Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Business Policy and Strategic management – concepts and applications, Vipin Gupta, Kamala Gollakota and R Srinivasan

(Old Book Review Published in Business Analyst)

BUSINESS POLICY AND STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT – concepts and applications, Vipin Gupta, Kamala Gollakota and R Srinivasan. Prentice Hall of India. New Delhi – 110 001. 2005. xix + 611, Rs. 300
Strategic Management is gaining importance in the curricula of management, business and commerce courses in Indian universities and institutes year after year. In conventional course structure of commerce, it is yet to establish its relevance at a national level.  However, as micro level studies of different businesses are finding place in research domain, strategic management has become an important reading for the students of business and commerce.  Strategy is a must read for the management students and the available literature on strategic management in India has not yet been able to relate indian cases with its theory convincingly and successfully. This book has come at the right time when a systematic study of the theoretical framework and related indian cases are lacking in the strategic management text.

The book has three sections viz., Business Strategy, Corporate Strategy and Enterprise Policy.  These sections cover 21 chapters, 7 in each section.  In the process of equally dividing the chapters within sections, the authors have not been convincing on putting certain chapters under certain section.  How corporate governance and ethics, change management, strategic control and strategic decision making fall under Enterprise Policy, one may not be able to follow.  The presentation of the book as a text is excellent and the course students of strategic management would find it easy to use and understand. Every chapter of the book starts with an introduction as a heading; even without using this heading it could have conveyed the intention.  Some of the chapters have conclusions towards the end, which sounds more like a research paper, which it is not.  Further, the chapters starts with learning objectives and a summary is put towards the end of each chapter followed by key terms, concept review questions, practice exercises, case study, discussion questions and references. This structure should be appreciated by the readers.  The authors have attempted to present the book in a more student friendly environment.  The book follows headings and bullets format which makes it a ready capsule for students but somewhere looses scholarly approach. 

The cases on Quest International, Burns Philip, Crompton Greaves, Doordarshan, E-Sewa, IIM-B, Infosys, Lucky Goldstar Electronics, MIRC Electronics, Meddirect, Mumbai Dabbawala, NABARD and Grameen Bank, NTPC, Napster, Mahindra & Mahindra, Pepsico India, Pratham, Tata Motors, Telecommunications Consultants India and Yakima-Olympia have been included in the book and the discussion questions make it more lively.  The appendix of the book at the end, is very well placed concentrating on simulated marketplace, usually it has not been attempted by many other authors writing on strategic management.

The gray shaded boxes in different chapters could have been made on a little lighter background to make it easily readable without any strain.  The discussion on the development of strategy thought has been avoided by authors which could have been put in the beginning.  Indian industry database should have been incorporated wherever relevant to address the Indian students. The authors should have put a company and people index towards the end to provide better value to the readers. 

Overall the readers would find this book contemporary and practical in its approach.  The authors have been successful in linking the traditional framework with the modern structure through various cases.  As readers we might have more expectations from the authors in the forthcoming editions of the book.  The authors deserve congratulations for this successful venture.  More so, when the first author is an alumni of SRCC, Delhi.  (Business Analyst is an academic publication of SRCC)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Employees First, Customers Second by Vineet Nayar

EMPLOYEES FIRST, CUSTOMERS SECOND - turning conventional management upside down by Vineet Nayar (2010) Harvard Business Press, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Pages 199.

Vineet Nayar who took over HCL Technologies as CEO from Shiv Nadar, has brilliantly portrayed his personal belief and conviction in the thought and practice of considering employees over customers.  As a teacher of OB, Strategy and HR, I always had this view of prioritising employees over customers as they are the ones who put efforts to satisfy customers.  A satisfied employee only can deliver satisfaction to the customers.  Nayar's application of this concept (EFCS - Employees First, Customers Second) in HCLT further reiterates my belief in long standing assumption with which I have been living all through these years.  This book is a great treat to all HR teachers and practitioners who can pick up the methods and manners in which Engagement and Empowerment can be practiced by the organizations.

The book is divided in 5 chapters apart from introduction, notes, acknowledgement etc.  The foreword is written by late CK Prahalad, an internationally aclaimed scholar of business strategy, formerly known for core competence (competing for the future) and recently known for BOP (Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid) concept.  The introduction of the book provides the motivation of writing this book. 

The book gains more ground even as it questions a long accepted belief of management that the dependence of business is on customers, hence the customers should be the prime focus of strategies and policies of business organisations.  As the title suggests, the author strongly believes that it is the employees who are more important than customers, it is employees who should be the prime focus and then comes the customers.  His practical experiment at HCLT makes the case more authoritative.  As one reads the book, one keeps gathering strong processes to really make it happen and successfully engaging the employees in achieving the business goal. The feed-forward communication holds the key to drive the employees to get engaged and dedicated to the cause of organizational commitment and performance.  

The path so designed and followed by Vineet is based on his learning and experiences from his personal life, his growing up, his family, school, college and friends, his visits and interactions, which does find place in the book at several places as they helped him developing an action plan.  It tells us that every event of our life, every interaction of ours, every action of ours get reflected in what decisions we make.  So the internal as well as external factors contribute in shaping a successful leader.

The book discusses the transformations as they happened as the result of following EFCS approach. The involvement of employees from micro to macro level for doing what is good for the organisation is the step followed as 'All aboard' and these agents become the transformers for introducing change in the organization as well as contribute to growth of the organization.  The author advises to use mirror for better reflection and to see the events of the past (Mirror Mirror exercise) and warns to get away with the excuse culture.  Similarly engaging customers also is said to be important for organizational responses and growth as well as to serve a great value through putting employees first, customers second, and management third.  The examples of Facebook and Google for bringing out innovated products and services are well placed in the book.    

The employees need to be driven to believe that they are most important for the organization, they are the first players and through this they have to have a sense of pride of belonging and owning the organization.  As the author mentions -  pride can be a great source of strength when coupled with a desire to change. Change is the only thing which is constant.  Organizations imbibe change in order to respond to market and customers.  As society changes customer expectation also changes and the organizations face this great challenge to respond to customer’s expectations.  Successful organizations develop a culture of change and nourish this culture through strategies and policies.  The way HCLT took initiatives to develop such a culture based on mutual trust is really remarkable and it was possible through the concept of EFCS.  Trust quotient has to be improved all through ranks in the organization and through leading by example one has to develop a sense of acceptance among the followers so that they can believe that their boss is a trustworthy person. 

The four dimensions of trust - Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, Self-orientation as mentioned in The Trusted Advisor by Maister are well cited by the author in the book.  It is to be followed with employees as well as with customers, as both play strong role in building the organization.  On one side the organization communicates the sense of trust to employees and on the other hand it has to communicate it to the customers as well.  In the model of EFCS, the customers have to know why do they come second (as against common belief that customer is always first - because the customer is King, and the King can do no wrong, hence the customer can do no wrong - thinking) and it is the responsibility of the leader to positively communicate and convince them why do they come second. 

The culture of trust is learnt at the first institution called the family and the values one learns in the family get reflected in one’s behavior as one takes charge of activities in an organization.  Apart from trust, in order to build a sustainable organization one has to be transparent in his/her approach as elaborated by the author through the Amsterdam Window experience as he mentions – A transparent house, has a dramatic effect on the culture inside.  In fact through this experience he successfully communicates the advantages of being transparent.  He introduced a system at HCLT which connected the CEO with all its employees through a exclusive networking group for HCL employees called ‘U&I’, which seemed to have worked quite successfully there.  This approach sounds unique and through leveraging technology the organization provides an ear to the issues of concern for all its employees. 

The fifth P of marketing viz., People (employees, partners, customers) play an important role in the life of an organization.  The concept of inverting the organizational pyramid is all centered on people as experimented at HCLT through reversing accountability by concentrating on enabling functions, the managerial chain of command all the way to the CEO, and the influencers who are not part of hierarchy but are critical to achieving the desired wow in the value zone. The company introduced Smart Service Desk (SSD) to resolve issues related to employees quickly by using technology and expertise of employees. It was based on common practice of customer care service provided to the customers.  SSD was meant to resolve problems and issues of employees.  Initially the employees at HCLT were little skeptical about the whole scope and operations of this desk as to if any employee has a problem/issue with his/her boss (upto the level of CEO), how would it be presented, processed and resolved.  But slowly it got working well and as mentioned they were resolving thousands of transactions each month at an amazing rate. This further got a concentration on zero ticket call for evaluating employee’s performance and they willingly and successfully followed 360 degree model keeping the Happy Feet. Inversion of organizational pyramid

The mention of the major achievement (during the transformation phase at HCLT between 2005-2009) towards the end of the book is the outcome of EFCS approach.  It makes the model incredible, practical and convincing. Collective wisdom outshines individual judgment.  I truly loved this statement which is the core of the book entitled The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. EFCS model traces its root in the work of Surowiecki which got Vineet thinking and using it while developing the whole concept.    Though the book is based on the practices followed at HCL Technologies which is an IT company, however the concept is well appropriate for any organization dealing in products or services in any sector of the economy. 

EFCS through its engaging appeal makes a strong case for prioritizing employees over customers.  It is possible through developing committed systems and processes for engaging the whole employee and not just his/her performance.  The role of a leader is very crucial to make EFCS model successful as there as to be a culture of change, trust and transparency which has to keep the CEO under attentive scanning of their employees.  The openness of CEO and a sense of humility as portrayed in the acknowledgement section of the book towards the end is just unparallel.  Vineet Nayar gets full marks for writing such a wonderful piece (acknowledgment), acknowledging all concerned individuals. This is what takes to envisage a concept called Employees First, Customers Second.

(finished reading it ...8 Aug 2011).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Turning Points by Abdul Kalam

TURNING POINTS - a journey thorugh challenges : the inspiring sequel to Wings of fire by APJ Abdul Kalam (2012) HarperCollins Publishers India, p 182

This treatise on the development path to be followed by India is a great work on reminiscences of APJ Abdul Kalam while in and out of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the highest constitutional post in the Republic of India (President 2002-2007).  I remember when he was awarded Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, perhaps he was second non-political Indian (after JRD Tata) to have received such an honor.  His commitment to the cause of seeing India as a development nation by 2020 is so convincing that one tends to just keep getting moved by his concern, care and concerted efforts.  

This book is in in continuation of his autobiographical sketch which came earlier with a title Wings of Fire.  This is one such book which I finished reading with full attention and engrossment in just one full sitting.  Somehow I always had a soft corner for a person in the name of APJ Kalam ever since he proved his scientific calibre as a great practical scientist who had a great sense of humility and who rose from a poor family to a scientist and to the ranks of the highest post of this great second largest nation in population and a largest and most vibrant democracy among all nations.

Having seen him twice and heard him in person while his visits to our university at Shillong on the themes of Leadership and Nanotechnology, I always tried to keep track of his activities to the extent possible.  I watched on TV when media started talking of his book in the backdrop of two important issues - one Gujarat and another one Sonia Gandhi nominating Manmohan Singh.  I acquired this copy through flipkart and carried it through the journey from Guwahati to Bareilly today.  

Turning Points has 14 chapters apart from preface, acknowledgement, epilogue, afterword, appendices and index.  Each chapter starts with a theme and small saying or statement and ends with the summary in one or two sentences.  The writing style is biographical and simple and easy to understand.  He explains the way he entered to the office of President and the way he moved out of the office as well apart from many  initiatives he led, many decisions he took and many interactions he had with all kind of common people from children to farmers, to scientists, to college and university students and teachers, to his staff at the Mughal Garden.  The book also prints some 25 odd selected color pictures of Kalam in different actions, moods and  attire with different people. 
I do not know how and when it all happened in particular that I started admiring this great visionary.  Even this time I wished it was he who could have come to the position of President and at least maintained and spearheaded his own efforts which he initiated on his earlier tenure as the President of India specially on few areas of development viz., science and technology, education, and PURA.  I never knew that he is also not very comfortable with the concept of GDP as a measure of development which I learn from this book. Though he maintains his praise for economic growth.  I have always been saying and questioning the development path which prioritises GDP or economic growth over human well-being.  He talks of National Prosperity Index (NPI) which should be initiated to look at the national resources and their use.  He says that NPI is a summation of annual growth rate of GDP, improvement in quality of life of the people, particularly those living below the poverty line; and the adoption of a value system derived from our civilizational heritage in every walk of life which is unique to India.   It should also take into account various well-being indicators.  The richness of Indian ethos and human values needs to be spread all through the nation.  

He narrates about his concept of PURA (Providing Urban amenities to Rural Areas) in this book and at many places mentions that his concept is already in practice in many parts of the country and he is working on this as well.  I too strongly feel that until we get back to villages and develop them through creating good infrastructure there, the balanced growth would never happen in India.  India still lives in villages.  We need to have strategies in place in mission mode for rural focus - on agricultural planning, marketing, community development, village education etc.  Of course it has to all start at individual level and that is where Kalam has been quite successful in enthusing that energy in the young minds of India.  

One thing that really I liked about the book is that he was throughout been positive about all the events individuals, places etc though we do know that there have been instances of differences of opinion, criticism and embarrassment to the office of the President during his tenure.  He does mention them with positive perspective.  

His priority of nation over his own conscience is a great example which he has very nicely elaborated and defended.  His religious beliefs and faith demonstrates his strengths.  His sense of humility is just uncommon one such example is reflected through his conversation with Air Marshal Manekshaw and further following  his suggestion.

I wish that Kalam's dream of seeing India as a developed nation by 2020 comes true.  Of course looking at present India it seems a herculean task, but nothing is impossible in this world and at times miracles do happen.