Friday, September 9, 2011

If Business is life, Customer is the God

While we are still discussing certain ways of working I have observed in Indian Organizations, I would like to remind about the most important reason of our professional existence - “The Customer”. In a company setup, when ever the management tries to identify future risks to the business, the first step taken is to identify all the stakeholders of the company. Customers, Investors, Dealers, Suppliers, Employees, Government, Environment and Society form to be the stakeholders for any company. While the company takes an in-depth view of risks emanating from all the stakeholders, I feel the biggest risk emanates from the company itself.
                When a child is born, the mind is pure. I think it must be “Moh” (Emotional Attachment) which would be first of the five vices to enter his mind. When the child is taken away from his mother, he cries. He cries until he can feel the touch of his mother again. This is the sign of “Moh” with his mother. With the onset of emotional attachment comes fear automatically. Fear of being away from the object of emotional attachment makes him cry. All the attention given by his parents in order to please him makes him feel special and anything happening against his wishes brings the second vice - “Krodh” (Anger) in him. He grows up and sees other children playing with different toys towards which he gets attracted to and this helps develop the third vice – “Lobh” (Greed). In a kid, I think these are the three vices that are present. In a grown up adult, two more vices make their place in his mind – “Kaam” (Lust) and “Ahankaar” (Ego). Normally one would observe that if a person does not have “kaam” & “Ahankaar” in him, we sometimes even call this person a kid. This suggests that these two vices are normally present in adults only.
                In the spiritual world, the whole purpose of human existence is to make ones soul pure to please the Almighty and to finally unite with Him. While these five vices take us away from our goal, getting rid of them help take the soul closer to God. And if once a soul pleases the God Almighty, the soul gets rid of all the pains and suffering of life. And if it doesn’t during the life time of the body in which it stays, it gets a new body and a renewed chance to purify itself. All the pain and agony in the spiritual world is because of the unending cycle of birth & death. But once the soul is purified, this cycle is stopped and the soul is united with the Almighty.
Similarly, when a new business starts its life, the company is pure. All the efforts are put in to please the customer. When it starts getting business, it gets attached to the profits. When it witnesses further growth, Greed steps in. Further when it is fully established, Ego creeps in. In all this, the customer is finally forgotten.
If business is life then the Customer is the God. The whole purpose of running the business should be to please the Customer. Now the question is
“Why to treat the customer as God“?
The answer lies in an old story of a saint and a king. Once upon a time, a saint was summoned by a king. The king was curious to know one thing. “Does the God Almighty also work like we do? And if yes, then what work does He do?”  The saint closed his eyes and stood there for ten minutes without saying anything. The king’s curiosity went up and he humbly asked the saint that why wasn’t he giving the answer to his question? The saint said that it is the King who has a question and it’s the saint who has the answer for it, then is it not wrong that the king is sitting on his throne and the saint standing bare foot? Shouldn’t it be the other way round, inquired the saint. The King also felt that the knowledge and wisdom being supreme, should be respected and he removed his robe and offered it to the saint and made him sit on his throne while he waited for the answer standing in front of the saint. The saint again closed his eyes for another ten minutes. This time the king again inquired whether anything else was required to be done before the answer. The saint opened his eyes and smiled. He said, “Hey king, you didn’t see what God did to us? He made a beggar a King and the king a beggar”. This is what God does.
I feel that Customer is the God as it is the customer that has the power to make a billion dollar company go bankrupt and vice versa.
 All the companies that please the customer get rid of all the pains and sufferings of losses and diminishing market share and the ones that don’t, die.  In this business world, this company would again have to take birth in order to get a renewed chance of pleasing the God. All the pain and agony in the business world is due to the beginnings that are full of struggle and the disappointing endings. If the company pleases the God for once, the cycle of beginnings and endings would stop. Now the company would be in strong connect with its customers in true sense.
                Now when I again take a look at the stakeholders for a company, I feel that the risk is mitigated if only the Customers needs are taken care off. If a company knows how to completely satisfy its customers, money would automatically come. Investors would be more than happy to invest; Dealers & Suppliers would be more than ready to deal with it & employees would love to be working in the company. Without employees, it would become impossible to please the customers. Same is the case if dealers, vendors and investors etc are not present.  If the company treats its customers as God, it would fairly treat all the stakeholders as they would form the way of reaching out to the God.
                On the other hand, if the company is not being fair to the employees or dealers or suppliers, this is an indication that it’s connect with the customers is not there.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Views: Protests to fight against corruption…

Indian people in general are very emotional people. We love our families, our possessions, our favorite sport and even our mindset. The personal connect of each individual towards the object of love is very strong. There is nothing practical or logical about love. When we love a sport, in our case its Cricket, our love doesn’t end at the sport, we start loving its players. When they perform well, a strong hope starts to build up. We start feeling confident about securing the top spot in the sporting world. The emotions become even stronger and we start to worship these players.  And when these players stop delivering, we burn their effigies. We feel hurt. We feel cheated. We had built high hopes and now everything seems to be lost. “We build and lose hope very easily”. After some time we forget what happened.
                Similarly, today there is a fight against corruption that is being lead by Mr. Anna Hazare. I feel delighted to see hundreds of thousands of Indians standing in unison against corruption. Their feeling is strong and genuine. We are possibly now in love with the feeling of corruption free India and the emotions are running high. Mr. Hazare wants his version of anti-graft bill to be presented in the parliament, while the ruling government has come up with their own draft that is considered to be more benign. Mr. Hazare and the protestors want corruption to be wiped off in a go while ruling party has their doubt on whether a strong bill could also wipe off corruption or not.
                I think both the parties need to converge at a middle point. The protestors demand is highly genuine but we have been living with corruption for about 4 or 5 decades. A thing that took 5 decades to build up cannot be stopped with any single booster dose. If the corruption needs to be wiped out, and stronger bill might not help the cause, then government needs to clearly identify how corruption can actually be wiped off. What conditions would certainly be required to do it. After having identified that, the work for the government would boil down to creation of those conditions in a phased manner. This might take time, but here the will power of the protestors would come into play i.e. not to lose hope and forget about their dream of a corruption free India. With sustained courage and conviction, the protesting party should work along with the government to fight the disease of corruption. Actions of both the stakeholders have to complement each other to fight the biggest evil that we face today.

Monday, August 15, 2011

We have been “trained” this way only!!

From the very early days, I still remember, we were punished if we dared to even rephrase the sentence that the teacher had taught. Remembering the content was not enough, it had to be remembered the way it was delivered. I had my doubts on the teacher’s ability to understand the rephrased sentence. Not answering was a better way out then giving out your version as the latter was considered as some sort of misbehavior. And misbehavior, without fail, called for punishment. Whatever, “Follow the things as has been said” had become the rule. The kids who crammed line by line what had been taught were called the brilliant kids of the section. I too once or twice got rewarded when I crammed an answer to a question. I knew that I could not understand anything that I “learned”, but still the reward was big, appreciation in front of whole class. Till that time, the treatment I received was totally opposite as my memory has not been very sharp and memorizing something is a difficult task for me.  Anyway, now I knew how to impress my teachers and get good marks.
                Talking about some 30 years back, generally Indian parents had very high hopes from their kids. The success of their kids could bring them out of the financial constraints they had lived through all their lives. And their failure meant losing all hopes of a good standing in the society. They even deprived themselves of certain basic necessities to ensure that the kids went to the right school to get the best education. No doubt they had to have high hopes as they had seen very difficult times for giving their kids the best. At that time, there were only two options available for earning money. One was to become a small time businessman and the other was to compete against other fellow Indians to enter into the government jobs. Business was uncertain. One never had that kind of money to experiment in the market. There was no concept of venture capitalists and the interest rates that banks used to charge were discouraging. The only one who could be a venture capitalist was the father. And if the father also didn’t have the resources, government jobs were the only option. Even though the government jobs were less paying, they ensured a regular stream of income and lots of other benefits. But these jobs were hard to get into. Each candidate had to fight against perhaps 100 others to get through. There were only one or two successful persons in the neighborhood those who cleared the entrance examination for getting through the government jobs. If the neighbor’s son got through it, probability of own kid getting though would automatically become negligible. So right from the beginning, there was a competition going on between the neighborhood kids. Actually the kids were not competing against each other; it was their parents who did. Good marks were something that parents used to boast of in front of others. It was also an indication that the probability of becoming successful in the future was higher for the kids who scored better in the neighborhood. So one thing was very clear, Good Marks were definitely needed. I think parents never checked whether the understanding level of the kids was good enough or not. Probably because good marks meant no symptoms and no symptoms meant no disease. They were quite content if the marks were good.
                As a kid, I loved to try something new. I always found the flame of a candle very interesting. It used to dance and I wanted to hold it. I was warned lot many times by my mother not to go close to the flame or I would be hurt. As I touched it, I came to know why I should not go close. Similarly, my teachers warned me not to remember the lessons any other way apart from the way it was taught. As I did abide by their words, I got the rewards. The thought process thus got developed to do the things as were being told to get good rewards.
                In the Indian society, questioning one above you has been considered to be misbehavior. In the family setup, the kids did not have the right to ask “WHY” to the things the parents did or asked them to do. It was parent’s discretion whether to explain the purpose behind it. The same held true for the teachers. If the kid did not understand, then it was the kid’s problem and not the teacher’s. The same thing I saw happening in the organizations. No body asked the managers the purpose or end use of the activity we were asked to do. The same thing held true for the manager. They never enquired about the purpose from their seniors and latter from the management. Clarity of the situation flows from the top at the discretion of the person on top and probably cannot be sought from the bottom was the way of working that I had learned when I started. In any case, we had to do what ever we were asked to do as we were being paid for that only.
                It was only when I was learning the Japanese Language in AOTS centre in Nagoya, Japan that I realized that the teachers there worked very hard to know whether we understood the things that were being taught or not. They used different ways and examples to teach us one concept. They knew English language but hardly used it. Instead they tried to teach us Japanese in Japanese by showing us different objects, different situations etc. Most importantly was, they encouraged a “Why” to be asked to them. Similarly when I entered the Automobile company office in Japan, my manager had given me orders not to begin with any activity till I ask him the purpose and end use of that activity. I obeyed him. I definitely did a better job having the clarity on the purpose of doing the task that I did. Before submitting my work, I ensured that it met the purpose it was required for. End result was, I had to do very less of repeat work.
This was a new learning for me. Something I was never asked to do all my life – “Use my own brain”. I did start to use it and the end result came out to be good and most of all highly satisfying. When I look at people above me in the Indian setup, I feel they are still suffering from the same problem that I was suffering with. I don’t blame them. We all have been “trained” this way only!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Objective: To identify the way an Ideal Organization should work

After my graduation, I entered the professional world with a strong notion that the professional ways were "Perfect". I am a Mechanical Engineer and after seeing huge refinery units & modern cars roll out of factories during my trainings, I thought that only perfection could lead to such engineering marvels that I had seen. Today, it’s been more than 6 years of my working in different Indian Organizations.
 My career took a start with my entry into the Automobile Industry as an Engineering Trainee. Perfection was something I expected when I entered the Automobile Industry due to my impression about the industries that was formed during my training days. Very early in our careers we were made to understand that a lot many things were happening the way they were due to already established guidelines and procedures. These guidelines were established by people years ago based upon some circumstances which none of us were explained about. Times changed but the guidelines didn’t. Still newer models rolled out of plant and production volumes went up year on year. This all suggested to me that probably strong guidelines were making things perfect. I accepted the organizational ways without questioning them and started to believe in the power of guidelines. Even when the mid level managers got stuck with some problem, they approached not the higher ups in the hierarchy, but those people boasting of decades of their service in the same organization. The purpose was to know not the right way of solving the problem but to know of any precedents that could help them get through. The future course of action on any problem would depend upon whether a similar one was dealt with correctly or not in the past. With so many guidelines in place and plenty of precedents to consider before taking a decision, my job, I felt, was quite tough for me to handle. On the other hand, those who were quick learners of these guiding principles were seen as the leaders of tomorrow. In any case, I was struggling and my managers reassured that with more number of years put in, things would certainly become easier for me. But till that time my understanding would remain unclear I had thought.
One day, an opportunity knocked at the door. Chance to get trained in Japan was considered to be a big opportunity as no one had been trained there in my department. I was presented with that opportunity and I grabbed it. I knew guidelines would be something that everybody in Japan would expect me to know. I did my homework and was well prepared before I reached there. Shortly after, I realized that my sensei (teacher) was more interested in the way I think rather than what somebody else had thought while making some procedures. If my thought process guided me logically to a different path than the commonly accepted one, sensei encouraged me to take that. This sort of experience was something new to me as till now what someone else had thought always used to yield the right result, but suddenly my sensei made me realize that what I thought also took me to the right direction, probably a better one. Suddenly the ghost of guidelines started to diminish. It took about an year for the newly found power of my own thinking to hold ground. It seemed that guidelines were virtual walls to limit one’s own thought process or probably to scare the new joinees like me.
I returned back with great confidence in myself. I knew that my peers were in the same situation as I was before I had left. One of the things that I had to do was to introduce them to the same experience that I lived for one year. It took me some two years to realize and conclude that not only me peer level, but people, 3 to 4 levels up the hierarchy, were still in the same mind frame. The only difference was that my peer level was flexible enough to listen to new ideas and understand while the people up the hierarchy had become very rigid in their thought and approach. These were the people out of whom some would become the leaders of change in the dynamic business scenario.

Now do I mean that there is something wrong with the way Indian Organizations work? "No", there is plenty of evidence to prove that something “Right” has also been playing its part and taking us to the right direction. If the functioning was not proper, we couldn't have seen so many advancements in our lifetime. People across the globe would not have seen India as the emerging technology hub. With basic flaw in the functioning, we couldn't have come up with product like Tata Nano that created curiosity globally.
So, one thing is for sure that we had our share of the “Rights” with us. But what I want to stress upon is that still there is a lot of scope for Improvement with us. My dream is to have an organization that runs in a “Perfect” Manner. But then we have heard so many times that
 “Nothing in this world is perfect”.
Then how can we expect an organization to work in a perfect manner? That seems logical. But I think the true essence of the earlier statement needs to be clarified.
“Nothing that Human has created in this world is perfect”.
But there certainly lies perfection in this world.
“Everything that God has created is perfect”
And I have the confidence in saying that because as a human, I do believe in the test of time and the universe is time tested and is said to be working for the past millions of years. An organization may never become perfect for being a human creation, but definitely come close to it by taking inspiration from the “God’s perfect ways”. With this idea in mind, I start a journey called Management By God in search of that Perfect Organization.