Thursday, May 31, 2012

From Competition to Collaboration: Porter’s Five Forces Theory Revisited

The human race, as Charles Darwin hypothesized, is governed by the survival of the fittest dictum. Corporations, the new icons of the progress of civilization, reflect this dictum to an even greater degree. It is not surprising, therefore, that the works by Michael Porter on Competitive Strategy which seek to advise corporations on strategies to gain competitive advantage have been runaway hits. Though over thirty years have passed since they appeared on the strategy scene, Porter’s theories continue to dictate management thought in the strategy domain. There are, however, two major inadequacies in the theoretical prescriptions that need to be addressed. Firstly, the generic strategies that are propounded by Porter are by now well understood by, and remain applicable to, all corporations. Probably, focused execution rather than strategizing per se determines relative success amongst the corporations. Secondly, in a resource constrained economic situation, emphasis on fiery competition which consumes continuous investments by all the players probably becomes self-defeating over time.

Porter’s Five Forces Theory identifies the following five forces as the determinants of the level of competition in an industry. These are: the threat of new competition, the threat of substitute products or services, the bargaining power of customers (buyers), the bargaining power of suppliers, and the intensity of competitive rivalry, all of these analyzed within the framework of an industry. Porter’s framework brims with the spirit of competition wherein each stakeholder is constantly jockeying to get the better of a relationship, strategic or tactical. In a sense, Porter’s Five Forces Theory is like Theory-X of organizational behavior, bringing out the negative nuances of corporate growth and economic development. The industry environment and technological attributes have changed so dramatically over the last ten years that the traditional, including Porter’s, view of firms and industries not talking to each other is no longer valid. There is a clear need to redefine the Porter Model to meet the new environmental needs in terms of collaboration, rather than competition.

Networked industries and firms

Today, industries and firms are more networked than ever. Firms communicating through social networking sites such as Facebook , You Tube, and Twitter on one hand and the willingness of such social networking sites (such as Facebook) developing applications for hardware (such as Apple iPad) are visible examples of networked firms collaborating to develop business jointly. A few operating systems supporting a wide variety and range of cellular phones no longer smack of monopoly domination; on the other hand, they seek to enhance business potential by enabling others’ business through their core competencies. Search engines and navigation systems as well as electronics manufacturers support a mechanical equipment industry such as automobile as never before. Use of electronics in the automobiles has improved the safety and convenience of the users. Usage of electronics also increases the luxury and comfort to the riders. The cars manufactured presently contain more than 1000 electronic components, it is said!

Along with specialization came the need for firms to diversify their market base, for example a forging manufacturer making parts for giant ships as well as small scooters. Similarly, end product manufacturers began to concentrate on only certain core competencies and leverage others’ core competencies to finish up the products. At the same time, customer needs are multiplied in terms of convergence (many needs fulfilled by one device), specialization (one device for one predominant need) and diversity (many needs and many products). These trends are making firms to develop their own networking strategies to share resources and avoid redundant strategies in the context of continuously changing customer dynamics. Whichever way the current industrial environment is viewed, competition is tempered with collaboration. A strategic theory which redefines the forces governing the industry in terms of collaboration needs to be explored.

Five forces of collaboration, a different model

In the new paradigm, the five forces of collaboration can be stated as: the opportunity of market expansion with competition, the synergy of substitute products or services, the collaborative power of customers (buyers), the collaborative power of suppliers, and the balance of collaborative and competitive rivalry, all of these analyzed within the framework of a networked industry definition. The author would like to call this model Five Forces Theory of Collaboration. The important differences of the collaborative model with the competitive model are as follows. It sees competition not as evil but as a driver of market expansion. It views new products as a bundling opportunity and as a transition to enhanced customer experience. It also views customers and suppliers as being collaborative, rather than combative, with the firm. Finally, it proposes that collaboration and competition coexist in a firm, with the balance between the two forces determining the growth energy of the industry.

In the collaborative model, industry is not narrowly defined as in the Porter’s competitive model. For example, the Porter model encourages us to define the automobile industry as narrowly as car, truck, bus and motor cycle industries on the basis that each product is not a substitute for the other. The collaborative model, on the other hand, considers all passenger serving industries as one, not only whether these are car, bus and motor cycle but also inclusive of supportive industries such as navigation, electronics, telecommunication and entertainment. Does this lead to complexity of analysis based on boundless on collaboration, moving away from the competitive model of simplicity based on focused narrowness? Probably yes, but the reality of today’s world is complexity of integrating multiple technologies to provide the needed customer satisfaction.

Five forces illustrated

The five collaborative forces are grounded in reality of contemporary and emerging competition as illustrated below.

Competition-led market expansion

New competition, in an industry scenario of well balanced players only serves to expand market. In India, entry of new automobile players helped the market exponentially grow from 500,000 cars per year in the peak Maruti-Suzuki days (late 1990s) to around 3 million cars in 2011. By the same token, entry of luxury car makers such as Benz, Audi and BMW made the Indian luxury car market to grow to 30,000 from next to nothing, in a matter of just five years. The global smartphone sales galloped to 500 million units in just a matter of ten years, again from next to nothing, based essentially on entry of several smartphone makers in a market amazingly opened up by Apple. Entry of new competitors is an unmitigated gift of market expansion to the consumers as also to the incumbent players. Even an innovator firm cannot fulfill the total market demand despite a monopoly position. In an innovative product market segment such as tablets, for example, the pioneer-leader Apple iPad would have only one-third of the 760 million tablets in 2016, according to expert forecasts.

Synergy of substitute products or services

Porter considers substitute products or services as threats to existing businesses. In matter of fact, except for a few predominantly mechanical apparatus such as telex and dot matrix printer, it is not usual to see certain basic product concepts getting completely threatened. Once the only dominant computing system, the mainframe computer got progressively supplemented by personal computer, laptop, netbook, tablet and ultrabook. Yet, all the computing devices exist in one form or the other even today, each gaining from the competencies of the other. Despite the scorching pace of growth of around 50 percent per annum, tablets in installation base could be I billion compared to 2 billion personal computers in use, even by 2016. In fact, substitute products help incumbents who are either innovators or smart followers to diversify their product-market segments. Ultrabook is an example of how computers could reinvent themselves taking design cues from the later generation tablets.

Collaborative power of customers (buyers)

When firms and industries exist for customers it is ironic that customers are considered a competitive force by Porter. In a sense of demand leading to competitive entry by other firms or consumers switching between products, brands and firms, customers do have a competitive impact. However, the predominant bond between firms and consumers ought to be one of collaboration. Consumers simply love a great product and collaborate with the firm through patronizing of successive generations of products. Firms which view consumers as an extended family through a variety of feedback and feed-forward communication mechanisms have seen the consumers provide a major collaborative force for business and technological development of firms. The release of beta versions of new software for consumers is an example of how firms now appreciate the need for consumer involvement to achieve better products for full scale commercial launch.

Collaborative power of suppliers

The notion that the end-product manufacturers are at the mercy of their suppliers is also not relevant in the contemporary scenario. Specialization in materials and component technologies has enabled the component makers lead the development of new products. Smartphone makers are increasingly setting up pre-release collaborations with application developers to develop the right ecosystem. Collaborative planning emphasizes an approach by which suppliers and firms work together to avoid over or under bidding of positions and instead seek to maximize end-product opportunities in the marketplace with right products, right pricing and right volumes.

Balance of collaborative and competitive rivalry

Porter’s model considers that the competitive rivalry in an industry increases as the fifth force with the number of firms in the industry and the intensity of the four competitive forces. On the other hand, it is also possible that a few, if not all, of the firms in an industry could collaborate even while competing in the marketplace. Sharing of production sites, sharing of marketing channels, co-branding, co-marketing, exchange of components and cross-licensing of intellectual property help firms pool resources while keeping the individual identities discrete. Such collaboration helps companies bring down costs. An equitable balance between collaboration and competition in an industry occurs as the industry evolves rapidly.

From competition to collaboration

The discussion in the blog post is not to suggest that firms should or can cease to compete, and that business development would happen only through inter-firm collaboration. On the other hand, the blog post suggests that all of corporate strategy need not be, and should not be, only comprised of a strategy of competition. Competition must exist but should be more in the nature of product, process and delivery innovation. This strategy alone delights customers and expands markets. The strategy, however, requires significant investments. The model of collaborative strategy can help firms optimize their investments by sharing resources while retaining distinct identity. Firms can derive synergy by looking for areas of collaboration with their stakeholders, be they the customers or suppliers, and their competitors, whether they are followers in an existing product line or innovators of new substitute products and services.

While the model of five collaborative forces as enunciated herein has significant validity, it is open to further study if it can be followed up with generic collaborative strategies, on the lines of generic competitive strategies. In the collaborative model, cost leadership and product differentiation or niche remain as the ultimate competitive goals and there need to be generic strategies of collaboration to reach the competitive goals. For example, product collaboration, process collaboration and marketing collaboration could be the three principal collaborative strategies which could be resorted to by competing firms to great advantage. The differentiators for each firm, despite the collaborative sharing, will be design uniqueness, operational excellence and delivery efficiency.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 31, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Design Progress and Delivery Shortfall: Incongruity in Porter’s Five Forces Theory

Product design continuously evolves over time to bring new features and functionality to the users or the customers. The evolution typically occurs in time phases or over generations of products. Many times the original product design would appear to be heavily outdated and user-unfriendly by the time the new design is optimized with mature stage technology. The design optimization occurs through form factor, hardware and software, all of which are designed and integrated to provide a better user experience. The design upgrade is also supported by process optimization to ensure that the redesigned product has all the right build characteristics such as fits and tolerances as well as durability, reliability and maintainability. At the other extreme, design opportunism also exists where some product attributes, whether internal or external, are tweaked up while letting others stay obsolete. The later strategy represents design incongruity which fails to fulfill customer expectations in totality. A total demand upgrade helps customers help feel the change in totality.

At times, the customer becomes incapable of asserting the demand profile in favor of a total demand upgrade as opposed to demand opportunism. This incapacity arises under certain peculiar conditions such as: (i) the customer has only a fleeting contact with the product or service, (ii) the product or service has several performance attributes of which only one is a dominant one, (iii) the customer is indigent and non-discerning, (iv) the suppliers are either monopolistic or are unwilling to update their own products or services, (v) the industry itself exists in a monopoly state, and (vi) the firm has certain attributes even within an competed industry to achieve a dominant or preferred firm status. This situation can be interpreted in terms of Porter's Five Strategy theory whereby the bargaining power of customers is weak and the bargaining power of suppliers is strong. However, the three other competitive forces can vary in their occurrence; there could be presence or lack of substitute products, there could be higher or lower level of rivalry in industry and there may or may not be high barriers to entry. The incongruity could be sharper when the product and business competition increases but without corresponding improvements in all facets of customer service.

Peaks and valleys

There are certain striking examples of technological stagnation hiding within technological modernization, even in industry settings of intense competition and liberal customer spend.

Air travel; congested comfort

Over the years, there has been a quantum leap in the technology of aircraft design and air travel in terms of larger size and greater seating capacity, higher automation in piloting, flat bed seating technologies, audio-visual entertainment, automated baggage transportation and so on. Yet, there are two areas which just stagnated in customer service through all these decades of aircraft and air travel modernization. The toilets remain congested and pitifully inadequate in terms of size, service options and hygiene levels. The food galleys and the food carriage hardware remain tight and rigid. The aircraft makers, though just two, are engaged in an unending search for technological superiority while the airlines themselves compete rather fiercely and the customers theoretically have several choices. None of these has influenced either the aircraft makers or the airline companies to offer flexible food choices, more spacious toilets and rest rooms, preferably separated for men and women, and improved leg room dispensation to the travelers. The customer power, despite there being millions of air travelers - all of them educated and well-positioned - remains woefully weak.

Drives, with clutches

The automobile has been a marvel of modern and continually improving technology. From horse power to fuel economy as well as cruise control to passenger safety, hardware and software are continuously updated to provide improved road commuting experience. Hybrid cars are leading a new era in automobile design. Yet, the inability of the automobile manufacturers to completely do away with clutches and manual gear shifts would rank as one of the shortfalls of design management. Nowhere else is it evident than in the Indian truck and bus designs which still employ very hard clutches and inefficient gear change levers (constant mesh gear boxes still exist in practical designs!). Despite the intense competition, automotive makers see an automatic transmission as a premium offering with higher price realization than as a minimum requirement for driving comfort on par with seat bags for driver and passenger safety. The customers, in their thousands, seem to be disinterested or unable to engineer a total shift towards driving comfort.

Stocking space, wasted

Shelf space in physical retail, it will be universally agreed, is important. With the spiraling real estate costs, most retailers tend to use vertical racks from ground to say a six foot level to pack their wares. Whether it is a book store, a grocery store, or an electronics store, and whether in a developed country or a developing country, the stocking and display methods are identical. As a result, most consumers do not look at the products placed below the waist level or those stocked behind other products. This not only reduces the sales potential but also leads to non-moving and expired products. Despite the severe competition in retail space, and the millions of dollars spent on malls, display formats and advertising, few retailers have innovated to ensure complete and comfortable visibility and accessibility to their merchandise. Ergonomics that is so much a part of industrial design seems to be arcane to the retail space. Neither do the customers seem to be keen on having a complete product scrutiny before making their purchasing decisions.
The above three examples from different industry sectors, all of them characterized by intense competition, great customer dependence and continuous product or service evolution, illustrate that even as technological development reaches its peaks it hides the valleys of technological obsolescence.

Economics of change and no-change

Clearly the decisions to continue to embed dated technologies and practices in modern developments as discussed above or keep renewing only the internals while keeping the exteriors dated are often dictated by the economics of change or no-change. As long as the economics of air travel are dictated by available aircraft space for seating and the minimum possible seat pitch and width as well as galloping fuel costs and taxes the incentive for providing comfort must come from quantum leaps in technological efficiency of aircraft design and strident customer demands for comfort. Unspoken, all the airlines seem to observe a unified approach in not competing for customer switch with breakthrough comforts.

The situation in respect of products like automobiles could be different. The updates to engines, gear boxes, body exteriors or internal trims in an automobile may come, however, with increased competition and a bid to switch customer loyalties. At the same time, a transportation service based on trucks and buses could prefer to consider incremental changes. The design efficiency of a transportation equipment, be it an aircraft or an automobile, need not necessarily translate itself into improved delivery of customer service based on such equipment as long as service providers see a possibility to delay the benefit delivery of design strides.

Stuck in the middle are several ubiquitous situations like the storage racks where minor innovations can provide major improvements in quality of work or business but are ignored. The reasons relate to the insensitivity of the managements to missed sales opportunities and the impatience of the customers to look for a total choice. Similar improvements in processes can improve productivity of social interactions and quality of life, both in and through various governmental and non-governmental structures but are not thought about or insisted upon. There could be several ways by which the service providers can trade with their users the benefits of eliminating periodic transaction efforts (say, monthly) for the costs of onetime payments (say, annually). A durable service quality would help the users to collaboratively work with service providers to minimize transaction efforts and costs.

Forces of collaboration

The foregoing gives us an idea that the theory of competitive forces does not always work to the advantage of either the firm or the customer. On the other hand, the behaviors of the firm and the customers are likely to be inconsistent when viewed from a. pure competitive framework. Where customer loyalty and firm offerings are driven by certain dominant dimensions, Porter's theory leads to incongruous results, simply because generic industry factors do not apply to specific customer needs. For example, despite the presence of a large number of airliners to choose from, the air traveler typically chooses only one airline because of mileage points. Similarly in respect of automobiles, ease and access of service could be a tipping point. Despite the presence of multiple smart devices, the IT security policy of a firm could limit the choice to just one vendor. The various competitive forces mentioned such as industry rivalry cease to be of importance in such instances. Monopoly firm conditions prevail with weak bargaining power for the users of a product or service.

It would be in the fitness of things for the firms to collaboratively work with the users to optimize the interplay of competitive and collaborative forces. The air transportation market has, for example, the air traveler's associations which could serve to enhance the bargaining power of the customers. Firms have industry associations for participation and constructive development of norms and standards to channel competitive forces on collaborative lines. It is important that these channels are purposefully utilized to bring about the required improvements without economics being the sole arbiter of corporate strategy or customer preferences. Similarly, citizen groups and neighborhood communities can get together on the best ways to optimize social interactions through the good offices of governmental and non-governmental agencies. The crux of the matter is that not all aspects of a firm-customer interface can be viewed or managed through a framework of competitive strategy.

Regulation as a balance

Interestingly, regulation by the Government acts as a stabilizing force when competitive or collaborative forces go astray. In India, each of the cellular service providers had significant bargaining power over the cellular telephone user until the Government of India introduced number portability. Despite the existence of several alternative service providers, the mobile telephone users had little choice as the need to switch numbers along with service provider forced the user to stay with the originally chosen telecom service operator. A more genuine choice came about when the number portability got introduced. The hand of regulators in optimizing industry-society interactions has been seen in the developed world too. The intransigent cases of design improvements showing up as delivery shortfalls also required governmental interventions to stabilize the firm-user paradigm. The introduction of EPA fuel economy norms in the USA in the 1970s or the safety standards in respect of several products by several governments fall in that category. More recently, stipulation of Basel norms for prudential bank management reflect the stabilizing nature of regulation.

Should regulation be a force that restores the competitive forces in a skewed industry or market situation? This question has no easy answers, although in one fell sweep the governments can provide to the consumers what years of apparently intense competition could fail to achieve. For example, the Governments may decide that it is in public health interest to prescribe a higher seat pitch to avoid circulation problems to air travelers. To date, the Indian Government has been using its regulatory powers with a stated social purpose. For example, banks should have certain number or proportion of rural branches or lending to priority sector should conform to certain norms, and so on. As the economy develops with a rising and articulate middle class without, however, the bargaining power, and as inequities continue vis-a-vis a super-rich class, the Government may step into more areas to simulate the impact of competitive forces. For example, corporate hospitals may be required to reserve certain free beds for indigent population. Portability of insurance and investment schemes without exit loads may be prescribed. Firms and industries as well as strategy makers need to look beyond competitive strategy to optimize technological development for a holistic benefit to the society.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 19, 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Quintessential Indian Mother: Subtle Principles of Effective Management

Today, May 13, 2012 is Mother’s Day. The day serves to remind ourselves of what we owe to our respective mothers for being what we are. Apart from carrying in the womb for nine challenging months without any step-down of work or home pressures during the period, the mother moves on to bring the baby up through the childhood and adolescence into adulthood until he or she is ready to marry and lead his or her own life. Despite the intense pressure, the olden day mothers underwent these challenges iteratively in proportion to the number of children. The modern mother may limit herself to one, two or three children but is also taking up career as an overwhelming passion too. The modern mother is as much a home maker as career builder. One may forget anything in life but would never forget what one’s mother did for oneself.

From nursing mother to nurturing mother and from teaching mother to protecting mother, the typical mother provides the guide path to growth. No one would forget how one is bathed, dressed, fed and taken to school by one’s mother at great odds fighting for time and marshaling every bit of energy looking after also a rather demanding husband and usually uncompromising parents-in-law. Many mothers in the joint family system would, in addition, have faced several other “in-law” pressures. Yet, the mother bears all these pressures to build and stabilize a family and see her children prosper. Many mothers, even if illiterate or less literate, succeed in either learning a few things for their children or providing an emotional support to them as they course through their studies.

Managing life

Professional managers study and practice to manage businesses and corporations. They usually have the teachers to learn from, superiors to guide, past practices to follow, peers to network and subordinates to derive work from. Each manager has an ecosystem of his or her own, within a larger organizational ecosystem. Unlike a family, everything in a corporation evolves as per a plan based on goals and resources. There also is a whole external environment which is all too eager to transact with the business or corporation for mutual value creation. Businesses or corporations are born for viability and growth by design, and certainly not by default. To summarize, management is a predictable facet of a predictive business or corporation. Yet, management of business or a corporation is considered challenging and arduous by even well endowed managers.

In contrast, the typical bride, who would be a mother is brought into a family or is ordained to make a family by destiny, or almost by accident or default, even if it were to be a marriage by mutual love and choice with the bridegroom. There is neither a goal that is preset nor resource base under her control. Unlike a corporation which is set to thrive on external interface, the bride is expected to be confined essentially to an internal interface. Even if she is a career woman, the primary responsibility would be only homemaking. Yet, in contrast to a professional manager, a mother shapes life, not only for her husband and parents-in-law but also to children, and in some cases for other members of the family too. All this she does without forgetting the basic moorings to her own parents, and brothers and sisters. A successful mother, especially in the Indian setting, thus creates, shapes and manages the life in totality. It would be instructive to analyze the mother’s way to management.

Mother's way

The successful Indian mother has a way of management and leadership that is progressive and futuristic. Some of the principles of the Indian Mother's Way of Management are as follows:

Induction by observation
A proactive bride in a typical traditional Indian family setting has no airs about her. She moves into the new family, treating induction as her own responsibility and duty. Typically, no one teaches her anything but she learns everything by observation. By fulfilling the expressed and latent demands of the family members she secures all-round acceptance. Customer-centricity, so often touted as a behavioral trait to be built into aspiring managers, comes naturally to her.

In contrast to the above, the dependence of the new entrants to an organization on external coaching rather than self-development is disturbing, in contrast. If the young executives and lateral entrants combine what the organization teaches with self-driven learning, professional development in organizations would be extremely rewarding.

Clarity of goals

A would-be Indian mother clearly understands that family making is a responsibility that cannot be shirked; in fact she welcomes it as an opportunity to build a legacy that outshines the present and the past. Until the new baby is born, a would-be mother visualizes, aspires, plans and strategizes establishing and growing a family. Thereafter too, she continues to plan and course-correct. As she goes through the iteration of the next child, she carries out the task with additional processes of goal enhancement and resource optimization.

Many managers tend to reach the limits of creativity and diligence with the first set of achievements. Most are also reluctant to create something out of nothing. The mother who strategically plans a future for her children and family is a role model for executives to be creative and expansive.

Selfless to the core

The typical mother derives her satisfaction from the family’s success. The security felt by the parents-in-law, the growth achieved by the husband and the educational milestones crossed by the children all contribute to her success. She is willing to sacrifice all her day hours and early dawn hours to be the engine of energy for her family. Her health and aspirations become absolutely secondary to supporting and enabling the children's aspirations relentlessly.

"What is in it for me?" is an apparently legitimate question that many executives ask of themselves and their organizations many times as they move through their careers. The model of the mother who derives her own growth and satisfaction through the development and growth of her family has some relevant lessons.

Values as the basis

One thing a traditional Indian mother teaches to her children before anything else are the values. Indian culture is so rich with great mythological epics such as Mahabharatam, Ramayanam and Bhagavatam as well as masterly knowledge treatises such as Panchatantram and Subhashitham that the traditional mother has an overwhelming reservoir of pure and ageless teachings that surprisingly and pleasantly are relevant even after thousands of years. Children whose knowledge base is primed on these classics are found to have absorbed all the life's good values and also be conscious of the treacherous trappings at an early age.

The Indian managers have a great tapestry of knowledge in the treatises such as Artha Shastra besides the classics referred above. Assimilating such knowledge would equip the Indian manager with a unique combination of Indian spirituality and western management.

Learn to teach

Long before the concept of “tiger mom” came into vogue, the Indian mothers had been fierce in their commitment to the higher education of their children. In fact, the lower the mother's educational qualification, the higher tends to be her educational aspiration for her children. The mothers' ambition to learn and re-learn the new subjects to coach their children even in the late nights is to be seen to be believed. When some subjects are truly challenging, most mothers go the extra mile to identify the right teachers to coach.

The mother's yearning for knowledge has an important lesson for corporate leaders; rather than feel smug that the new generation of employees would naturally know more, the leaders must update their own knowledge to add greater value to their new entrants. This leads to a virtuous cycle of mutual challenge and incremental learning that will only render their organizations more competitive.

Large resources with small savings

The Indian lady of the family is synonymous with small savings. The beauty of the Indian DNA of small family savings is that it silently but surely builds huge resources for important milestones in the family; from school and college fees to home purchase and marriage expenses. Much of the savings is passed on through generations in the family through family silver and gold jewels purchased at every step of price advantage or festivity trigger. The Indian mother is rather uncharitably accused of having a craving or fascination for gold and jewels but those in the know understand how these act as a safety net and resource base for the Indian families besides stimulating a huge gems and jewels industry that has achieved for India a measure of global competitiveness.

Cost management and waste avoidance are two pillars of orderly capital formation and judicious capital investment. Executives must save every Rupee under their discretionary control to build investible surpluses for future investments.

Health with nutrition

The Indian housewife toils like a robot on a number of chores but the one she enjoys the most is to cook a variety of dishes for the family to relish fresh food at least four times a day. The housewife continuously innovates, adapts and even transforms herself in cuisine so that recalcitrant children, time-teased husband and handicapped elders get the right types of nutrition. Apart from the various ingredients and the recipes that go to make a dish good, her love in preparing the dish truly makes it great. Decades may pass but the true Indian housewife is proud to be a great cook fundamentally.

Managers and leaders who consider their fundamental functional competency as infra-dig would do well to remember that the organization's key needs must always be served by them; it could be employee engagement, coaching, a functional specialization, or anything else.

Growth with austerity

The conscious mother likes to develop and grow the family but is also aware of the need to channel and husband resources for optimal impact. An ability to look simple and effective while preparing for the complex and challenging is very much a part of the mother's fundamental disposition. Running a tight family budget with itemized allocation and measuring variances comes naturally to her.

Non-finance executives and managers who are loathe to be governed by budgeting processes could travel back on their life's progress and recall how their mothers managed growth with the discipline of budgeting that optimizes the balance between spend and austerity.

Letting go

The true Indian mother also appreciates that letting go of her children once they reach adulthood, secure jobs and get married is as much a prime responsibility as bringing up the children. In fact, in the Indian family system, which is traditionally based on arranged marriages, searching for the right alliance is very much the mother's aspiration and execution. A philosophical training to adjust to the emptiness of children's leaving enables the parents, especially the mothers, to cope with the emptiness of transition.

Here again there is a leadership perspective. If some assets and businesses of a corporation would do better under a different ownership and dispensation, one must be prepared to let go. If some employees of a function or a business would function better in a different function or business, or shine better under a new boss the leaders should be willing to let go such employees.

On call, always

The sterling quality of the Indian mother or the mother-in-law is that she never considers her responsibilities as fulfilled. There may be retirement for the male members of an Indian family but the typical Indian housewife never ceases working. She is always at call to serve the next generation of grandsons and granddaughters with the same dedication and passion as she would have served her sons and daughters. In fact, the enthusiasm of the aging mother to take care of the “next to next generation” has enabled the passing on of fundamental values over ages seamlessly, and helped the succeeding generations with more optimal management of careers and families.

The Indian professionals must see their life's quest in neither the titles nor the retirement but in continuous enablement and dissemination of knowledge to build national wealth.

The mother and the society

The quintessential Indian mother is proactive and observant, goal-oriented and clear, collaborative and compliant, value-based and value-driven knowledge-seeking and knowledge-driving, selfless and sacrificing, energetic and energizing, saving and investing, austere and growth-seeking, attached yet detached and aging gracefully while working ceaselessly. She is a role model of acting locally (at family level) to build globally (at society or national level). It is not that the Indian mother’s life is a bed of roses. She faces many distractions, obstacles and even criticisms, some of these from elders and peers of the same gender. The successful Indian mother is an epitome of patience, fortitude and pragmatism, overcoming all these hurdles, and serving as a builder of the institution of family, and through the family, the institutions of society and nation. She is a manager par excellence of singular management and leadership.

On this Mother's Day, it is my pleasure and privilege to express, though this blog post, the society's gratefulness to the Mother as an institution builder by bringing out certain managerial facets of the mother, with special reference to the quintessential Indian mother.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 13, 2012

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Management of Diabetes: A Philosophical Approach

The world is affected by the specter of a galloping increase in the population affected by diabetes. Diabetes, as is commonly known, represents the inability of the body to process the sugars it ingests, in a manner that it can maintain the blood sugar levels in the body at healthy levels. This inability leads to accumulation of sugar in the cells and in the blood stream leading to adverse consequences for various parts of the body. Failure of the pancreatic beta cells to produce insulin that is required to breakdown the sugars, if it occurs from the very early age causes juvenile diabetes, also called Type 1 diabetes. In most people, the failure of beta cells occurs progressively during adulthood and beyond, which is called Type 2 diabetes. While diabetes is considered to run in families and Type 1 diabetes may be considered an unfortunate genetic mishap, Type 2 diabetes may be considered as lifestyle recklessness, with adverse genetic influences.

Even as India is racing towards becoming a global economic superpower, emerging in the process as a new global capital of outsourced manufacturing, research and services, it is also racing to become the diabetes capital of the world. Of India’s estimated 1,300 million population, over 53 million constituting around 4% of the population is diabetic. Together with co-morbidities such as metabolic syndrome, cardiac and kidney complications as well as circulation and neurological problems, the percentage of population directly or indirectly affected by diabetes in India is much higher. The fact that diabetes and co-morbidities are hard to detect until they are well advanced and are in fact symptomatic is an added concern. Clearly, the increasing prevalence of diabetes with increasing prosperity of the nation is worrisome.

WHO statistics

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that developing countries will bear the brunt of this diabetes epidemic in the 21st century. Currently, more than 70% of people with diabetes live in low- and middle income countries. An estimated 285 million people, corresponding to 6.4% of the world's adult population, has been living with diabetes in 2010. The number is expected to grow to 438 million by 2030, corresponding to 7.8% of the adult population. While the global prevalence of diabetes is 6.4%, the prevalence varies from 10.2% in the Western Pacific to 3.8% in the African region. However, the African region is expected to experience the highest increase. Over 70% of the current cases of diabetes occur in low- and middle income countries. With an estimated 50.8 million people living with diabetes, India has the world's largest diabetes population, followed by China with 43.2 million.

The largest age group currently affected by diabetes is between 40 and 59 years. By 2030 this “record” is expected to move to the 60 and 79 age group with some 196 million cases. Diabetes is one of the major causes of premature illness and death worldwide. Non-communicable diseases including diabetes account for 60% of all deaths worldwide. In developing countries, less than half of people with diabetes are diagnosed. Without timely diagnoses and adequate treatment, complications and morbidity from diabetes rise exponentially. Type 2 diabetes can remain undetected for many years and the diagnosis is often made from associated complications or incidentally through an abnormal blood or urine glucose test.

Type 2 diabetes is responsible for 85 to 95% of all diabetes in high-income countries and may account for an even higher percentage in low- and middle-income countries. About 80% of type 2 diabetes is preventable by changing diet, increasing physical activity and improving the living environment. Yet, without effective prevention and control programs, the incidence of diabetes is likely to continue rising globally. Insulin is vital for the survival of people with type 1 diabetes and is often ultimately required by people with type 2 diabetes. Even though insulin's indispensable nature is recognized by its inclusion in the WHO's Essential Medicines List, insulin is still not available on an uninterrupted basis, and at an affordable price, in many parts of the developing world.

Expressed in International Dollars (ID), which corrects for differences in purchasing power, estimated global expenditures on diabetes will be at least ID 418 billion in 2010, and at least ID 561 billion in 2030. An estimated average of ID 878 per person would have been spent on diabetes in 2010 globally. Besides excess healthcare expenditure, diabetes also imposes large economic burdens in the form of lost productivity and foregone economic growth. The largest economic burden is the monetary value associated with disability and loss of life as a result of the disease itself and its related complications. WHO predicted net losses in national income from diabetes and cardiovascular disease of ID 557.7 billion in China, ID 303.2 billion in the Russian Federation, ID 336.6 billion in India, ID 49.2 billion in Brazil and ID 2.5 billion in Tanzania (2005 ID), between 2005 and 2015. Unless addressed, the mortality and disease burden from diabetes and other NCDs will continue to increase.

Balanced life

All researchers and practitioners in the field of diabetes and endocrinology agree that a healthy, vigorous and balanced lifestyle is essential to prevent the onset and progression of diabetes. Such a virtuous lifestyle is also essential to manage and moderate diabetes that has been detected in its later stages. Despite this universal wisdom, the followers of a healthy lifestyle to beat diabetes are few and far between. The ancient Indian way of living which had encouraged a proper food pyramid with spices, herbs and condiments with both prophylactic and therapeutic properties had been a good foundation of ancient generations’ diabetes-free way of living. All the exotic cooking inputs now recommended by Western researchers from whole grains to deep greens had always been staple food in India. The items erroneously banned by Western practitioners of diabetes and cardiac treatment, and now welcomed by them based on new research, such as coconut preparations, milk products and seed oils had also been a part of the traditional multi-course Indian diet.

The ancient Indian system, which has been predominantly agrarian, had encouraged significant domestic work and field work by all the family members. Working in the bright Sun provided the needed input of Vitamin D which is now recognized as an important element in optimizing the cholesterol and triglyceride mechanisms of the body. The modern Indian system, oriented increasingly towards urban living, fast transport, junk food, sheltered air-conditioned atmosphere, disorderly living and stressful working hours has been a perfect recipe for the spread of diabetes. While the new pattern of Indian eating dominated by polished rice and sweet meats has been bad enough the invasion of the Indian palate by sugary carbonated beverages and ice creams has spelt disaster for the Indian child. While sweets have always been a unique part of the Indian cuisine, most of such traditional sweets were products of jiggery that is low in glycaemic index and high in fiber, relative to sugar. While one answer to the growing diabetes epidemic could be a spring-back to ancient dietary habits, a more philosophical approach is required to be adopted fundamentally.

A prophylactic disease!

The greatest feature of diabetes is that when it is well understood and well managed it is a in fact a prophylactic disease (if such a phrase can be coined!) . If its risk is detected well in time and the necessary correctives to lifestyle are adopted the disease actually promotes wellness. By regulating intake of calories, and balancing it with energy expenditure one may stay fundamentally fit. By adopting a balanced food, one also provides the optimum nutrition to the body. By following the rigors of exercise and integrating the elements of yoga and meditation, one discovers harmony with nature and finds the right balance between the body and the mind. By eschewing the temptations of tobacco and spirits and a callous lifestyle, one avoids the damage to the sensitive organs of the body like liver and lungs, and keeps away dreadful diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer. In spite of the abundance of knowledge and the simplicity of prevention and cure, few people actually follow the simple yet challenging regimen required for a diabetes-free or diabetes controlled good living.

The trend in the Indian psyche to treat diabetes as an “easily treatable” disease rather than as a “carefully preventable” disease is formed and grown by the way the modern diabetic treatments are dispensed by the physicians and the way they are lapped up by the patients. While most practitioners do have nutrition and lifestyle experts with them, the practitioners themselves spend little time on lifestyle matters, focusing instead their precious time on dispensing of medicines. Most doctors and patients focus on blood sugar whether through fasting or post-prandial metric or glycogenated haemoglobin (HbA1c) metric and titrate the medicines vis-à-vis the number. While there may be no other medical way to control the blood sugars, the resort to a fast switch amongst the various diabetes medications, experimental combinations of different medications, including insulins, and hasty prescription of certain medications such as glitazones and statins as mandatory adjuvant medicines inject a needless aura of easy conquering of what is one of the most complex metabolic diseases.

Linear practice, non-linear results

One of the biggest fallacies of modern diabetes treatment is the concept of linear diabetology. The thesis here is that the higher the sugar levels, the higher ought to be the medication levels. This often translates into a dangerous self-destructing weapon in the hands of the patients with them trying to pop an extra pill or inject a few extra units of insulin to compensate for excess food intake or tame a seemingly defiant blood sugar profile, at times disastrous effects of hypoglycemia. The fact is that the pathways of insulin transport and carbohydrate and fat metabolism as well as the body’s reserves of insulin and glucagon are not understood precisely even today; neither are the pathways by which certain medicines including the most popular metformin acts. In addition, various factors such as the type of insulin, site of administration, depth and mode of injection and the nature of the tissues influence the effectiveness of the administered insulin, making it impossible to predict how certain levels of calories and certain units of insulin could be matched.

Effective diabetes treatment requires customization of the treatment to the patient and a continuous feedback mechanism between the doctor and the patient. Blood sugar measurement, any number of times in the day, and any number of days, cannot substitute the wisdom of reaching a standardized balance and staying true to it through patient-physician rapport. In fact, frequent blood sugar measurement adds little to one’s knowledge of one’s disease as the measures are mere results of the constantly dynamic equilibrium the body tends to seek by itself. Assumptions of co-morbidity and inflated treatments thereof are also equally counterproductive. Effective time management is probably the first fundamental step for initiating any treatment of diabetes. A person who is unregulated and injudicious in his or her management of time adds toxic inputs such as stress and disorderly food and deletes positive influencers like exercise and balance diet from the daily grind. In such a situation, a search for linear diabetology (a very effective phrase coined by Dr CV Krishnaswamy, the noted diabetes physician of Chennai) would be as infructuous and as irrelevant as the concept that diabetes could be cured linearly is.


Unlike any other medical condition the physiology of diabetes is easy to grasp. Yet, its simplicity is not leveraged either by the physicians and patients alike because the psychological underpinnings are not understood as the basis of treatment. In general, the more anxious the patient is for an instant cure and the more impatient the doctor is for effecting a pill or based injection based treatment, the more disorderly the treatment is likely to be. The more adamant the patient is towards effecting lifestyle changes and the more reluctant the doctor is for spending time with the patient in advocacy of lifestyle changes, the more regressive the treatment is likely to be. Proper diabetes treatment would require an open mind on the part of both the patient and the doctor to customize the treatment.

The family and office ecosystem also plays a major role in the orderly management of diabetes. A family which disregards the principles of healthy living, including the need for balanced diet and stress-free interactions, is more than likely to aggravate the diabetic state, and even lead healthy people to a state of pre-diabetes or full-fledged diabetes. An office system which does not observe regular hours or does not provide healthy eating options when people work overtime or on extended shifts is also likely to affect operational health. A diabetic patient is also truly blessed to have friends and well-wishers as well as peers and managers who recognize his diabetic state and support him in developing a healthy lifestyle. With a little philosophy and patience, and by consciously integrating certain forgotten principles of healthy living enshrined in the ancient Indian texts, and by appreciating the virtues of optimality in cuisine, serving and eating, India as a nation can reverse the diabetes epidemic.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 6, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hard Skills and Soft Skills: Differences Real or Unreal?

A manager’s competency set is expected to comprise both hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are those that reflect technical and analytical capabilities while soft skills are those that deal with communication and collaboration capabilities. A well-rounded manager should be adept in both hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills, which are technical and professional in nature, are predominantly acquired through education while the soft skills are predominantly personality based, and are improved through experience. Trainers typically tend to view these as two distinct streams of learning and development. Hard skills are rarely imparted in organizations except through on the job training. Each time an equipment or facility is upgraded or product and process specifications are bettered, experience of working with the changes teaches the employees new hard skills. On an exceptional basis, employees also are retooled through customized educational programs in universities.

On the other hand, experience which helps the employees upgrade their hard skills ironically very often leads to hardening of soft skills. Employees tend to become somewhat egoistic and rigid (depending on their cultural evolution) as well as authoritative or withdrawn (depending on whether they are extroverted or introverted respectively). Functions become rigid organizations within organizations, with growing inter-functional distances, making communication and collaboration exceedingly difficult, both at functional and individual levels. Given these cultural characteristics, the concentration of organizations tends to be on developing the soft skills of employees on one hand and changing the cultural dynamics of the organization on the other. Trainers and human resources managers generally concur that such programs usually have limited impact and fail to bring about fundamental and lasting improvements to employee soft skills or organizational cultural dynamics.

Hard versus soft; or hard with soft?

The distinction between hard skills and soft skills is real but the attempt to treat them as two distinct streams of continuing education is unreal. A person’s soft skills determine how open he or she is to improve his or her hard skills. Hard skills are not merely skills of engineering or accountancy that are robotically imparted. Hard skills also require significant person to person interaction to imbibe new skills. A person who is egoistic and rigid is more likely to be closed to asking questions and seeking knowledge than a humble and flexible person who is likely to be all eager and willing to learn new knowledge. More importantly, hard skills are likely to involve a host of technical and professional disciplines which need to work together to deliver the total systemic effectiveness. A manufacturing engineer, for example, would need to understand how his machine tools operate and fail, and how they are maintained. A maintenance engineer must understand why and how design and manufacturing tolerances are achieved. Clearly, interpersonal communication and collaboration, across technical functions, are vital to optimize the hard skill learning processes.

Equally, soft skills do not exist in vacuum. The soft skills of communication, collaboration, and time management, for example, may be required in teamwork for designing products, conducting operations, managing finances or developing markets. However, these goals themselves require hard skills. Without hard skills that lead to design creativity, manufacturing excellence, accounting integrity and market mapping these hard jobs cannot happen successfully. Possession of mere soft skills cannot lead to delivery of technical and functional jobs. Also, in addition, several of the soft skills require a measure of hard skills, be it language skills, computer skills or presentation skills, to be expressive, efficient and effective. It goes without further elaboration that hard skills and soft skills are integral to each other, and even symbiotic to each other. Organizations must find holistic paradigms to impart both the kinds of skills amongst the employees simultaneously.

Laying the foundations

In the Indian educational scenario, technical and professional educational stream is considered distinct from the language and fine arts educational stream. As one may surmise, the latter stream provides the foundations of soft skills. In technical and professional institutions, language courses are limited probably to just one semester and fine arts courses are virtually non-existent. As a result, students could be technically brilliant but tend to be lagging in terms of soft skills. As a converse phenomenon, arts and language courses have very few technical and professional subjects that could enhance the conceptual and analytical capabilities of a student. This differentiation is further accentuated by the fact that from the school going stage itself, the school children and their parents tend to zero in on their preferred careers and accordingly focus on the related subjects, and defocus on what they consider to be unrelated subjects. The foundations of basic education thus tend to be less than holistic, even if they are specialty oriented. Efforts by certain higher technological institutions such as the IITs to have one or two language or business communication and technical writing courses hardly provide complete alleviation.

Even in the job scenario, given that the emphasis of the organizations is on achieving immediate delivery from its employees, most training programs focus on adapting and updating the hard skills rather than on overcoming the deficiencies of soft skills. As a result, by the time someone reaches a managerial position some of the soft skills needed for getting effective delivery from others or effective collaboration with peer managers would be found to be missing, impacting organizational performance. Although organizations mount soft skills programs for middle level and senior level managers, such attempt would often be a case of “too little, and too late”. The problem is also accentuated by the “ego hurt” seniors feel when they are expected to develop the soft skills at a late stage, and the consequent defensive as well as aggressive reactions, making the desired culture of collaborative delivery even more elusive in an organization. Another negative consequence of this distinction is that technical specialists tend to get confined to line functions while non-technical people gravitate towards staff functions, making holistic leadership development to meet the requirements of apex positions even more challenging.

Easy to lose, difficult to acquire

The hard skills and soft skills are inversely correlated with learning and longevity. Hard skills are acquired in a relatively well-structured manner through the educational system but are easy to lose. As employees become accustomed to operate in established technological systems of firms, the gap between emerging technologies and established technologies widens leading to knowledge obsolescence. As the employees move up the hierarchy, ecosystems and management processes distance the employees from their machines, as a result of which they lose the hard skills relatively easily. The author’s observation is that employees tend to be technologically and professionally contemporary in the first one-third of their career span and later on experience a decline in their hard skills. The hard skills are easy to lose for employees who do not make special efforts to update themselves. There is no permanence at all in hard skills, and as certain organizations and certain employees encourage acquisition of soft skills, hard skills become easier to lose.

In contrast, soft skills are more difficult to acquire but once acquired tend to be more difficult to lose. Soft skills are acquired not merely through educational stream but more importantly through life experience itself. The propensity to acquire certain, if not all, soft skills is very much a personality related matter too, and in a sense tends to be a genetically influenced factor too. Depending on the congeniality levels that existed in family, school and college environments, a person could be positioned in terms of propensity to absorb soft skills. Interpersonal skills are experiential and once acquired are difficult to lose. While one does comes across instances of aggressive people mellowing or self-effacing people becoming more emphatic over a lifetime, basic changes in personality disposition are difficult to come by. While language skills may be easy to acquire equally by diverse people, the manner in which communication is conceptualized and delivered by each person would continue to be personality-specific. While people may be trained to adopt a particular style of interpersonal relationship, more often than not, adopted behaviors tend to wilt and natural behaviors are likely to surface under stressful circumstances.

C-suite requirements

The way hard skills and soft skills are taught in educational institutions, the manner in which they are imparted by family and social ecosystems and finally are updated by on-the-job experiences ironically run counter to the need to develop holistic business or corporate leadership. Like several of the managerial templates, the managerial grid which advocates that leaders should have more of strategic skills and less of technical skills, or put in a different way more of soft skills and less of hard skills, at leadership level is deficient. A music conductor, however eminent, he or she is cannot afford to forget how the notes are written. A surgeon, the more eminent he is the more skillful, the more technologically updated and the more behaviorally competent, he must be. The requirements of the corporate C suite are no different, and require holistic technologically and behaviorally competent leaders. The concept that with experience and hierarchical progression, the typical executive can afford to lose the hard skills and needs to be adept only at soft skills is ill placed.

The C-suite leader, the CXO of whatever domain or the CEO himself or herself, needs to keep the technical and professional competencies as strong and as updated they have been at the beginning of the career, and also have the appreciation of what soft skills can do to enhance the leadership. The educational approaches and the experiential strategies which make the hard skills easy to lose and soft skills difficult to acquire need a complete redefinition. If these development models are re-tuned to develop holistic students, holistic executives and holistic managers who are high on both hard skills and soft skills we would have a C-suite bench that is far larger and richer than what India, Inc has at present. The enriched C-suite would be a great leading factor in India’s quest for globalization. There would be a greater all-round entrepreneurial and big business development in the country and a greater emergence of Indian multinational corporations across the globe. It is time that Indian executives, managers and leaders who are strong on either of hard skills and soft skills appreciate the need to become equally strong on the other dimension.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 6, 2012

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Leadership and Management: Lessons from the Great Hindu Marriage

Those rooted in the Western management thought would like to believe that the best of the management and leadership principles have their origins in the European and American theories and practices of management. The schools of management in India also reflect the thought that replication of the Western management models establishes management as a robust discipline in the Indian academic and business practice. Indians by themselves have a poor view of their ability to lead and manage complex projects and processes. Progress in governance and education is attributed to the foundations established in the British rule while Progress in industry and business is attributed to the Western principles of management by some commentators. At a gross level, the western-centric observation on management does not necessarily represent the complete truth for any economy or any country.

The growth of civilization, whether in organized urban and rural settings or seemingly unorganized natural and tribal settings, and irrespective of religious leanings, would not have been possible without the principles of leadership and management setting ground rules for evolution from the very early days of the respective civilizations. At a subtle level there exist so many institutional social processes which have endured and supported civilization over the centuries that the principles of leadership and management are just inherent in any civilization or religion for discovery. Great kingdoms, governance mechanisms and education systems existed long before the external rulers came to India. So did commerce and trade prosper in India several centuries ahead of the Western management thought that came to India only a few decades ago. In fact, many institutions of the ancient India offer instructive lessons of management and leadership. The Great Hindu Marriage, discussed in this blog post, is just one of them.

The Great Hindu Marriage

As most understand, the so called arranged marriages dominate the Indian marriage scene. In this system, once a boy or girl reaches an age of marriage, the respective parents search for a suitable alliance utilizing a variety of channels, ranging from word of mouth of relatives and well-wishers to structured search through the classified columns of the media and portals or sites on the Web dedicated to marriages. An elaborate list of prospective brides and bridegrooms is prepared, and matches are astrologically validated through the process. Each of the matches in the short list is physically reviewed through visits and meetings by the elders of both sides, and a final short list is made for the prospective brides and bridegrooms to physically see each other, again often in parents' presence, to arrive at that one final match. A reference check going back to generations is also a part of the process.

Thereafter, a whole new process of preparing for the wedding starts. Information gets disseminated informally to the near and dear. Formal family groups and informal friendly groups get formed on both the girl's side and the boy's side to conceptualize, plan and execute the pre-marriage, marriage and post-marriage activities. In modern times, the boy and girl also enthusiastically participate in the pre-wedding planning processes. An engagement function is first performed as the first public proclamation of the marriage at which certain auspicious items are exchanged and the astrologically matched wedding date and time as well as the marriage venue are finalized. This is followed by the performance of the marriage on the prescribed auspicious date and at the appointed auspicious time, which are finalized by the priest based on the birth stars of the boy and the girl. The marriage itself is governed by the Hindu holy scriptures, mantras and rituals, extending over several hours.

Modernity has expanded the Hindu marriage to three to five days of fun and frolic, supplementing the essential solid core of solemnity and substance. Various functions such as Mehindi (a function of painting hands and feet of ladies with special herbs), Sangeet (a night of music and dance) and “making” of the bride and bridegroom presage the marriage while receptions and gorgeous honeymoons follow the marriage solemnities. Special ”Pujas” (or Prayers) and “Vratams” (or Vows) are organized at homes (Sri Satyanarayana Swami Vari Vratam) and in famous temples such as Tirumala (Sri Venkateswara Swami Vari Kalyanam) as part of the post-marriage celebrations to invoke Divine blessings for the newly married couple. All the activities of the marriage value chain (from start of the search to performance of the marriage) typically occur over a period of two to three years, but in some cases even within just six months, making marriage the most important event in the life of a Hindu Indian.

Marriage and management

The greatest feature of the Hindu marriage is that it is a mass event that calls for high levels of management and leadership, with high energy and passion. It is one of the greatest combinations of spirituality and modernity that one can ever find in human life. Several principles can be culled out from the institutions and processes of the Indian Hindu marriage which demonstrate how the ancient civilization had set forth wise and formidable principles of management and leadership that are applicable for a wide range of social, academic and business events and outcomes. They also imply several principles of human and organizational behavior that strengthen value-based management. Each of these is an object lesson for the students and practitioners of management and leadership in terms of teaching the nuances relevant at both gross and subtle levels. Some of the principles are set out below.

1. The principle of standardized process

Each standard outcome, in any endeavor, should have a standard process for utmost compliance and quality. Such process is independent of scale of the outcome or investible resources. The Hindu marriage has a great egalitarian, standardized process prescription that ensures compliance with a standardized outcome. Managers who tend to be ad-hoc or flexible in their processes often fail to reach the standardized outcome. The Japanese management, of course, taught the world the benefits of standardization and process capability as a total manufacturing system, from order to delivery through production (for example, the Toyota Production System). However, clearly the Indian marriage processes had institutionalized standardization centuries ago.

2. The principle of inviolable goals

All managers know very well that goal setting is the primary driver of business. Yet, even knowledgeable managers defocus when it comes to goal setting or review of goals by them. Most also ignore the need for specifications, both product and process, as part of goal setting. The institution of marriage integrates goal setting in terms of the type and nature of the marriage, coupled with precise date and time of marriage. There is zero tolerance for slippages of the final goal in the Hindu marriage because of the importance given to the auspicious date and time (“Muhurtham”) which is considered to benefit the couple. Product outcome and launch time have to be accorded equally critical inviolability for businesses and projects to succeed with the first-to-market benefit.

3. The principle of sustainable ownership

Managers and leaders agree that ownership is crucial for any business or industrial activity to succeed. Very often, however, in organizational practice ownership has to be mandatorily assigned or consistently advocated. Many times owners dilute their ownership citing resource constraints or lack of cross-functional collaboration. On the other hand, the success of the Hindu marriages, often with shoestring budgets, is related to the spontaneous ownership that emanates in a family as well as its extended family once an intention to select a partner and perform a marriage is announced. Passion to collaborate and succeed enables the spontaneous ownership to sustain itself all through the long period of marriage value chain.

4. The principle of project management

Indians are, somewhat erroneously, considered to be unaware of the need for, and benefits of, project management. This is reflected possibly in the slow evolution of project management as a specialized domain. This does not mean, however, that the Indian psyche has not internalized the principles of project management. In fact, the highly complex Indian marriage is a great case study in project management involving multiple activities, events, people, personalities, infrastructure needs (like the need to book months in advance of a good marriage hall!), stage gates and the non-negotiable muhurtham for performance of marriage. Anyone who undergoes the rigors of executing an Indian marriage also imbibes the principles of successful project management; and most Indians would have gone through a few exciting marriage events, given the joint family system.

5. The principle of positive integration

As one looks at successful products and firms, integration of new technologies and processes may be seen to be their hallmark. One of the reasons for the Hindu marriage to stay excitingly and refreshingly contemporary is its ability to integrate new technologies and processes around the essential core of traditional fire-purified and scripture-sanctified marriage rituals. These could cover from digital photography to dainty decorations, from ethnic costumes to glitzy honeymoons, and from multi-cultural environment to muti-regional cuisines. The openness of the Indian psyche to absorb the latest technologies is probably also fuelling the growth of market segments demanding state-of-the-art products. The ability to blend tradition with modernity is a typical oriental characteristic, especially of Japan, but India goes a stride ahead with the seamless merger of spirituality with management.

6. The principle of instant ecosystem

Each firm can only be as efficient as the ecosystem in which it operates. The firm’s interests must extend beyond its immediate value chain and focus on strengthening the supportive infrastructure. A hospital, for example, can thrive when it operates in an external ecosystem that takes care of the needs of the caretakers of the patients, from lodging and boarding to conveyance and convenience. The Hindu marriages are successful because of the well honed and high performing ecosystem that provides intermediaries, priests, hall managers, cab operators, stage decorators, performing artistes, florists, beautification experts, photographers, and a host of other service providers – all of them thoroughly trained in the sequences of the events, at short notice. It is amazing how the ecosystem springs to life once the marriage intent is known and leads to its success.

7. The principle of caring and sharing

The Hindu marriage demolishes boundaries that separate families and other circles, and pushes the boundaries of the extended family. Besides the core family, it is not uncommon for the relatives and well wishers to chip in with everything they can provide, from mere suggestions to tangible services, to make the marriage a grand success. The marriage is also an event when people are remembered from the chapters of history and enthusiastically invited. The Hindu marriage tends to be less of a family function and more of a community function, involving the entire neighborhood, and people from the professional and social lives, illustrating the joy of sharing and caring. The families of the bride and the bridegroom make it a point to shower gifts and memorabilia not only to each other but also to their long forgotten kith and kin as well as near term and long term friends. The marriage and reception halls tend to be open houses of caring and sharing as well as celebration with ornate lunches and dinners adding to the glitz. The universality of a Hindu marriage possibly rubs off as a trend of Indian firms celebrating employee days, foundation days and special events as events of caring and sharing.

8. The principle of compliance

Compliant organizations are perfect organizations. Compliance does not mean blind conformity to dogma, nor does it imply loss of creativity. Compliance means a deep abiding respect t law and values, and carries with it a fear of the adverse consequences of deviation. The Hindu marriage represents strict compliance to processes and rituals. It is indeed impressive that even in these times of modernity, the young, however sophisticated and modern they are, apply themselves to the processes and rituals of marriage diligently, trying to understand their meaning and relevance. The symbols of marriage including the red bindi, wedding rings, bellam-jeelakarra, the mangala sutra, the anklets and the toe rings continue to reflect compliance to a social contract that is the bedrock of social stability and orderly progress. Compliance gets reinforced in the psychology of an Indian both symbolically and systemically through the institution of marriage.

9. The principle of arranged chemistry

Unlike the marriages of the West which follow dating and/or independent expressions of intent, pre-, or post-marriage, most Indian marriages are arranged by the elders, although the young are taking a notable role in setting up their requirements and making informed choices. Nevertheless, the Hindu marriages are predominantly arranged in which couples develop chemistry over time in the actual course of post-married life. Except in love marriages the phenomenon of instant chemistry tends to be relatively rare. The unique ability to grow the marital relationship through trials and tribulations with mutual understanding and empathy over a lifetime helps the Indians in their overall living as well. Given that organizations are nothing but agglomerations of dissimilar personalities coming together for shared goals, the lessons taught by the institution of marriage also make the Indian employees learn to live together and bond as a family despite their dissimilarities.

10. The principle of cosmic destiny

Indians strongly believe in Destiny and the impact of Cosmic Forces on one’s living. Amongst the various mysteries of life, the marriage is considered the most profound cosmic mystery scripted by the Lord Almighty. The marriage is, therefore, considered to be an event that is truly ordained and due diligence is placed on ensuring an astrological match prior to commitment. The deference to cosmic forces and the invocations ahead of, during and after marriage to the various Gods and Goddesses of the vast Hindu Pantheon are reflective of the Indian psyche to be equally deferential to the events of life. And even if a misalignment occurs, the Indian psychology which believes in “Punarjanma” (or rebirth) prays to the Almighty to reorder the pairing or reform the persona for maximum compatibility in the next birth. The strong belief Indians have in cosmic destiny makes them fulfill their “Karma” (or duty) through the various Divine ordained relationships in one’s life, whether related to marriage or not.

The institution of equanimity

As the above discussion has brought out, the institution of Hindu marriage of India (or “Bharat”) has not only sustained itself amazingly well over the centuries but also grown in richness and depth by integrating new technologies, related cultures, virtual ecosystems, and positive behaviors around the large and strong essential core of traditional marriage involving standardized processes, inviolable goals, compliant spirituality, and cosmic reverence in one amazing ethos of project and life management. Equally importantly, it has enunciated and demonstrated several principles and practices that are verily the trend setters for modern management thought. Surely, each religion would have a similar institutional process of marriage that would be equally relevant and applicable. The entire marriage system is one of holistic equanimity. Though the discussion has focused only on the Hindu marriage, similar and equally relevant lessons can be gleaned from the other religions as well.

It is not that the Indian Hindu marriages do not go off-track or that the partners do not bear a huge burden of exploitation or suffering simply for fear of social criticism. It is also not that the strangeness of movement from single to married state or from one family to the other do not stress the newly wedded couple, especially the bride. That said, the positive high points and beneficial features of the Hindu marriage are far more pervasive and influential than the negative low points. The quest for equanimity stabilizes the distraught couples and families. The success in achieving equanimity in the four phases of life, virtually from the childhood through adolescence and marriage determines whether an individual or a family strives for renunciation sooner than necessary.

The typical Hindu, or even the broader typical Indian, who observes and participates with sincerity in several “journeys of marriage” that take place in his or her family, extended family and the circles of relatives and friends, and also goes through his or her own marriage, imbibes these principles of management and leadership both at gross and subtle levels. Those who take this responsibility casually would be missing out on the lessons of spirituality and management that are integral to the process. Casual observers and participants would do well to take them seriously and absorb the nuances to better equip themselves in life. The result of a perceptive observation and assimilation of the great Hindu marriage as a holistic phenomenon would be a person with exceptional social equanimity and inbuilt familial solidarity which would enable him or her to participate as a healthy member of his or her organization.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 1, 2012