I was recently invited to participate in the five year planning exercise of an exciting engineering services provider. The company has reached the goals it had set for itself five years ago, and was now recalibrating its ambition and collectively deciding on the plan for the next five years.
The leadership team met in Toledo, near Madrid, to debate and discuss what they had achieved and the way forward, and my role was to share my experiences with high growth companies, especially Infosys, as well as study their interactions, as a neutral observer and provide feedback.
It was an engrossing five days, and I came back pretty impressed both with the composition of the leadership team as well as their approach to planning ahead. Most importantly, they were proactively seeking to learn from the experiences of those companies that had been there and done it before.
I also noticed that nothing succceds like success. The company’s confidence came, to a large extent, from its own journey- the fact that they were on the verge of achieving what they had set out to earlier, had inculcated a sense of belief that they could dream to do more.
There is an important lesson here for all of us. That at the end of the day, it is doing and achieving results that earns us the right, and gives us the confidence to move ahead.
A colleague and I attended the Nasscom product conclave at Bangalore yesterday. The opening note by Guy Kawasaki was focused and pretty good – an important takeaway was Kawasaki’s comment on releasing products to the market without fully testing it. He says that it is ok to do so provided the basics are in place and feels that if companies wait for the perfect scenario to launch, it may never happen. Quoting the example of Apple, Microsoft etc – he says these companies would not be around if they had taken the route of waiting for ideal conditions. And another interesting aside – companies which agree to be beta testers typically do not thrash the product and are mostly enthusiastic about it. Therefore the key is to find the right solution to offer to market and go from there.
Several ISVs had also setup stalls to showcase their products and some of them were pretty interesting. Good to see more action on the products side.
A weeks back, thr IT industry witnessed one of the most significant leadership changes- N Chnadrasekaran took over as CEO of TCS from veteran and long time predecessor Ramadorai. To give you a sense of the poignancy of this move, Ramadorai has seen TCS grow from $160M to $6 B over a 13 year period. Big shoes to step into for Chandra!
However, this has been a very carefully planned move. In fact, Chandra was spotted by Ram at about the same time he took over as CEO, and has mentored and groomed him since, though the formal anointing happened much later.
In the various media interviews the duo exudes confidence. Time will tell how Chandra performs, but all indicators point to a smooth and well thought through transition.
Prayag has been recently studying the mobile technology landscape in India. The rapidly growing telecom sector has spawned the setting up of several mobile ISV shops. The interesting thing about the Indian market is that the growth is happening through the rural segemnts and more or less saturated in the urban areas.
Most of these players are focused on developing consumer oriented applications. Voice, SMS etc have become passe and the next wave is bound to be mobile based apps. Our research shows that there are over 300 ISVs present in this area. The huge challenge that they face is with respect to their go to market strategy. Today, it is quite strongly tied to the telecom service provider and an ISV has little choice but depend on the Bharti’s, Vodafone’s etc to ensure collections and reach.
The apps being developed cater to the young population mainly. There are few apps that are present for the enterprise segment and our guess is that these will have a huge potential soon. The whole area offers significant growth opportunites and as always ISVs need to carefully segment their market and offer customized value propositions. The market is out there for grabs.
Google has upset the applecart again. And this time with FastFlip. Google Labs gives you a User Experience very close to physical reading.
Read the cover stories of leading publications – navigate easily with a forward/backward button. You can also delve deep into your topic of interest or your fave magazine.
Newspapers and magazines are in a quandary. They cannot say No to the fact that FastFlip is a good way to get people onto their site who may otherwise shy away from reading online (which explains the who’s who in publishing that are on FastFlip). On the other hand, they would rather get 100 % revenues from ads on their site rather than get a share from Google’s revenues on FastFlip. But do they have a choice?
I cannot help but admire the way Google manages to change the equilibrium – yet again!
Drawing the balance between holistic thinking and detailing is one of the most important aspects of business strategy. Some times, we come across people who are very good at giving the famous 100000 ft gyan, but do not have the inclination to break this down into components and a detailed plan that will actually lead to fructification of the idea. On the other hand, the vast majority are very good at the details, and often get lost in it. Such people are unable to see how the work they do, or the task at hand contributes to the final outcome, and hence spend disproportionate time and effort in the details.
Ability to deal with ambiguity, seeing the big picture, and looking at detailed tasks in context are aspects that are important to be taught / ingrained in teams so that there is alignment at different levels of work units in an organization.
Perhaps, educating a team on how their work will help achieve the overall objective is a good place to start. Reviews with the team by the anchor ( who presumably can see the woods and the trees within) will also help. Any other suggestions?
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been traveling and meeting many more customers, past customers and prospects than I usually do. As I was reflecting back on some of the conversations, I was struck by something. That the opinion on an inorganic growth strategy changes depending on your context, or the stage in the process. One of the CEOs I met for instance was earlier spearheading growth through acquisitions in his previous company- now he swears by organic growth- and says that the pain of integration is too much to endure when there is still room for organic growth!
Another CEO I met has just gone through with a fairly interesting deal, and is now grappling with a multitude of cross cultural issues. Now he has his fingers crossed. The third is now in the honeymoon period- all anticipation and banking on its success as they have just announced the deal.
As I continued reflecting, I was wondering whether the premise of the acquisition played a role in determining how it panned out? It is debatable whether doing acquisitions just to add to the topline is such a wise thing in an industry which still has, for all practical purposes, a near infinite market? On the other hand, if you are using M&As to add a competence that is hard to build in quick time, or jumpstart your entry into a difficult market, that is a different matter.
Also, whatever be the motive, it is really important to think through the consequences and implications and be prepared to handle them. Even though the industry has now been at it for several years now, somehow I get the feeling all the focus is still on clinching the deal, and integration issues continue to surprise management.
It will be interesting to watch how approaches evolve to make M&As a more relevant option.
As many a company that has jumped on the social media bandwagon knows, it is hard to get tangible results from a corporate social network. Companies like Wal-Mart and Coke have set up web sites where visitors can form a community about the brand, but there isn’t much activity there – certainly not enough to form a valid and engaged group. However, the software company Intuit has created a vibrant community that is alive and kicking, and is truly helpful to both the company and the social network.
Apparently, the company channels only the die hard users of its software (how does it do that?!) to the Intuit software site, where the visitors exchange very valuable information about the use of the product. About 70% of the customers now answer the tech queries themselves, often surpassing the company’s own technical support team. All this free tech support is saving the company money, as the number of calls to the company’s service lines have reduced. The social aspect of the network has also boosted sales of the software as well.
Lesson to be learnt – for a company, it is time well spent to actively grow and nurture a social network, especially if it is one where the users truly exchange information, as opposed to most corporate networks where there seems to be a number of opinions, but no one really reading them and taking action.
I was traveling back with an ex-colleague and now independent consultant from Mumbai recently, who specializes in Organization Development. He was telling me about some recent engagements- in two such his clients had paid top dollars and used services of highly reputed international consulting firms to get strategic advice. While the advice itself was top notch, he argued, he felt that neither firm had actually helped the client to implement the recommendations. As a result, neither company had really got value for the time and money they had invested in those engagements.
Which brings us to the interesting point debate on strategy vs execution. From my times in Corporate Planning at Infosys till date, the glamour around strategy has only increased. Everybody and his uncle, so to speak, would like to be associated with a strategy revisit exercise, and we come across a lot of companies engage the best brands to conduct such engagements.
However, there are fewer people who show an inclination to be a part of the execution, as it is often considered run of the mill, “boring” and fraught with challenges of getting buy in and commitments from a larger group of employees.
The point is though that successful companies, the world over, are those that are relentless at execution. As one of my ex-bosses always said- the success of a company hinges 2% on strategy and 98% on execution.
McKinsey interviewed the Chairmen/ CEOs of leading global corporations to garner insights on leading during tough times. Confronting reality is the first insight, from Ingersoll Rand’s CEO, Henkel. In mid 2008, Henkel noticed a slowing down in the company’s refrigeration business. Though the rest of the divisions were doing great, he reasoned that a fall in the delivery of perishable goods could spell trouble in the supply chain. This set him thinking and he revised the company forecasts downwards- a move that was mocked by analysts. However, being alert helped the company cope a lot better with the downturn.
Another example that comes to mind is how Cisco coped with the 2000 tech bubble burst. The company had ramped up for exponential growth- they instead faced a sudden collapse of the market. It took courageous leadership to confront reality and put in place measures to cut costs dramatically.
The key learning from this insight is two fold- one is to be courageous and two is to be decisive.