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A dreamer to the core. A thinker. A writer. A marketer. A poet. A management guru in the making! A keen observer of business, organizations, leaders, society, economic environment, consumers, and innovation. A confirmed maverick who loves to turn conventional wisdom upside down!

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Circa 2015

My mobile phone rings to the ringtone of 'life is beautiful'. It's a video call from my 6 years old daughter. With a smile I take the call to see my smiling daughter put on her sweetest voice to tell me what she wants.

"Hi papa, I need the latest Barbie doll in her astronaut avatar. And some chocolate also. I've finished the last story book you bought and I'm getting bored so you better bring me some story books too. And papa, please buy me the CD of the new 'princess in distress' game. Please, please, please. That's all, my sweet papa", she finishes in one breath.

"Sure my lovely daughter", I say before my daughter disconnects.

The screen of my mobile phone starts showing the screen saver with images of my family in various moods. I open the browser of my mobile phone and log in to the “one stop e-tailer”. With Delhi becoming a wi-fi city and my mobile phone working as a mini-laptop, I can take care of all my online activities from my mobile anytime, anywhere. So I punch in the long list given to me by my daughter in the online shopping cart, pay the bill of Rs 1395 with my mobile (yes, mobile phones now act as credit card as well), and ask for delivery to my office. It's 3 pm and I'll leave office at 6 pm so I opt for normal delivery of 2.5 hours instead of express delivery in 1 hour. Having taken care of my daughter's list in 5 min, I get back to work on my presentation for the client meeting.

30 min of work and my presentation is almost ready. As I think of moving to the coffee vending machine, my mobile phone rings again, this time to the ringtone of 'O mere sona re sona'. I immediately know that my wife is video calling. As I press the yes button, I can see my dew-fresh wife on my mobile screen ready to sweetly bark some homely orders.

"Hi honey, how are you doing", she asks me in her honey dipped voice and I immediately know that I’m supposed to do some household chore.

"Hi sweetie, have a presentation in 30 min. Just finished with preparation", I say like the most humble husband. Times change but some things never change like the sheepish demeanour of Indian husband in front of his wife.

"Okay. Acha listen, I've ordered grocery, fruits, vegetables, and some other items from ‘one stop e-tailer’. Since I'm going to see the ailing son of Ms Kapur and will be back only by 7 pm, I've asked for delivery at your office. It's an express delivery and will reach you by 5 pm. So please bring it home. Chalo bye. I’m getting late", she quickly instructs, gives her killer smile, and disconnects.

I head to the coffee vending machine for hot black coffee. Back to my cubicle with steaming coffee, I decide to check my credit card statement. So I send a SMS and immediately receive a mini statement. Huh, my online shopping bill is increasing by the day. 5 days still left in month and already transaction worth Rs 20729 billed and this includes grocery, vegetables, books, DVD, restaurant bill, fuel, and other sundry items. I make a mental note to reduce expenses.

The presentation went well and client was happy. As I come back to my cabin, I notice that both orders have been delivered and the grocery packet is too big. My secretary has received them on my behalf. So I call her to convey my thanks. It's already 5.50 pm and I’m feeling mentally exhausted. So I decide to pack up and head home.

Traffic is not so bad. I put on some old Hindi songs and start navigating my car. As I wait for green light at one of the traffic signals, I see the deserted Rel-fresh store. The traffic signal turns green and as I press the accelerator, I notice the big bill-board in front that says 'Now get your Rel-Fresh vegetables online. Guaranteed delivery in 2 hours!’ As I shift gear and move ahead, I say to myself, "Organized retail is dead, long live organized e-tail"

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Great Indian Retail Dream: Euphoria Or Reality?

Retail is in vogue these days. Not a day passes without noticing a feature or article on retail in pink dailies. Everyone is talking retail as if it's the new age California gold rush. But in this hullabaloo, two thing are intriguing me –
  1. Nobody is talking about how e-tailing would evolve in India and how it may impact ‘bricks and mortar’ organized retail,
  2. Nobody is giving serious air time to so called ‘mom and pop stores’ and how they may influence organized retail's growth plans.
And this makes me wonder - is all the retail buzz, billion dollars investment, and projected revenue a mere euphoria born out of flavour of the month syndrome or is it real?

E-tailing: What is the future?
This is perhaps the least discussed and most under-estimated phenomenon in the current obsession with retail that entire corporate India is displaying. Where is e-tailing headed, how it could evolve, and what impact it can have on development of organized retail is a question worth exploring. When billions of dollars are coming into play, it’s not prudent enough to leave any aspect, however insignificant it might appear, unexplored. One never knows when the underdog would tumble the whole game upside down!

A few facts first: 40 millions internet users. 2 millions broadband connections. 140 millions mobile telephone subscribers. 45 millions credit/debit cards.

How will these same facts be in 2015, the milestone frequently being discussed in the Great Indian Retail discussion? To be true, no body is sure, at least after seeing the growth trajectory of technology and internet over last 10 years. So let us try to explore a little with some commonsense. But before that, a tidbit: In 2002, the market capitalization of Chinese internet companies was Rs 2000 crores; today it is Rs 100000 crore!!

In 2007, e-tailing is expected to hit Rs. 5000 crores in B2C segment. Currently, bulk of these is revenues generated from railway tickets and air tickets bought online. An estimate puts the retail e-tailing at around Rs. 400 crores i.e. around 2% of the $4 billion organized retail. According to IAMAI-IMRB study, Internet users are expected to grow to 54 millions by March 2008 with 80% or 43 million active users (usage of at least once in a month). Moreover, currently only 2 million broadband connections are there in India which is roughly 5% penetration among total internet users. This is expected to grow steeply in coming years. Also, according to IOAI, the current average transaction per user for online shopping is estimated to be around Rs. 1100 and the number of transactions per month is estimated to be 795000 per month.

So how will the numbers look in 2015. A conservative guess from my side: 130 millions internet users; 100 million active users. 50 millions broadband connections. 300 millions mobile telephone subscribers. 150 millions credit/debit cards.

Next thing worth mentioning is the growing usage of mobile phones and emergence of the mobile device as a convergence tool (phone + entertainment + camera + video camera + internet + PDA + GPS+ gaming). With the introduction of 3G services, access to internet will become fast and affordable alongwith always-on connectivity.

As a buyer I have some needs like –

Convenience
Choice
Value for money
Speed of delivery
Location neutrality
Time neutrality
Convergence

The question that arises is how the combined effect of rapid growth in internet users, broadband penetration, emergence of mobile phone as a convergence device, and the technological advancement will impact the e-shopping scene? My answer is – it will revolutionize the e-shopping in India.

The pieces of the puzzle will, in all likelihood, fall into place in the following manner:
  1. Rapid increase in internet penetration: With the penetration of broadband services expected to increase manifolds, faster speed and availability of more and more services on internet are going to drive the internet penetration at an amazing rate. In addition to this, availability of internet through mobile phones is going to increase the numbers of internet users significantly. Increase in availability of content in regional languages is another aspect that will drive the penetration level. To expect a 130-150 million internet users with around 100 million active users by 2015 would be a conservative estimate.

  2. Easy payment: One of the major roadblocks to growth of e-shopping is the payment mechanism. First, the credit card penetration is low. Second, apprehensions about security are high. Both of these can be adequately solved in coming years with emergence of mobile phone as a credit card. ICICI Bank has already testing a similar concept. The day may not be far when to pay through a mobile phone, you will just have to punch a few numbers and send a SMS. Better still, soon you may find mobile phones capable of scanning the bar code of your bill and transmitting the data to your bank for clearing payment.

  3. Always-on mobile connectivity: Majority of internet connections as of now are not wireless resulting in making them immobile. With increased use of wireless connectivity in coming years through presence of wi-fi in offices, airports, cafés, even entire city turning wi-fi, and access to anywhere-anytime internet through mobile phones, internet is bound to become quite mobile. So for accessing internet you may not have to visit your office or home. You might need just your mobile phone or just your laptop connected to the wi-fi surrounding you. This, in all probability, will make time and location irrelevant.

  4. World class back end operations: Current macro level supply chain in India is full of process inefficiencies resulting in massive economic waste. Organized retail is primarily driven by highly efficient backend operations and logistics. Heavy investments by players in organized retail in streamlining backend operations and bringing in process efficiencies will nevertheless enhance macro level supply chain and backend operations. But the real beneficiary of all these may not be organized retail but e-tail. It may be similar to the case of the internet bubble burst of 2001 – companies that invested heavily in under-sea cables going bankrupt and new companies buying these under-sea cable infrastructures at a cheap rate to make world flat in next 4 years! This irony may get repeated in e-tailing as well – backend infrastructure built by brick and mortar retail chains and benefits of these accruing to e-tailing companies. It is a possibility!

  5. Speed of delivery: Way back in 1998, when e-commerce just started in India, the delivery time was routinely around 25-30 days depending on the item bought. In 2006, this delivery time has shrunk to around 2-3 days. And my guess is that by 2015, the delivery time may further shrink to 2-3 hours with increased focus on streamlining backend operations, better technology, enhancement of process efficiencies, and better partnership with suppliers and logistics agencies. The day this 2-3 hours delivery target is achieved, that day would be the day of reckoning for e-shopping in India.

  6. One stop e-shop: One of shopper’s delights is the availability of various products and services under one umbrella. Retail chains have in past flourished by offering a number of products and services under one roof. The success of Walmart may not only be in the “everyday low prices”, equally likely is the “everything is here” factor. But still, the retail chains due to their physical nature have some constraints on making everything available under one roof. The virtual world is different. Here you don’t need to own everything at a place physically. Here you have to claim virtually that you deal in everything but you need not have possession of everything. It’s all about backend operations – hubs, suppliers, logistics. So with the paucity of time griping the consumers more acutely in near future and forcing her to find avenues to buy maximum of her needs at one place at her own convenience, e-tailing may be the ultimate winner.
Let’s play a little with numbers…
Let’s say we have 100 million active internet users in 2015. Assume that 40% of these active users do an average of Rs 3000 worth of e-shopping every month. The annual e-tailing revenues would come to Rs 144000 crores or $31 billion or 48% of projected organized retail in India by 2015.

Take it another way – According to IOAI estimates, number of e-shopping transactions per month in 2005-06 was 795000. Average value of each transaction was Rs 1100. Assuming the growth of number of transactions at 50% every year till 2015, the number of transactions per month in 2015 would be around 30 million. Assuming the growth of average value of each transaction at a modest 12% every year, average value of each transaction would reach Rs 3050 by 2015. And this would turn into annual e-tailing revenue of Rs 110000 crores or $24 billions or 38% of projected organized retail in India by 2015.

Now you take your own call on e-tailing, its future, and how it may impact the growth of much hyped organized retail.

Kirana Stores: Darwinian evolution or something else?
It might eventually turn out to be a David vs. Goliath story! Experts are quick to pass verdict that Kirana or so called ‘mom and pop’ stores will suffer in the organized retail game. But that may not be so easy. India is a nation of shopkeepers with around 12 million retail shops, majority of them occupying areas under 500 Sq feet. The shop density is highest in the world with 11 shops for every 1000 persons. These shops operate in localized environments, with localized terms and conditions including credit facility, and are on beck and call of customers, always ready to service them in the most convenient way or as desired by the customers. Why should I go to a mall 5 KM away from my house to buy my bread and butter when I can get it home delivered by the friendly shopkeeper across my house with just a phone call?

Another thing that experts are forgetting is the car penetration and refrigerator penetration in India. Both are abysmally low for a nation of India’s size. But commonsense would tell that both are in someway connected to the growth of organized retail in western countries. Car penetration is 7 per 1000 people. Refrigerator penetration is 161 per 1000 households. As per NCAER, refrigerator penetration is expected to be 225 per 1000 households by 2010. To get the benefits of lower prices and convenience of malls you need a vehicle to travel 5-15 KM to the nearest mall and carry your booty back to home. Once at home, you need to keep foods and grocery part of your booty in proper refrigeration to last you a week or two. Given the low penetration of refrigerator and the tropical climate of India, that is a big challenge. Hopping mall to buy less than a week of supply is purely not worth all the discounts bundled together.

Another fact of life in India is that, according to NCAER, out of 205 million households, around 90% of them have annual income less than Rs 2 lacs. Even within this segment, 71% have annual income of less than Rs 90000. This proportion of households – with less than Rs 2 lacs annual income – is not drastically changing in the next 5 years. And this is the segment that perhaps spends the highest on items like food and grocery – the same items that constitute about 75% of the great organized retail dream! This segment of the population makes small purchases weekly or every few days and depends to a large extent on monthly credit provided by kirana stores based on localized trust. Can the organized retail cater to this segment that lies at the heart of Indian retail?

Organized Retail: Real or Mirage?
No doubt that organized retail is going to be a growth sector with some opportunities to tap. But considering the income profile and habits of Indians, I guess that the organized retail at best can touch 50 million households or 200 million people by 2015. These will be mainly people in the Rs 2 lacs and above income bracket. Even within this segment, organized retail will have a tough fight from e-tailing and the evergreen Indian kirana. So where will this hullabaloo and big ticket investments lead? One thing is sure that huge investment will do a lot of good in improving the supply chain, particularly agri supply chain – and logistics operations in India.

Organized retail players would do well to take into consideration the following:
  1. Have an e-tailing strategy side-by-side to effortlessly shift into e-tail mode if there is seismic shift in retail landscape. Futurebazaar, the online version of the Kishor Biyani promoted Future Group is perhaps a step in this direction.

  2. Avoid owning costly real estate to develop glitzy malls and hyper-malls. Emergence of e-tailing as a significant channel of retail can make all investments in posh real estate redundant. Instead, it would be better to focus on backend operations and development of hubs as these will come handy in case there is a need to shift to e-tailing mode.

  3. Explore partnership with kirana stores. They have unique advantage considering the demographic and income profile of consumers. All the hype about “everyday low price” may not undermine their localized advantage. If you want to serve 90% of Indian market, you will need a tie-up with them. Explore becoming a partner. Think about the franchisee route or become a distributor. Reliance Retail is perhaps exploring this!
And finally, I would just say – It’s India, it’s different! So play safe.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Leadership Wisdom From Sunil Mittal

Today, there is an insightful article – The Risk Coefficient – in The Economic Times by Mr. Sunil Bharti Mittal.

Mr. Mittal talks about the challenges before the new age CEO and the critical success factors in an economic environment that is ever evolving and is in a constant flux.

Key learning:
  1. Ability to take decisions amidst uncertainties is at the root of new leadership paradigm.
  2. Managing the current as well as future breed of volatile customers, reading their mind and predicting the future consumption trend.
  3. In this era of me-too products that flood the market place, the key to survival and success of an innovation is speed to market.
  4. Retaining talent and building a team around then is as critical as recruiting talent.
  5. The key to talent retention is building structures and processes that keep the organizational objectives and employees’ aspirations in alignment.
  6. Build adaptability in the system to quickly respond to changes in macro environment.
  7. Build a learning organization that promotes individual and collective learning as well as systematic unlearning of past knowledge that becomes irrelevant.
  8. Out-of-the-box thinking is one of the essentials of new leadership.
  9. The ideal CEO is one who has the spirit of an entrepreneurship, who sees opportunities ahead of competition, and who is not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Profit Is Not A Bad Word

“Profit” is a tricky word that generates dread among the masses. The myth of profit is so strong that majority of people associate profit with greed, exploitation, and corruption. Even the “intellectual elite” often fail to see profit as a facilitator of holistic development of society and nation. They see business and profit together but fail to bring sustainable socio-economic development in this fold. The result of this ignorance: Flow of billions of dollars of money in poverty alleviation programs around the world with hardly any significant impact.

The problem is that we are yet to shun the “give him fish and you feed him for a day” mentality. The issue is all about incorporation of sustainability factor to embrace the philosophy of “teach him fishing to feed him for life”. The problem with poverty stricken people is not that they are not enterprising or that they don’t have capacity to consume. Their problem is getting off the ground. They don’t have even $100 – more often than not sufficient to fund their enterprise – to start a revenue generating activity. What they need is a little finance (typically in the range of $100 - $500), some guidance, counseling, and creation of a market where they can have active economic participation to create their own self-sustaining micro-enterprise.

Sustainability factor can come with the introduction of the element of enterprise. With enterprise, profit will come in picture creating a sustainable loop of “wealth creates wealth” cycle to aid development in the true socio-economic sense. But very few people think on this line, and those who do are making significant impact in the lives of a few million people. Be it the microfinance ventures or companies servicing the bottom-of-the-pyramid (BOP) market or initiatives like ITC’s e-choupal, they are making an impact, though in pockets of civilization, through means of social and economic partnership, enterprise, technology, and profit.

The most contentious issue is the involvement of individuals and enterprises that go to serve the poverty stricken mass with an intention to generate profit and wealth through servicing of this bottom-of-the-pyramid market. The question that is raised frequently is: how can an individual or organization that is interested in profit can help in removal of poverty and acceleration of socio-economic development of suffering masses? The underlying assumption is again the myth that profit is associated with exploitation and that capitalism is good only for a select few. But reality is vastly different. When for-profit ventures operate to serve this BOP market, then the flow of profit and wealth is two-way. The profit accrues to both the for-profit enterprises that serve as well as the BOP customers who get served. It’s a win-win situation with mutual benefits and trade-offs.

Recent success stories like microfinance, HLL’s Project Shakti, ITC’s e-choupal, etc. have demonstrated that for-profit social collaboration is the key to faster socio-economic development of poverty stricken people. These success stories have proved that ensuring active participation of the deprived in economic activities is the most sustainable way of uplifting the masses from the morass of poverty. And the master key is ‘profit’ – the fuel that fires the socio-economic enrichment of the deprived.

If we are really serious about removal of poverty and narrowing the economic divide, it is the right time to start worshipping ‘profit’. Socially Oriented Capitalism is the only way to ensure holistic socio-economic development and enhancement of the quality of life across the entire population.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nuggets of Management Wisdom #9

Wise men challenge their beliefs; fools rationalize.

Very often we have our own views, ideas, beliefs, thoughts, solutions, and strategies to deal with our personal and professional lives. Equally likely is the tendency among majority of us to justify or rationalize them, often without objective analysis or consideration. The goal is to arrive at some reasoning – even if specious – that appears to validate our way of thinking.

This particular behaviour to rationalize one’s way of thinking, without objective analysis, is rampant in corporate corridors. There seems to be a race to prove oneself right and others wrong on an issue, even though others may be right! There is nothing wrong in debating and proving your beliefs and ideas, but that needs to be done in an objective manner supported by facts and sensible reasoning. It should not be misleading – either intentional or unintentional.

Wise men are different. They consider their ideas and solutions as hypothesis and put them to rigorous trial by fire. They leave no stone unturned to prove their ideas wrong. They even encourage others to try to disprove their hypothesis. Only when they fail to prove their ideas wrong, do they accept it as true and worth pursuing. This trial by fire also ensures that people get convinced about an idea or solution or belief, and give their best to bring it to fruition.

The difference between fools and wise men is simple: Fools try to prove themselves right by inventing innovative and unrelated reasoning; wise men prove themselves right by failing to prove themselves wrong despite earnest effort!

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Why Change Management Programs Fail?

The failure rate of change management in organizations is very high. Often they fail outright or fall sort of expectations. The problem lies somewhere in the way any change initiative is approached. Most change management programs start with structure of an organization, and there lies the problem that ensures that these programs don't deliver desired results.

Organization is not about structures, processes, systems, technology, hierarchies, and culture. These are mere branches or offshoots of an organization. The roots of any organization are the people who work there. Any change management initiative that doesn't start with people is bound to fail. The mantra of any successful change management is "people first, everything else next".

The point is simple – you can have best structure, processes, systems and technology, yet if your people are not willing or are unequipped to deliver, everything will come to naught. So unless one starts with people, one can't change an organization. To grow a healthy plant you need to nourish the roots so that nutrients reach all parts of the plant. You can prune down the plant, you can clean the leaves and polish them, you can support the stem, and you can artificially scent the flowers; but if the roots are not well nourished, all these will not prevent the plant from decay and death. Roots are crucial for survival. Similarly, you need to start with people – the roots of any organization – in any change initiative so that right energy flows to various offshoots of the organization and helps it grow in the desired direction. If roots of the organization are taken care of, rest of the things can be managed with a little tweaking and pruning here and there.

But changing people is not so simple or easy. It’s all about behaviour changes, training, cajoling, persuading, badgering, convincing, confronting, shaping-up, and shipping-out. It’s an interplay of opposite poles to create harmony amid conflicts. But it is definitely not impossible. Perhaps, it is the only sensible way to ensure that change initiatives succeed in organizations.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Some Fodder For Thought...

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”
– Bertrand Russel

“Bureaucracy is the enemy. Bureaucracy means waste, longer meetings, slow decision making, unnecessary approvals, anything that kills an organization’s spirit.”
– Jack Welch

“The only way to discovering the limits of the possible is to venture towards what someone would believe is impossible!”
– Arthur C. Clarke

“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.”
– Leo Rosten

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Some Reflections On Life At 30000 Feet

Today morning I was returning from Jodhpur to Mumbai. All of a sudden at 30000 feet above the ground, I started thinking about the mistakes I had committed in my life. I don’t know what triggered this, but my mind was racing to past to figure out what critical mistakes I committed, both on career as well as personal front. It was not remorse or the ‘if and but’ type of pondering. It was more of a reflection. It seemed like a puzzle where I was trying to figure out where I erred and why I erred and what I should learn from it to avoid a repeat in future.

And it was worthwhile. The 2 hour long journey was well spent and at the end of it my mind appeared to be clear and light.

Without going into the details of the mistakes I committed, let me just share with you some key learnings that I deduced from them. May be it can be of some use to you.

  1. Take your own decision but hear what others have to say with your ears as well as mind open.
  2. Take ownership of your decisions in life.
  3. Circumstances in life may not favour you always; but you must do a favour to yourself by not kneeling in front of circumstances.
  4. Always try to find a mentor in life – be it career or life in general. Many people have seen the world for much more time than you and they have seen it from many angles. Utilize the wisdom they have gathered through the rough and tumble of life. It will save you a lot of time in your own journey called life.
  5. You never know when you will need someone. So avoid doing anything that closes your access to someone. As far as possible, be friendly.
  6. Don’t delay in taking decisions. Once you decide something, just put your heart into it and take action. In life or career, delay in taking decisions is indecision and is often too costly. Also, right decisions often come to mind in a flash and it’s important we respect those flashes of brilliant decision making by avoiding excessive analysis that kills those right decisions. As far as life is concerned, we need to hear and trust the ‘inner voice’ more often.
  7. Don’t get emotionally entangled with someone without fully understanding how much trustworthy he or she is. Too much emotion too soon often brings too much pain and misery.
  8. Live and let live. Always try to avoid a head-on collision. But at the same time never shy away from fighting for what is right.
  9. Claim your rightfully deserved share of pie. Altruism and selfishness are two extremes. Learn to take the middle path.
  10. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes in life. But at the same time don’t shy away from looking back to reflect on the mistakes you committed and learning something that helps in avoiding repetition of such mistakes.
  11. Be humble. It makes life much easier to live in times of both glory and doom.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Meeting Mania

Meetings, meetings, more meetings
Insanity, insanity, more insanity
Indecision, indecision, more indecision!


Of the many things I hate about the corporate world, meetings are somewhere near the top. I dread meetings, particularly badly conducted meetings. And meetings conducted just for the sake of conducting – because they are on some periodic schedule – are a nightmare. Not only this meeting mania is frustrating, it is a trigger for a chain reaction that seriously damages the productivity and effectiveness of the organization. And top it up with the cost of conducting a useless meeting!

Chaos originates from meetings when:

  1. Meetings are conducted just for the sake of it
  2. Meetings are conducted without any well defined objective.
  3. Meeting are badly conducted and become directionless.
  4. Meetings don’t start on time.
  5. Attendees are missing or delayed.
  6. Meetings don’t end on time.
  7. Meetings remain inconclusive at the end.
  8. Meetings result in conclusions that are vague and without clear responsibility center and deadline.
  9. Meetings run without any agenda or unnecessarily drift from the agenda midway.
  10. Meetings become a fish market.
  11. Meetings are used to fight turf wars or blame games.
To keep the productivity of organization and its employees at optimal level, meetings must be managed in a very professional manner. This is a necessity in today’s times when the pressure to deliver results is ever increasing, and any wastage of productive time is criminal.

Given below are some of my thoughts on how to make meeting a facilitator of productivity and effectiveness:
  1. Call a meeting only if it is really necessary.
  2. Prepare a well defined agenda with discussion time specified for all the items of agenda. Keep it short and simple, and include only what is necessary.
  3. Circulate the agenda well before the meeting to all the attendees.
  4. Start the meeting on time and strictly stick to the time limits for each item of the agenda.
  5. Let the conductor of the meeting set the directions throughout the meeting.
  6. If any attendee is late, either cancel the meeting or start without him. Also, make sure that he realizes that his late coming is not at all appreciated, and in future he should follow German time standards or else…
  7. At the end of discussion on an item of agenda, jot down the actionable part with clearly defined responsibility center and deadline. Be decisive through out the meeting.
  8. Finish the meeting strictly on time. Running a meeting effectively will ensure this. Only in exceptional cases and that too if it is extremely urgent, stretch the meeting beyond pre-determined end time.
  9. Have the actionable conclusions circulated to all the members within an hour. No need for detailed minutes of meeting running into pages. For the sake of records that may be prepared and filed/ circulated. But definitely that is not a priority. But circulation of actionable conclusions is top priority.
But this can work only if driven from the top. If the leader practices this, the followers too will follow. But if the leader only preaches and hardly, if ever, practices, then followers too will get conditioned to preach without practice; and the tyranny of meetings will continue to rule the corporate corridors.

Avoid meeting mania in self as well as public interest!

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Who Determines Quality?

Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for. A product is not quality because it is hard to make and costs a lot of money, as manufacturers typically believe. This is incompetence. Customers pay only for what is of use to them and gives them value. Nothing else constitutes quality.

– Peter Drucker
All the product managers, brand managers, and marketing managers out in the sun to woo the customer should take note of this simple wisdom. Well, it’s not rocket science, but pure vanilla commonsense that quality is determined by the customer not the producers. Producers can at best meet the quality specifications of the customers. And yet the product managers frequently – if not always – start with themselves rather than the customers before designing a product.

Second take-away of this profound wisdom is the fact that quality is relative and not absolute. So it would be better to see quality in terms of value it has for a customer. In that sense, same product can give immense value to a segment of consumer and no value to another segment of consumers. Hence, same product can offer great quality for a segment of consumer while another segment may consider it of inferior quality.

Third take-away is the fact that quality is not about the product or service but about the perception of the product or service in the minds of customer.

And all the above boils down to the eternal fact that the customer is king (or queen for that matter)

Isn’t it simple?

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Leading Less, Managing More?

Are we leading less and managing more? This is what I asked myself this morning. I don’t know why this thought crossed my mind but it set my mind rolling for an answer.

What do you see around you? Is it quarter targets, bottom-line, attrition, disenchantment, micro-management, analysis-paralysis, frustration, routine, monotony, lack of creativity and imagination, heavy dose of organizational politics, distrust, etc.? If you are part of a typical business organization, it is very likely that your answer is yes; and if it is so then it is a sign of too much management and too little leadership.

Perhaps one of the prominent causes of too much management and too little leadership is short term focus that seems to be in vogue these days. The growing obsession with quarterly numbers and the resultant stock market drama is dominating the corridors of corporate headquarters. Quarterly numbers have become so sacrosanct that if you don’t meet your quarter targets you are doomed. But how good is this for the long term future of the organization? What kind of culture does it cultivate? Does this affect the motivation of people? Does this kill creativity and imagination in the workplace? Does this obsession with short-term open a Pandora box of other serious long-term maladies? Does this utilize the talents of people in the best possible way? Does this hamper the development, growth, and engagement of people? Is vision becoming out of fashion? Is radical thinking taking a back seat in favour of meeting short-term targets? How will all these change the course of business in coming years?

Think over it!

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