas to improve your businesses.

This also has a ripple effect among your staff as they will also realize that you could end up talking to any of their customers and so will continue to treat their customers well. This will also ensure that your direct reports don’t filter out bad news for you, which in my opinion is the single biggest reason for organizations going bankrupt or missing out on huge opportunities.

The overall result would be that your organization will be considered more customer focused by the people whose perception matters the most – Your Customers.

Do share your thoughts about this approach for culture transformation.

You can connect with me on twitterlinkedinfacebook or email.

You can also subscribe to my weekly newsletter here.

PS: A great video that talks about 5 techniques that you can use to keep your organization Customer Centric:

 

Great Teams Are a Mix of Old and New

To add to this nice post, I think that the composition of consistently high performing teams is that they have a set of core team members who enjoy working with each other and have worked together for long periods of time thereby developing the ability to understand how each other thinks and depending upon the project, you add new people to the mix to get a breath of fresh thinking into the project.
To take the analogy of the broadway or the movie business, you can see that most directors like to work with the same set of people when it comes to the core work like camera, editing, music, dialogues, etc and team up with new people for all other roles.
This provides them a heady balance of stability and creativity.

How can CEO’s Lead in Uncertain Times and Thrive – Great advice from Ram Charan

September 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Ram Charan shares very valuable advice to CEO’s on how to lead your organizations in uncertain times. Do take the time to watch the entire video below. It is worth the time you spend on it.

For people who cant watch the entire video, I shall try to summarize a few things that I think are the lessons we can take to lead our organizations in uncertain times.

  • Ability to identify the catalyst for the changes in uncertain time. Mostly this is a person, who through some of his action or leadership creates the seed for changes.
  • If the uncertainty is very high, it will always re-shape the environment. The environment will never get back to its original state.
  • No law will change social change. Identify what kinds of social changes are happening around it. Don’t fight the social change, embrace it and move ahead.
  • Leaders who succeed in uncertain times look at unstoppable trends over a 20 year period. They know that they might miss a few things, go through ups and downs, but keep themselves anchored with the prize & a vision of their unfair share from these trends and look outside-in. This gives them emotional strength to go through all the ups, downs and the turbulence.
  • Focus on the leaders. Identify, train, coach and spend a lot of time on developing leaders in your organizations.
  • Ahead of your staff meeting, assign someone from your leadership team to present about an uncertainty, explore what was the catalyst responsible and who benefitted from this and who did not. By doing this, you are changing mindsets to learn how to look at the change, who is causing it and who is benefitting.
  • Look at the world through multiple lenses. Know your known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
  • Maximizing shareholder value in uncertain times is a dumb idea.
  • Imagine the convergence of trends and the transformation that could result from these convergence. Are you prepared for this convergence.
  • Watch out for socio-economic and socio-political trends and the impact that they can have on your and your customers’ businesses.
  • Place yourself in the bridge of information. Network with the regulators and the key catalyst who can influence your business environment, so that you are never taken by surprise.
  • The goal is not maximizing quarterly earnings. Instead, invest in building your future.
  • Have an external focus. Spend a lot of time outside the network of your organization and try to have a healthy long-term – short term balance .
  • Build new capabilities within your people and products.
  • Adapt your product by reviewing the resource allocation closely.

Some of this is common sense and some great advice from a great guy. I hope that you are able to learn from this and manage your organization better in a world full of uncertainty.

Transforming Organization Culture

September 11, 2013 Leave a comment

This weekend I happened to watch a play by “Yours Truly Theatre” titled “Bhagwaan Dhoondo“, which loosely translated means “The Search for your Own God”. It was by all means an enthralling performance, which ended with a standing ovation from the audience. It was funny, thought provoking and entertaining throughout.

What was most interesting thing about the play was that it was of a genre called “Interactive Theatre”, which is a kind of Improv theatre and has two parts to the play:

  1. The first part is rehearsed and performed by the actors. This part tells a story of the protagonist. It stops at a place, where the protagonist is at a cross-road and has a decision to make.
  2. The second part of the show is decided by the audience. The moderator of the play comes on stage and leads a discussion about the situation and what options does the protagonist have and what should he/she do in this situation. Based on the audience reactions, the actors then incorporate the feedback and play out the rest of the story impromptu.

When I stood applauding the performance, it stuck me that this would be a great way for an organization to design or transform its culture.

If  as a leader, you want to transform the culture of your organization, you want everyone in your organization to understand and act according to the new values.

Gather around your employees and get them to play out the situations that they face in their day-to-day work and stop them at a moment-of-truth, a moment where they need to make a decision and act on it, a decision that defines the culture of the organization. Now, stop the role play and ensue in a discussion about the various choices that the employees have at that juncture and let them offer their choices. Most of this will be based on the current culture. Now you can either continue to steer the discussion towards the decision that you want them to make as that will reflect the new culture you want to inculcate. Then get the same set of employees to improvise and enact the rest of the scene on this course.

In order to be successful, you as a leader need to be able to determine the Keystone habits of your organization that needs to be changed and use this exercise to influence that habit, which can then start an avalanche of change within the organization.

This method of influencing the culture of the organization has some significant benefits like:

  • This leaves no scope for ambiguity in the team as to how they are expected to behave in the specific scenarios that have been staged.
  • This can also bring forth all the other ramifications that need to be taken care of, all dependencies exposed, which can then be worked upon. It is in such details that most culture transformation exercises fail.
  • This also allows you to try the different options for the teams in a way that does not cost money or lost time.
  • This is also a fun activity for the team to do. Specially, when the team is able to exaggerate the situation a bit and is able to have some fun at themselves and the current policies.
  • This also creates a sense of caraderie among the team along with a sense of ownership for the new behavior as it was arrived together with them and not ordered by someone in the “Corporate”, who doesn’t understand a thing about how things work in reality. This substantially increases the odds for the new behavior to take root.

Do share your thoughts about this approach for culture transformation.

You can connect with me on twitterlinkedinfacebook or email.

You can also subscribe to my weekly newsletter here.

PS: Charles Duhigg talks about Keystone habits and how to change habits