Thursday, November 30, 2006

Random Useful Thoughts # 001

In any discussion, debate, brainstorm, argument, or wherever you're faced with thinking contradictory to yours, pause for a moment and say to yourself: "Perhaps the other person is right"

Then think seriously about it. Who knows what new mindspace you discover.

Note: More random thoughts and beliefs that have worked for me, will appear on this blog - randomly :)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blogging India Means Business

In a recent research study conducted by Microsoft (MSN and Windows Live) it was found that India's blogosphere is unique in the region with blogging driven by men with an interest in business, politics and entertainment. (What else is there?? porn is entertainment, right??).

Your Average Indian Blogger: A summary of this research would indicate that your average Indian blogger is a young male with a passion for self improvement and entertainment, who spends 5 hours a week reading others and updating his own blog, which gets about 11 hits a week...

Footnote to above: Blogs as part of a media plan for advertisers in India? Not a killer idea right now, but could be worth the investment because space will come cheap at the moment [to advertise on this blog which gets many times more hits than the national average, click here :) ]

Preferred Content: According to the study, the most read/preferred content is technology, followed by news and education, indicating our society is clearly in a progressive, growing mode. Not surprisingly, blogs written by business leaders were found to be the most interesting as they provided great learning.

Footnote to above: So will we suddenly see a rush of wannabe-blogger-CEOs quickly reaching for their wordpress and blogger accounts? (Oops! Or as Microsoft would hope, rush to open a Windows Live Spaces account!). Well, only time will tell, and dude - you need much more than 5 hours a week to get a decent blog going!

Alternate Media: The interesting point to note is that 45% of respondents in India trust the content of blogs, and see it as an alternative to conventional media like print and television. (I also read somewhere else that a EuroRSCG/Columbia study found that 53% of journalists use blogs to find ideas, and 43% use blogs to do research and ratify facts!).

Footnote to the above: A scan of the leading Indian printed business papers will show you that the Business Standard gave this report a tiny 2 columns by 10 cm space, and The Economic Times gave it slightly better 4 columns by 15 cm space... On the other hand, neither the BS Blog, nor the ET Blog have made any reference to this very relevant research!

Microsoft and this research: This study undertaken by Harris Interactive on behalf of Microsoft, and was conducted across seven markets in Asia and covered 25,000 people.

Footnote to the above: If you thought Microsoft ignores public opinion, think again. This study probably cost them a load of money, and is not likely to directly increase the use of their Windows Live Spaces (which one MS spokesperson attempts to push almost as a powerful tool for aspiring bloggers and advertisers). But hey, they're Microsoft, and this could be just the tip of something much bigger planned!


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

India's Hidden Gems

While we and the world talk about Indian IT, Indian BPOs, our growing global competitiveness and our expanding local consumerism, we usually fail to recognise other industries and indicators of potential.

In the last year or so, I've spent a lot of time studying the Indian economy and its various industries - and have discovered a whole new world of potential and opportunity - in areas we take for granted (like hospitality and construction), as well as in places you would not expect (our sewage for instance!).

I am talking about companies that have grown from nothing, with nothing to back them except the ideas and passion of their owners. I'm talking about entrepreneuers who have toiled silently over the years, and have gained success to become market leaders in their fields, without most people even knowing they even exist!

To my mind they're the hidden gems of India, which when polished will shine out bright not just in India - but in the world as well.

Most of them are around 10-15 years old (Note to myself: I must study the social and economic climate in those days to see what were the triggers). Today, they've attained a critical mass and have reached a tipping point - where with minor tweaking and adjustment in either infrastructure, positioning, or communication, they will rise out of anonymity into certain fame in the years to come.

Here are some random choices:

InterGlobe - established in 1989 as a travel agent, InterGlobe is today one of the leading companies in airline and aviation management, travel related services, travel technology (including a BPO), and hotel management. It not only manages over 15 of the world's leading airlines in India, it has now entered the fast growing area of cruise-lines in India. To top it all, InterGlobe recently launched an ailine called IndiGo, and placed an order of 100 aircraft from Airbus! With the two-way traffic of business and leisure travellers growing faster than our population, any guesses if these guys are in the right business?!!

Enhanced WAPP - Started in 1996 by IITian Rajesh Jain, WAPP is today a relatively successful (and market leader in some cities) company in water and waste management in India. Water and waste are such a problem in India, and essential to the success of any civilisation - there's no doubt you've got to watch out for this company being flush with success!

Spectral Services - Ever wondered how a century old luxury hotel can run smoothly in the middle of a lake - with the electricals, plumbing and all mechanical infrastructure working to 5-star efficiency? Well, it's what these folks do - they're MEP consultants (mechanical, engineering, plumbing consultants) who work closely with architects and have helped put together efficient buildings including the homes of some of India's richest Indians as well as landmarks such as the Bahai temple in New Delhi!

These are just a few names - look around India and you will find hundreds of other such companies keeping the economy moving and thriving silently. Providing products and services that don't shout out with multi-crore multi-media advertising or pr campaigns. But result in equally happy consumers.

I believe the next revolution in India will be here - infrastructure, and services. Because as India strives to become an economic superpower, and the world moves in to take advantages of opportunity India - who do you think is going to make us all work and live comfortably?!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hi, I'm Vendor No. XYZ-123

"I spend many hours a day counselling your CEO, my company just designed a programme that is expected to avert a crisis in your lives, and change the fortunes of your company. But hey, I'm just a vendor and supplier, like your plumber, travel agent, and your friendly neighbourhood newspaper boy!"

It's amazing how in this day and age, marketing consultants, advertising agencies and public relations firms get clubbed under the head of "vendors and suppliers" by the clients we work with - for their accounts and other financial purposes.

We all strut around claiming to be partners in the success of our client's business, yet few of us take affront to this misnomer, or expect changes in this area.

Not surprisingly, we're treated as such, especially by the finance and accounts departments! During the last 17 years in the business, I have only heard of such shabby treatment. But in the last 17 months as an independent, I have experienced this first hand.

Clients expect work and results overnight, but take their own sweet time in making payments - often leaving you at the mercy of accountants, to whom you are just another vendor! Junior people down the line in Client organisations have no respect for experience or levels on the other side - because quite simply they're paying and you're vending!

While this is sad but expected, what's worse is how we in the business ourselves often treat the people we work with. I once received an email from the finance head of a PR firm, and the mail neither had the courtesy of a hello or anything, and as I said earlier was addressed to everyone including the guy who books their plane tickets, their telephone service provider, and of course me and their other communication "vendors"!

The text of the whole mail:

"Per our corporate parent ***, ******* is required to notify our suppliers of ***'s code of business conduct and corporate social responsibility policy as it relates to the sale of goods and/or services sold to us. The complete details of this policy can be found at the following website: (url here)
Please take note of the policies stated therein."

That's it!!! That was the whole mail! Well if a PR firm interacts with its "suppliers" this way (perhaps unwittingly), how do you expect clients to be any better!?

Think about it. Do something about it!

Note: Not all clients are like this. I have experienced/heard of great respect being given to our fraternity by companies like Whirlpool, Reckitt-Benckiser, Pepsi, ITC, IBM, Microsoft, and Tata Motors. I imagine there are more. And may their tribe increase!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Innovation vs Creativity. Organizations vs People

I just read a fascinating interview by The Strategist Team of Business Standard, with Luc de Brabandere who is an author of many books, and Paris based Vice-President of Boston Consulting Group.

In his interview, Luc talks about the differences between Innovation and Creativity (eye opening stuff here). He opines why organisations cannot be creative, but should aspire to be innovative. Creativity is a very individualist thing, which innovative organisations should encourage.

Luc also holds forth on a belief I have long held, even when I worked as an advertising creative director - "Creativity mushrooms from day-to-day realities and from seeing things from a drastically new viewpoint, angle of thought process"

Creativity as I've always believed, has to be worked at, and you cannot sit around hoping it will hit you on the head as it flies past.

You can read the entire interview on AgencyFaqs here. You can also read more about this subject in an article by Luc in Management Consulting News here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

New Media and what not!

When I tell people that I help companies understand new media, and how to use it to their benefit, most people look at me and say - "by new media you mean the internet, right..? what else is there??!".

In the beginning, I used to get stumped by the ignorance behind this assumption. I used to be apalled by the fact that even seasoned communication professionals in advertising and public relations think:

a) there's nothing more to new age communication than the internet, and

b) that there's nothing more to the internet than websites, banner ads and email!

Well, yes there is more, and I will attempt to briefly summarise what I know and share as part of my day job.

In my mind "New Media" is anything that can be used as a tool for communication with new age consumers and audiences. It just so happens that the internet occupies a huge part of their lives, followed by the omnipresent and omnipotent mobile phone... that's new media too!

In fact as much as we use tools born out of new technologies, I would classify innovations in conventional media as new media too. As long as they acquire the dynamism that can match the unpredictable free-flowing behavioral and consumption patterns of our audiences today.

So portable billboards that follow their audiences, rejuvinated conventional radio channels, cell broadcasts, multimedia streaming by bluetooth to handheld devices... they all are new media.

And when it comes to the internet, the usual suspects like websites, chat rooms and blogs aside, you should look at social networking groups, messenger services, wikis, and community generated hang outs - like youtube. The list is endless and evolving even as you read this post.

The amazing thing about new media, is also that it's a great internal communication tool. For example, did you know:

1. That you can make real time, online Powerpoint presentations with sound and you speaking to anyone, anywhere in the world, using MSN Messenger... which is actually yours to download for free!

2. That you can make audio visuals that look and sound as good as a slickly produced film, using MS Powerpoint?

3. That you needn't invest in any expensive Intranets and/or ERP systems, if you simply change mindsets and create of culture checking and responding to email promptly?

I'm just skimming the surface here... really! You won't believe it, but most of us use our PCs (or a Mac) like we use our minds - at just about 3% of their actual potential or capacity! And to maximise the potential of your PC, you don't need any fancy computer science degrees. You just need the desire to learn, supported by a whole lot of curiosity.

Think about it. Explore that PC on your desktop or lap. But if that's too much to ask, you know who to call!


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

KFC Advertises to Aliens!

It took me a while to figure out if this is a joke or its serious - a KFC image of Colonel Sanders, allegedly visible from the moon! I still don't know. Check it out here at Innocent Bystanders. I especially love the comments!

Oh... now I know why this blog is so interesting. The authors claim that they're not bloggers, but commenters! Nice tagline - "anyone can blog... commenting is hard" (hmm... that explains the few comments on my blog!).

Worth checking out... and they're not paying me to say all this!

Footnote Added: I just noticed the original news report is from Reuters, here.

The Indian Economy: News that caught my eye this week!

8% Growth: According to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (and hints from the Indian Finance Minister) the Indian economy is expected to grow by 8% in the financial year ending March 2007. This comes in the wake of plenty of new capital investments, high credit growth, and improved profitability in the corporate sector.

11th largest 'services' exporter: While overall growth this year is expected to stay healthy, the services business in India is growing by leaps and bounds. According to the WTO's International Trade Statistics, Indian services exports have grown by 41.6% to 56.1 billion USD versus 39.6 billion USD last year!

Indian Insurance companies have reason to smile: While the Indian government is planning to hike FDI in the insurance sector, there are indications that the government is also planning changes in the Insurance Act, which currently mandates that the local promoters in joint ventures with international insurance companies have to compulsarily reduce their stake from 74% to 26% within 10 years. This is good news for Indian companies like Bajaj, Max, HDFC and ICICI who would perhaps want to remain in the business and go solo instead of living under the shadow of their JV partners. FYI, the Indian insurance industry is growing at a rate of around 20% every year!

Taj Group checks into Ritz-Carlton, Boston: Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, one of Asia's largest and finest hotel groups (headquartered in Mumbai, India) has entered a definitive agreement to purchase The Ritz-Carlton, Boston from its current owners, Millennium Partners for around US $170-million and close the deal in January 2007. Read the full story here.

For more information/other news around India and its economy, check out IBEF, The Economic Times, Business-Standard

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

David-Bates-Enterprise: Menage a trois or trouble?

I just received an sms alert from my friendly industry spammer, about a David-Bates-Enterprise merger. Yes, David, Bates, Enterprise... I've double checked the article it pointed to, and you can see for yourself.

For those of you who don't have the context of Indian advertising agencies - this is the wierdest merger anyone of us here can imagine! Because the three entities seem to have nothing in common!

The first union which took place a while back was a typical Indian arranged marriage - where some elders in their wisdom decided to get two very different people married, saying "we know what's best for you. Once you're married, you'll sort out your differences, make adjustments and create a good family. Love? What's love got to do with it? Once you're married, you'll learn to love each other in good time!"

So the two agencies - Bates and Enterprise - one a middle-class-generally-boring-boy of no particular lineage, married the hot-and-popular-westernised-babe from Mumbai.

Being a typical Indian marriage, the boy was put in charge, and the girl was expected to "adjust" and live up the the "new family name" of Bates Enterprise!

Not surprisingly, they had their internal issues (read ego problems) of adjustment, culture, priorities... the works! ...but like most Indian couples they are still living together!

Now along comes this dude David. Yes, david is another dude! Cool, clever, Fun, everything the middle-class boy (and now marriage) is not! David's been independent, standing up against the big boys in all areas (David vs Goliath in real advertising life!)

As a saving grace, his name seems to be the first in the title. The question is, will David's belief systems also get priority in the way they live? Will he get to call the shots, or will he have to quit being enterprising and step back with abated energy?!

I have nothing against each of the individual agencies - in fact I hold the leaders at the helm of each entitiy in high regard:

Mohammed Khan, in my mind is the guru of classy and cool advertising in India;
Subhash Kamath, a great servicing guy and leader to have for your team;
Josy Paul, the unassuming yet brilliant creative guy of contemporary Indian cool.

Each has the substance of a classic advertising person, as against the maverick flash-in-the-pans of today. But each is a name to reckon with, and a leader in his own right. Each has a following, and has nurtured a culture that is distinct from any other (and each other).

The basic question is, will this menage a trois of clashing cultures result in a fantastic threesome, or simply end up to be a menage a trouble?

I wouldn't bet any money on it. But with due regard for the three gentlemen mentioned above, I'd put a little money into a temple and pray for them.

God help you guys! My best wishes are with you.


Monday, November 13, 2006

The New Highways of Progress

It's a proven fact that the progress of a nation, usually follows the progress of its roads and highways. Take Europe and the United States of America for example... they developed and gained from superhighways long before most parts of the world. And on the other side of the globe today, the Golden Quadrilateral Highway Project of the Indian government is changing the economic landscape and influencing the distribution of industries in India.

As we all know, highways and roads facilitate free-flowing movement and spread of people, goods, even mindsets - hence decantralises national/state economies from the conventional ports and capitals to inner counties and rural areas. And on this rides the spread/growth of knowledge, entertainment, lifestyles, and this raises the overall standard of awareness and living.

Good Highways and Roads are not only good for companies, but also their customers.

Likewise you'll find the information superhighway, a.k.a the Internet, with its bits and bytes is taking on the role once monopolised by concrete and cement.

Here's a quick overview as I see it:

1. Highways open up roads to previously unheard of places. The internet allows you access to companies and consumers you'd probably not meet even with 6 degrees of separation.
2. The spread of higways allows companies to design and develop new manufacturing, distribution, and sales maps. Likewise the spread of the internet allows you to source new material, knowledge, partners and consumers, anywhere in the world!
3. Highways have both drivers and passengers. Likewise, the internet has those driving, and those who just go with the flow.

I think you now get the idea (that is if you didn't already know this).

So what are the golden rules, to keep in mind when using the new information superhighway? Or how can companies/brands maximise the potential of the internet?

1. Know the layout and plans: Understand the internet: its users, its technologies, its growth, its spread.
2. Define your destination: Where do you want to go? Define your goals, define what you want to achieve: research your consumers? open a new line of sale? just promote sales? know the competition? find/solicit partners? Manage reputation? What?
3. Know the risks of highway travel: Is your car/company ready for it? Are you fit for the drive/do you have a good driver? Have you done your homework on the terrain - is it a desert, forest, mountains, what?
4. Identify the other travellers: What is their agenda? Where are they going? What is their mood? Is the highway friendly or hostile towards you?
5. Identify the pit stops and the highway patrols: In case of trouble, do you have a plan A and plan B? Do you know what evasive/engaging actions you can take?

Net-net (pun intended) the new information superhighways are just like the highways of old. They're all over the place, and going through all kinds of terrain. They're full of all kinds of people, with all kinds of agendas. Some are your friends, some enemies, but the most are unknown players.

To sum up this little intellectual journey:
1. If you want your company to grow, you cannot afford to sit at home.
2. If you're stepping out onto the information superhighway (the internet), it's better to be a driver in control, than a passenger who is swept along wherever the others are going.
3. If you are going to drive within the internet, you better learn to drive as well as, if not better than the other guy.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Indian BPOs: Private or Porous?

One of the largest new business opportunities in India is Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). And one of the largest ethical and legal issues we have in India today, also has to do with BPOs - which is Privacy and Identity Theft.

A lot has been written about the issue, with many companies and even the government talking of measures to curb this menace which is irritating at its harmless best, and is dangerous at its criminal worst.

While there are international laws, and all the right noises being made about action being taken in India, I would like to comment upon it from a social and cultural perspective, and address the "harmless irritating side" of BPOs and telemarketing.

At the basic physical level, India is a very crowded and overpopulated country. There are people constantly around you, nudging you, rubbing shoulders with you, and poking their noses into what you're doing. It's an accepted fact of life.

At the next and higher level, is Indian culture of being friendly (even to strangers) and being hospitable (a guest is equal to God). The belief and oft used phrase "Hum unhe jaante hain" ("we know them/him/her") is a great bridge between family, friends, and even strangers.

Which is why it will not be amiss if you drop in at your neighbour's house unannounced, or have relatives move into your house without advance notice, or for that matter if you offer water and food to even strangers that knock on your door in India.

The result is a society that believes in no personal boundaries, no personal space, and basically no right to privacy.

Now this mindset is very well when it comes to a society and a way of life (even though you may hate it) among friends and family, but is a disaster when it comes to doing business and operating in a professional world.

But most people (companies as well as telemarketers) don't know where the boundaries lie. And that is first and foremost an issue of culture and organisational ethics, rather than the law.

For example, for the past four years I've been getting calls on my cellphone from people asking from my wife. On probing, I always discover they're all telemarketing calls from a bank, auto insurance, or car dealers.

The first time it happened, I remembered that when my wife bought her Mitsubishi car, for some forgotten reason, she had given my cellphone number as hers. On further probing the callers, I discovered the first caller on behalf of the auto-loan company, had previously worked for the Mitsubishi dealer where my wife bought the car! Subsequenly the lady moved on to (and shared the list with) other companies who added my number to their database!

The point to note is, the lady wasn't apologetic, but tried to make small talk and act familiar, just because she'd spoken with us once in the past!

It's not amusing anymore!

Moving on from irritating, is the next danger of familiarity - which leads to loss of business for many companies.

The other day in Gurgaon, I was in the same elevator as two well dressed young execs. They were going to meet the CEO of a company in that building and this is how the conversation went:

Exec 1: So you know this guy!?

Exec 2: Yes, he was my Platinum Card client at A***

Exec 1: Wow, that's cool! So he will take the card?

Exec 2: Yeah sure, I call up all my A*** clients and tell them I'm now with A** **** and get them to meet me for five minutes... "Woh hame jaante hain" (they know me). And I force them to take the new card!

Exec 1: Wow!!

It troubled me to no end, that here was this guy, boasting aloud in a crowded lift about something that wasn't just unethical, but illegal as well!

If either of the banks have figured out the *** names and want to know more, write to me, I'll give you the guy's name and place of visit as well!

The first bank obviously spent a lot of money to acquire that client (or maybe not), and here was this jerk washing it down the drain! It also troubled me because I am a large customer of the second bank, and I feared that my personal information could be sold further as well!

It's obvious that neither the first bank (or auto company) or the second had made any effort to establish the concept of data theft. And that what these people were doing is illegal. Perhaps they'd even let slip in their interviews that they had the database, which is why they were hired in the first place!!

I believe these two incidents reflect the core issue behind our porous BPOs. Of how core human values if not put the right context, can mess with organisational and business values.

Moral of the Story: If India and Indian BPOs want to be taken seriously by countries, companies, and customers, they have to first put a culture, work ethics, and belief systems in place.

Organisational and Social pressure, will prove a better preventive deterrent than the law.

The law should at best used as punishment for error!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

IIT Alumni - Helping build India through Innovation

They're acknowledged worldwide as some of the brainiest people on this planet. They appear in boardrooms, as well as comic strips around the world.

They're the alumni of the various Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in India, and they're getting together for a PanIIT Global Conference 2006 with the theme "Inspire to Involve and Transform India".

There's no doubt that most of these alumni of various IIT are in a position to make a difference to this country, what's amazing is their constant endeavors to do so!

The 3-day conference has a diverse variety of relevant sessions planned - including those that help understand the Indian economy, infrastructure, outlook, as well as specific areas for growth including energy, environment, bio-technology, and information technology - with a perspective on how IITians can make a difference both starting from the grassroots level and heading for the top audiences/industries.

Read more about the conference here, or keep watching this space.


hero versus baap!

This is my second post in recent times on the automobile industry in India. While I talked about the superbike dilemma the last time, this time I want to share my thoughts on the actual - current battle of the bikes going on between the supposed hero number one, and whom I think is the real baap (hindi term, for big daddy) of two wheelers in India.

Let's leave names aside for the moment, because the point I want to make is not really about the two companies, but about how companies can go completely wrong if they don't think right, or get the right marketing advice. I want to talk about how belief systems, and individual styles can make or break a company. (And how on earth can anyone with millions of rupees to spend on marketing and advertising, not have this basic commonsense in place!?).

Enjoy the ride, this is how it is, with two companies in the same business:

  • Both started out as family owned two wheeler manufacturers, long before liberalization appeared in the Indian lexicon.
  • Both were owned and run by patriarchs, who were bloody good at making their products, and going about their business.
  • Both were very successful, and respected by the industry.

    Cut to: the last 5-7 years.

  • One patriarch has handed over the reigns to his younger sons. One still keeps the reigns to himself.
  • One hires professional marketing and advertising agencies which are "very different" in thinking from them. One hires a bunch of agencies that are "like minded".
  • One gives its agencies a free hand and trusts their judgement. One makes every campaign a pitch between all its agencies.
  • One company's agencies come out with fresh and new ideas. One company's agencies are always second guessing what the company wants, in order to get the business.
  • One company has a variety of strong brands in its portfolio. One company is struggling to find variations of the one product promise it invented 20 years ago.
  • One company is clearly a winner in consumer minds. One company is ahead in sales, but just about.

Who do you think will win in the long run and become the brand of the future?

Note 1: Thinking shown above, is standard equipment in a professional setup. The results of actual marketing efforts however, always depends on individual riding styles.

Note 2: I have no vested interests in either of the two companies. I have however competed against both in the distant past.


real happiness = delivery, not just promises

One of the facts of business and marketing is that you promise on what you deliver, at the time you say you'd deliver.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case of perhaps one of the most talked about, most previewed and most awaited products in the last couple of years - the Airbus A380.

We have seen episodes of it on Discovery Channel and every other news/features channel, seen interviews with various airline heads talking about their huge orders for it, and heard so much about it from Airbus itself... since a really long time now...

But constant delays have plagued the much awaited (and certainly exciting) new aircraft - so much so, that after many big customers threatening to cancel their orders (like Emirates), FedEx has actually gone ahead and cancelled a huge order with Airbus, and moved to Boeing.

Moral of the story: It doesn't matter how big you are, or how great your product is... you keep your customers on hold, the competition will end up talking to them!

Read the story and get the details here.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Talent & The Boss's Perspective

I received a couple of email (why email?? stop being shy, and post your comments, folks!! make this blog a little more interactive upfront) with regards to my previous post on Talent. In that post, I pointed out that problems within a company, can invariably be traced back to leadership, and bad bosses.

Most of those who wrote in, agreed with me and shared their own "boss experiences" (too explicit to print here). However I got the feeling, they assumed I was just out to trash "bosses" - which is far from what I had in mind, having been a "boss" myself for the last 10 years!

The fact is, I always took ownership of problems and tried to address them the best way I could - with inputs from my own bosses (thank you Abhinav, Nirvik, Arvind, Nitish, Sanjeev) and the people that worked under me (thanks Sam, Arun, Shikha, Suruchi, Partho...).

The truth is, I promise you, I always knew any problem within the team, was usually do to some action or inaction of mine, giving rise to my belief in the "Boss" theory.

At the same time, the influence of my own boss was strong in my own dealings with people (my no. 2 problem theory, coming soon)! I sometimes did or said things I wouldn't have done (good and bad) which weren't me!

So when they were angels, the sun shone out of my you know what, but where they ****ed with my mind for their own agenda - I ended up being a pain in the you know where!

Net Net, here are some do's and don'ts I learned along the way, which should be of great help to any Boss to read, and a great tool to judge the one above you!

Good Bosses Should:

  • Define Roles of everyone and respect their boundaries (if you want smooth functioning at all times)
  • Speak Politely to everyone, irrespective of rank (being rude or gruff doesn't make you powerful, it makes you pathetic!)
  • Always profile your teams and their experience with external customers (It assures customers of stature and solidity, rather than solo seconds from you)
  • Encourage people below to learn your own job and what you do (how else will bosses move up to higher things?!)
Good Bosses Should Not:

  • Don't ever use "I" in presentations, unless you're specifically asked for your personal opinion (experience tells us, most people who say "I did this" usually did not!)
  • Don't snap fingers or use hand gestures to call or dismiss anyone (hand signals are for the physically challenged and traffic police)
  • Don't encourage so called "harmless gossip" or any form of "backbiting" (if you show it's okay to bitch about others, you're licensing them to bitch about you!)
  • Don't sleep with juniors, and certainly not with married ones (it ain't you buddy, it's the position - but then for many it is the only way, right??)
That's my two bit worth of learning about being a good boss and managing talent with the right spirit and true professionalism.

Feel free to add to the list, by posting comments below (not by sending me email!)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Talent? What Talent!?

At the ICCO Global Summit 2006, one of the sessions was "Talent: Our Greatest Asset". The Speaker was Jeffrey Fuller of Mercer HR Consulting, and the Chairperson (though I expected him to do a session as Speaker) was Bill Rylance - Asia-Pacific President & CEO of PR firm Burson-Marsteller.

My homework on Jeffrey Fuller told me we'd get a great global perspective on talent issues and management. And that this talk will not only touch upon human insights, but be backed by logical, scientific thinking as well.

My homework was correct, I wasn't disappointed, and neither was the audience, by the sense I got in the hall. Jeffrey had covered most of the issues to do with talent.

Then Bill Rylance asked his first question. And gave the whole subject another angle, which may have been at the back of a lot of minds, but hadn't ever been put so bluntly before.

As masterful as he is known to be, Bill Rylance pulled an ace out of his perceptive hat, and kind of said "all this is very well, to take care of people and their issues - but how do you deal with the fact that more often than not the root cause of all the problems and issues facing a company, is actually a bad boss?!"

And with that single statement, he made a point that talent becomes irrelevant, when bosses become terrible!

A silent hush ran through the audience, and I am sure everyone thought of their own boss immediately, and how almost every problem they faced, could be traced back to him or her!

It is true, and I am sure you all agree that the culture, the emotions, the workstyle of an organisation all depends upon the management and the environment it creates.

Good management, can nurture people and create positive productive, healthy believers.

Slack management, can create confusion, promote laziness and lower productivity, and at best mediocre performance.

Terrible management, will create chaos, hostility, lowered production, and many clusters of discontent!

In my seventeen years, I have had the honour and privilege of working with some of the finest bosses in the country - Sajid Peerbhoy, Abhinav Dhar, Nakul Chopra, Nirvik Singh, Arvind Wable, Nitish Mukherjee and Sanjeev Bhargava are the ones I can thank for nurturing and helping me grow - emotionally, as well as intellectually. Sure, we had minor issues like in every relationship, but we're all still friends today.

And having not been obsessed with 'boss problems' of my own, I had the luxury of noticing other people's bosses around me - in different business divisions, in client offices, in partner agencies, and even boss's bosses! There were a few good ones I came across - Ravi Kant (Tata Motors), Anil Kapoor (FCB), Sanjeev Chaddha (Pepsi), Marise Kumar (Whirlpool) and Prema Sagar (Burson-Marsteller) are the ones I'd rank as great bosses and people to work with.

You can always get a sense from body language of Bosses, as to how good or bad they'll be. As well as know from the body language of those around them. Relaxed and good people, always have relaxed and good people around them - and together they do a great job growing themselves, growing their companies.

So while we must do all we can to manage our people well like Jeffrey suggested, the fact is as Bill pointed out - if we really want to do justice to our talent, we need to begin at the top!

The Great Indian "Superbike" Dilemma

Every couple of weeks I open a newspaper or magazine in India, to see these gorgeous photographs of superbikes (like the one above), with accompanying headlines like "the superbikes are coming!" and alternately "the big bike question" (ET AutoMania, 2nd November 2006).

Enticed enough by the visuals, I end up reading the article, only to discover either:

1. The "superbike" planned by some company or the other is a 180cc or at best a 220cc (!) wannabe superbike.

2. The article interviews half a dozen top executives from Bajaj, Hero Honda, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki about them introducing real superbikes (500cc and above), only to conclude that Indian roads (!) are not ready for these superbikes, and they will not be successful (?)

Give me a break! Being a superbike fan, I am not even going to address the first point, because you have to be daft to put "220cc" and "superbike" in the same sentence (yuck, it hurts to even say that!).

As for point 2) the conclusion that Indian roads are not ready and they won't be successful, shows either a complete lack of understanding of the market/consumer insights, a lack of guts and something lower, or simply reflects a case of "sour grapes"!

Let's consider each element of the case against the launch of superbikes in India, one by one, and see what makes sense, and what does not:

1. "Indian roads are not suited for superbikes"

- It is not about the road, silly! It is about the bike and the passion to ride one!

- Indian roads are as good or as bad as roads in Bangkok, Johannesburg, Lima, Mexico city and Rome, to name just a few. And we haven't heard them complaining, have we?

- The point is, these bikes will never be used for day-to-day-commutes to places like Chandni Chowk or Lower Parel. But they will be used for thrill seeking and statement making.

- For the thrill seekers, places like Delhi-Gurgaon Jaipur highway, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, the Hyderabad-Secunderabad Tank Bund will do. For some, even two spins through Phoenix Mills and the malls in Gurgaon will give the desired satisfaction!

- Anyway, most of these bikes are best enjoyed at night, when the toy bikes and cars have gone home to bed, and every street becomes a super-highway!

2. "won't be successful"

- How do you define success? Compared to the 100cc, 100kmpl motor-bicycles that are consumed by the millions in this country?

- You've got to be more realistic. Even in the rich countries they don't sell as many superbikes as perhaps one Hero Honda dealer would sell in New Delhi!

Now, for my perspective, on what would help - not rocket science, but a little common sense!

1. Belief Systems: First and foremost get your own mind in order! Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

2. Honesty: The problem isn't the roads, it's the numbers - if it does not make business sense for you, say that. If taxes and laws are killing, explain. Don't blame the roads and other irrelevant aspects. If you identify the problem correctly, you will always find relevant solutions.

3. Understanding your audiences: You have two kinds - the passionate money-bags and the passionate money-lacks.

- With the passionate money-bags, eliminate the fears (put there yourself, and by your peers) of bad roads, and sell the bikes which you have so lovingly created.

- For the passionate money-lacks, just organise the finance! I rememember, the BMW 650 launched many years ago cost as much as 3 cars at a time when people couldn't even afford 1! And when I went to a Yamaha showroom last year to see their proposed Royal Star, I was told I would have to cough up around 900,000 rupees without any chance of finance! I may be bike looney, but ain't bloody loaded, so help me out here!

India is a vibrant dynamic country. The economy is booming. And the kids here (18 to 40 year olds) are ready to take on additional financial EMIs, if you promise enough social and emotional ROI.

If this gets the wheels in your head moving, puts serious superbike plans into gear in your company, I along with plenty others will be delighted. And if you decide to give me a call to help out with the strategy, I'd be ecstatic!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Careful, the blogs have ears!

There's no doubt that bloggers are proving to be more than a handful for the high and mighty (DELL, Neil French, Kryptonite for example).

Which is why companies and company executives better think carefully, before they act stupidly (or arrogantly, aggressively, arbitrarily, whatever...)

While you may think your "employees" are just plain and simple sloggers, a lot of them are also bloggers; their friends and relatives are bloggers, and bloggers can become your floggers when really pissed... actually make that 'when even mildly pissed'!

Here's the latest example of how a great company (which I normally admire), goofed when sending out a supposed morale boosting memo to its people who just lost a pitch. George Parker gives us the spoken and the unspoken words!


The Changing Face of India

The Master of Ceremonies (MC) at the ICCO Global Summit 2006 held in New Delhi this October, started the session "The Changing Face of India" by mis-pronouncing the name of one of India's most respected journalists - TN Ninan (Pronounced Tee En Nine-un, not Neenaan as the lady announced).

While Ninan rightly expressed his irritation, I couldn't help but smile at the symbolism of the incident:

Firstly, it reminds us that despite the years of cultural assimilation and progress, India is still a very culturally diverse country - there is no "typical Indian" and most Indians know very little about, and what makes the person in front of them tick!

And as communication consultants, when you add the factor of a constantly evolving economy to this constantly stirring society, it is most likely that the moment you reach within an arm's length of understanding your consumer, he's going to do a character twist and wriggle out of your mental grasp!

The second symbolism I felt, was even though we all consider Ninan to be 'famous' journalist, he's actually not that familiar a name among the general audience.

And in that reflects another truth of the new India today, which is similar to the rest of the developing world: Media is evolving, the erstwhile giants of print and television have a much lesser impact on society than before, and they have to compete with upstarts like the internet, and surprisingly even the resurgent radio!

Thirdly, the way Ninan reacted, also reflected the changing face of India - he was quick to ask aloud "who the hell is Neenan!??" and then he went on to ignore the MC as she tried to wrap up the session at the end of its allotted time, taking his time to make the points he had to.

The new Indian doesn't give a damn about the voice of authority (no pun intended), is not afraid to raise issues that could even affront someone in power, is ready to stand up and defend their individuality, and will do whatever it takes to get their voice heard!

As I started chewing on the symbolism, my thoughts were further fed by R Gopalakrishnan, Executive Director of Tata Sons - one of the most respected companies in India. He pointed out that India's consumption pattern resembles that of developed nations. And urbanisation is on a fast track that not only connects large cities, but is making inroads into rural India as well.

If you ask what are Indians spending on? Well, Mobile Phones, Televisions, Cars, and Computers are some of the products harvesting the seeds of this increased spending.

They're all tools of communication, getting around, and connecting people. And Indians are seeking out these in large numbers - not just the standard vanilla variety, but in the form of individually customised sundaes! Mobile phones that do a lot of things in a lot of languages, not just televisions but interactive televisions, and all kinds of cars for different occasions.

The point is, the changing face of India is culturally diverse and constantly diversifying, attention spans are fleeting and flying all over the media space, and of course media isn't only "the media" anymore.

That's what I took out from this session at the Summit. The rest of the presentations in this session were just feel good presentations for Indian audiences, and provided fascinating (and inviting) facts for the foreigners.

To know more about India and all the fact and figures, check out India Brand Equity Foundation or Confederation of Indian Industry