Posted on 26-05-2013
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

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

We’ve revered silence since childhood. Grandmother’s stories praise great sages who’ve attained Truth and enlightenment in the Himalayas. This meditative stillness is external to social interactions; it’s not communicative, it’s internal beliefs that concern nobody else. But in grappling with daily life activities, the rest of us not in the Himalayas have to contend with different genres of silence.

I’ve observed four kinds of silence that are eloquent: the silence of being indifferent, defensive and not wanting to commit ourselves, the silence of utter helplessness, the sudden silence of great happiness when you can’t express your appreciation, and the silence of grief.

Silence of indifference: When someone does not react on a hard topic addressed to him, he wants not to listen to facts, gets defensive using a shrill voice, or else he becomes silent. This is the silence of total indifference, the worst kind of response. The person does not care at all. He does not commit to anything, perhaps because, “What’s in it for me?” This character is very difficult to understand. In society or in business, silence as an individual’s strong weapon is almost impossible to gauge. When a boss practices the silence of indifference, the subordinates float in complete restlessness.

Sometimes a silently indifferent person controls a complex situation by making it indifferent. It’s a tactic of denying a subject, making it generic and disappear so everything goes for a toss. This silence of indifference can create cold war among different teams in an organization.

When people are guilty of misconduct, they often use silence as their best defence. If a person starts being defensive of mistakes, becomes arrogant then falls silent, there’s no hope of improvement. You can see he resents being corrected. Aside from instances where silence denotes agreement, silence can also stand for a variety of emotions like anger, disagreement, an attempt at self-control and fear.

Silence of helplessness: During social research, a 15-year-old girl was responding to me as though she didn’t know what to say. She took time to gather her mental impressions and express them. On the subject of girl-boy relationships, she said today’s generation is open and frank, hiding nothing, unlike the older generation. Then hesitatingly she started narrating a story, which I understood at the end was her personal story. This made me realize her silence of helplessness involved her parents’ circumstance. She discovered her mother has a boyfriend. This man’s been coming home as the girl’s private tutor since she was 10 years old. The tutor was always very nice with her, but she observed her father did not like him. During her father’s out-of-town travel, the tutor would entertain her mother and her in a restaurant.

One day turbulence erupted between her parents. She found her mother was better adjusted with her boyfriend than her father. The girl loved her father and always felt anxious for him. When the father was resigned to the situation, he took a transfer without breaking the marriage. She recounted how breaking of her parents’ marriage was unimaginable. Yet silently she was happy that her mother was so happy with the boyfriend. Her father did not interfere in her mother’s life, so she could not realize her father’s pain or what he must be doing. Actually the girl appeared quite traumatized. She had no answer of who is right or wrong. She felt totally dumb. She said she cannot talk or take anybody’s help, she just has to digest it all like a spectator. This is her silence of helplessness.

Silence of happiness: Silence is not restricted to negative expressions. When you are in love, it’s easier to slip into your senses, and attend to your partner without words. For true love to blossom you have to unscramble yourself from instant, often meaningless, information on Internet, tweets, Facebook, TV, email forwards, and be enveloped in silence. My friend, the internationally acclaimed French actor and mime Marcel Marceau had queried, ‘‘Don’t the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?’’ He spread his “art of silence” worldwide. An art critic had said that the silence in Marcel’s pantomime accomplishes in less than two minutes what most novelists cannot do in volumes.

Silence of sadness: When you are sad, words fail you. If you want to be supportive of someone who is grieving, just be around, don’t talk, because your silence talks. A good listener encourages others to talk, share ideas and makes them feel valued. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘‘We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’’

Actually, silence can be your most effective tool for everyday life. When a new challenge hits you, just hold your horses and make silence be your first response. Sometimes the problem can just go away while you seethe in anger or before you take some hasty action. In silence you pause, you reflect on it and intelligently increase your chances of being on target to resolve the challenge.

To download above article in PDF Genres of silence

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Posted on 19-05-2013
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

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

My aspiring, ambitious corporate friends on fast track careers are in a great hurry to reach the top. When pausing for breath in their laddership gaits, they inevitably ask me about how to better focus on optimal efficiency. My return query is, Are you a frontline leader or a backend one? Seeing their flummoxed faces as response makes me share some gates to ladder up your career.

Both frontline and backend leaders require customer centricity, but their leadership activities have some seminal differences. Business schools offer umpteen courses for successful leadership. Theories galore blab on traits and styles of assuming authority, including BF Skinner’s famous positive reinforcement theory where a positive stimulus like praising employees modifies their behavior towards increased productivity. Empirical research suggests that leaders in companies like Frito-Lay, 3M, Goodrich, Michigan Bell among others have effectively used reinforcement to get higher performance at lower costs. But let’s not get into theories and theorizing, let’s look at hard facts on leading with customer sensitivity.

The frontline leader works in a non-captive, open environment that’s not under his/her control. A strong public relations mental framework is essential to perform here. Moving situations at any odd corner of the globe can impact your factory’s delivery, or your company’s share price, your brand’s image, your customer’s safety from a terrorist attack backlash, a flash flood can wipe away your overseas warehouse, even a sex scandal involving your company’s Board Director can shake business. Anything can happen on an everyday basis in the world external to you, and you, the frontline honcho, have to deal with it.
The backend leader must be an outstanding process master with seamless capability to drive cross functional teams. At every juncture, it’s the customer who drives the backend leader’s approach. It could be quality consciousness, or exceptional vendor management knowledge and capability to extract the vendor’s R&D ingenuity and prioritize it for your company. An outside-in approach that brings the outside environment inside the company is the most efficacious way to lead from the backend.

Especially in the Indian context, let me take you through 10 leadership gates I’ve found to be critical to gain business results.
1.    Prioritize your focus: On customer, the market’s competitive environment, vendors, talent pool.
2.    Power to synthesize analytics: Outstanding capability to extract insights from customers and market competitors, to collate facts that cannot be questioned, so as to synthesize analytics. Your capability to find meaningful patterns that are relevant in business analysis has to be superior to others.
3.    Confidence to believe in yourself: Self confidence cannot be based on rote learning. It has to be experienced with learning, failure, adaptation and refinement. A leader’s analytical capability builds confidence for the team. Whereas overconfidence can destroy behavior patterns and work efficiency of cross functional teams. Comic actor Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) said: "You have to believe in yourself, that’s the secret. Even in the orphanage, when I was roaming the streets trying to find enough to eat, I thought of myself as the greatest actor in the world."
4.    Decision making: A leader’s decision ammunition is the ability of analytical synthesis with high quality of competitive market insights. Flawless decision making is critical for a leader, but it’s human that flaws can creep in. As a leader you should be flexible to quickly correct earlier decisions made to rectify the flaw.
5.    Proof of delivery excellence: The leader’s past delivery excellence has to be proven to establish his/her ability to lead. Delivery excellence should not be explained or discussed, it should be concrete with numbers for anyone to see
6.    Cross functional teamwork:  You as the leader should effectively use the competency of different professionals in various functions as a converging point for business results. You have to orchestrate every one’s performance. The Western classical music conductor is at once the boss, inspirer and controller of the performance of renowned musicians. People that the leader chooses to be surrounded with are a very big factor too as that can lead to criticism about who’s done what.
7.    Accountability with value of time: For managing a project of any size, you are accountable for what shows as the bottomline.  A leader has multiple tasks, but each task has to be accountable as 365 days cannot be stretched to 367 days. The value of time is an everyday alert. For the real leader, every day is a new year and result of execution excellence at the same time.
8.    High quality review mechanism: Establishing the framework for the review mechanism of the team’s work and business results requires holistic leadership capability.  It determines the leader’s accountability and effectiveness.
9.    Discipline within a defined boundary: Being from a heterogeneous country like India with diverse culture, geography, language, food, economic disproportions and religion, unless a certain company specific discipline is established with a defined boundary, everything will crash. The leader’s responsibility is to set up this discipline as the ceiling, and oblige the team to follow and action it. People can be very creative and innovative within the defined boundary but not outside it. This is within the leader’s power to conduct.
10.    Drive menu not thali: Indian managers at different levels can be deficient in team or project handling as they follow the food thali outlook where priority and order are mixed and confused. A menu system makes you achieve results when driving the Western business model in India. Being very specific, the menu has an order of usage and gives priority where needed.  You can define the menu, make the team follow it, and review it to ensure its working effectively with everyone. But to eat, I daresay the Indian thali has delicious charm.

My corporate friends, depending on your proclivity and competencies, decide on whether you want to be a frontline or backend leader. Either way, these ten laddership gaits will stand you in good stead for career climbing, acquiring customer connect, and in sustainably growing your business.

To download above article in PDF Laddership gaits

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Posted on 12-05-2013
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

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

When a country has deficiency at the delivery level in practically all industries, what’s the purpose of fattening up top management, making an expensive ivory tower? Most Indian organizations neglect the bottom layer. Disruptive, mindset-changing training is not given to them in craftsmanship, domain knowledge or globally competitive capability and expertise. In following the Licence Raj working style of only satisfying the boss, the customer does not exist for the employee. The smartphone metaphor of inducting modern technology usage for behavioural change is not used, companies are working like the dumb phone.

Using a smartphone, your fingers become agile, you deal with a warm touch on a soft screen that responds instantly. Explaining the smart-dumb difference, 17-year-old Mahashweta said her grandfather had used a restricted phone as he hadn’t lived in a multi-tasking society. Her mid-40s parents are old fashioned, but she can change them. They prefer to go to the same restaurant regularly, but to satisfy her hunger for better ambience, different food, youthfulness, even at a lower cost they’ve changed, the way her father now uses a smartphone.

Once you’re a smartphone user, you’ll never go back to the dumb phone. This is the current social trend across age, income and geography in India, which has 8.6 million mobiles already, although not all are smart yet. Most Western businessmen and young moneyed Indians swear by smartphones for the convenience and functionality this single little transportable palmtop device can provide. Anytime, in a cab, restaurant, restroom, airport or elsewhere, it makes you productive and playful offering applications from Apple (800,000 apps), Google (700,000 apps), Blackberry (100,000) and Microsoft (50,000 apps). IDC reports that 2013’s first quarter saw smartphones outnumbering basic phones in worldwide shipments, of 418.6 million shipped devices, 216.2 (51.6%) were smartphones.

Qwerty smartphones of Rs 5,000 to 50,000 have features like email, Internet access, GPS, video chatting, gaming, app downloading, video taking and music storage. In contrast, T9 keyboard dumb phones costing Rs 1,000 to 5,000 just make and receive calls, send small messages and lack access to information. Is there an equivalent to the smartphone way of working in the corporate office? We cannot copy the American top management business style in India. Being the first implementer of industrialization after Britain’s 1760 Industrial Revolution, they can afford that high cost stratum. They’ve trained their bottom employee layer in craftsmanship and what a customer is, so customer centricity flows from the bottom. The top is left to ideate on the strategic leap to make the enterprise global. But when India follows American management style, we choose leadership jargons without cascading to the bottom, the delivery key.

In every industry, the last-mile connect, from the company’s product or service to a customer, is the most critical ritual. Yet top management of B2C companies that are highly connected to retail channels is generally oblivious to what’s happening with their and the distributor’s frontline salespersons who interact with customers. Their salary ranges from Rs 5,000 to Rs 25,000 per month; their sense of job ownership is minimal. Rarely do companies train them on soft skills required to convince customers. In manufacturing industries, there’s severe lack of craftsmanship, with products have no sustaining quality. India, the world’s most heterogeneous society incomparable to none other, unfortunately makes discipline go for a toss. People interpret every process in different ways as per their social culture.

Caught between a top-heavy ivory tower and an unskilled, unstable bottom, the middle management is sandwiched. The delivery system operations can be quite crude from every angle. Aside from non-conducive infrastructure, an IT blip, to possibly an archaic supply chain system, they have to deal with a workforce they do not understand in social terms. In Mumbai’s 5 star hotels, a large part of the housekeeping staff is recruited from the chawls (slums). Waiters in most restaurants come from rural and small towns in search of glitzy city life that television and Bollywood expose them to. They are generally boys, and just for being born as boys and not girls, they’ve been pampered all their lives by their families in their village homes. Yet here they are, fending for themselves, living in cheap cubby spaces in city outskirts. There’s no mother, sister or sister-in-law to cook and feed them, their daily grind is fighting city traffic snarls to get to work on time, do a standing-up job all day long. So it’s not unusual that there’s extremely high attrition; the boys hop for even an additional Rs 100 from lower-paying to low-paying jobs.

Unless initiative is taken to make the bottom imbibe high execution excellence, Indian companies will not make a dent in the global market even in India. Smartphone world leader Samsung, followed by Apple and LG, have proved that also being sensitive to customers and innovating on their desires is profitable. So enabling your customer serving employees with knowledge, skill and passion through the smartphone metaphor can break your ivory tower, bringing customer connect for market success.

To download above article in PDF Ivory tower fat

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Posted on 05-05-2013
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

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

On a crisp winter day, a friend gave me an appointment to show off NCR’s famous, sophisticated shopping pattern. My hired car driver took me to a shopping mall in the indicated area, but I found nothing exceptional. After making pertinent enquiries, I realized it was another adjacent mall. Arriving at the mall’s entry point I immediately understood why my driver was not familiar with it, he drives only a lowly Corolla! My friend called to apologize; she’s running late. So I utilized her delay by watching a stunning catwalk display of shoppers as they sashayed into the mall like models alighting from premium to super luxury cars. It was spectacular.

An aerodynamic, yellow Porche Crossover glided to a stop. The driver, looking confident like he was the owner, went to open the back passenger door. A 45-year-old gentleman donning expensive sunshades emerged with a stylish swish. His trousers were glossy, hairstyle quite like Mr. Casanova. The driver brought out a jacket covered in a hanger. Very delicately the owner extracted and wore it. He walked exactly like an Italian machismo in a southern Italy beach in summer. When he crossed me, a strong whiff of perfume overtook an air pocket, lingering on in my nose for at least a couple of minutes. What amazed me was his preference of being chauffeured like royalty; my Porche-owning Western friends would never sacrifice the pleasure of driving a Porche.

Now a power-exuding white Audi Q7 made its presence felt. An elegant woman, weighing perhaps 200 kilos, came out wearing a colorful dupatta, gold Cartier cat’s eye glasses, shoes from Jimmy Choo’s collection, her handbag had Louis Vuitton printed on it. The driver who’d held the door for her was in white uniform with a captain’s hat. A thin girl got out from the other door. Her caretaker status quickly became apparent as she took Madame’s big Louis Vuitton from her hand. A tall, thin girl seated in front came out wearing denims and extremely high stilettos, most probably Christian Louboutin, the French shoemaker. On this young woman’s neck I recognized the signature orange Hermes foulard (scarf) and a very modern orange Hermes clutch bag. Can you picture the splendid catwalk? Grandmom’s footfall was in step with young granddaughter, followed by the caretaker, all approaching me at the entrance. I felt I was in Grasse, south of France, which has the world’s biggest perfume industry.

Soon a black BMW X5 drove in, its third row seating removed to accommodate a velvety- silk textured, humungous German Shepherd. Wearing a black and gray suit, the driver opened the second row door for a petite woman. Her black, gray and brown dress looked very haute couture, with muted embroidery, no violent color. Before the driver could fully lift the dicky door, the beige dog, panting impatiently, tumbled out. Madame was caressing and kissing the responsive dog, almost as tall as her on 2 legs, lots of koochy-koochy-koo love words were exchanged. Finally the dog had to return to the boot. As though to compensate her height, with her subtle dress she wore bright blue high, high heels which went click-click-click past me into the mall.

Now it was the turn of an incredible red horse. All eyes around the driveway were riveted to this horse as it deafeningly screeched to a halt. You can surely imagine what this red animal could be. Both the driver and passenger sat in front. Contrasting that speedy stop, the driver came out languorously, in casual clothes, curling, gelled hair brushed back. His flamboyant attitude made it clear he was the owner, not an employee. When the woman stood up from her low-slung seat, you could have easily mistaken her for a fashion model, she being 6 feet tall. Her bright gold top looked sophisticated with violet slacks. Her slinky strides in golden shoes were better than any pouting ramp walker. Her companion returned after parking the red horse, which was a Ferrari.

Oh la la! Here’s a longish white palace with straight grille coming in front of me. You can’t see anything inside, the windows totally black-shaded inspite of the Government’s ban on it. It’s true, money can buy everything, even darkness. The khaki safari-suited driver was chewing paan. Very discreetly, he walked a little away to spit out red juice, before opening the door of this totally new Rolls Royce. A 65-year-old disembarked, his 3-piece suit is perhaps from Armani. His thick, black coiffured mane with middle parting is probably a wig. His driver brought out a Louis Vuitton briefcase from the front passenger seat and placed it atop the limousine’s bonnet. The gentleman took another Louis Vuitton from it, a pocket wallet; the driver then shut the briefcase and put it back. As this well built, not flabby, man approached, strong ittar smell wafted towards me. Affluence had migrated his taste to European luxury, but in perfumery and his driver, he retained his authentic Indian style.

My hour-long observation of the opulence catwalk was indeed remarkable. More so as this recently opened urbane mall was amidst totally underdeveloped environs. Construction was underway everywhere. Starkly in the middle was this Monte Carlo kind of luxury ambience surrounded by shopping areas for the masses. In Paris, Milan or London, luxury shopping is housed in heritage establishments reflecting traditional and gorgeous authentic flair. To this artificially created ambience in India’s capital have flocked the most luxurious European brands, as though to a circus pavilion to extract big sales from relevant sophisticated customers. The ritual here is to flaunt wealth. The experience of showing off is more important than appreciation of connoisseurship. This is India’s new upper class; not nouveau riche, I call them flaunting-richesse. Luckily for me, I spied upon this opulence catwalk, quite unnoticed.

To download above article in PDF Opulence catwalk

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