Friday, May 16, 2008

Abhijit Bhaduri's Writings Have Moved to

HI I finally saved enough money to buy my own piece of real estate - on the web. It took a while. Royalty payments are slow to take off. So it has taken me a few years to mop up the coins that paid for my new website

Moving is a pain. Spring cleaning is a pain. Following a routine is a pain. Among the many painful things in the world, they don't even stack up to the pain of virtual moving. I am having to mop up pieces of my writing from various parts of cyber space and collect them in to one spot. But then that's part of the deal. The website is still getting its final touches and if you want to see more stuff there, just let me know what is it you are missing and I will try to serve it there. You can mail me at
The party venue has been changed but the party continues. See you at
Abhijit Bhaduri

Friday, May 2, 2008

Who Is Your Competitor?

"If you don't know where you are going, you cannot get lost!" Sound advice for a lot of drivers and travelers you would think. Rascal Rusty had once said "When in doubt, it is a safe option to ascribe any saying to Confucious. After all not too many people will be able to check back with him." Whatever be your stance on Confucious, you cannot deny that it helps to know who you define as your competition. The moment you know who your competition is or is likely to be you can start punching in that direction.
Sports makes things very simple. They mark out a territory within which you fight and the opponent is usually made to wear different colored clothes. That helps. There are of course moments in sports where such clear cut visual cues still result in mistakes. Anyone who has seen a player score a self-goal will know what I mean.

In business, there is much scope for confusion. There is no defined arena within which to compete. You could sitting pretty in your false leather couch sipping martinis and getting ready to count the money. Life is looking good. You are surrounded by the beautiful people and suddenly someone tells you that your world has crashed and that you have to crawl back into the boat and start rowing. You think that's cruel? Well, thats how life is in the fast lane. You have to keep punching away at every competitor all the time if you have to succeed. There is no room for complacency. Hence the warning - think hard and ask yourself who is your competitor. What does that fellow have that will pulverize your being - metaphorically speaking. You may not believe this, but I would recommend that you do this every few months or whenever you jump a traffic light, whichever is earlier.

You would think the Swiss know their cheese and watches. There is more to them, but we will stick to the watch industry. In the early part of the last century, the Swiss were sitting pretty on a reputation for building carefully crafted watches. A swiss watch was a family heirloom. If you dropped it the owner was authorized to boot you out. We all accepted that state. Then Japanese watches happened. These were digital wannabes. If you dropped it, the watch would still tell the time. The once thriving watch makers of Switzerland were finding it hard to compete with the Japanese watches. Then Swatch happened in 1983 from the Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries, SMH. The teens loved it. It was no longer cool to wear only one watch, they said. You had to wear one for every piece of cloth. Then they said, you need a watch to reflect your mood. Round one goes to Swatch.

That was then but ask any teenager, they will tell you wearing a watch to tell the time is like so last century. Like man, you got your cell phone. Use that to set the alarm, snooze for another five minutes and then roll over in bed and call your boss to say you are late because you are caught like in one traffic jam of a lifetime. Who do you think makes the most watches today? I am told it is Nokia since every mobile handset has a watch built into it and the number of cell phone users is growing faster than corruption in some countries. Watch manufacturers not only compete with other watch manufacturers, but accessory (watch is a fashion accessory after all), and even mobile phone makers. Just being aware of who you are competing with helps you plan your responses better like running away before getting mauled by a ginomous beast.

In Sociology competition refers to the rivalry between two or more persons or groups for an object desired in common, usually resulting in a victor and a loser but not necessarily involving the destruction of the latter. In business life is less forgiving. So when leaders define the company's vision and mission, they also need to define the current and potential list of competitors. That lists needs to be frequently revised. Many market leaders define competition as "share of wallet" - and by that we don't mean your teenage children but the amount of business a company gets from specific customers.

When the teenager buys a packet of potato chips with her pocket money the manufacturer has a share of wallet. If the next time she has it, she chooses to buy chocolates instead, the share of wallet has been redefined - this time from the salty snack segment to the sweet snack. If the next time, the teenager decides to spend her pocket money buying extra "talk time" from the mobile phone company, we have the telecom sector competing with foods. The argument goes on and on. So not only do you need to know where you are going, but it also helps to see the invisible competitors racing you to the customer's wallet.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Early Adopters, Long Tails and Laggards

A trend happens when a fad goes mainstream and stays for a duration long enough to attract increasingly larger percentages of the population. A fad is therefore a trend in diapers. We have no idea if it will grow up to be a Nobel Laureate or a serial kisser. Both begin with some brave souls who are tired of conforming to the norms of the larger group. That large group could be defined as your little fiefdom in the office map or the society at large. The need to be "different" is the mother of all fads and trends.

Every group will have a few of these "Early Adopters". They will be the first to try out a new technology, a new benefit plan of the company, try out exotic food or even buy the stock of a new company that promises to make pigs fly. Early adopters will sign up to try beta versions of software that may make their computers crash - but that's part of the pioneer's risk taking ability. Not everyone has it in themselves to be an early adopter. It needs an appetite for adventure and the ability to live with a certain amount of ridicule when everyone turns up to laugh at you for believing maybe that new technology would be able to introduce pigs to the aviation industry. If Christopher Columbus had waited for a Frequent Flyer Miles program to be launched, he would have missed discovering the New World.

When someone creates a sustainable business model catering to the niche markets, often made up of evangelistic Early Adopters, that's also called a Long Tail. Chris Anderson used this term to refer to the group of persons that buy the hard-to-find or "non-hit" items in the market. This customer demographic is called the Long Tail. Go into any of the social networking sites and you will find evidence of a passionate group that has the money power and passion to fund an entrepreneur's efforts at meeting the group's needs.
The Early Adopters need followers if they have to succeed. When they try something different from existing group norms, the rest of the members have a choice - whether to follow or to ignore that behavior. The early adopters form the core group and seek to build their numbers. Here is where the "cool factor" comes in. If being seen as part of that group is desirable then more group members sign up. Therefore having a "cool" spokesperson makes it easy for the second wave to join the pioneers - the Followers. When the Followers join in, what started as a Fad will move towards becoming a micro trend. Imagine a micro trend to be the adolescent version of a fad. In the interesting book called Microtrends, Mark Penn says, "One percent of the nation, or 3 million people, can create new markets for a business, spark a social movement, or produce political change."
The Laggards join when the fad has grown to be a trend. They are the most risk averse and need constant reassurance that it is OK to join the mass movement. Laggards have a huge fear of failure. They need the comfort of numbers to validate their decisions. They hate being "different" as much as the Early Adopters hate being part of the mass of Laggards. When the Laggards start growing in large numbers, it is time for Early Adopters to find the next big trend. While the Earlies warm the hearts of innovators and bring joy to the Marketing department, the Laggards create the mass market that warms the cockles of the Finance heart.

So you want to be a trendspotter. Where do you start? Try to tune in to the talk in the cafeteria and the water cooler and identify the different interest groups in the organization. What are their concerns? What do they consider to be cool? Who are the icons of cool in the office? What are the issues that get the cool group hot under the collars? Join the group for a postprandial or for idle chat over coffee. Then try to sift out what is common to all the groups? And then zone in on the fads that the cool folks are into. Mass media is a good place to practice the fine art of trend-spotting. The themes that are highly controversial could be fads or even possible micro-trends. The stuff that moves into the mainstream pop-culture zone exists because of its acceptance across the lowest common denominator. Get it Spotty - that's what a trend-spotter will be called for short, right?

The early bird catches the worm say the Early Adopters. It is the early worm that gets caught the Laggards will warn.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Art of the Possible

Some do it every day, some do it weekly, some do it weakly, yet others weakly try to do it. Some do a lousy job of it and there are those who use it to leave their colleagues breathless but satiated. You guessed right. The skill in question is about giving your colleague feedback about areas of improvement. Most managers try to avoid giving feedback unless thrown with their back to the wall or while reviewing performance.

Chances are that if you told a colleague that needed to give them feedback, they would walk into your office with a feeling of dread. Expecting you to lambast them about stuff they had not done. About deadlines they have missed or about colleagues who they have miffed in the course of their existence. When you hear someone say, "Can you come to my office for five minutes? I need to give you some feedback..." the greater probability is that your first reaction is not to expect anything positive being told to you. Leaders and visionaries often set themselves apart by getting their teams used to the idea that feedback is also about telling someone that they just did a good job.

Giving someone feedback to drive improvement in performance is a tougher act. Most people dread it. Performance improvement is driven when people understand exactly how their actions, behaviors or choices had led to an undesireable result. So the more accurately the link between action and results is established, the clearer it is to an individual on how to improve. Some managers go a step further and suggest what alternative action would have led to success. People learn if the person giving the feedback also shares the manner in which he or she evaluated the alternative choices that led to the final outcome.

I have often heard people say, "I don't like to sugar coat my feedback. I like to tell it like it is." One must be truthful and accurate, but without being hurtful or abrasive. Feedback that hurts the self esteem of the receiver will never produce behavior change. So before you sandpaper your colleague's self-esteem with your version of the truth missile, just ask yourself if the intent behind the feedback, is to help the person improve or lie their bruised and bleeding. Most people are sharp enough to figure out if the intent was to hurt or was it to help the person do better. You can identify it so clearly when someone is not being truthful or biased or is merely saying stuff to hurt. Right? So can the rest of the world. If your feedback is just making the recipient defensive, chances are that your feedback is coming across as an attack. No matter how valuable your suggestion is, no change will happen.

The term feedback is neutral. There is no such thing as giving someone "positive feedback" or "negative feedback". The recipient classifies it as helpful or unhelpful. Hence this can be a very strong tool to drive change in behavior. Feedback provides guardrails that can nudge a person's behavior in a desired direction if handles patiently. Every manager owes it to his or her team member to invest time to coach and give feedback that reinforces good behavior and builds awareness of "derailers". David Dotlich and Peter Cairo identify eleven such derailers in their must read book called "Why CEO's Fail: The 11 Behaviors That Can Derail Your Climb to the Top and How to Manage Them." This book is based on the Hogan Personality Assessment.

One last piece of learning I wish to share. Formalize the meeting where feedback will be shared. I have often seen colleagues get taken aback when their team members state that they were not given regular feedback on their performance throughout the year. "That's not true. I have been giving feedback on an ongoing basis.", the manager moans. The manager should set up a formal "Performance Feedback Session" with his or her team member and ensure that the person receiving feedback also marks it as a structured feedback session. That prevents disappointments at a later point of time because it sets expectations of the role. Informal feedback sessions do not count. This is an important opportunity to shape behavior and the manager would do well to invest the time perfecting the art.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Are You A Global Manager?

You have attended global conferences. That basically means that you have snored through Executive Development Programs in every country. You have seen the Seven Wonders and notched up more frequent flyer miles than your nearest rival down the hallway. You have developed a taste for exotic spirits and by that I do not mean people who pursue Extreme Sports. But are you a global manager?
In 1992, Christopher Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal had stated in this HBR Classic that was called "What is a Global Manager?" I once had a boss who used to ask each of his subordinates to summarize such articles and books in no more than a sentence. He was a big one for precision. In case you had not read that article, let me tell you that their conclusion was that there is no such thing as a "universal global manager".

Being a global manager means being able to manage and bring about change in settings that challenge your own world view. When you next ask someone about their experience in "change management", ask them what significant behavior, skills and attitude of themselves have they changed and in what time frame. How did they identify what needed to be changed and then how did they go about doing it. That will often give you a better insight about change management skills and approach of this person than probing for leading widespread change in others. If you have not been able to change yourself, then you will never know what it takes to change others.

Part of the requirement of being a global manager is to be able to expand your worldview or Weltanschauung. Welt is the German word for "world", and Anschauung is the German word for "view" or "outlook". It refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual interprets the world and interacts in it. A global manager is one who is equally comfortable in a world that he or she is not familiar with. That comfort arises from the ability to interpret the world whose cues are unfamiliar. So learning to make sense of data in unfamiliar settings is the key. If you are a global manager then you ought to be pretty skilled at making sense of unfamiliar settings and cultures. The ability to discover trends in a world of chaos helps when you are operating in a new business environment where all the old rules have been rewritten.

In a world where "talent is the new oil and like oil demand far exceeds supply" navigating the talent landscape helps the global manager to be competitive. We are all used to learning to read cues that will help us choose great talent. Being truly global means leveraging diversity to go beyond the familiar. Global managers learn to look beyond nationality, race, ethnic, function, education, working style and gender when they build their talent pool. The manager who wants to operate on a global canvas will need to build teams often with diverse people who all need different ways and approaches to be managed, coached and coached. To be able to run businesses in diverse business environments and succeed is never easy.
Being a global manager means being comfortable holding almost two opposing thoughts and not allowing either one to overwhelm. Being able to flex one's style to address different business and people needs means that such individuals are a rare breed. They learn to manage change. Not in others or in other corporations but starting first of all within themselves.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Four CARDiac Arrests

I hate people who send in electronic greeting cards to everyone in their office address book. That is a cheap way of discharging social responsibility. It is a simple three step process. Select e-card, click the "Select All" option in the address book and press send. One greeting to all 14,479 employees across the planet. Imagine how painful it would have been to send a personalized greeting to all of them. Last year I received one such greeting from someone whose existence I did not know of. I wondered if I should just ignore it and press delete or should I reach out to this colleague. My debate was cut short. Before long the world was grappling with the flood of thank you messages. "Thank you for your wishes and wish you the same." Someone had done the unforgivable act of choosing the "Reply All" response to all 14,479 of us. The server got choked with this deluge of goodwill and had to be shut down. HR then put a ban on sending e greeting cards.

This year we are doing things the old fashioned way in our office. It is still a few paper cards being given out at year end. The HR Department just messes up my life. They sent me four New Year Greeting Cards. Cards that you can send to the most important people in your life. That sends me into a tizzy. All my life I have been operating with the belief that my boss is the ONLY important person in my life. After years of bad appraisal ratings and poor increments I now finally understand the root cause. It is not one but four I need to please. Why else would the company have assigned so many greeting cards to me? I draw out the company's organization chart. After drawing out a gazillion dotted lines and solid lines, functional reporting lines and project reporting, I give up. I report to at least 28 people one way or the other. Many of whom I have never met and probably never will. I am several greeting cards short. So I stick to safer bets.

Has everyone got the same number of cards or is there some hierarchy in that as well. I ask the mail room in-charge. He tells me he has been given one greeting card.

"Who are you giving it to?" I ask him.

"It is for my landlord. I owe him two months' rent. This is a cheap way to earn some goodwill."

"What would you do if you were given more of these?" I try asking for ideas.

"I would shred the others. Don't need them."

This is a serious interruption to a busy workday. I write out one and pass it to my colleague in the next cubicle. She looks at the card and at me in turn. I need to build bridges with co-workers. I smile at her hoping that she now considers me a cubicle pal. She shrugs and continues staring at her computer. "If you want to give me a card, at least buy one rather than passing off a freebie card to me. Have some more respect for your colleagues." That's one precious card and relationship down the tube.

I distribute the next one with greater care. I mail one to my wife just to be different. Two days later when I see the card unopened, I carefully drop hints within her earshot. It works. She half opens the envelope and without even opening the card to see the message she says, "Must be for you. Some moron from your office. The idiot has addressed the card to me. How careless." I do not have the heart to tell her the truth.

Now is the final moment. I decide that I will mail the last card to my boss. Where does he live? I have never been part of the charmed circle to have been invited to his home, so I do not know his address. I wondered if I should buy a regular greeting card from the neighborhood bookshop. I am unable to decide. Should I send him a funny card? Risky perhaps. One never knows whether he will laugh at the same joke. Better to send him one with flowers. Then I remember that he is allergic to flowers. I had greeted him with a bouquet on the day he had joined and then he sneezed for the next two days. Bad start to a relationship. I finally vote in favor of the office card. That is a safe bet. I make a mental note of finding out his home address.

A week into the new year I bump into boss in the cafeteria.

I ask him, "I hope you liked my New Year card."

"It was beautiful. I loved it. The lines were very meaningful. Thanks a lot. I hope you got the card I sent."

That was one from the left field. I did not know I was important enough for him to send me a card. There was no time for truth. This was a PR moment. OK... OK... I lied. I mumbled something about the lovely card he had sent and how thoughtful it was of him to have sent me one.

I came back to my desk all confused. My boss did care enough to send me a card. While trying to look for a ball-pen that actually works, I rummage through the papers and come across the greeting card I had written for my boss. The envelope was still intact. I had not found out his home address and had never mailed the card to him.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Work at Fun to Have Fun @ Work

Fresh out of Business School, MBA in hand, the taste of toast and mixed fruit jam still fresh in the mouth, when we joined the work place, life was very simple. You came in to work and bust your guts trying to work. We all hoped that the big boss would get impressed with our dedication. That had the potential of a generous appraisal rating for that year. Even when that did not happen, all of us gnashed our teeth, wrote his name on paper and shred that up to express our point of view (to ourselves). There was no such thing as fun at work.

Then the dot com boom happened. Young kids showed us that it was OK to be a dreamer. They quit jobs at blue chip companies and abandoned potentially hefty 12% pay hikes (that was the maximum you could get those days in my firm) in favor of an unknown world. A world where they would have the corner office by the time they were hitting twenty five. The "corner office" meant the CEO's Office and not the cubicle in the corner where the photocopier was kept. One of them had told me casually while quitting, "I want to have fun." That was blasphemy. I was no idea that we were supposed to have fun in the office. I asked the lad very apprehensively, "We are not supposed to do those fun things on the office desk? You could get sacked if you get caught." That reckless lad gave me a look that was hard to define. My logic was clear - work was meant to be making you miserable. To get away from the agony called work, we hung around with friends and had fun.

Six months down the line the young lad came back to visit us. He came in a car that I had only seen my CEO drive. Over dinner, he told us that they had a lot of fun in the office. The dress code was non existent. He could practically come to work in diapers if he chose to. Every Friday they drank beer and danced in the office which would be converted to a make shift dance floor. The Directors who were in their twenties, danced with other twenty somethings who were employees. This was truly democratisation of the workplace. Everyone traveled First Class if Business Class seats were not available. Everyone claimed they were having fun, until one day many of those places went belly up and closed shop.

Then for the next few years, everyone went back to accepting the notion that work and fun were not designed to happen at the same time and at the same place. Can you really have fun with colleagues? After all the English language has two different words to describe a colleague and friend. To complicate matters people have different definitions of fun. Sticking a "kick me" behind your classmate in school may not be appreciated by a colleague at the receiving end.

Then Outsourcing happened and a different profile of employees barely out of school and college joined the BPOs and KPOs. The workplace had to change to reflect their presence. The older employees got replaced by The Millenials. The workplace again had to have prominent elements of fun because that became a retention tool. Elements of fun were designed around making the office culture as close to a college campus as possible. You don't need to leave college when you come to work became the format of fun at work.

The more homogeneous the employee profile is, the easier it is to have one activity that fits in to a common definition of fun at work. If the primary task is not enjoyable, the importance of providing fun as an additional component at the workplace becomes important. Can the task have an inherent piece of fun built in? The more mundane and repetitive the task is, the greater is the importance of having the fun element during the workday. It has to be an activity that rejuvenates and refreshes the employee.

Fun has a connotation of informality and playfulness. So any activity that lowers the hierarchy - especially in a society that is deeply hierarchical, provides an element of fun. Hence watching the senior manager's clumsiness at a sports event during the Annual Day celebration provides much mirth. The Annual Day is by definition annual. With shorter attention spans, having fun more frequently becomes a great driver of satisfaction. So wearing business casual clothes on Fridays cannot be defined as your original contribution to livening up the world of work. Think harder. I have always been amazed how big a deal wearing casual clothes to work is made out to be. It is supposed to enhance productivity I am told. Then hippies should have been the most productive generation, Rascal Rusty would say.

Recent research shows that the Millenials like activities that let them learn new skills. Pure buffoonery is not what they define as Fun at Work. So let them learn a new language, learn salsa dancing, learn magic tricks... just let your imagination flow. Ask them about hobbies that they wished they could pursue and skills they could and should learn but do not have the time to pursue. They might come back with weird suggestions - be prepared. Having fun at work is not easy after all.