Saturday, June 5, 2010

Leadership in a (permanent) crisis - A HBR article Review

A review of HBR-SA, JULY-AUGUST 2009 article ‘Leadership in a (Permanent) crisis’

As a regular HBR reader, I was in a way rather let down by the article which seems to lack the charisma of regular HBRs. On the whole, the whole write-up seems to revolve around application of Kaizen and Emotional Intelligence. As the saying goes, ‘The crisis of today is a joke of tomorrow’.

The author talks about exhibition of leadership qualities fostering adaptation, embracing disequilibrium and one that generates distributed leadership. There are a lot of companies in the world which went up and down with the bubble burst phenomenon of the internet age. The reason for these companies being unable to sustain their growth was their inability to maintain business growth when the regular/conventional source of income for them dried out or started diminishing. Thus began an era of mergers and acquisitions which yet again paved way for larger organizations retaining the major chunk of the markets. The rich became richer and new millionaires were thus born in the process.

Foremost, for any business to survive in the long run, the business process must be able to adapt itself to changes on small and large scale. This may be also compared with the Darwinian theory of Evolution which says that the fittest survive. To remain fittest, one must adapt and recalibrate at regular intervals of time. If we take the examples of dinosaurs, the only dinosaur that still exists is the crocodile. This was possible by the ability of crocodile to adapt to live on land as well as under water.

Secondly, the idea of embracing disequilibrium seems to be a shlep. In a state of disequilibrium, the emotions are already at a heightened state. Any further disequilibrium would certainly result in the employees being shattered to an extent that their morale goes down. This as such impacts the productivity and not facilitating the process of making difficult decisions by the employees. The author also talks about maintaining an optimum level of disequilibrium to continue the progress. To me, this seemed like stretching a rubber-band and holding it there to be used as a slingshot. As time passes, the rubber-band tends to wear out and breaks at one point of time or loses its elasticity. Humans are so much like rubber-bands; they cannot be stretched for a long period of time. If done so, they tend to break down or there is a noted drop in the performance.

However, I totally support the author with reference to creation of distributed leadership. In an era when everybody pitches in to provide solutions rather than answers, it is rather imperative that the decision making has to happen at grass root levels and the leadership has to be distributed. Everybody loves being a part of the solution rather than the problem. So, as the author rightly points out, it is necessary that opportunities are created and thus create avenues to come out successfully from the crisis. However, my concern on this arises from the saying ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’. What is needed in distributed leadership is co-operation and a determined effort to achieve the goals rather than negating each other out.

A crisis, as a wishful thinker would consider that the Chinese equivalent of the word ‘crisis’ consists of two parts representing opportunity and danger, is a mere turning point at which the fall or raise of any company is decided. Once a gale storm passes, it brings with it change that takes a long time to be negated and overcome. The surface is so rough that the prior composition of the land might not exist after such an event. To make the surface usable, any prior experience not involving the gale might not be of much use anyway. Similar is the case with any organization. The past experience not involving such an experience holds little or no significance as per my point of view. So, to restrict the decisions on past experiences would be rather blasphemous. What is required in such a scenario is the ability to adapt and grow with the scenario in hand to survive the crisis and grow once the crisis has been overcome. At the end of this crisis, the company has skills to manage such a situation in the future if faced with such.

The author provides us a case study of Best Buy where a person’s leadership wits are able to transform the company from being gender specific to being the best in business. For me, that is rather an insight than creative leadership. When a person learns to see what is stopping the business from growing, the solution is rather simple: Find a way to negate the issue. As the saying goes, ‘Hurdles are those scary things you see when you take your eyes off the target’. In this example of Best Buy it was more of a focus on the target than creative ways of solving the problem. Or in other words, it is rather an adaptive measure which helps the business grow. Had the business looked at small time fixes to just get over the crisis, it would have proved fatal in the long run. A business fix is like fixing the flat tire of a car; if not done properly, there are good chances that the car will run flat soon. However, too many fixes will make the ride bumpy. In such a situation, what one needs is replacement of the tire or what the author calls to be ‘Pressing the Reset Button’.

Sometimes it is better to start things afresh rather than providing fixes. In such a situation, what a business needs to do is look at its past and try not to repeat its mistakes the second time around. When the business starts afresh, there are a lot of possibilities that the business might go through a lot of dire straits initially. Sometimes even be tested up to the breakdown. In such situations, adapting to the situation does help one and all. Rather than sitting and cribbing about the problems, collective intelligence must be used to solve the problems with intelligent solutions.

Finally, I agree with the author when pointing towards adaptive leadership in general. It is adaptation that makes cacti grow in sahara where other creatures barely exist. Each day brings new opportunities to grow and branch out. All that is needed is perseverance and the grit to grow stronger and better with every opportunity provided. Adaptive leadership is the way the future is going to be.
Review by,
Bharath S Iyer

Terrorism, Population, Global Warming : Are they branches of the same tree?

It was 28th of October, as I was busy writing my Statistics Examination when this notion struck me. Are Terrorism, Population and Global Warming branches of the same tree? To examine our case in a layman language let us consider Greed as the stem of the cause. Now consider the branches: terrorism, global warming and pollution. The problem must have a interdependent solution.

If you consider the world as a class room with let's assume, 50 benches to sit, there are students whom we would equate to the population of the world. As the teacher comes to the class and leaves, there is a lot of noise being made - Relate this to birth, death and other issues revolving around humans. When the teacher gives the class work to do, the class is rather silent - Consider relating this to employment.

Now, if the class had say 100 students sitting in 50benches, wouldn't it be louder than usual?? Anything beyond the control of the teacher - This has to be equated to the Population Growth.

In the class there are students who are sitting, the ones who are busy studying, ones playing pranks on others and there are ones who sit on the floor and stand outside the class as well - Relate all of these of the economies, the G6, G8s and such alongside the poor counties.

The pranks in the classroom sometime turn into fights, which others are mere spectators of - A typical WAR situation.

While the fight was happening in the class room, a student goes and invites people who are not remotely related to the scenario to have a look at the fight, rather than trying to solve the issue by her/himself. - Equate this to Terrorism.

Now, as the class strength increases, the class becomes hotter and hotter. Students leave the class and go out to breath - Equate this to Global Warming.
Just that we do not have a world apart from The Blue Planet to go to as yet.It will take at least another 10,000 years before human race decides to move to Titan, Saturn; but then, the race needs to survive till then in order to do that.

Now consider the dustbin in the classroom. When there were just 30 students, the school could manage the disposal of the thrash. With the new advent of 100students, the thrash might not even fit into the thrash can. Might overflow at one point of time to such an extent that students start falling sick. - Equate this to pollution.

So, when all of these are so much related, the solution has to be related as well. Wouldn't you agree?

Contributed by,
Bharath S Iyer

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Importance of Management Education

Management education is all the rage today. Graduates pursuing an MBA from any institution that offers one is common. Many people have criticized that it imparts no additional skill to a person other than making them more acceptable to the market place. It is a known fact that the MBA education scenario in India has been vitiated by profit-seeking individuals out to make a quick buck. However , I feel that the students are also party to not choosing rationally. There is always a choice of pursuing one’s true calling and there are relatively few people in the world who come in to the adult age without any idea what that calling might be. Moreover even if there is no clear choice, there is always the path of education through experience. This ,no course in India or elsewhere can provide. Students everywhere in India and elsewhere see education as a means to get a job. Learning for learning’s sake has it’s own merit which is more often lost. Once we stop to think we might realize that going down the path that have relatively few people may have unforeseen rewards. What i feel is that Management Education should rightly be a practical approach to what one has learned in his/her graduation or the experience the person would have got during the initial stages of one's career. MBA as many say is Applied Common Sense and rightly said as whatever the Management Education provides is what he/she is going to be facing in the future in any corporate firm and the situations are more or less likely to happen which may be simple or complex as well. Management Education apart from leraning the various Management techniques gives importance to Entrepreneurship as well now a days in a country like India as the young citizens of India are looking forward to run their own organizations instead of working for others. This indeed is a great move for a country like India wherein the developing Phase of the country is slowly moving into the next phase of 'Developed'. In Short Management Education is something which can be applied by any one be it Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers etc and this is an essential element for any countries development.

Contributed by :
Mishaal Hamza

How effectively management graduates fit into the roles in industry after they graduate and join an organization...

An excerpt from the Vault Guide to Management Careers
Looking to learn Management administration and development from the ground up? If you're just coming out of college, many large companies such as General Electric have general management rotations where you'll get a chance to work in many business functions. But big companies aren't always the answer. If it's your first management role, you may have better luck getting in the door at a small organization where you can take on a greater amount of responsibility quickly.

If you are interested in manufacturing, your best bet is to hone your skills at a manufacturing company such as Toyota or 3M. While each of these companies manufactures different types of products, they all have a high number of employees.

Management roles pique your interest? Look to industries that have some of the largest companies in the globe., such as consumer products and financial services. Companies such as Wal-Mart and Bank of America have large, fully staffed organization development functions with internal consultants who address the development issues of different business areas. For every Management and business function, there's a way to learn more about companies known for success in those areas. 

Starting any career is tough -- you don't want to start in one job, find out you don't like it and then start over with another. But as a management professional, your experience in the field, regardless of its type, will always be valuable. A good way to start an management career is to determine what side of management you want to work on: People Management or Developmental role.
It has become common practice among U.S. business schools to require potential students to have substantial work experience before admission to MBA programs. Yet, the benefits of this selection criterion have not been fully articulated nor empirically examined. This article explores the relationships between years of pre-MBA work experience and post-MBA career outcomes. Specifically, we examine the effects of prior work experience on cash compensation, career satisfaction, number of promotions, and individuals' propensity to stay with their first post-MBA employer. Results indicate that previous work experience is not significantly related to graduates'' tenure in their first post-MBA position. Furthermore, counter to conventional wisdom, MBAs without prior work experience were more satisfied, had received more promotions, and earned more cash compensation than some of their more experienced counterparts. The implications of these findings for those responsible for admissions in graduate professional schools and for corporate recruiters are discussed, along with suggestions for future research.