Posted on 18-11-2012
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Don’t hire the best,” wrote Abhijit Bhaduri, but he married the best. “100%! I’ll not even blink to say I am what I am because of Nandini. I totally depend on her….” His completely non-chauvinistic admission is reminiscent of Salvador Dali’s love-smitten refrain about his wife’s aura enveloping him. “Without Gala, Dali doesn’t exist,” said Dali. It was Gala who nurtured this Surrealist painter’s hallucinating art and creativity; she was his everything, wife, promoter, agent and mentor.

Abhijit talks the same language, says his wife is his inspiration, critic and support. In different occasions I’ve met the couple, I found Dalinian indications in their fresh, friendly relationship. As though still dating, Nandini would excitedly make ‘boyfriend’ Abhijit taste something she liked over dinner. The impulsiveness in their bond would surely bring out the writer’s inner essence.

Such spontaneity over the new is what Abhijit describes as personality in his new book. In fact the crux of his Human Resources brushstroke for talent hunting is personality, understanding what the candidate will do in future: “A lot of hiring is done by the resume. That’s quite useless because it’s about something already done.” For Abhijit, a candidate’s personality comes from his urge to mix with unconventional pieces of life, not be stereotyped in any aspect, not even the food he eats or friends he mixes with. My takeaway from Abhijit is that regular life is anti-formula for developing a personality, only a discomfort zone has ingredients to be absorbed for success in the corporate world. Once you have multiple changing experiences, your eco system allows you to be flexible and adjust, which is not the same as having an accommodating attitude.

I remember a long time ago, after a new product development presentation for Danone that was to start from Belguim as the pilot market, I became good friends with Marc Verhamme, Danone’s Managing Director there. Our discussions spilled over to a Brussels restaurant where Marc asked how I get my creative team thinking so differently. I explained we have people of different nationalities and a wide variety of professional fields working together. Then Marc enthusiastically shared his own unique method of recruiting top management, he takes them through a driving session. His point was that when a person is on the steering wheel, you can gauge many important factors. You can measure his patience, confidence, what kind of risk he can manage, his judgment, behavior under stress and his speed. Marc talks on diverse subjects that require some thought to reply intelligently, so he finds out if the candidate can tackle multi-tasking while driving. He said he’s applied this driving metaphor for recruiting senior management several times, and it’s always been effective.

For interviewing senior talent in an organization, Abhijit has a personality pyramid. The three enveloping elements are adjustability, interpersonal sensitivity and sociability. I suddenly realized that these are the exact 3 qualities an Indian bride in an arranged marriage needs to have. Take adjustability. It’s top priority when coming to live in a joint family, aside from apprehensions and thrills of adjusting to a husband you don’t know. In business, adjustability is the psychological reference of managing uncertainty. For a new senior recruit it involves aligning with both top management and reportees, yet perform with cool judgment. Sociability is what a new bride can’t do without, whether placating a little nephew-in-law’s tantrums or being gracious even when the grandmother-in-law’s nosey-parker friends give her the once over. In an office environment, the new boss has to enjoy working with different people, sycophants and rebels alike, aside from managing the complex external environment. Interpersonal sensitivity means being perceptive to how other people receive you. The new bride worries about how she’s measuring up to everyone’s expectations in her new home. The senior level new hire frets over how he/she is perceived in the organization’s wide spectrum, works out how to extract employee allegiance and quickly take charge.

My curiosity about how he came to conclude on personality made Abhijit candidly reveal his own experiences. His father ran projects in the railways, so they traveled across India. “I grew up constantly reinventing the world around me, not living in the past,” he says. Frequent relocations made him adjust to different places, people, food, yet discouraged his making friends, “As we’ll move again tomorrow, and then it’s harder to keep in touch.” He became a bookworm instead, reading voraciously in English, Hindi and Bengali. His father ignited his writing habit by insisting he record important experiences. “If I wrote we saw Qutab Minar and returned home my father would get very upset. Stories are about discovering the uniqueness among the mundane and the everyday glimpse in the unique.” His writing focus later resulted in two sequelized novels, Mediocre but Arrogant, and Married but Available, both adorning the “MBA” tag on dreams, careers, relationships of B-school students in the backdrop of India’s economic liberalization.

What about personality development time for entry level people, I asked Abhijit. He said most people choose careers at age 15 by selecting science or arts stream. After 12th class, will it be engineering, medicine, or any other? So at work the first 2 years goes in figuring out what you like. Only after 4-5 years of job experience does a person know what he/she is best suited for. “Unless you are good at work you don’t really enjoy it,” says Abhijit. In effect a fresher needs 4-5 years of absorption period to establish his business personality. This gels very well with my column 2 weeks ago ( that absorption time is the most critical to crack the entire learning curve. Personality can be trained, just like a bride picks up adjustability, interpersonal sensitivity and sociability. If you’re a Chinese food eater, begin by ordering a Chinese dish you’ve not had before. The next time, just try the Mexican or Lebanese restaurant. The idea is to go from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

To download above article in PDF Personality of an arranged marriage bride

Financial Express link:

(0) Comments   
Posted on 11-11-2012
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Kenyans street-danced wildly celebrating President Obama’s victory with a red plastic chair over their heads. I reckon it signified an African has once again won the high chair of world power. That’s real mass propinquity. Obama’s father was from Kenya, so a world face has entered American elections. For the underprivileged worldwide, African-American Barack Obama has written world history, not any other conqueror that’s considered of superior race.

Obama’s campaign was clearly a proximity game. He even dissected households by Indian, Hispanic, Catholic, Protestant et al. An incredible 71% Hispanics, 60% below 29 years and below $50,000 income, 55% women, 62% urban, 73% Asian, understandably 93% African-Americans voted for him. I found Mitt Romney’s public presence quite opulent. His double-R election identity looked like corporate America, alienating the masses. The day before polling 5 Nov12, television showed Romney disembarking his private jet, surrounded by white people. Democrats Obama and Biden mixed freely, looked relaxed without neckties, hugging whites and non-whites alike. American culture has changed. Earlier poor Americans didn’t resent rich people’s achievement. But now Romney was seen as representing the rich, while Obama’s charisma brought him close to common people. Proximity is beyond money; in this race Romney spent more than Obama, proving that money doesn’t build up proximity.

Political leaders come and go, but in business, all-time proximity beyond the company’s closed doors is the core of success. When business goes awry, “Fix it with branding” is the fashionable battle-cry in Indian industry. But that never solves the real problem. The brand’s first success factor is intrinsic quality differentiation from competitors (Business sustainability = Perceptible Selling Differentiation). That’s easier to handle as quality is in the company’s control. The second success criterion is high performance proximity management of the wide-open zigzag external environment. Residing here are customers, influencers, vendors, talent pool, distributors, dealers, retailers and society at large not in anyone’s control. I’ve observed Indian industry pays little attention to tackling this difficult task of gaining closeness to the open crisscross surroundings.

High involvement category: Selling high involvement products like automobiles, electronics, home appliances, mobile phones, industrial hardware, courier service, among others, requires high proximity with customers. Manufacturers recruit high profile, well-paid company executives who don’t interface customers. Its contracted salespersons hired by distributors/dealers at dealerships that have to drum up quality relations with customers. In general these frontline people are low salaried, barely understand the product as they’re not trained properly and have no soft skills to interact with multiple types of customers. Manufacturers don’t build up these real delivery guys responsible to transmit their corporate value to the buyer. Nor do they adequately excite dealers, distributors, retailers to take ownership of the brand.

FMCG products: Point-of-purchase behaviour is big a science to understand the customer’s psycho-socio buying motivation. Indian FMCG brands often sell through wholesale distribution, sometimes as much as 50-70% sales happen this way. Manufacturers have no control here. In the West, organised multi-brand retails challenged manufacturers since 1970 by coming up with private labels of daily utility products. Private labels now own 60% market share in these stores.

In 35 years of consulting I’ve never undertaken strategy formulation without interacting with the client’s distributers, shareholders, customers, vendors, talent pool. My clients worldwide know about my obsession on proximity being the crux of business. In fact Danone CEO Jacques Vincent was telling my wife 20 years later about why he’d started coming to office by metro. He said I’d explained to him that corporate boardroom makes no sense in business as distributors, customers and vendors are all outside. My point was to absorb society by experiencing it, not by readymade data. His metro journey gives him society’s pulse on an everyday basis.

A brand is vulnerable in the trade. Relationship building with a hospitality-industry attitude is the core to brand management. Unorganised kirana retailers have to admire the brand to give it importance. Gone are the days when manufacturers could command. Today retailers don’t tolerate delivery time delays or negligent trade relationships. The new trend is they paste their names on Chinese goods in some categories, and call them private labels. Indian electronics brands pay high margins to dealers, but Korean brands pay low margins and sell more because of customer friendly quality and close distributor ties. To discover customer needs and desires, salespersons of Korean companies mandatorily stay overnight in villages and travel in second class train bogeys.

About 8 years ago in an executive workshop, I was giving my Marico experience of getting strong visibility with a brand block of multiple bottles. Everybody from the client’s side said the retail shelf is always paid for. On our market visit in Jaipur’s famous MI Road, we crossed a cosmetics store selling foreign products. A single blue Parachute bottle stood among them, bolstered by a Parachute brand block just behind. On enquiring from the retailer, the client team found it was not a paid shelf. The retailer said he’s really appreciated the friendly, professional behaviour of Marico representatives over the years. One Diwali they even gifted him a promotional table fan with no strings attached. He’s proud to sell Parachute he said. This proximity he feels makes him give the brand good shelf visibility.

Business transaction between two corporate houses (B2B): Managing customer proximity in B2B sales involves relationship nuances, knowing the customer’s personality, company culture, social mores and geography where the customer is driving business. Here customers don’t care about the selling company’s size; the sales/service person drives its image. If the salesperson builds superior social and business relationship, big business can generate from the B2B house.

High quality product, creation of brand pull, trade margins are all required. But the biggest business winning game is to create outstanding hospitality-industry-centric proximity management. That should be the company’s highest priority policy with distributors, dealers and retailers; in B2B business it’s with customers. A product or service can make incredible commercial success that sustains when the zigzag open environment becomes a part of the brand and enterprise ritual.

To download above article in PDF Proximity, the crux of branding

Financial Express link:

(0) Comments   
Posted on 04-11-2012
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Delicious foie gras, the sophisticated, upper crust goose or duck liver is savored as a rare delicacy in France. It’s the country’s “protected cultural and gastronomical heritage.” But little do people realize its inhuman making process. Californian animal rights activists have managed to ban foie gras sales from July 2012. Several European countries allow only “humane” methods for foie gras production. In France, geese or ducks are unnaturally force-fed (gavage) oil and corn through a pipe to grow an enlarged fatty liver within a short time. When paralyzed with overweight, their buttery flavored liver is extracted. Through complex processes this famous liver is prepared for sale either whole or as mousse, parfait or pate.

Drawing an analogy, I’m always shocked how Indian industry gives mandatory training to employees. They force-feed them, gavage style, to fulfill the training calendar. In executive education, does anyone care that participants from multiple cultures are not identical; they have diverse ways of knowledge absorption? Training can be akin to the goose liver making process; “knowledge” forced down their gullets. But do participants become perfect on deployment, the way the goose liver gets differentiated as rich, soft and melting on the tongue? Is anybody checking to extract relevant results from trained personnel?

Employees happily go for executive education as the training tag adds value to their curriculum vitae. So enterprises routinely satisfy employees as well as fulfill good Human Resources Development norms followed by international companies. Much of this however comprises rote learning, a carry-over from an education system that’s quite irrelevant to industry requirements.

At the executive education desk I’ve experienced employees listening attentively, but their understanding and expressive flair is yet to develop. Oftentimes what’s learnt is never applied at work for lack of opportunity or initiative on the trainee’s part. On returning to work, a note on the takeaway from the HRD session is circulated; very soon that’s brushed under the carpet. For hands-on types of training sessions, companies expect trainees to apply the knowledge gained immediately training’s over. Such deployment doesn’t really measure up as no absorption time is given to practice and hone the skills just picked up.

Here’s an example of good absorption. When I’d arrived in Paris with no money and got into a sweeper’s job in a lithography print-shop, in 1974, another 20-year-old, a Japanese called Fukuda, came to learn lithography. Our office hours were 8 but he’d spend 12 hours learning nitty-gritties. Our French colleagues used to laugh at how he’d take photographs of all kinds of what they considered ridiculous, inconsequential things. Before leaving at his year-end, Fukuda showed us what he’d learnt. He segregated his 1800 photographs into detailed sections of the work process, what’s important, what’s to be avoided. The whole print shop was stunned at how he had processed and absorbed the learning in a practical sense. At the end, the quality of his lithogravieur engraving was higher than any of the French professionals working there the last 15 years.

The space in-between training and deployment is what I call the absorption stage. Let me illustrate the TAD learning process I’ve developed on maximizing the 3 stages of training, absorption and deployment. Companies generally ignore the most important absorption stage. This is the time that motivates, inspires, builds ownership and instills the self drive because here, through application and experimentation for perfection, the learner exercises his/her capacity to absorb the learning and become experienced.

Absorption quality in executive learning cannot work like foie gras force feeding. Measure it to wine from a French chateau where enough time is given for seasoning to get the right taste. In the real work-field, if just 20% absorption takes place, the trainee at least becomes an initiator who doesn’t treat training days as another variety of vacation. With 50% absorption, a superior performer emerges, and 80% absorption makes an unbeatable expert who’s a specialist at deployment. Companies have to oblige trainers to allow appropriate absorption time for the learning to sink in, for employees to get habituated to real execution formats as part of the learning process. Only then will valuable returns materialize in terms of predictable, improved behavior to be practiced as deployment at the workplace.

To download above article in PDF Foie gras-like training

Financial Express link:

(0) Comments    Read More