The Weekend Muse

Random thoughts from my daily experiences

Archive for the ‘Organizations’ Category

Strategy vs. Execution… can they exist without each other?

Posted by Shrini on May 23, 2011

According to Warren Bennis, “Managers are people who do things right, while Leaders are people who do the right things” . At the Big Opportunity event, Itay Talgam illustrated the difference between Leadership and Execution in an amazing way.  Itay is a world-class conductor, and in that moment he was on stage conducting a professional orchestra. He asked the cellist to play a part of a tune.  The cellist took up her instrument and played a few magical notes.  Itay then asked the flutist to play something, and they played a little solo. Itay then asked a few more to play their favorite tunes.  These were all very skilled and capable musicians, so Itay then asked them all to play their favourite piece of music.  They all picked up their instruments, began to play their favourite tunes, and what resulted was cacophony, as the uncoordinated notes competed and clashed with each other.  And so here’s the point – Even the most talented people in the world need a framework to guide performance.  There are boundaries.  In the case of an orchestra; we call this “the score”, in the case of a business; we call this “the strategy”.

I recently came across someone who felt that I am great at execution – (in the corporate sense and definitely not at the Mafiosi circuit), which lead me to immediately conclude that Strategy is certainly an area I need to focus on. But then on second thoughts, I was wondering, why is strategy so glorified while execution is almost an afterthought?

The real question however is –  are Strategy and Execution mutually exclusive? Can they exist without each other? What is the point having a Strategist, removed from reality, deciding on the course of action, with no skills to implement his ideas? Ask anyone for their idea of the ideal car, job, electronic gadget etc., and am sure most people, with interests in the particular area, will have an opinion. Ask them the next question on how they will deliver that idea or product, and the challenges will surface. Most of the product launches that fail and are later dubbed by analysts (with a 20:20 hindsight vision), for being “ahead of times”, or “poorly conceived” and “not thought through”. This is where the role of the Tactician comes in. You need a good Tactician paired with a Strategist in order to achieve your business goals.

Tacticians or the Executors are experts who know what it takes to implement an idea. They know what works or what does not work. An experienced tactician brings to the table immense value in terms of being able to think through all the options, back-up plans and points of failure. So does this mean that if you are a great Tactician, you will be able to drive your team, department or organization to success? The key word in the last sentence is probably “drive”. Unless one knows where to go, how will you drive towards that goal? Unless you have an idea, a vision, what will you make your team work on? Sustaining the status quo will not help much, if you are ambitious and want to move up in life. Does this mean that the tacticians are good order-takers only and do not bring value to the organization beyond execution of orders?

A good CEO will have a strong Strategic team or a think tank but will also back them up with a robust tactical team or an implementation team. The key is to ensure that these two teams (or individuals, at the smallest level), work together in giving life to an idea or concept.

A truly successful professional, in my mind, needs to be a bit of both – Strategist and a Tactician. You start off by mastering what it takes to implement and also understand the big picture at the same time. Know what you are doing and why you are doing it. How is it helping the Organization in the larger sense? Over time, you should be able to come up with ideas yourself that can change the way your business works.

In the corporate world, what matters is whose idea was implemented – no one comments on the brilliant execution of the idea itself. That explains the phenomenon dominating our corporate scenario today – there are more (wannabe) strategists but there is a serious lack of executors, who can be relied upon to get the job done.


Posted in Organizations, Thoughts | 2 Comments »

Towards the (annual) Judgement day…

Posted by Shrini on March 20, 2011

Having been part of various corporate crusades for over 19 years, I’ve picked up some lessons – both from my successes / failures or by simply watching others. What I mention in the next few paragraphs, is nothing new to the corporate denizens of this great nation. We have internalized these experiences to an extent where lack of these would render us completely lost and directionless. Most of us are quite happy slaving for a salary that is constantly reducing in real terms – a situation arising from the fact that our salary hikes do not keep up with the galloping inflation rates. We happily sacrifice all other aspects of our personal life – a quality time with the family and friends, pursuing a hobby, travel on a holiday etc., in favour of spending more time at the workplace – doing something “over and above” their contracted or expected deliverable, so that they can be branded with an adjective like “Outstanding”, “Exceptional”, “Strong”, etc., by our bosses. We will discuss more about this branding in the next paragraph.

To begin with, I would like to start by defining our ilk as this growing army of wealth creators of our great nation, who are considered fairly smart, industrious and successful. We are the shining examples of a new breed of Indians who are well educated, are willing to work long hours, and are extremely competitive. We do not mind being graded like cattle on a three or four point scale, besides being slotted (in some organizations) into a 9-box matrix based on our “Performance” and “Potential”. It’s of course, an entirely different discussion on the credibility of those who slots us into these categories – and we shall certainly pick that up later. For this article, we will briefly touch upon the exercise and its outcome.

This classification is done on an annual basis, in an elaborate corporate ritual called the year-end performance appraisal. There are interesting theories around how corporates take extreme precautions and install tools to make this exercise “transparent” and “inclusive”. The truth however is something else – where the person annotated “The Boss” has already formed his opinion, which he shares with his “Subordinate” in an elaborate justification exercise called “the annual appraisal discussion”. These formal courtships involve predefined moves where the boss is expected to first praise the subordinate for all the positive actions and attributes displayed during the year in question, only to follow it up very quickly with a laundry list of his pet gripes – stuff that the subordinate ostensibly ignored to achieve during the last year. The length of either of these lists is usually inversely proportional to each other and depends on the “rating” the boss has decided for his victim. The length of the discussion itself lasts anywhere between a few minutes to sometimes a few days – all depending on the foolhardiness of the subordinates who on most occasions, harbour notions of being capable of deciding the outcome of these sessions. The subordinate, of course, has the recourse to go “one-over” to his bosses’ boss! But what the poor fellow does not realise, is that usually, the superior boss has no opinion and is just happy to go with – and justify – the status quo.

To the un-initiated, the moot question troubling them would be – why the farce? Why does one have to subject themselves to this meaningless ritual if it is not worth the while? Well, ladies and gentlemen, what makes this entire annual exercise significant for all the parties involved, is that it culminates into the “the Rewards” exercise. This Rewards exercise is an interesting sequence of moves involving dissecting and sharing “The Pot” (not to be confused in any manner with the one at the end of the rainbow) of money between the entire team – this is the “Annual hike” and the “Bonus” paid by the management to its employees once every year. For the employee, the receipt of these pay raises and bonuses may or may not have the same positive connotation as suggested by the words “Raise” and “Bonus”. However, let’s concede they are usually better off than where they were, before this exercise and so we will leave it at that!

The good news is that the above branding (euphemistically called a rating) is applicable only for one year. We are back into the race, without a breather, at the beginning of the next term/year, slugging it out with our colleagues to remain at the “Top 20%” of the pack or at best resign to our fate and be rated amongst the “Valued 70%” – even God cannot help those who slide to the “Bottom 10%.

Many a times I have dreamt of escaping from this endless cycle, and stop making money for someone else sitting on top of the food chain. One of these days, I will be free of this self-inflicted slavery and either do “something on my own” or build a “nest egg” large enough to retire to a peaceful life. Till that day is reached, my wont is to continue struggling to find that elusive dream job in the corporate jungle that is going to deliver me the elusive combination of job satisfaction and a handsome remuneration.

Posted in Humour, Organizations | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fear… or Respect?

Posted by Shrini on October 31, 2009

How does one gain respect? Of course, it through demonstrated Capability, Strength of Character, their Good deeds, ability to Motivate, and a host of other characteristics – universally acknowledged or recognized by the people working around the individual. The question is – does the ability to instill fear, automatically generate respect?

For instance, take Bob, a Manager in a BPO, who is seen as a typical “Type A” personality – hugely impatient for results, aggression, public bouts of anger directed towards team-members who fail him, contempt for mediocrity and at times, publicly humiliate people who fail to live up to his high standards of performance. It is no surprise then, to see the team cover in his presence, and defer to his will, under most circumstances. Such managers, it is said, do not do too well for themselves in the long run and are the prime contributors to the attrition statistics of an organization.

Fear, in the corporate world, can manifest in many ways. While it may mean an extreme case of losing one’s job, it also includes fear of a bad appraisal, fear of missed opportunities/recognition or the fear of being shouted at in public.

Which leads us to the question – is fear really so undesirable? Would you really care about your boss if you believed he was incapable of harming you in any manner? How many times have we not seen individuals “take on” their superiors in public forums, in well “calculated moves” to establish themselves in the pecking order? I can’t imagine anyone attempting such hara-kiri with a ferocious boss! If you were not tracking your teams’ deliverables, do you think they would really work towards maximizing productivity and improving quality – on their own?!

It therefore transpires that… Respect exists in the domain of Fear! An employee who fears the Boss or losing the job that he/she holds, is seen to be more driven at work and aligned to the Organization (read… the Manager).

I know most of my readers would recoil at the thought of “Attila the Hun” as the next team leader… well I would not want to report to him either! But then… what’s the harm in theorizing a bit over the weekend… as long as my boss doesn’t get to read this?

Posted in Organizations | 3 Comments »

When having more choices works against you…

Posted by Shrini on October 1, 2009

Most of us have encountered change – some of us more than once, in our careers. A lucky few amongst us actually had the luxury of choice, when it came to these changes. The options presented to us could have been within the Organization or there were multiple job offers, each with their own unique offering, making the process of selection quite challenging. My experience tells me that often, if not always, the bounty of job offers often leads to results, least expected in such a situation.

Take for instance Tom, who has two roles to choose from, within his organization. For the sake of simplicity, we will assume he has no competition and either of these roles is his for the taking. Dick works in the same organization and his department is being wound up. He is presented with the remaining role discarded by Tom and has no option, other than to look for a job outside, in a shrinking market.

After much deliberation, Tom picks up the Marketing role which seems to be far more promising compared to Operations role, which he feels is relatively staid and low profile. So by default, Dick ends up with Operations.

Once again, for the sake of simplicity, we will ignore the deciding parameters for the job themselves, as these are unique to an individual and no single job parameter appeals in exactly the same manner to two different individuals – much less a combination of these.

Reverting to our friend Tom, we find that all is not too rosy on the job front. A few weeks into the role, he realizes that all is not too well in the new role. What starts off as a few minor irritants are fast morphing into bothersome traits that are making him regret his choice. All of a sudden, the Operations role that he let go of, seems more endearing. Before long, he hates his job, as nothing seems to be going right for him – leaving him convinced, that he made the wrong choice. Soon enough, he is back in the market looking for a “better job”.

On the other hand, Dick who was on the verge of losing his job has come to terms with his new role and has decided to make the most of it. Soon, he realizes there are opportunities waiting to be tapped, which he exploits to the hilt. Needless to say, at the end of the year, Dick has a better appraisal than Tom.

What went wrong…

When Tom took up the new role, subconsciously he kept comparing his role to the one that he had let go. While we would all like to believe that our “dream job” exists out there somewhere and spend half our lives looking for it, the truth is that the so call dream job needs to be built and developed within our current roles! Tom lost no time in identifying his pet gripes within his role while ignoring all the opportunities that presented themselves to him. His imminent loss of interest in the role started a downward spiral, from which he found it very difficult to extricate himself.

Dick on the other hand, knew he had to make the most of what he had. Very soon he started liking the job and his positive attitude helped him achieve better results, leading to a much more satisfying outcome.

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