Jargon Jungle: Catfish Effect

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and the scene is as usual. Your company’s CEO is conducting the much hated ‘management review’. All laptops are closed and all phone have been placed face down on the table. This is the CEO style. You are by the Head of Development’s side, who is your immediate boss. You are there because the CEO is fond of a ‘flat management structure’ and likes to interact with ‘young’ people directly. Recent product launches have been delayed.

One of the products which could get through to the launch has been met with negative consumer feedback due to quality issues. Both the development and production departments have blamed poor engineering for this.

Therefore, today’s meeting is expected to focus on engineering.

You secretly thank your CEO for holding the meeting just after lunch, the toughest time to be working. You come to the meeting super excited and alert. This may be your chance to get noticed by the big boss. An issue-related with the company’s dealer somehow crops up. The sales head and the finance head are sniping at each other. Time ticks away. Your attention soon drifts.

“Let’s discuss the product launch delays,” says the CEO at last. You snap to attention. The head of engineering is sitting upright. The CEO is looking intently at him. The production head gives details about the production difficulties causing slippages in deliveries. “This could have been avoided if engineering had worked out test procedures in detail,” he says. The engineering team’s boss makes a presentation about the various product launch projects, crunched time lines and not receiving development releases in time. He also mentioned the resource crunch. Before your boss can say anything, the CEO interrupts the presentation and says, “the Engineering Department has a well settled team. Most in your team have over four years of experience. Why can’t your people manage complexities and uncertainties in product launches better?”

“Any ideas for change?,” the CEO posed this question to all. “Time to try the catfish effect!,” says the head of HR. She had joined the company six months back. In a short time she earned the reputation of being a perceptive person as well as being a tough task master. Her experiments with peer appraisal have made many seniors wary. But it can’t be denied that she does stir up things.

“Do you have any here or do you have to fish around for them?”. The CEO is quick o respond. You sense that you are there as a ‘young’ person, so the spotlight will be on you soon. The head of engineering is clueless. But the finance head asks, “What’s a catfish effect?”

You have no chance of googling the catfish.

(To practice the concepts and the techniques described in this post and in posts in this blog personal coaching programs are available. Your practice and coaching takes place through workouts and feedback. There are face to face or web based (www.learning-leadership.com ) sessions. Contact support@learning-leadership.com)

Snapping into action

Fortunately, the HR head explains, “In Norway, live sardines are several times more expensive than frozen ones, and are valued for better texture and flavor. It was said that only one ship could bring live sardine home, and the shipmaster kept his method a secret. After he died, people found that there was one catfish in the tank. The catfish keeps swimming, and the sardines try to avoid this predator. This increased level of activity keeps the sardines active instead of becoming sedentary.”

“When you introduce some kind of a positive disturbing force you put people on their toes. They perform better due to competition. That’s the catfish effect.”

The CEO asks, “Do you think the engineering department is similar to the sardines in a tank?”

“Our engineers are quite active and busy. They work hard. Really!,” the head of engineering protests.

The HR Head asks, “I didn’t mean the engineering department alone. Isn’t there a settled feeling in the entire organization?”

“I know. But can this be done? What do you think, young man?”, the CEO asks you. Now, the spotlight is on you.

“Sir it can be done. But there are pros and cons” – you haven’t forgotten your MBA lingo.

The HR Head interrupts, “One more benefit is that it opens up career opportunities to the motivated and talented people. But there are risks of alienating experienced people. Both the organization and the potential catfish must take risks.”

The CEO asks you, “Well, young man, are ready to be the catfish? You have been around in development and you have seen what has gone wrong. You are aware of the technical angles as well. Think about it”

You come out of the meeting thinking.

Important thing to keep in mind is that people may stay on auto-pilot if they get used to their work (and are reasonably above average in it). In this they resemble sardines. But they aren’t sardines. They are intelligent and they have worked out what is good for them even if it doesn’t suit the organization.

The challenges in making the catfish effect work is as follows:

1. Finding catfish: people who are way better than the existing people and those can get started quickly.

2. Your people are far more intelligent the Sardines. They may frustrate a newcomer. The newcomer must be able to break through the current line up without upsetting people too much.

3. Very often the real issues aren’t limited to people and their attitudes. Your work processes matter. In may ‘established’ organizations the processes have already become unwieldy. Your catfish may fall victim to it. It is like a tank of still and toxic water.

4. The team leader’s skills matter. If the Head of Engineering doesn’t have clear idea about what is needed to be done, introducing new people may not help.

If you are going to be the catfish, you must work all this out so that you know what to ask for.

Keywords: CatfishstrategyHRresults

This article written by me was published on Hindu Business line’s bloncampus.com link
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Jargon Jungle: Business Agility

It is more than just about speed; it is a result of well thought out changes in people and processes.

The top managers are in their first meeting with the CEO. The machinery manufacturer, Precision Perfect Co. (PPC), was recently taken over by MNC American group. PPC was saddled with huge losses, and its family owners had neither the capital nor the managerial ability to turnaround the company. They sold out to the MNC group.

(To practice the concepts and the techniques described in this post and in posts in this blog personal coaching programs are available. Your practice and coaching takes place through workouts and feedback. There are face to face or web based (www.learning-leadership.com ) sessions. Contact support@learning-leadership.com)

This group appointed an Indian CEO under a new board, andthe board members are all American managers of the MNC. The CEO returned from his two week orientation trip to the US plants of the new owners, with the mantra, ‘Business Agility’.

He talks to the top managers, via a slideshow. His first slide has a single word, ‘Agility’, written in large letters. His second slide has the word ‘Business’, and the third slide, ‘Cash’. He says, “Agility is the key to everything we do,” and clasping his hands, concludes, “Please take this forward,” while lowering in his high back chair. The PPC’s management team mostly has dyed-in-machinery kind of engineers, who watch the new CEO. Their thoughts could well be:

Agility — A cheetah

Business — Sales people with their briefcases

Cash — Their finance manager

They had heard their patriarchal former owner saying that they need to work faster. They didn’t mind it, except that they thought they were taking less than ideal time needed for every activity — designing, manufacturing, and testing. Every step must be done perfectly before the next step can start, was the unwritten code.

The CEO continues to gaze at them, and it makes them uncomfortable. They look hopefully to the factory manager. PPC was saddled with not just losses but also with long and uncertain delivery times and old debts which needed to be collected after finishing machinery installations. PPC also had a pile of obsolete component inventories. The factory manager remains silent.

The CEO gives up and is about to dismiss the meeting when a young man in his early 30s speaks up: “Sir, agility in everything we do, means a lot of things,” he says, in a tone that belies his disbelief in this ‘agility thing’. Everyone is alert now. The CEO motions the young man to proceed.

“To start with, agility means our delivery cycle time must go down; so also the time taken to finish site work and close the contracts. These two things will bring down customer complaints and free up our people,” he continues.

“I presume this is do-able?” the CEO asks.

“Yes sir. If the engineering department doesn’t wait for all details to release procurement lists, a part of delivery cycle time can be cut. Manufacturing too can start work on commonly used sub-assemblies. Intelligently planned parallel activities throughout the delivery cycle can save time. Custom-built part changes can cause waiting time, so only they should determine cycle time. Our customers will see the logic and won’t mind.”

The CEO looks at the heads of engineering and manufacturing. They nod.

The previous owners had recruited this engineer-MBA in their hope of improving things — it seems to be a wise decision. The engineer-MBA continues, “There is scope for technical innovation to bring down time needed for all activities, from engineering to installation,” he pauses, waiting to see what the CEO thought of this speech.

The CEO declares, “Well said young man. Will you back yourself in doing this?” Looking at others, he says, “Please think about it. We shall meet again”. Before leaving, he asks the young man to see him later in the day.

More than just speed

‘Business Agility’ surely needs speed, which can be achieved by simply pushing everyone to physical limits of work hours, and through rewards and punishments to match. But it is wiser and more enduring to let the speed increase as a result of well thought out changes in people, processes and everything else.

You need to perceive environmental and internal changes quickly; change processes quickly; bring in technology; you need people who can imagine these things and execute them; you need to use speed and quality (fitness for use) as the most important criteria for making decisions. For this, you need a flatter organization and shorter workflows, with less change of hands.

You need people who can directly talk to their colleagues for improving things instead of going through their bosses. You need bosses who know when to step out of their peoples’ way. Your organisation needs to be in a perpetual cycle of conceiving, engineering, prototyping, testing and improving business processes. It can be quite an exciting and unnerving place to be in.

Can you do it?

Business agility isn’t meant for the weak-hearted or for those who are tradition-and-hierarchy bound.

The word agility also comes up in another context — agile software development. Agile development also proceeds with incomplete information, only to come back later, filling in the gaps. It calls for repeatedly configuring specifications and plans, discarding yesterday’s assumptions. It can be resource intensive.

Can you live with such self-generated, self-challenging intentional uncertainty? Can your people handle this? Can your systems cope? You need leaders at all levels to create business agility.

If you are like the young man in the story above, will you accept the challenge? Will you be ready sometime in future, to build such an organization?

This article written by me was published on Hindu Business line’s bloncampus.com link
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Jargon Jungle: Butterfly Effect

This Chaos theory concept has important ramifications in business and manufacturing world

(To practice the concepts and the techniques described in this post and in posts in this blog personal coaching programs are available. Your practice and coaching takes place through workouts and feedback. There are face to face or web based (www.learning-leadership.com ) sessions. Contact support@learning-leadership.com)

If your boss ever asks you to keep in mind the ‘butterfly effect’, chances are, he has just returned from a business conference. Someone might have made a presentation about a sudden loss of market share, arguing that a change in packaging led to a ‘butterfly effect’, causing the loss. So your boss must have been intrigued and decided to use the term at the next opportunity.

Say, at a meeting, you are explaining a minor error or some trivial matter. He doesn’t like it. He wants to say ‘Small things matter, so pay good attention to them. Be more careful’. Perhaps he wants to say ‘Don’t be sloppy’. Instead, he asks: “Haven’t you heard of the butterfly effect?” He is bored of plain-speak. Alternatively, he thinks he can criticize you in a sophisticated manner. Impressing his superiors simultaneously is just the icing on the cake.

Small variations, big changes

The butterfly effect is an important concept in Chaos theory, in mathematics. It refers to ‘sensitive dependence on initial or starting conditions’. According to this theory, certain kinds of systems show large changes in their outputs due to small variations in their inputs, or the conditions, at the start.

The effect was noticed during a weather model simulation run by American mathematician, Edward Norton Lorenz. When systems have non-linear (effect disproportional to its cause and nature of the cause) or time-dependent (relationship between cause and effect changing with time) character, they may display the butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect is named after the oft-heard phenomenon — the formation of a severe hurricane being dependent on whether a single butterfly had fluttered its wings days or weeks earlier. Whether this has actually happened or not is unknown. But that is another story.

We see such events in nature. A rock rolling down a slope can cause a landslide or do no harm — small changes in its initial direction can make a big difference. Small changes in temperature or the dwindling of some predator species can affect life forms, depending on where they occur.

The rumour mill

We see such effects in social situations too. If a rumour is heard initially by someone who believes in it and is influential, it can spread and can cause major events, like riots. If the same rumour is heard by more diligent, balanced people in its formative stage, it may get squashed early enough to avoid trouble.

The butterfly effect is unpredictable because the underlying cause and effect relationships are too many and too fast-changing to allow any real-time calculation. Algorithmic trading of securities is banned in some places for this reason. It can stress out the automated markets in unpredictable ways. Weather systems, too, are hugely complex, full of a large number of interdependent variables that are changing rapidly over time.

Three conditions

For the butterfly effect to take hold, the following conditions are necessary:

1. There are a large number of independent and interdependent variables and they have ‘many to many’ relationships

2. The cause and effect relationships depend on the value of variables and also on time

3. It is not possible to confine ‘unwanted’ variations; neither is it possible to design processes which are tolerant to small changes in inputs

Our modern lives depend on systems that fulfill the first two conditions. The manufacture and use of automobiles, the aviation industry, the Internet and the financial sector have a very large number of variables and are characterized by complex and changing relationships. Yet they operate mostly without any butterfly effect. This is a testimony to human ingenuity in ensuring that the third condition does not occur.

When your boss, or his boss, asks you to keep in mind a likely Butterfly Effect, pay heed. You might be able to contribute to the avoidance of the third condition, whether he had this in mind or not.

This article written by me was published on Hindu Business line’s bloncampus.com link
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Jargon Jungle: Branding, a jungle

A quick guide to explain the big bad world of branding

Everyone knows what branding is. It isn’t some obscure jargon. Yet, it is a jargon jungle in itself. Not convinced? Following are some definitions of branding. They range from textbook type to mystical, from poetic to hard truths, from philosophical to manipulative, from abstract to graphic. Take your pick:

A unique promise kept over time.

An exaggeration of the truth.

Uncovering a human truth and then creating something that speaks to that truth.

Branding is a means of manipulating identity in order to manage perceptions.

A brand is whatever your consumers have in mind about you.

The ratio between leadership, vision, communication, culture and user experience.

A “brand” is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

Convincing that voice in someone’s head to be on your side.

Myth-building for commercial purposes.

At worst, it is the communications equivalent of searing an ironclad message into the hide of your unwilling audience. At best, it’s the authentic creation of a meaningful and lasting impression on the people most important to you through an interaction they value.

A visible representation of our invisible desire to self-actualise.

The things that make me different are the things that make me.

Creating a consistent point of view within a given market that utilises trend and consumer awareness.

Branding is like cooking, in that it requires a bit of skill, a lot of intuition, and the right ingredients. You shouldn’t always follow a recipe, and if you’re lucky, people love what you make.

The process in which the black box of creativity is rendered safe for the risk-adverse.

The process, tactics, and result of creating connections in people’s minds between an organisation, product, or concept and a set of characteristics. Some branding is intentional, but much of it is not. The job of a marketer in branding is to align the desired associations with the actual ones and amplify the associations’ reach.

Branding is establishing values and differentiators around a company, product or service. If branding is successful, potential customers associate the company with the values they wish to stand for. Brands need updating over time or they tend to lose resonance with clients and potential clients.

What goes behind a brand

Isn’t that a ‘Jargon Jungle’ indeed? The simplest form of branding is a logo, a name and at times a short line (also called a tagline or a punch line). In some cases, there may be a customised colour palette that is designed to give brands a visual presence. A brand’s visual signature may be carried on various forms of a company’s communication, such as its letterhead, business cards, brochures, web sites and advertisements.

For most people, branding means advertising. For marketers, branding is an investment. For sales people, it is a sales campaign (hopefully funded by an extra budget), which offers a chance to be one up on competition. For accountants and auditors, branding is an expense.

Launching into the digital age

However, all of the above are traditional viewpoints. Today, digital media and digital sales channels allow tracking of response and conversion in sales. These days, branding is nothing if there is no ‘viral’ effect. Downloads or eyeballs within the first 24 hours of release has become an important parameter, much like the opening weekend box office collections of a new movie.

In today’s start-up economy, most of the branding is done through introductory offers, heavy discounts and celebrity endorsements. These are funded by investors’ money. Nobody plays by the conventional rules of branding anymore.

Where do you go from here?

Traditional definitions of branding may not help much. Shorter product life-cycles and fast-changing buyer behaviours means that even big brands don’t tend to live long. Even when they do, they are seen to be past their prime. Consider brands like Coca Cola and Microsoft.

Instead of asking what branding is, it is better to ask what one expects from branding.

To answer the question, you need to drill down to some basic parameters:

  • Branding for whom? (customers, employees, investors, public)
  • What would you like to achieve and by when?
  • Are there any ways to get public interested?
  • What are you willing to do?
  • What is the budget?

Whether you are in the corporate wonderland or in a start-up’s Neverland, navigating the Jargon Jungle of branding is easier when you have a clear destination.

(To practice the concepts and the techniques described in this post and in posts in this blog personal coaching programs are available. Your practice and coaching takes place through workouts and feedback. There are face to face or web based (www.learning-leadership.com ) sessions. Contact support@learning-leadership.com)
This article written by me was published on Hindu Business line’s bloncampus.com link
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Jargon Jungle: Stay on top of Big Data

This one term has become so ubiquitous that you will have to deal with it sooner or later

Big Data — this technical term is on its way to becoming a catchword or management jargon. It is so ubiquitous that you will have to deal with it sooner or later, even if you aren’t an IT professional.

But unlike other nerdy terms, this one means exactly what it says — Big Data is a lot of data. But how much is a ‘lot’? Experts say it is in terabytes (over 1,000 gigabytes). “So what if there is a lot of data?”, you might ask. Isn’t there huge amount of data in a Webster’s English dictionary too?

(To practice the concepts and the techniques described in this post and in posts in this blog personal coaching programs are available. Your practice and coaching takes place through workouts and feedback. There are face to face or web based (www.learning-leadership.com ) sessions. Contact support@learning-leadership.com)

Useless until used

But big data is useless unless it is searched, processed, and acted upon. Google’s search engine searches the ‘Big Data’ of web pages on the internet. Yes, the World Wide Web is a good example of this concept. Google has made a fantastic business out of it. Likewise, retailers and e-tailers, airlines, telecom operators, navigation service providers, social networks and companies in many other sectors too are sitting on huge piles of data.

What is it, though?

Big Data is a by-product of most modern enterprises. Big Data has always been around — what has changed is technology. Today, technology allows vastly richer data to be collected and processed. Structured data in traditional databases and unstructured data in emails, social media posts and the likes, can now be processed. Existing businesses can use this big data profitably. It also makes new businesses possible.

What can you do with it?

What you can ‘do’ with your data depends on which fields or parameters (for instance name, age, date and time, location, transactions, text information, merchandise returns) it includes. What you can do with it will also vary from company to company — it can be used to manage inventories for the holiday season by forecasting a surge in demand; provide better estimates of aircraft arrival times (by taking into account airport traffic congestion); weather forecasting; predicting spread of disease, traffic management… the list is endless. Better predictions in all these applications can mean saving a lot of cash and effort, apart from other benefits. Big Data’s benefits come by framing sophisticated questions about data, developing search algorithms, running them, presenting results, and interpreting them.

Big Data is an important business input and a potential valuable business asset of your company. It is good to know what Big Data (technology) can and can’t do. Since it is used for making predictions based on large amounts of data, principles of statistics apply.

Data size (or sample size): Must be ‘statistically’ large. You can’t predict behaviour of 10 million people based on data related to just one million, unless samples are correctly chosen. Since Big Data is not an experiment with planned collection of samples, this condition is rarely satisfied. This is why you need much larger data sets.

Data duration (period of observation): Must be statistically significant to the time frame of prediction. You can’t predict for one month based on a week’s data. The duration should take into account known cyclical factors like weekend, end of month and end of season.

Can’t predict single events: You shouldn’t use Big Data to predict, or rule out, single events. Remember the crash of 2008? It was statistically deemed to be improbable. Predicting an event (or the impossibility of it) is like trying to predict the next throw of dice based on pattern of previous throws.

Patterns: Big Data predictions are based on ‘patterns’ of past data, and may be used to predict ‘patterns’ of future.

Shorter, the better: We know that future is not equal to the past. The longer the time frame of prediction, the less ‘firm’ it will be. Prediction of this year’s holiday season demand may be dependable, but using the same data for next year’s holiday season is not wise.

Interpretation: The patterns thrown up by Big Data need interpretation. They also depend on how queries are framed. The role of ‘gut’ or ‘insight’ comes here. Big Data doesn’t eliminate the need for these. Subject matter experts, who have insights in business aspects from their long experience, are needed to frame complex questions to be posed and processed on Big Data. They are also needed to interpret the findings, validate them, re-frame them and rerun them.

Generalists who ask questions from non-traditional angles can make a big difference. Technology experts in Big Data, technology, infrastructure, and security, are vital for implementation. A leader manager who has appreciation of all above areas must establish Big Data practices and manage them.

Almost any area of business can benefit from making use of Big Data. Market intelligence, product portfolio, demand forecasting, customer management, loyalty programs, promotions, human resources are just some of the few that can benefit immensely from the technology.

To sum up the above: Big Data is Pattern in, Pattern Out.

Amazon’s zillion recommendations may not entice you enough to make you click the ‘order’ button. But the same company seems to manage holiday season demand quite well, shipping your orders on time. You now have some idea how.

Keywords: Big DataGoogleRetailTelecomWeather ForecastingPatternStatistics

This article written by me was published on Hindu Business line’s bloncampus.com link
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Jargon Jungle: All at sea with the Blue Ocean Strategy?

The question: “Can you give some examples of blue ocean thinking, specific to you?” may get you a firing. Don’t be surprised if it comes from a top honcho of a bank that is swimming in the ‘red ocean’. A red ocean, in this case, comprises a market place crowded with other banks with almost identical vital statistics, such as Net Interest Margins (NIM) or Non Performing Assets (NPA).

In another instance, if you are employed at a VC fund, it so may happen that on a given day, your former classmate may be sitting across the table pitching his business idea to you. He will tell you: “Our big idea is to weed out all intermediaries between people seeking loans and those offering them. We are leveraging social networks to assist us in this match-making process. We can knock off several percentage points off the interest margin on loans benefitting both sides. It is a Blue Ocean strategy because no one else is doing it. A situation in which there is no competition.”

(To practice the concepts and the techniques described in this post and in posts in this blog personal coaching programs are available. Your practice and coaching takes place through workouts and feedback. There are face to face or web based (www.learning-leadership.com ) sessions. Contact support@learning-leadership.com)

To qualify as ‘true blue’ thinking, the following conditions apply:

- There is no competition.

- There is no demand.

- There are ample opportunities for growth and profits.

- You are offering something different and at a lower cost.

One may ask, how can there be opportunities for growth without demand? Therein lies the conundrum.

In a competitive marketplace, several firms are in a bid to outdo each other, like a race. Here, demand exists for similar products or services. The key is to move away from ‘similar’ offerings.

In the personal transportation market, cars compete with each other – a ‘red ocean’, or marketplace, is a platform for price and “me-too-feature” wars. Let us say that you offer personal transportation service without people needing to own cars. You are in competition with yellow/black taxis or hired cars -another ‘red ocean’. But if you take advantage of location services through smartphones and let drivers and passengers match each other’s needs in real time, you are bringing convenience (taxi hailing) and lower costs to give you an edge. It is a ‘blue ocean’ idea until other firms jump in with similar offerings. A chief reason for the early success of Uber is that it created and operated in a blue ocean of its own; and created its own market.

Another method is to address the needs of non-customers. The MOOC (Massively Online Open Courses) phenomenon is one example. It has attracted people who wouldn’t have considered getting into university due to costs, lack of access, loss of earnings, or embarrassment of having to sit with much younger students.

Universities have to consider the impact of such non-traditional channels of education.

It is difficult for a firm to stay in the ‘blue ocean’ phase all the time. The advice given by the writers in the book Blue Ocean Strategy by W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne should be dealt with prudence.

In the book, Kim and Mauborgne argue that businesses should focus less on their competitors and more on alternatives.They also should focus less on their customers, and more on non-customers, or potential new customers, thereby creating their own market or demand.

Uber and others soon had to start listening to customers, suppliers (drivers) and even regulatory authorities. Since they are now in the ‘red ocean’, a marketplace flooded with the likes of itself.

Firms which are born from innovation find it difficult to compete when competition crops up, like in the case of Uber. If the blue oceans are uncharted, the red oceans are full of sharks. The converse is true as well – firms operating in red oceans find it difficult innovate and to find their own blue oceans.

Like other strategy frameworks, the blue ocean strategy does not provide permanent answers. It is best to hence rely on basic principles and think well.

Keywords: ManagementBlue Ocean StrategyRed Ocean marketsCompeting firms

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Jargon Jungle: A Fifty Thousand Feet View

To practice the concepts and the techniques described in this post and in posts in this blog personal coaching programs are available. Your practice and coaching takes place through workouts and feedback. There are face to face or web based (www.learning-leadership.com ) sessions. Contact support@learning-leadership.com

When I was discussing a project for designing a user interface (UI\UX) with an American client, he said that what I was presenting was a 50,000-ft view. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. But I made some changes in the content. He said it was still a 10,000-ft view. And so it went on. Finally, we were able to agree on something. You may not be as lucky.

You are quite likely to hear this phrase or its variants, like 30,000-ft view, in your life after B-school. Unlike me, you may not have a chance to verify what it really means. Your boss would have lifted off to 100,000 ft already. You would be better off with some preparation if you don’t wish to come across to your boss and your colleagues as someone who just sleepwalked through his MBA.

Never forget the details

If you look outside an aircraft when it is flying at 30,000 feet, you will see clouds. That’s what your boss might be seeing too. As for a 50,000-ft view, I think it might be just a flight of fancy. When you are facing this kind of boss, you may have to conjure up a view without clouds, show that you know what he’s talking about, and swiftly take charge of the situation.

Your boss may have come up from trenches. He knows what’s down there. He may be flying high just to be out his comfort zone. You better sense this correctly; else your boss will write you off as just another MBA with ‘attitude’. You know there are many of them and you surely don’t wish to be in that category. Tell your boss you are well aware of the nitty-gritty, the details, and yet you can understand what is needed overall. If you aren’t sure of what’s on the ground, you will have to assure your boss that you are on the job of finding out.

Ground rules

Here are some ground rules on how to develop that ‘overall’ view:

1. If you shift your viewpoint too high, you may become useless for a start-up company. The trick is in setting a correct height.

2. To adjust the ‘height’ you need to change and play with the ‘definitions’ of markets, users, circumstances, service standards, and so on. You will get useful insights.

3. You need to arrive at a broad enough scope definition that still remains practical. Too narrow a scope may prevent you from seeing opportunities.

4. This iterative thinking is best done well before important meetings or encounters with your boss. It is a good habit to form to be prepared with all the different viewpoints.

You may also come across phrases such as helicopter view, bird’s eye view, broad strokes, control tower view, getting the perspective… they are all the same.

You may know how to prepare a presentation and can throw in these phrases to grab people’s attention. But it is more important to know what they actually mean and what the various perspectives translate to if you are to come across as on top of your game.

This article written by me was published on Hindu Business line’s bloncampus.com link
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Jargon Jungle: Benchmarking

Confuse, copy, or create?

This article writen by me was published on Hindu Business line’s bloncampus.com. Link (Requires log in)

When your boss tells you to ‘benchmark’ your proposal for improving customer stickiness on your e-commerce portal, you may think she is encouraging you to go ahead. She might well be doing so. Chances are that she might not be. Perhaps she just doesn’t want to commit herself either way. What better way than this to procrastinate?

The term benchmarking has other uses too. A customer may ask its vendor to benchmark its ‘on-time performance’ against others. The customer buys some time or leverage as the vendor gets busy figuring out ways to collect information on existing benchmarks.

But a more ‘paying’ way is to use benchmarking data for marketing purposes. Most lay people can’t figure out difference between a 99% on-time and a 98% on-time performance. Interpreted correctly, the latter is two times worse than the former. With 98% performance you are likely to miss 2 out of 100 instances as compared to missing 1 out of 100 instances in case of 99% on-time performance. Since we are conditioned to believe that both 98% and 99% ‘scores’ are very good, most customers won’t discern the difference.  In some cases what is meant by ‘100%’ is not defined.  Marketing campaigns of consumer products like toothpastes and deo products use ‘benchmarking’ in quite innovative ways.

Benchmarks for comparing performance of mobiles or PCs are designed to approximate some real life use scenarios. These have to be subjective.  Most consumers are not in a position to determine what the benchmark information means for them.

Benchmarking is more likely to obscure than to reveal.

Benchmarking is meant to be used as a tool to improve quality, cut costs, or avoid reinventing what is known.  You gather industry data on a particular product or service parameter or a process.  You find the best in class case (the benchmark) and performance of other industry players. You compare it with your data. You then draw up action plans to match the industry benchmarks or better them.  This is the place where copying ‘best practices’ in industry might help you. You are in for some serious work.

Extensive and ongoing benchmarking can help you to you understand your position in the market. It can help you optimize costs. It can help you to learn something from outside.

You need to keep in mind that meeting or bettering some industry benchmarks will still leave your company at around industry average (mediocre in other words).  In order to grow and succeed, your company will have to meet or beat most industry benchmarks and create entirely new benchmarks of your own. Depending on your organization’s strengths, you can aim to create benchmarks in one or more areas like customer care, cost of ownership, ease of switching to your offering, or product features.  Your new benchmarks must make sense to your target customers. For example, consider how Motorola created a range of mobile phones – Moto E, G, and X -which offered sensible products at different price points. It avoided competing on only product specifications or features like speed or mega pixels. It also avoided competing purely on price.

Coming back to your boss, you may have to tell her that you need to ‘prototype’ your solution in order to ‘benchmark’ it and hope that this somehow makes her more willing to think and make some decisions.

About me:

I help people and businesses in regenerating themselves through Regenerative Leadership coaching. See Learning Leadership for web based programs. You can undergo self learning program in my book Lead to Regenerate. Stay in touch with me hereGoogle+ , on Twitter, or through my blog Regenerate!

I consult in Branding, Communications, and User Experience Design with Design Directions, a design studio

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Jargon Jungle – Best Practices

This article was published on bloncampus.com (Hindu Business Line publication) . Here is the link (requires sign-in)

‘These are the best practices’ is often proffered as a ‘convincing’ justification for doing something in a certain way. It is usually trotted out by anyone who doesn’t have a logical explanation. People who can get away with this are typically consultants who think you know nothing about the subject. It saves them the effort of rustling up facts and arguments. The expression also comes in handy to bosses who would like to avoid inconvenient discussions.

You have just stepped into the corporate world. You are itching to slice and dice data. You are impatient to explore and experiment with new possibilities. Following the ‘best practices’ handed down to you will save you all that effort.

Some instances

‘Best practices’ are responsible for such things as:

— The width of aisles in diverse places — from aircraft to supermarkets

— Serving sizes (quantities) of food and beverages in restaurants and cafes

— Width and pitch of aircraft seats

— Employee engagement activities like cafeteria menus, birthday parties, outbound team building events etc.

— Open-office spaces enclosed by cubicles lined along the windows

— Business processes embedded in enterprise systems like ERP

‘Best Practices’ are those that have been found to be the ‘best’ (supposedly) by some organisations. If a particular set of best practices is considered optimal by only a few companies, it should be obvious that they may not be suitable for you. If many organisations have found them be to ‘best’, it stands to reason you will be just be about average or mediocre by following them.

Be aware

You should be on guard the moment you hear this phrase. It is quite likely that someone is being lazy or clever, or both. At this point if you dig around a bit, you will have a lot to think about. You would do well by calling them mere ‘practices’ and find out whether they are research-based practices or proven ones, emerging practices or mandatory ones.

Established businesses rely on best practices because their managers think they save them effort and risks.

Start-up ventures have no time for hunting for best practices. They evolve their practices as they go. They might just follow established practices (proven or mandatory) in non-core areas such as accounting and HR policies.

The term ‘best practices’ is misleading. They don’t give you any competitive advantage. Whatever they are, these ‘practices’ are not going to be enough for you. They can at best provide you with a starting line. You will have to develop your own practices.

Exclusions: There are some special areas where there are ‘mandatory practices’. Examples are: food safety, environment protection, drug-testing, engineering practices. In such cases the scope of innovation must be severely curtailed for obvious reasons. The above post is not applicable in such cases.

About me:

I help people and businesses in regenerating themselves through Regenerative Leadership coaching. See Learning Leadership for web based programs. You can undergo self learning program in my book Lead to Regenerate. Stay in touch with me here Google+ , on Twitter, or through my blog Regenerate!

I consult in Branding, Communications, and User Experience Design with Design Directions, a design studio

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Jargon Jungle -Bandwidth

How to deal with lack of Bandwidth

This article was published on BusinessLine on Campus on June 22, 2015 http://www.bloncampus.com/columns/jargon-jungle/how-to-deal-with-the-lack-of-bandwidth/article7342809.ece

Bandwidth drops with age.  Your bandwidth is at its peak when you are leaving your B-School. You are adept in switching from an assignment in supply chain management to human chain management in the institute’s canteen. You can flip a mammoth spreadsheet and compose your SOP effortlessly. You dazzle yourself and others with effortless navigation of tasks in your job.  This doesn’t last long. You need to be aware of what happens with limited bandwidth.

The symptoms of limited bandwidth are:

Very short span of attention -typically it is same as the time it for an elevator to reach the seventh floor from ground. In more serious cases it is the same as the time to have two sips of tea.

A fixed stare, or fixed smile or scowl, or someone looking through you

Uncalled for praise: You hear words like ‘awesome’, ‘brilliant’, ‘you nailed it’

You hear this ‘Why not run this by xxxx?’

Many organizations and their top managers face limited bandwidth situations. They have even learned to live with it. You go up to your seniors with an idea for cutting down the ‘to market time’.  ‘Brilliant’ they say, ‘but we don’t have bandwidth to handle it now”. You wonder -‘what’s the big deal. We surely can discuss it for fifteen minutes.’ On some occasions you get that uneasy feeling that what you have said has met with a pass-through response.

You may not remain an exception to the rule-of-bandwidth-half-life: Your bandwidth starts dropping exponentially and will reach its half-life within a year of you joining the corporate world or at the time of your first promotion, whichever is earlier. You start getting copies of emails to everyone. You are present in many meetings. You coordinate with two dozens of people.  When the day ends you don’t have much to show for your labour but you are pretty sure of your hard work. Welcome to the club of ‘bandwidth deficit’ managers.

Your organization too finds itself to be in ‘bandwidth deficit’. It doesn’t have time for looking at signals from its markets. It has less time for its customers. It has less time for its employees. It continues to optimise what it was doing well. A capable manager or a specialist joins it with a lot of promise. After early flourish, they too get sucked in the bandwidth squeezing funnel.

If you join a start-up or start one, the funnel is bigger because you work for over sixteen hours every day. The half-life rule for a start up is -your bandwidth drops by half by the time you start selling successfully.

If you wish to defy the half-life rule of bandwidth, you will have to be on high alert. You will need to reserve your quality time for gathering information, processing it, and thinking though your options and actions. You will have to learn separating work and non-work. You will need to invest time in acquiring more knowledge and in learning new skills. You may get opportunities to take up activities like drastically improving work flows or processes. Seize them with both hands. Improved workflows lead to a more bandwidth.

If you are working in a start-up organization, you will need to formalize your workflows and give up freedom to deviate from them unless you wish to redesign them based on what your people have learned.

‘Limited bandwidth’ is a serious issue. It is smarter to prevent it than succumbing to it. Are you ready?


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