Monday, October 14, 2013

Education and Experience - Specialization and Diversification: Matrix of Multiple Possibilities

Many young people as they embark upon their educational and experience journeys are often intrigued and stymied in their analysis of what kind of focus and/or versatility in their journeys would provide them with appropriate career growth and satisfaction. There cannot be easy answers to this query as the variables that influence one’s career development go beyond education and experience. That said, education and experience are two of the most profound variables that influence a person and his or her contributions to any system. Education and experience not only add knowledge on a continuous basis but also influence personality development. Any template that helps the aspirants to understand themselves and their career ecosystem better should be a welcome addition to management and organizational literature.  

The template cannot be about which educational course or industry domain is better or worse from a career point of view. The template has to be more generic and independent of such choices. The oriental model advocates specialization in education and experience; it almost frowns upon darting across streams. The western model is open to, and even welcomes, versatility in education and experience. Alternatives are possible when a matrix approach is taken. The author, in one of the earlier blog posts, brought out how a 2X2 matrix provides insightful conceptual and analytical clarity to understand any issue. Interested readers may refer to the blog post, “The 2 Dimensional Matrix: A Universal Analytical Tool”, Strategy Musings, July 3, 2011 (
Four categories
Fundamentally, there are four options for an individual with respect to education or experience. He or she can pursue specialization or diversification in the course of education. He can also pursue specialization or diversification in industry of employment. Individuals can, therefore, be slotted in one of the four quadrants of the education-experience matrix. These are (i) Education Specialization – Experience Specialization (ESES), (ii) Education Diversification – Experience Specialization (EDES), (iii) Education Specialization – Experience Diversification (ESED), and (iv) Education Diversification – Experience Diversification (EDED). For ease of reference and even for representative reflection, these four categories of individuals may be referred to as Mountaineers, Miners, Seafarers, and Explorers, respectively. The nomenclature is supported logically as further discussed below.
The individual who specializes in a particular education stream and sticks to a particular related industry domain is very much like a mountaineer who masters mountaineering and is clear about the singular mountain he needs to climb; hence ESES individuals are best named as Mountaineers. The individual who diversifies into many educational streams but sticks to a particular industry domain is quite like a miner who masters multiple mining technologies to get that best metal or mineral; hence EDES individuals are appropriately named as Miners. The individual who specializes in one educational stream but diversifies into many industry domains is like a sailor who trusts his ship to navigate through the varied seas; hence ESED individuals are logically named as Seafarers. The individual who diversifies into many educational streams and also diversifies into multiple industry settings is like an explorer who constantly learns and embraces the new to achieve the prize catch; hence EDED individuals are reasoned to be Explorers.
The Successful Mountaineer (ESES Executive)
To be a successful Mountaineer in the professional or corporate world, one must have a strong aptitude for the subject or domain and a commitment to contribute through a synergy of academic knowledge and practical experience in the industry. A good example would be a basic degree in mechanical engineering, followed by a post graduate degree in automobile engineering or other specializations such as thermal engineering, metal forming, robotics or mechatronics and a career in an automobile firm. Typically, he or she would commence the career in one of the three core areas of product development, manufacture or marketing and move on to become a functional head and eventually a business head. The linkage of education and experience with the subject and domain aptitude is the hallmark of the successful Mountaineer.
To be a successful career Mountaineer, the professional executive would need to have all the technique and patience of the real mountaineer. The career path for a person specialized in and dedicated to a particular domain, industry, and even a company is likely to be challenging with slow growth and slippery terrain. It requires a perfection of subject knowledge and conversion of knowledge into results to become differentiated. As one would be aware, automotive, aerospace and metals majors recruit each year scores of graduate engineers suited to different functions, and only a handful can reach to the top. It is, however, a feasible target illustrated by the likes of Alan Mulally of Boeing and Ford and AM Naik of L&T, and several other graduate engineers who reached to the top in the respective industries. It pays to be a Mountaineer if education and experience are aligned with aptitude serving as the glue.
The Successful Miner (EDES Executive)
The successful Miner in the professional or corporate world is like a miner in search of precious metals and minerals. He is likely to be highly career focused, motivated to reach to the top by being as broad spectrum as possible in terms of functional capabilities. An individual who pursues a graduate degree in any engineering discipline, followed by post graduate degree in business management or a professional who does chartered accountancy, company secretary and cost accounting courses are driven by an ambition to mine wider and grow faster, picking prize assignments and seeking functional adjacencies in growth. As opposed to the Mountaineer who has committed aptitude, the Miner tends to have flexibility and adaptability as the key drivers.
To be a successful Miner, the professional or corporate executive needs to have, like the real life miner, a fine discriminating and refining power. Knowing more subjects or dabbling in multiple disciplines is not necessarily a sure passport to the top. Successful move to the top is often based on some solid achievements in certain core functional or business areas. The uniqueness of knowing multiple domains must be reflected in an ability to define, plan and execute for strategic goals, with greater end to end connectivity. A large number of senior executives at the top in an industry appear to conform to the pattern of learning more and contributing singularly to a specialized industry. Indian industry and Indian executives, in particular, appear to prefer the Miner model.
The Successful Seafarer (ESED Executive)
The successful Seafarer has aptitude for, and belief in, his core subjects just as the successful real life sailor has control on, and confidence in, his ship. He is also not easily laid off by the vastness of practical applications which his core specialization can explore. Examples of this type of career planning relate to educational specializations that are not industry specific, and instead are industry neutral. Specializations like finance, information technology, legal, electronics and instrumentation which can find scope and need in any industry are the typical Seafarer’s preferences. However, certain gritty Seafarers are wont to use their educational specializations in uncharted seas of radically different industries. Unlike the Mountaineer who has a certain natural alignment of education and experience and the Miner who has a vast functional spread for a unitary industry, the Seafarer has the challenge of his or her knowledge specialization leading to such notable contributions that could help him or her get positioned for growth in competition with Mountaineers and Miners that are bound to exist in an organization.  
To be a successful Seafarer, the individual has to have the innovative ability to apply his specialization to achieve competitive advantage for any industry. He or she also should have the competitive and tenacious spirit to push the envelope and create new areas of contribution to the industry. An instrumentation engineer would, for example, be able to secure new levels of automation for any industry. A finance professional can bring his vast core and collateral functional knowledge to lead the company in any industry to newer levels of financial solidity, costing sharpness, overseas listing and so on. In addition, a Seafarer would need to have an extra set of behavioral competencies to be seen as a strategic manager despite strong functional specialization. If the Seafarer does not possess or acquire such soft skills, it is quite possible that a Seafarer would remain a knowledge worker or a subject expert even in the long term, which, however, need not necessarily be a bad outcome either for the individual or the organization.

The Successful Explorer (EDED Executive)
There could be a view that an Explorer would end up a rolling stone, gathering no mass in the sober, steady corporate and organizational worlds. On the other hand, the Explorer represents the quintessential Gen-Next executive, eager to absorb multiple subjects and dabble in several domains. He is also eager and motivated to constantly search for an organizational home that not merely meets his expectations but challenges him to explore higher trajectories. The new age young CEOs and the young entrepreneurs coming up with new ideas are the representatives of the Explorer category. Some Explorers tend to become turnaround specialists and growth drivers. Most Explorers also become highly successful as consultants with diversified competencies and organizational deliveries.
To be successful, the Explorer needs to be an intensely absorbing person; linking subject mastery and organizational delivery to each moment’s challenge rather than to the nature of degrees or longevity in organizations. The Explorer tends to have a bit of the Mountaineer, Miner and Seafarer characteristics in him but in his own ‘mix and match’ capability. The Explorer is characterized essentially by lateral thinking and an ability to generate new thinking from current situations and adapt past experiences to new situations. Explorers eventually make excellent heads of diversified business conglomerates, and not surprisingly highly successful bureaucrats and public servants. Business stalwarts like JRD Tata and Ratan Tata are legendary examples.  
Talent-Organization Matrix
An ideal organizational format of a growing organization would offer adequate space for all the four classes of performers, the Mountaineers, the Miners, the Seafarers and the Explorers. Needless to say, diversified companies organized in terms of business units offer much greater space for all the four classes of aspirants. That said, their existence or requirement is also contextual. If an organization chooses to be specialized and narrowly focused, it will need, and also tend to have, more Mountaineers. If an organization is narrowly focused but needs new ideas to propel turnaround or growth, it will need and also tend to have more Miners. If an organization is in search of a core competence, it will need, and tend to have, Seafarers. If an organization needs diversification, or is already a business conglomerate, it will have, and need to have Explorers.
The above has important implications for strategy formulation and talent management. There has been a debate whether structure or strategy precedes the other, and the debate has been settled with the validated hypothesis that structure follows strategy. The discussion in this blog post also leads to a debate whether strategy sets the talent needs or talent helps create a sustainable strategy. Potentially, a broad vision for the organization should lead to induction of an appropriate mix of Mountaineers, Miners, Seafarers and Explorers that can develop and execute a required strategy. Young aspirants need to understand that when they choose their unique educational paths and experience pathways, they are not only categorizing themselves into one of the four classes but are also developing into human dynamos that can power organizations in potentially unique ways.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on October 14, 2013  








Sunday, October 13, 2013

An Ecosystem for Fundamental Research: An Essential Paradigm for India

 Another season of Nobel Prizes for sciences (Physiology or Medicine, Physics and Chemistry) has come, this October 2013. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2013 was awarded jointly to James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof "for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells". The Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 was awarded jointly to François Englert and Peter W. Higgs "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider". The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2013 was awarded jointly to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel "for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems".

James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Sudhof are affiliated, at the time of the award, to Yale University, CT, USA and Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA respectively. Francois Englert and Peter W. Higgs are affiliated, at the time of the award, to  Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium, and University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, respectively. Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel are affiliated, at the time of the award, to Université de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France and Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA and University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA, respectively. As almost always, the Nobel Prizes have been bagged by scientists working in the universities of advanced countries such as USA and European Union. Not unexpectedly, an Indian scientist has not figured the prestigious Nobel roll call this year as well.

Indian Nobel Laureates
Sir CV Raman (1930) and Abdus Salam (1979) and Subramanyam Chandrasekhar (1983) in Physics, Ronald Ross (1902) and H Gobind Khorana (1968) in Physiology or Medicine, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (2009) in Chemistry are some of the prominent scientific luminaries from India who won Nobel Prizes in Sciences (excluding literature and economic sciences). Given that in terms of numbers India has probably the largest number of colleges, institutions and universities offering scientific and technical education, the small number of Indians amongst Nobel Laureates and the non-appearance of Indian institutions in terms of affiliations at the time of award is quite disappointing. It is also disappointing that although thousands of bright Indian scholars leave each year for higher order scientific education, including doctoral and post-doctoral studies in the USA and EU, the number of such Indians who became Nobel Laureates is even smaller.
This situation is to be read with the fact that in a ranking of the Top 500 universities by ARWU (Academic Ranking of World Universities), only one Indian educational institution, the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore figures, with a ranking between 300 and 400. American universities have captured 17 positions of the top 20 slots, with two going to British universities and one being occupied by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich. Of the 500 universities ranked, American universities captured a total of 182 slots; European universities occupied 200 slots — but only three made the top 20. As many as 17 Chinese universities were included as well. ARWU, also known as Shanghai Rankings, considers every university that has any Nobel Laureates, field medalists, highly cited researchers, or papers published in Nature or Science. In addition, universities with significant amount of papers indexed by the Science Citation Index-Expanded (SCIE) and the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) are also included. In total, more than 1000 universities are actually ranked, and the best 500 are published on the web. Universities are also ranked by several indicators of academic or research performance, and the per capita academic performance of an institution. For each indicator, the highest scoring institution is assigned a score of 100, and other institutions are calculated as a percentage of the top score.
Indian University Scenario
India has around  570 universities, including 13 Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), 17 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and 30 National Institutes of Technology (NITs). Each university, except the IIMs, IITs and NITs as well as some specialized universities tends to have several colleges attached to it; an average reported figure is 300 colleges per university. All the universities and colleges except the few dedicated to management education teach and conduct research in science and engineering. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is the largest Government funded, autonomous R&D Organization in India, having 37 laboratories which cover, among others, biological sciences, physical sciences, chemical sciences and engineering sciences. Nearly 17,000 staff work in the CSIR laboratories.  Nearly 700,000 science and mathematics graduates and another 700,000 engineering graduates are turned out each year by the Indian educational system – impressive figures by any standard.
More relevant is the number of doctoral candidates that emerge from the Indian education system each year. India turns out close to 10,000 Ph Ds each year in science, engineering and technology. This is quantitatively impressive considering that all the OECD countries are reportedly producing 100,000 Ph Ds each year, and the leading country, USA itself contributes around 50,000 Ph Ds in science and engineering. Numbers possibly tell only less than half of the story, at least as far as India is concerned. While the doctoral programs in the USA are focused on the cutting edge of science and engineering, with a fair degree of association with Nobel Laureates and laboratories undertaking fundamental research, the Indian Ph Ds are handicapped by the lack of such leading edge associations. In addition, lack of laboratories committed to fundamental research in India for post-doctoral and research employment in public sector or private sector further constrains even those who have passion for research in India. An article in Nature, 472, 276-279 (2011), ruefully observes that the academic employment opportunities for Ph Ds have been declining even in the US, leading to their migration to jobs that do not require such advanced degrees.
IIFRs for a Research Ecosystem
India has less than 1 percent of its graduates enrolling for Ph D programs. The brightest of graduates, in fact, migrate to the advanced universities in US and Europe for Ph D programs. There is a clear need to address the fundamental research paradigm in India not merely to retain more    Ph D talent but more fundamentally to raise the state of discovery and innovation in India. With India harmonizing its intellectual property regime with the world order the previously held concerns on protecting discoveries and inventions out of India have considerably reduced. There must, therefore, be concerted efforts in, and for, India to participate in cutting edge research. Rather than spread itself thin, India could implement a phased plan to establish the foundations of fundamental research, starting with physical and chemical sciences, followed by engineering sciences and biological sciences.
The research ecosystem can take roots and grow only when the industry integrates the fundamental research in its operations, and also is proactive in contributing to the establishment of centers of fundamental research in India. Like the industry and business are expected to contribute financially to fulfill corporate social responsibility (CSR), there would need to be contributions to fulfill corporate innovation responsibility (CIR). A part of the research ecosystem should include a major initiative by the Government of India to set up a chain of Indian Institutes of Fundamental Research (IIFRs), on the lines of the IITs and IIMs, but exclusively focused on post-graduate education and doctoral and post-doctoral research. In addition, two developments in the Indian educational system that are potentially on their way must be restructured and leveraged for the benefit of fundamental research.
The first is the entry of corporate houses into Indian education. Instead of focusing on run-of-the-mill programs, business houses should partner the IIFRs to establish research schools of excellence and/or provide grants and chairs to encourage fundamental researchers. If they must set up their own institutes they must be their own institutes of fundamental research. Secondly, foreign universities which want to enter India must be asked to set up at least one center of fundamental research in each of their Indian centers as part of their physical campus programs in India. Just as India has delivered substantial value in global outsourcing of information technology and manufacturing, India would deliver significant value for foreign universities networking into India for fundamental research. A combination of Government sponsored IIFRs, public sector and private sector corporate sponsored research centers and foreign universities’ extension research schools should provide the winning formula for a pervasive ecosystem for fundamental research in India.
Research is a Passion
Basic to fundamental research is the fact that research is a passion, and not an employment or a business input. True researchers tend to be passionate in the field of discovery and invention. Neither age and gender nor nationality and geography have any relevance to the unending quest for new discoveries and inventions. Amongst the hundreds of Nobel Laureates, 25 years is the age of the youngest Laureate and 90 is the age of the oldest; 59 years is the average. In fact, over 49 Laureates are younger than 40 years, with most of them being in Physics. As Dr Higgs’s continuing work demonstrates, fundamental research is a lifetime passion. Similarly, it is truly multinational; as long as a world class research ecosystem exists in any nation, world class researchers would migrate to that nation, as a large nation like US and a small nation like Sweden equally exemplify.
Research takes extraordinarily extended time and intense effort that cannot be ordinarily rewarded. It is even more so with fundamental research. It drills down to unexplored hidden depths of knowledge but also connects seemingly unconnected domains of knowledge. The 2013 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Physiology demonstrate the importance of cross-functional knowledge, especially computer modeling or transportation modeling, in understanding complex chemical and biological activities. The God Particle (Higgs boson) research could not have happened but for the massive investment and effort involved in establishing the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. While India does need to go a long way in fulfilling certain basic economic, industrial and social growth needs through considerable investments, India cannot also afford to ignore the need and responsibility to invest in establishing and nurturing an ecosystem for fundamental research. Fundamental research will lead to a truly fundamental transformation towards a leadership role in global scientific and engineering domains for India.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on October 13, 2013   

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Beetle-Ambassador Paradox: The Essence of Product Perpetuity

Beetle subcompact car produced and sold by Volkswagen of Germany worldwide is an iconic product that came to be timeless in its acceptability to the young and old alike across generations. First designed and produced by Porsche in 1934 as a family car, Volkswagen sold over 20 million Beetle cars until the mid-1980s. It was probably the first car with an air cooled rear engine.  Its peak production was 1.3 million units a year but dipped to 30,000 units a year, prior to its production halt. It also became a car that signified multi-country production and was ‘reverse exported’ from an emerging country to the country of origin, Germany. Beetle is now back again, evolving for the last several years as an urban car from Volkswagen for a fun loving modern generation of the 21st Century.   

Ambassador compact car produced and sold by Hindustan Motors (HM) of India is in its own humble way an iconic product in India that became synonymous as much with the inception and growth of the Indian automobile industry in the 1950s as the frustration of technological obsolescence in India. First made by Morris Motors Limited as Morris Oxford II model in 1956 in the United Kingdom, it began to be manufactured by HM in 1958 under a technical collaboration at its Uttarpara plant in India. From a dominant market share in a diminutive automotive market of India (30,000 cars per annum or so in the 1970s), Ambassador collapsed in output to just 2500 cars per year in a super grown contemporary automotive market in India (3.3 million cars per year presently).

Comparisons and contrasts

Beetle, doubtless, represents a product concept and a product profile that was timeless. Despite the plethora of manufacturers and car segmentations and designs that overwhelmed the world automobile scene from the 1960s, Beetle retained a niche. The car looked the same but continued to integrate internal changes. All said and done, the Ambassador also stayed on as a car mass-produced in India for the longest number of years on the same assembly line in the whole world. No other car made in the world has surpassed this record. In fact, as opposed to Beetle, there was never a long term break in the production of Ambassador. Strangely, Beetle and Ambassador share the rounded, curvy retro looks. The comparisons probably stop here.

Beetle evolved over the years, and reinvented in recent years, as a very modern design that integrated high end electronics with hi-precision mechanicals. In contrast, Ambassador continued to remain the same old car with minimal design changes, except the engines getting updated to newer emission norms progressively. Volkswagen, the producer of Beetle has been  marching on to become one of the world’s largest car manufacturer, with an output of       million vehicles, covering 10 global brands and 200 models, produced in nearly 100 factories and a global workforce of 500,000. HM, the producer of Ambassador has shrunk perilously down, with an output of only a few thousand vehicles of all types, and mounting losses, notwithstanding several product diversification moves based on further foreign collaboration arrangements.

The formula for product perpetuity can be gleaned from the positive profile of Beetle and Volkswagen as well as the negative profile of Ambassador and Hindustan Motors. Possibly, the history of both Beetle and Ambassador indicates that certain products can have a lasting presence, if the manufacturers set their heart on their retention, allied to or independent of product-specific viability, but mandatorily linked to technology, product lines can stay onto near perpetuity. Three critical aspects are discussed below.

Tradition with technology

Product functionalities may change or new ones may emerge but usage traditions remain. As far as automobiles are considered, while the basic functionality of movement or transportation does not change, several others have got added. However, the tradition of a family vehicle, an urban vehicle or urban vehicle remains. How an old basic design is updated to modernity retaining the tradition is the key to product perpetuity. While retaining the original “The Beetle”, new models such as GSR for sporty applications and Cabriolet in the 50s, 60s and 70s branding for lifestyle applications have been added. Power and safety options are offered at the level of a large sedan even though Beetle is a small car. As if it were an ultramodern car, both hard top and soft top variants are offered. All the trappings of a modern car, in terms of electronics and trim are offered. Even if the shell is of vintage design, elegant lines and accessories are used to add to provide a pleasingly modern but traditionally retro look to Beetle. Ambassador which got stuck with the design of the 1950s did nothing of that sort, and the negative results are obvious.

The concept of novel product development combining tradition with technology has wider applicability. The latest to emerge is the smart watch which redefines the traditional concept of wearing a wrist watch with cellular connectivity and communication. The traditional concept of handwriting has been restored with tablets and phablets that can accept writing and drawings while that of physical book reading has been revolutionized with electronic book reading, a few years ago. Many traditional practices like wrist bands and spiritual bands are modernized with healthful metals, elements and electronics, and made contemporary with designs. The concept of retrospective products with futuristic technologies has revolutionized food processing and lifestyle industries. There could be virtually no limits to this trend. Products and functionalities can remain in perpetuity so long as technology updates them to modern functionalities.  

Innovation with investment

Innovation cannot happen without investments – in people, assets and supportive infrastructure. However, investments need viability which in turn comes from a successful product portfolio. Volkswagen did not stop only with Beetle; it continued with aggressive additional product development for multiple segments in global markets. In contrast, HM did not, and could not, go beyond Ambassador for India. Though the company entered, from time to time, into collaborations with world class Japanese automotive giants such as Isuzu (for trucks) and Mitsubishi (for cars and SUVs), the company could not provide the requisite investments to support product diversity that could provide the scale and scope economics which could, in turn, support updating of an aged but popular niche product such as Ambassador. Probably, as a product that was for decades in a sub-scale automotive market of India which was no more than 30,000 cars per annum for 3 manufacturers, Ambassador probably lost the game of innovation from the start.

Innovation and investments, however, require a business sense. What Ambassador could not achieve in India, Maruti-Suzuki could achieve in the same Indian market with aggressive investments, innovative products and intensive marketing. Maruti 800 car was a path breaker. Though it was discontinued a few years ago it is slated for a comeback with more contemporary technological flourishes. Hyundai which blazed new trails, years later, with i10 car is set to keep up the product perpetuity with i10 Grand car. The ability to make timely investments and support product innovation is the essence of enabling product perpetuity. The task becomes complex as well as easy when a product has a number of outsourced components. There are several marquee products and brands in India which can be brought to contemporary standards (Leyland Comet truck, Tata Indica car, Bajaj Scooter, for example) while investing in new products. What Bajaj did not do for the perpetuity of its highly popular scooter (in fact, it killed the product), its originator Vespa has done.

Brands with brain and brawn

Products with perpetuity potential typically enjoy significant brand power, initially and for several years of growth. Ambassador had brand power in India as much as Beetle had in its global markets. Even when products go out of perpetuity, the brand pull remains. ‘s strategy of reinventing a new low cost car model, “Go”, for India and other emerging markets through the revival of Datsun brand is a classic example. Reliance brought out its clothing brand Vimal after several years of retirement. It goes without saying that if investments on popular products on the lines considered in earlier sections are accompanied by commensurate investments on brands, product perpetuity can be ensured. It implies that even when erstwhile popular products face temporary setbacks, it would be a futuristic move to keep the brands in public recall in gross or subtle ways.

For product perpetuity, brand building has to happen with both brain and brawn. The potentially perpetual brands get identified with native traditions in an intuitive yet refined way, oftentimes with emotionally identifiable icons. Air India’s Maharaja and Amul’s little girl are outstanding examples. However, for product perpetuity to occur there must be a one-to-one association between the product and the brand. When companies attempt to leverage popular brands across a product range it becomes difficult to support perpetuity of a product. The ideal conditions are that the product must have a distinctive, even if vintage, design and the brand must have a specific user association. Jeep, Land Rover, Innova and Sumo (all utility vehicles), Comet and Viking (truck and bus), and Lambretta and Vespa (two wheelers) are a few examples. Unfortunately, companies seem to be losing their interest and penchant to build correlated products and brands.

Product perpetuity could present an attractive fallback option for companies in a perpetual rush for product diversity in highly fragmented and intensely competitive markets. Products of vintage standing can be akin to family silver that could be worth a fortune when chips are down; such products need to be tended to technology, investments and branding in a manner exclusive to them, however. There is nothing to be bugged about dated models as long as they are cared for enough not to be outdated, as the classic example of Volkswagen Beetle (or “Bug” as it is also popularly called) demonstrates!

Posted by Dr CB Rao on October 12, 2013                            










Sunday, October 6, 2013

From Vision to Procedure: The Nine Directive Principles of Organizational Management

Organizations are created to provide products and services to mankind. Growth is the sine qua non of progress. Growth, in turn, requires revenues and profits. Very often, this paradigm is seen to be more relevant to business organizations, and less relevant to non-business organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental. That is not so true. All organizations require the same paradigm, except that in certain organizations which are not for profit, investments and grants substitute profits. To achieve any of these aspects, however, any and every organization needs direction. Direction is fundamental to the establishment and growth of an organization. This is often discussed in terms of what an organization seeks to achieve or what it wants to become. Strategy literature has many propositions on this aspect, three of the more important ones being vision, strategy and execution.

Running an organization is more complex than setting a vision, formulating a strategy in pursuance of the vision and executing against the strategy. It is noted that almost all the organizations are reasonably good at one or more of the three factors, and certainly not necessarily bad at the balance factor(s). Yet, the performance differences across organizations are so great that more factors are possibly at play in, and more levers are at disposal of, organizations for differential performance. This blog post dwells on the importance of direction for organizations and the principles which enable and ensure effective directed growth. There are nine facets of this organizational paradigm, which range from vision to procedure. The author would like to call them the Directive Principles of Organizational Management. However, before considering the principles, some understanding of what direction could mean to organizations would be in order.
Direction; one too many?
Many times, direction is considered a unitary factor. People are urged often to decide on a direction and pursue it in life. “He does not have a direction in life!” is an often heard critique of people who do not meet expectations. Even organizations which are expected to accomplish many things are, often, criticized for either lacking direction or for working in many directions. Focus is often the associated or substitution buzzword for direction; ‘laser focus’ and ‘goal setting’ are more popular phrases. The fact is that rarely neither focus and goals nor executing towards the goals help organizations to the required extent. Organizations need an elaborate framework to understand direction setting and execute as per that.  Given that it is not necessarily virtuous or even ideally feasible for organizations to be unidirectional, challenges tend to be even more in practice. Based on the granularity of activities, even the most specialized organizations are required to work in multiple directions, particularly as they are also mandated to grow.
All organizations can be classified into two types; the first category comprises organizations which need to operate in places where customers or users exist, and the second category comprises organizations which have customers or users coming to the organizational campuses. Product organizations such as automobile, consumer goods and industrial goods companies fall in the first category. Service organizations such as service workshops, retail marts, educational institutions and hospitals fall into the second category. That said, the total value chain for any product organization or service organization involves co-existence of both the types of organizations. For example, an automobile company with multiple design and manufacturing sites and national sales-force needs a campus based dealer service organization to cover all aspects, from product design and manufacture to customer delivery and service. Similarly, a site based organization such as a hospital or retailer has to establish itself in several geographies to serve more customers and grow. The short point is that it is inevitable for even specialized organizations to establish themselves and grow in many directions.
Directive principles
A general direction (or set of directions) is important for an organization. However, equally or more important is the need for organizations to be appropriately directed. Directing an organization requires a complex and well-coordinated set of principles, which occur at three levels or tiers. The first tier is one of determining the destination. This is accomplished by a combination of vision, mission and goals. The second tier is one of determining how to reach the destination. This is achieved by a combination of strategy, plan and methodology. The third tier is one of ensuring compliant execution. This is mandated by a combination of process, system and procedure. The nine approaches listed above together constitute the nine directive principles of organizational management. It is neither the quality of the vision nor the quantity of goals, nor is it the elegance of strategy or the speed of the organization, that determines the competitiveness of growth. It is the deployment of all the nine directive principles, together as a seamless cascade, in an organization that determines the success.
It is important for an organization and its leaders and team members to understand the import of each of the nine directive principles. Vision is the space that is visualized for an organization in the long term, often painting a stirring picture of growth and transformation. Mission is a credo or an objective that makes an organization to stand up, and work for, in pursuance of the vision. Goal is the definition, in quantitative and qualitative terms, of the destination or the metric of achievement. Strategy is a broad set of short, medium and long term multi-functional coordinated actions required to achieve goals. Plan is the detailed calendar of activities that are required to provide the framework for execution. Methodology is the set of methods and principles used to execute the plan. Process is both a culture and a way of doing things that is particularly characteristic of an organization. System is the broad policy framework that establishes the degrees of freedom as well as the boundary limits to carry out a task. Procedure is the detailed set of prescriptive instructions that govern execution, compliance and accountability in clear and no uncertain terms.  
Defining nuances
The above descriptions of the directive principles are not mere semantics. Each of the terms, or the guiding principles, has important philosophical connotations that can determine the performance differentials across organizations, and even set them apart distinctively.  Vision is inspirational while mission is motivational and goal is aspirational.  For an educational institution in India, becoming the top-ranked university in the world and becoming a global center of education is an inspirational vision. For the same institution, providing the highest standards of pedagogy and personality development is a motivational mission that makes the institution assemble the best of faculty and attract the best of students. Goals for the institution are in terms of courses, seats, collaboration, and so on. Strategy aims to develop competitiveness with reference to external and internal factors. Strategy cannot be executed without a plan. Methodology, on the other hand, is a choice of certain alternative approaches to execute a plan. For example, the university may choose to adopt a course management approach, student management approach or faculty management approach to achieve the goal.
Similarly, process, system and procedure have clear nuances. Process refers to the management’s way of doing things. For example, an organization may deliberately follow consensual processes in the way it operates. The organization may also adopt top-down or bottom-up approaches, in the alternative. The process, in many ways, determines the culture of an organization. Process is a very visible behavioral enabler as well as manifestation of an organization’s culture.  For the educational institution, it could be a highly collegial approach, a chancellor-driven management or a student-staff council driven process.  System, on the other hand, is a technical way of executing. The university, for example, may choose to conduct its teaching in the conventional face-to-face teaching system, pre-recorded tutorial system or in any other combination of manual and electronic audio-visual interface. Finally, procedure is a mandatory requirement of good execution and robust compliance. They provide clarity to individuals in their day to day working. Organizations tend to differ in the ways in which they are able to deploy these nine directive principles.
Competency-responsibility matrix
Not many organizations get rated equally high on all the nine directive principles of organizational management. As a result, they tend to have less sustainable or more volatile growth. For example, entrepreneurial and startup organizations tend to be high on the vision tier, average on the strategy tier and low on the process tier. Established, mature companies could display the ratings in reverse order. Truly world-class organizations that rank high on sustainable revenue and profit growth path with commitment to safety, quality, productivity and compliance, would rank high on all the nine directive principles. The reasons are not far to seek. Uniformly high ranking on all the nine principles combines innovation with conformity, long term with short term, and compliance with clarity. If, however, one principle needs to be specially highlighted for enabling the institutionalization of all the nine directive principles, it is the process. The right process determines institutionalization of all the activities in a right manner in an organization.
The directive principles require a coordinated leadership and managerial effort across the hierarchy to become institutionalized in organizations. Different levels of organization are responsible for the nine directive principles, not in terms of the three horizontal tiers (where they have natural competencies) of vision (and, mission and goal), strategy (and, plan and methodology), and process (and, system and procedure) but instead in terms of three verticals of vision (and, strategy and process), mission (and, plan and system), and goal (and, methodology and procedure). Typically, in an organization, the chief executive officer needs to be responsible for institutionalizing vision, strategy and process while the CXOs reporting to the CEO should be responsible for institutionalizing mission, plan and system and the functional heads reporting to the CXOs should be responsible for institutionalizing goal, methodology and procedure. This approach generates an appropriate competency-responsibility matrix of the nine directive principles for seamless institutionalization for sustainable organizational performance.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on October 6, 2013




Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Mahatma Gandhi: Ten Leadership Lessons

Today, October 2, 2013, is celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti in India. Without doubt, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1949), popularly and reverently referred to as Mahatma Gandhi or Bapuji, is the greatest leader India has ever produced. Mahatma Gandhi has few parallels even internationally for  several of his unique attributes. He was both a transformational leader and transactional leader, whose knowledge covered a whole range of domains including politics, economics, religion, spirituality and philosophy. What distinguished Gandhi was that he was highly principled and value-based in whatever he preached and executed. As a result, he could inspire the elite as effectively as he could sway the masses. He was a truly original thinker who brought concepts such as non-violence to centre stage nationally as well as internationally.   

Without Mahatma Gandhi, Indian independence would have been a distant dream even now. Without his indomitable will and leadership, the mighty British empire would not have been forced to accede to Indian independence in an essentially non-violent way. Without his unique campaigns, including, for example, the famous Salt March to Dandi, the nation would not have been able to demonstrate the power of unity in diversity. There are so many competencies and capabilities of Mahatma Gandhi that it would be difficult for anyone to chronicle them in any order and to do any level of justice. This blog post merely attempts to glean some lessons from Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership that would have relevance to management and leadership in business, and any organized activity or even to any individual endeavor.
Leadership by example
Mahatma Gandhi personified leading by example. His thoughts, deeds and execution were clearly and completely aligned. If he preached simplicity, he exemplified by adopting simple living, including wearing  hand-woven half-dress that identified with the poorest of poor. He organized all his non-violent protests, including satyagrahas, by being in the front rather than exhorting from behind. In terms of personal possessions he had the barest of the minimum, forsaking all his wealth for the good of the community. He emphasized effective time and resource management, spinning cloth whether in his ashram or in prison.  
Such extraordinary simplicity may not be every leader’s wont in today’s times but certainly the essence of Gandhi’s leading by example can be integrated in terms of avoiding extravagance, and reflecting authenticity, transparency, genuineness and alignment in thoughts, expressions and actions. Walking the talk and leading by example are the pivots of effective leadership dynamics.  
Leadership by thematic campaigns
The early 1900s had none of the communication tools that the world has today. Yet Gandhi could galvanize an entire nation of multiple languages and cultures onto one platform. He captured the imagination of several hundred millions of people by enunciating, practicing and leading thematic campaigns such as Khadi (hand-woven cotton dress) as a mark of social and economic self-reliance and Satygraha (fasting) as a symbol of self-sacrifice, self-denial and self-purification.  His non-violent movements such as non-cooperation movement, civil disobedience movement, and quit-India movement, finally culminating in the India independence movement reflect a thematic acumen to rally a nation of several million people around.
Whether people belong to small teams or large organizations, thematic campaigns are required to galvanize people of multiple predispositions into one unified thought and execution process.  Leaders faced with challenges of turnaround and growth, as well as leaders in pursuit of competitiveness through safety, quality and efficiency need such thematic drivers.  
Leadership by persistence
Gandhi was the ultimate epitome of persistence, tenacity, endurance, commitment, conviction. Whether it was facing hostile white mobs in Durban, traveling to the coldest of the places like London bare-chested, conforming to strict vegetarianism even on foreign shores, walking hundreds of miles day and night, fasting for days together, or accepting incarceration with selflessness,  Mahatma believed in the causes he expounded and overcame all daunting obstacles resolutely.
In civil life or business life, success is not easy. The above five qualities which fired Gandhi’s dour and doughty spirit  are very much a requirement of leadership. Conviction in the causes of core leadership is the fundamental driver of the other four qualities of persistence, tenacity, endurance and commitment.
Leadership by organization
Despite his extraordinary capabilities and qualities, Gandhi never considered the movement for Indian independence as only his one-person initiative. He aligned the Congress party and its machinery as the organizational vehicle. In 1921 when he became a senior congress functionary, he reorganized the party hierarchy and created a structure that is aligned with the objectives. More importantly, he displayed the statesmanship and stewardship to lead a team of exceptional leaders of their own right; Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajaji, Jinnah, Gokhale, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad and Baba Ambedkar, to name a few.
Successful social or business leadership requires building and development of a world-class organization with a structure that is aligned to strategy and vision, and a highly qualified and experienced leadership team. A leader’s responsibility lies in developing the right balance of alignment and creativity amongst a group of competent and passionate leaders.
Leadership by service
Gandhi exemplified servant leadership long before it became a part of management lexicon. Gandhi saw himself as a servant of the Indian people, even more particularly of the poor and downtrodden. He was an extraordinary leader of people but made every effort to find oneness with ordinary people. Several of his personal qualities such as humaneness, humility, integrity, accountability, honesty, accessibility, equality, morality, spirituality, trusteeship, mentoring and empowerment (and even vulnerability to human failings) made Gandhi  into a role model of servant leadership. His espousal of independence on behalf of the people, his campaign for eradication of untouchability and his readiness to serve the plague-diseased and war-injured despite all the risks are enduring evidences of his servant leadership.
Business and organizational leaders are, in a sense, servants of all the stakeholders, including but not limited to the customers, investors, employees and the larger society. Business leadership must see metrics of organizational performance in a perspective of trusteeship for the greater good of the society. In some businesses, such as healthcare industry the linkage could be obvious but even in other industries the service dimension gets discovered by true servant leaders, leading to superior performance.
Leadership by customers
Long before customer-centricity became a buzzword in marketing and management, Gandhi made a highly profound statement on customers as the core of any business. Gandhi stated, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” Considering customers in the perspective that Gandhi has enunciated could be seen as a logical extension of his service leadership.
Business leaders must consider whether concepts of market leadership and customer loyalty are the right concepts to feel comfortable about, in the context of the above perspective. Rather, leaders must measure themselves and the performance of their organizations on a holistic paradigm of customer service. This paradigm should be more than fulfillment of customer orders; it could be in terms of lifelong customer satisfaction.
Leadership by self-reliance
Although the word Swaraj means self-rule, Gandhi gave it the content of an integral revolution that encompasses all spheres of life. He stated, “At the individual level Swaraj is vitally connected with the capacity for dispassionate self-assessment, ceaseless self-purification and growing self-reliance”. Politically, swaraj is self-government and it means a continuous effort to be independent of government control, whether it is foreign government or whether it is national. In other words, it is sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority. Economically, Swaraj means full economic freedom for the toiling millions. His Khadi movement, with the Charak (the spinning wheel) emerging as the symbol of economic power in the hands of individuals and the passionate espousal of small and micro enterprises and rural employment are sterling examples of his belief in economic self-reliance.
Indian business may consider, somewhat erroneously, that in today’s globalized world self-reliance is an obsolete concept. On the other hand, the business must note that but for the emphasis of Gandhi-Nehru combine on self-reliance and the passionate response of private and public sectors, India would have missed even this level of industrialization. While, India did win its independence, economic independence is still elusive. Gandhian economics in a contemporary format is certainly called for.
Leadership by people
Gandhiji believed that the real power directly resides in the hands of people. Gandhi said, “Power resides in the people, they can use it at any time.” This philosophy rests inside an individual who has to learn to be master of his or her own self and spreads upwards to the level of his or her community which must be dependent only on itself. Gandhi said, “In such a state, everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbour”.  While Gandhi  was a great leader he articulated that his leadership was based on factors that even ordinary men and women could implement. He stated that by putting in the same effort and attention as he has put in, any person could achieve all that he could achieve. While it reflects his humility, it also reflects his belief in the capability and power of the people.

Leaders have to retain the connectivity with the people. The more power is concentrated in a leader the less successful will be his or her organization. That said, it does not mean laissez faire for all people of an organization. The key emphasis must not only be on decentralization and empowerment but also on accountability to dedicate the same effort, and accord the same attention, as the leader would put in. That would be the true embodiment of grassroots leadership.

Leadership by universality

Gandhi studied and lived abroad. He travelled abroad in the face of misplaced strife against him and defying the power of a world empire too. In doing so, he discovered his ethical traits, developed his tools of leadership and honed his personality. He preached and followed Hinduism as a devout Hindu but equally understood and respected other religions, Christianity and Islam. He firmly believed in the universality and co-existence of multiple cultures and religions. His viewpoints, no doubt, established the foundations of a secular, independent India.

In today’s globalized world, characterized by multinational corporations of diverse host national origins, it is tempting for leaders or team members, and headquarters or regions to make fallacious assumptions on competencies and attributes through the prisms of individual cultures. The moment leaders and individuals start appreciating the universality of competence, true global leadership emerges. And, leadership is a continuous discovery of what is, and what can be, good for the organizations.

Leadership by engagement

Gandhi could galvanize the people by engagement. Even in those days of manual and physical communication, Gandhi never tired of engaging with the people. His personal meetings with people who called on him were short and concise but pointed and effective. He provided all the attention, he listened well and made all his visitors feel really important and cared for in the brief personal meetings. When he addressed public gatherings, he always had the pulse of the people. With his sublime personal traits personified by his ethical and honest conduct on one hand and the inspiring thematic connectors such as Satya (truth),  Swaraj (self-rule), Satyagraha (peaceful protest) and Ahimsa (non-violence), Gandhi always engaged with the millions of Indians, rich or poor, effectively.

Leadership’s greatest trap and fallibility is the distance that develops between leaders and the larger population. Some leaders mistakenly distance themselves, some leaders are separated by interlocutors and intermediaries and some others are kept at a distance by people themselves out of fear or reverence. It is important for leaders to stay in touch and make the people feel connected genuinely.

Mahatma Gandhi leadership model

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has truly been an exceptionally great leader. While his achievements have been spectacular in the political and national arena, his having been the Father of the Indian Independence, the principles of humanism and leadership he embodied transcend all domains, and are applicable to organizational leadership, whether business or administrative, and whether for-profit or not-for-profit.  The ten facets of Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership model brought out in this blog post, namely leadership by example, leadership by thematic campaigns, leadership by persistence, leadership by organization, leadership by service, leadership by customers, leadership by self-reliance, leadership by people, leadership by universality, and leadership by engagement together constitute a holistic model of humanistic leadership.

While several decades have passed, Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership model remains as relevant today as it was in his lifetime. It would continue to be applicable at all times in future, and in all cultures and nations in a fundamental manner.  As with any model, Gandhi’s humanistic leadership model has to be absorbed and implemented contextually, and with wholehearted conviction. It is a model not merely for leaders, current and prospective, but also for all people at large.  It would be useful to recall once again Gandhi’s statement that even ordinary persons would achieve the same results and impact if they exert the same effort and attention as Gandhi himself has dedicated for human welfare and development.  That brings us to one of the most profound quotations of Mahatma Gandhi: ”Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.    

Posted by Dr CB Rao on October 2, 2013 on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti.