Report of Report Cards on Modi Government – corporate style

May 26, 2015

Yesterday one of my school friends sent me an article for my comments that gave one year report card of BJP government. And this is what I wrote to him.

Dear Vivek, Yes, I have read this article.
Like the author and as she herself has mentioned, hundreds have written a report card on Narendra Modiji’s government. In a democracy everyone has the rights to comment and it is a sign of healthy democracy that everyone’s views are heard and criticism is taken into its stride. ( isn’t that also speaks well for the govt?)

I think, democratic process is not like a school system, where we enter for 5 years and every year we are evaluated whether we have passed or failed. There are many decisions that are taken for long term impact and strategic direction – specially foreign policy, defence preparedness, education policy and infrastructure. Impact of some decisions are felt after 5 years, some after 10 years and some after one generation.

You and me work in corporate sector, we have annual review against our annual targets and plans. We are evaluated on set parameters on how much have we achieved.

But as we go up in the hierarchy we realise that many of these parameters are lagging indicators. We find people’s performance after they have achieved or have failed to achieve. If they have failed to achieve we give them feedback, we might put them on some ‘plan’ – euphemism for putting them ‘under watch’ – or some jobs are made redundant (again an euphemism for retrenching non performers). However the damage was done in terms of non achievement. We have to work extra hard to repair it and achieve next year’s ( or quarter’s) targets. At that stage we learn to focus on leading indicators – focussing on actions that would give desired results. Because we now know that if right actions are not taken at the right time we won’t get the results and in the end we would be only doing postmortem.

Also we are given responsibility to make a 3 years plan, 5 years plan, a strategic plan and an operational plan. As we start executing it, we focus on key decisions keeping an eye on long term impact. Many times a lower level manager doesn’t realise the importance of certain decisions or recruitment of certain skills, as he or she is not aware of the strategic plan. But we know that to achieve these long term goals we need to prepare in advance – need to get right systems in place, right people in place and start working towards it.

I feel that in the nation’s planning and progress, there is a much more complexity than corporate planning.  Though there is no harm in taking stock of the situation annually and evaluate the progress, I feel we should use the leading indicators to understand the government’s progress. Because we should be concerned about long term impact as much as we should be about short term decisions.

My leading indicators for a government’s performance are :

Intent : It is obvious that if the intent is not right all the decisions would lead to downhill path as we saw under UPA. If the intent is to serve the country well, then automatically corruption and corrupt practices vanishes at the top and then it slowly percolates down. We all have seen a corruption free India in last 1 year.

Vision and Plan : Intent drives the vision. What do you want to make a country as eg. Swaccha Bharat, Make in India, Digital India, Financial inclusion etc are part of the the vision. And putting together a plan for it. Constructing toilets, cleaning of Ganga, connecting roads, opening of bank accounts for hundreds of thousands of people,  etc are part of the plan behind the vision

Policy framework : Putting policy framework in line with the vision e.g.. putting together Digital policy, putting together policy of water ways, ‘Act East’ policy etc are the examples.

Team : Having a competent and capable team that would work together is important. Along with the competence what is needed is clarity and cohesiveness of intent among the team. If that is in place then even if there are differences of opinion they can be managed ( Actually healthy amount of dissent is needed for robustness of decisions making) “Matbhed hona galat nahi hai, Manbhed nahi hone chahiye” ( मतभेद होना गलत नही है, मनभेद नही होने चाहिए ।)

Leadership : Strong leadership is most important. We all are experiencing how a good leader can channelise the energy of the nation.

Connectedness with the masses : It is important to check how well the ministers and policymakers are in touch with the people of the country. Very often power and aura of Delhi makes the ministers lose touch with the reality and decisions are taken for the benefits of the creamy layer of the society. It is great to see many ministers are regularly going back to their constituencies and are appraised on their connectedness.

Engagement with all stakeholders : It is important for the government to connects well with all the pillars of the democracy and establish very good relationship with them for the smooth functioning – judiciary, bureaucracy, financial institutions such as RBI etc. Also being the federal structure not just having good relationship with the state government but also working to strengthen them is most important. We have have seen how Modiji’s government has acted on finance commission report and increased the fund allocation to the states and how the funds generated through coal auction have gone to the states- mostly to the non BJP states and how states are being made stakeholder in the growth of the country.

If you would like to create your report card, please go ahead and do so. Make sure that you are focussing on the leading indicator to get a true picture of the progress.


What I want my children to learn

April 12, 2011

“The knowledge and information that our children are getting through formal education system, is it good enough for them to face the rapid advancements in science and technology?”

“Are our kids getting ready to face the rapid changes in social structure?”

“Are our children developing the solid foundation to be successful in globalised world?

As parents of two under-teen children, my wife and I often go over these questions. Our discussions move around the education system, type of schools, curriculum etc. The fact that we often go through these discussions shows that we have yet to get satisfactory answer.

We realised that we are trying to find the answer in wrong place. School or curriculum system’s mandate does not include getting children ready for the new world. We have nothing against the education system – it is doing its job. We have nothing against the schools – they are teaching the curriculum that is prescribed by the board of education.

However we all agree that it is not good enough. Challenges are of different kind.

When I look at their curriculum and books and compare with the advancements in every field, the gap is yawning. In the coming years what our children are learning in schools would be outdated by the time they go to college. Our children are going to find so much of gap in what they know and what they are expected to know when they go out in the real life that it is going to baffle them. Till 10/15 years back the transition from education system to real life was quite smooth.

The challenges are not going to be only in education, they are going to be in social life as well. The contours of social circle have already changed. When we grew up we and our parents had an idea of the social structure we would be entering in and we were groomed accordingly. With the virtual societies and online social networking we do not know how the societies are going to be shaped by the internet world.

Also in the professional field our children would be working in a globalised environment. They would need different skills to excel in such environments.

To help our children prepare to handle such situations, we need to help them acquire skills. Following is my list :

Ability to learn “how to learn” :
Today’s learning process has a structure which is made up of class room learning and books. And there is an assessment process at the end of it. Most often the learning is guided by the assessment process. As the information and knowledge are changing so rapidly, kids would have to look at many sources of information beyond books and class room. There might not be formal assessment process in place.

Usually our mind processes new information based on what it has learnt, it tries to find the context with the available information. In the coming days, the new information that children would be coming across would be far away from the context of what they have learnt, very often the information would be contradicting what the mind already knows. This information would not be fitting in the mind’s frame of reference.

In such cases I would like my children to develop ability to understand new sources, process such information and learn from it. I would like my children to go through the skills development system that would help them face entirely new scenarios and face them confidently.

Collaborate :
While the education and school systems teaches student to be competitive and zero sum game, its not going to be the only trait that would see them through in the coming age. I would like children to learn how to collaborate and become stronger . The personal growth and learning are going to happen more through collaboration and understanding of communities than being just a competitive person.

Work in virtual teams :
Our children learn how to deal with their friends and people around them on a daily basis. But in the new world we increasingly find ourselves working with the people whom we don’t meet in person. We deal with problems by working with the team members through electronic and digital communications. Very often our decisions are based on our knowledge of our friend or colleague’s background. That is not going to be the case in virtual world where children would have to deal with people and their culture about which they have no idea. I would like my children to learn the skills of dealing with virtual teams.

Leadership through influence :
Today children are learning leadership skills that are oriented towards ‘command and control’ approach. In the new world it is the influence that would matter to become a leader. Also in the coming times, while working in different communities the role of a person would keep changing. The real leadership would come through influence and not through titles. I would like my children to understand the importance of being team player, influencer and a leader.

The conventional education system can not instill these skills due to paucity of time and often due to lack of quantification criterion. But we all know that these skills are important and in coming times these would be the skills for basic survival. I strongly believe that we as parents would have to come forward and create communities to help our children learn these skills along with their regular education system. If you know any such community which is trying to do so, please share here.

Communcation that leaders should avoid

January 6, 2011

“ I would like to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to meet me. ….”

I would think twice about meeting even if these words come from the God. I smell tremendous attitude in these words and I don’t think it does any good when it comes from the democratically elected PM of a nation. Somehow I felt these words lack humbleness and give a picture of a person who wants to show his position of leadership.

When I read the enclosed news, the first thing that struck me was how leaders forget that they are leaders because of people and followers, they have not come from the sky.  When you are the elected PM of the democratic nation you need to avoid the language that connotes that people are the subject and you are (whatever you think you are).

My intention is not to critise the person or the PM per se or the initiative mentioned in the news item. Actually it is a good initiative and nice way of leveraging social media. However to me it is a lesson as to how leaders need to be careful in their communication. and avoid unpleasant language. I would have drafted these lines as “ I would like to have an opportunity to meet you all”…

Pearls of wisdom on entrepreneurship

October 4, 2010

Last week, I attended one of the talks that SMU-IIE regularly organises. I went to the talk with no particular expectations. My main motive was to get out of my office seat and be among the people. .

But after the talks, I felt thousand times grateful to SMU-IIE for organising it and bowed million times  to the speaker for such a wonderful insight. So let me share with you what I learned.

Firstly about the speaker. Dr. Bala S. Manian has been an entrepreneurial innovator, investor and a mentor in the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial community for the last three decades. You can read his bio at the above link. What makes him special is the fact that he has been on the entrepreneurial scene for long, much before it was fashionable. Has seen through 7 ventures successfully.

Now what I learned :

The one bit of advice which set me thinking most and which I liked was :

There are pieces of information with many people, someone who can organise it and present it gives knowledge but one who brings this knowledge with real life experiences is bringing wisdom.

My take on this bit is that, many of us know what is right thing to do. We know a lot about various subjects through reading. For example, by reading internet and books one can give good lecture on entrepreneurship, but when it comes from the person who has been there and seen it, it has weight, it makes more sense. Does this means we should spend time in listening to such people – no.. very clearly this means we should spend time in “doing” it, practising it, then we can preach.

On various other pieces of wisdom that he shared, that is important for the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship are :

“It is not about state of mind, but ability to execute what is in your mind”

“Ability to read people, gives you ability to lead people”

“You need to be a good communicator, but more important is the ability to listen”

“Need to have passion bordering on addiction” and “Self confidence bordering on arrogance” But should also know the borders.

“Will to succeed is more important than desire to succeed”

” You go to school only to learn to how to learn”

“Risk taking is important, but more important is the ability to deal with and manage uncertainties”

Some interesting thoughts on business plans :

You need a business plan but the purpose of the business plan is “to show your analytical thinking ability, it is not a roadmap”. Another piece of wisdom was so important ” You should not believe in your own B**Sh**”. This was in the context of the what we communicate externally. While is good to be bullish and come across as a confident person, we should know the reality.

He also talked about VCs, about exit strategies, about pace of advancements in technology, about the importance of mentors.

On a particular question regarding pace of change and a narrow window of go to market, how should entrepreneurs look at it, his advice was very helpful. He said, ” if you find you are little late in coming to market with a particular product, you can re-purpose it for next problem to solve. You would be the first one with ready answer”. In this context he also mentioned that don’t get hung up on a particular product per se, focus on the opportunity. If you know the opportunity well, you can find different technologies to solve the problem. In the same context he said ” the answer we get depends on how we frame a question”.

He also talked about India’s strategic place in this context. His advice was India offers an opportunity to entrepreneurs to fail inexpensively and hence is a good place to leverage.

For me this was a great learning. I am sure most others who attended would have found it too.

Note : This is an attempt to share my learnings. This not a transcription of the talks. The words in ” ” are very close to what he said in exact words.

First year of entrepreneurship – Learnings

September 4, 2010

One year has passed much faster than I imagined, but it made me wiser ( thats what I think) beyond my expectations. I am trying to share my learnings without being judgemental about other people.

You are alone when it matters most : Even if you may have found support and encouragement from your professional network while making the plans, when it comes to execution you are alone and it becomes your sole responsibility. You can not count on any one else whatever they would have promised. People like to join you only after you are successful.

No amount of prior work experience is good enough : Even after spending 20 years in work, the situation and circumstances that you face are totally unique and you come to know about it only after you have taken the plunge. So if you get a chance to take the plunge earlier, don’t stop yourself.

Be prepared to avoid ” I have arrived” feeling : I am not sure if this happens with everyone, but I guess must be true particularly for those like me who start after long years in job. You are given feeling of special person, person who has shown courage by the people around you. While this is a good thing, very helpful in the beginning, but it might give you a feeling of ” I have arrived” and take you away from rational and practicality of the entrepreneurship. It might give you sense of accomplishment and slow down your hunger for real success. Just taking a plunge is not enough, succeeding is more important.

One thing I would like to share that happened with me.  I realised, pretty late,  that I made a classic mistake of not building enough pipeline even after running sales for so many years.  Every lead that I generated, I thought would convert into business. When I look back today and ask myself, what could be the reason for getting  into such complacency ? I realised that it might be because of the feeling of “I have arrived”, ” I could do no wrong” sense that might have been developed. Hence wanted to share this story.

Many possibilities, many avenues takes you nowhere : This again may be because of long years in the job. You tend to think – I know so many things, I have network in so many areas, I can do so many things and you get proposals for many business ideas. In the initial stages, it may sound good, it may satisfy your ego, it may give you feeling of being busy, but soon you would find, it has not taken you anywhere. This may happen despite you having a good business plan.

Sounding board : When you start as one man army, it is very important to have someone around you who is well wisher, aware of the market conditions and who can be your sounding board. At least I found it very difficult to keep talking to myself or keep coming out with ideas without someone around. It helps tremendously when you hear yourself talking. You immediately realise the wrong and right.

I have gone through many more personal learnings. It has been very enriching experience from that point of view. At the same time it has been challenging times. Things have not gone as per the plans. Lot of things have fallen through at the last moment bringing me back to square one etc.

Family support : I think if there is one thing that you absolutely need is family support. Entrepreneurship is as much a an emotional journey as a commercial venture. When you feel alone it is only your family that you can reach out to. That is the only support system you can count on. I am fortunate that I can count on such.

Now I think I am much more grounded to reality. Looking forward to next year.

Managers and Leaders

August 4, 2009

“Our leaders have to be admired for their thought leadership and not just competence.”
This is the quote from Mr. Subroto Bagchi’s interview in Economic Times (Nov 30, 2007)

This resonates so well with what Amita and me often discuss about.

Both of us have seen Indian and Global managers at very senior positions.
These are not the celebrity leaders, but these are the managers who are responsible for growing businesses and leading people. These managers, especially in large organisation have to be good leaders. It is not easy for people to join and connect with faceless organisation. For people, their managers are the face of the organisation and most of the time people join or leave their managers. In such cases managers carry enormous responsibility to provide not just the business competency but good people leadership.

This is where the leadership style and approach differ.

I have seen many competent professionals. They are good at their function and their job. But when it comes to leading people (there is a difference between managing and leading people), they fall awfully short.

I have personally worked with entrepreneurs, professional managers and good leaders. I have worked in corporate sector, have worked in social sector. I have seen different type of people. I have seen the difference between leaders and manager. The ability to inspire, create vision and walk on the chosen path – is the the most important aspect to be successful in being a leader – be it in corporate life or in social sector.

To be a successful leader one needs to have both the capabilities – competency and inspiring people. Just the competency can not take you too far. I have seen some entrepreneurs who had vision (later on I realised that they had only dreams), ability to inspire people but did not have competency in business areas. They simply couldn’t succeed. Some entrepreneurs I have seen who were competent in business areas but did not have the vision. Their businesses did not grow beyond a point. Good professionals did not like to stick around such people for long and hence business did not grow.

When it comes to professional managers leading the people, most manager think that managing people is good enough. They focus on giving right job description, right work to the people under them. They give pep talks so that people can deliver the numbers. The most professional managers follow M-B-O (management by objectives) process to get work done. They think by setting up the objectives people deliver the desired results. It is true to some extent. But it is not the entire truth.
People mostly look up to their managers for direction and inspiration. People like to work for such leaders. The inspired and motivated people tend to give much more than set objectives. They help create more vibrancy in the group. They help create happy and creative atmosphere. In this age of Knowledge economy, the dependency is on people than just the processes.

The good leaders provide this important ingredient – inspiration and vision (thought leadership) – which is so vital for growth than just the straight jacketed MBO or task oriented process.

(Reproduced from my old blog (2007) on different blog site)

Partnering for Success

July 27, 2009

Why do upstart / small/ medium ISVs find it difficult to establish partnership in new regions ….

ISVs find it difficult to get mindshare of resellers or SI partners specially when they want to expand beyond their geographical region. When you think more deeply you would find few reasons.

When the ISV is entering into new region, a lot of work is needed to be done for the market development. Someone has to do this work – either ISV or the local partner. If partner decides to go ahead with the market development, question is how to get returns on the investments. The traditional partnership model in IT industry works on commission basis. If that is the only form of return the considerations for investment are driven by many factors :

  • Cost of the ISV solution and the % margin,
  • The absolute value of the margin
  • Volume of sales per month
  • Potential total gross profit in a given period.

Most of the time the Potential margin itself is not justifiable to make any significant investment. When it is a decent amount, the time frame may take much longer to get the returns.

Such scenario is not new to ISV vendors and hence ISV sticks to selling directly to the customers till the time it reaches certain threshold. When ISV is looking to grow beyond its geographical region (in new territories), setting up office or appointing a sales person is too costly a proposition. And given the above considerations it is difficult to excite the partner to work on purely commission basis and earn decent returns.

What is the alternative ?

Well, ISV can try some age old method of paying the retainer-ship fee to one of the partners in the new region for initial period. I am aware of the question as to how would it work for the ISVs. Well, by paying retainer-ship fee, ISV can insist on performing the tasks of :

  • Reaching out to key customers,
  • Creating awareness of its products and solution
  • Getting the feedback from the customers
  • Getting the market feedback (about competition, pricing, solution providers, influencers etc).
  • Participate in local relevant events (by paying the participation fees of the event)

It is possible to measure the efforts through weekly activity reports and reviews. The key here is to treat the partner as your extended sales team. You are hiring a sales person on time sharing basis.

The cost of this retainer-ship would vary from 20% to 50% of the cost of one local sales person / local small office. To begin with, this activity can be done only short period 3 to 6 months.

In this process, ISVs get crucial tasks done – market development activities, prospect database and also loyalty and interest of channel partner in the new market.

ISV can build from here. This phase helps it to take further decision about :

  • Continue or discontinue this arrangement,
  • Enter into the market with direct office
  • Put more trust in channel partner
  • Focus only on period

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