Does Leadership theory help Sales?


Leadership and Sales

Yesterday I got a call from the Training Manager of a leading pharmaceutical company. She wanted to know how a Leadership program could support the sales personnel to perform better.

“I do understand the importance of Leadership in rewriting the future of an organisation”, she said to me. “But to a sales guy all this seems airy fairy stuff with no value.  What he needs are tools and techniques which would allow him to effectively close some prospects and achieve his target.”

“So would that imply that the Sales personnel, in-spite of their selling experience and closeness to customers, are falling short of organisational expectations?”  I asked.

“Well that is what the corporate guys in Head Office seem to think”, the training manager confided.

I did not have the heart to tell her that the solution lay not in new tools and techniques but a shift in how and what shows up when confronted with a business challenge. And that in essence is what leadership is all about.

For a start, we need to un-hinge our self from a “fixated to the past” mindset.  To do that we need to first understand what this “fixated in the past” mindset is all about.

Our brains are hardwired to view an emerging situation through the lens of our past experiences.  What is merely needed is copy paste what worked in the past to find a solution in the future. We are thus conditioned to believe that a person with a ten year sales experience would perform better than someone with lesser experience.

But what the above mindset assumes is some kind of continuity of the environment and all that it represents.  The competition and its response. The buyer and his decision making behaviour. The technology and product gaps.  And so on.

The third millennium however is all about discontinuity, disruption and accelerating change. In every which way one could think of. Be it competition and emerging strategies, buyer psyche, technology and products. The beacons of our past experience are no longer effective to handle this.

So we come back to the aspects of Leadership that could support performance in this era of discontinuity, disruption and accelerating change. Be it in Sales or some other business domain.

  • The awareness that you do not know.  You cannot upgrade your performance if you already know all there is to know.
  • Say YES to being pushed away from the beaten track and into the discomfort of the unknown. It is such discomforts that unhinge you from fixated beliefs and mindsets.
  • Avoid assessments during a situation. This leads to hasty reactions based on the ‘what worked in the past’ mindset.   Effective reflection and assessment can only happen after a situation has occurred. And this is when the space for new learning opens up.

 

In Learning

Shakti Ghosal

 

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The Millennial Leadership Series: Whatever one resists, persists…….


Pimp Slapped

The other day I was speaking to the CEO of a mid- sized organisation and we got to discussing his intentions and plans.  He told me about how he is currently engaged in bringing in technology and transforming the existing processes and the way of doing things.

“So how successful have you been till now?”, I asked.

“Well I have been able to demonstrate to my Board the trend of costs going down. Which should hopefully result in profits going up”, the CEO responded.

“ So have the profits started going up?” , I continued my enquiry.

The CEO looked troubled.  He confided, “Actually the profits are not up at all. We have been facing significant resistance to adoption of the changed processes by team members. Our team seems to have got de-motivated and are putting in less efforts. So much so that the productivity levels are actually down.”

The above is one more case of a Leadership unilaterally trying to improve profitability through implementation of technology.  When such implementation is done in a ‘command and control’ manner without adequate involvement of various stakeholders, the Leadership might occur to the team as ‘untrustworthy and self-serving’.

Such organisations become locked into a cycle. I call it ‘the cycle of repairing an old tube’. As one patches a leak in the tube and build back the pressure, a new leak starts at a different place. As the organisation resists a problem by trying to fix it, the more it pushes, the more the problem pushes back.

Whatever one resists, persists.

Amidst the whirlwind pace of change occurring in the environment today necessitating the need to constantly shift the technology and process base of an organisation, the millennial leader needs to provide the anchor of a unifying context for such shifts to occur.

What is that unifying context that millennial leaders need to create and exercise for transformative changes to succeed?

In Learning……….   Shakti Ghosal

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The Millennial Leadership Series: Freedom versus Accountability


freedom_birdcage

I hear the following words often.

“if you wish to see creativity at work, cut the bureaucratic red tape dammit!”

“Hierarchies no longer serve.  We need networks of free individuals”

Red tapes and Hierarchies are all designed to drive accountability. To ensure that in a work situation, where you have been given freedom to act, you become accountable for delivering something in return. Red tape dictates that one submits to certain checks and balances as part of a process to drive an initiative. And to hold onto a work position within an organisation, one needs to accept the command and control hierarchy there.

So what is that which has created this belief that Red tape and Hierarchies which drive accountability somehow negate Freedom and the creativity that might flow out of it?

As I think of the above question, I sense the concerns are really about the perceived loss of Power. Power that comes from a freedom to take decisions and explore creative possibilities. But there is also a flip-side to this. In my own work-life I have seen innumerable instances of people not able to handle the freedom allowed them and actually floundering and not sure of how to proceed.

The Millennial Leader, faced that he is with relentless changes and disruptive influences, can ill afford to get overly involved with sorting out red tapes and hierarchies. He needs to instead  focus on creating a culture that  drives both Freedom and Accountability.

Freedom not about unburdening people and allowing them to do what they want. Rather the kind of freedom that allows people to envision new possibilities.

Accountability not of imposing something and devising reward and punishment schemes to do that.  Rather the kind of accountability that would lead people to take ownership and hold passion for the possibility they envisioned.

What practices does the Millennial Leader needs to adopt to shift from ‘Or’ to ‘And’ between Freedom and Accountability?

In Learning………

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The Millennial Leadership Series : To Be or To Do……


“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And
by opposing end them?

– William Shakespeare in Hamlet

visualisation of a future

A few days back I was reading Richard Branson, the Virgin Group Chairman’s blog on New Year resolutions. What jumped out at me was the section in which he says we need to shift our resolution from a ‘To Do’ list to ‘To Be who we wish to be’ mindset.

As we tick off completed items of our To Do resolutions, we do derive a sense of achievement, do we not. But does such a sense actually support us to move forward?

The world we live in today is all about change and uncertainty. The opportunities and possibilities out there remain optimally aligned to our To Do lists for a limited time. The leader who lacks this awareness is like the guy who patches the first visible leak in an old pipe and puts pressure back only to find new cracks developing. A solution leading to a new problem.  Before we even realise it , we have sacrificed our strategy and ‘To Do’ prioritization  at the altar of day to day expediency.

Some years back, I was part of a corporate group which was in a downward spiral. Market share on most product lines was getting lost leading to the profit targets getting missed. Dissatisfaction and blame game was awash all round, affecting even personal relationships between colleagues. Business alliances with Principals were fraying, lurching from one emergency situation to another. We seemed to be living a corporate death-wish.

We were so busy fire-fighting with the daily ‘To Do’ priorities, the underlying issues perpetuating the problem were left untouched. Leadership and employees alike held beliefs like:

“We are fighting a losing battle. Things would just not work out”

“We just don’t have in us what is needed”

“We’ll just shrink and shrink… till we shut down”

These beliefs and the resulting assumptions, fears and cynicism were leading the organisation into a future of mediocrity and possible demise.

The way the millennial leader could tackle above kind of situation is to jettison the ‘To Do’ in favour of ‘To Be’ mindset. To be the catalyst to rewrite the future. A future that is not derived from the past. A future that would be lived into by all concerned. A future that holds the capacity to shift people’s actions from disengaged to proactive, from resigned to inspired, from frustrated to generative.

What is it that the Millennial leader needs to do to be the catalyst to rewrite such a future for his organisation?

 

…… In Learning     

A Brave New World


 

How beauteous mankind is!

O brave new world,

That has such people in it!

 

                                                                                Shakespeare in The Tempest

 Climber enjoys the view from the top of the mountain

“….We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection would lead to great prosperity and strength…. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth.”

Donald Trump in his Presidential inauguration speech, 20th Jan 2017

***

“But there is simply no need in the 21st century to be part of a federal government in Brussels……… It was a noble idea for its time but it is no longer right for this country. It is the essence of our case that young people in this country can look forward to a more secure and more prosperous future, if we take back the democratic control which is the foundation of our economic prosperity………. We can control our borders in a way that is not discriminatory but fair and balanced and take the wind out of those who would play politics with immigration.”

Boris Johmson, British politician & “Leave EU” BREXIT campaigner, 2016

***

“We launched the Make in India campaign to create employment and self-employment opportunities for our youth. We are working aggressively towards making India a Global Manufacturing Hub. We want the share of manufacturing in our GDP to go up to 25 per cent in the near future.”

Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister, 2016

***

The signs are everywhere. Of Globalisation, the beacon that was destined to shape this century, suddenly dimming. Of ‘Walls’ being built to prevent the ‘Others’ read immigrants to come in and usurp work that rightfully is ‘Ours’. Of bringing back off-shored jobs. Of ‘reclaiming back’ what belongs to us.

fair-economic-system

Which brings us to Technology. Now technology has always been  synonymous with productivity and economic progress. From those early days of industrial revolution of the eighteenth century to the mass manufacturing assembly lines of the twentieth century to the global networks of the twenty-first. Over all this period, it has been technology that has created jobs.

Faced with falling economic growth and stubborn unemployment (and under-employment) levels, politicians have been quick to chase symptoms. So the big bad wolf behind joblessness and immigrant inflows is seen as the ‘open doors’ of Globalisation. The Close Sesame formula seems quite straightforward. Close the doors, bring back all the off-shored work and leverage all the right technology. And ‘Hey presto!’ the pathway to economic growth and job creation shall be ours.

So Globalisation, the job destroyer is out……… and Technology, the growth and  job creator is in. Or is it?

Globalisation is all about free flow of technology, talent and capital. So as we turn our backs to Globalisation, can we keep technology, talent and eventually capital on our side?

There is also the other paradox. Of how nations and people get to apply different yardsticks to Globalisation as applicable to oneself versus others.  So Donald Trump sees nothing wrong in the spread of American entertainment and fast food brands globally but hates work getting off-shored. And Britain, the creator of the Commonwealth group of nations worldwide, now prefers to go it alone within Europe. Prime Minister Modi and India cry foul when changes in work Visa rules threaten the country’s IT industry but simultaneously focus on ‘Make in India’ to reduce imports.

And finally there is strong evidence that technology in its present avatar of automation, networks, robotics and artificial intelligence no longer creates jobs, in fact quite the contrary.  It has become the destroyer of jobs!

global_technology

Countries are witness to jobless economic recoveries. The world overall has seen productivity and economic growths far outpacing job creation. What this means is that companies and factories are able to produce more and more goods and services without the need to have more workers. What is it that is balancing the equation? Technology of course!

A major reason for the huge upsurge in start-ups is the widespread access to technology concurrent with the vanishing of  the traditional entry barriers relating to capital, workforce, infrastructure etc. One needs to merely read the stories of millennial entrepreneurs and their creations  like Jan Koum of WhatsApp and Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook to appreciate this.

What technology is also doing is shifting the wealth creation away from the workforce as they lose their indispensability and towards the entrepreneur controlling the technology. So the rich become richer and the Haves and Have Nots disparity continues to increase. In the US, we thus see 1% of the population holding 25% of the national wealth!

Finally, we are witness to the phenomenon of ‘tolerating people at work’. Not because they are intrinsically needed but because they work out cheaper in maintaining status quo compared to technology. So warehouses postpone introducing robotics owing to plentiful labour being available to do the work at low cost. Supermarket checkout counters continue to use clerks even though automation is available to do the job. What this of course implies is that there are growing numbers of people (immigrants, laid off workers, new entrants to the job market etc.) out there who are willing to work at abysmally low wages. Even the otherwise technology-mouthing Governments like it as this sustains socio-economic status quo against fears of disruptions which out- of- work populations might foster.

There are however strong indications that going forward the above compromise may no longer work.

Let me explain myself. It is fairly well known that technology gets governed by Moore’s Law. What this law states is that for every dollar spent the computing power (and the corresponding productivity) doubles every two years. Doesn’t seem much, does it? But hang on a minute! Do you know what this does to productivity over a period of time? Over two decades, the productivity goes up a thousand times. Over four decades, it goes up a million times! And computers and computing power have been with us for more than four decades now. This is the power of the exponential law which all technologies tend to follow. Which leads to the technology cost curves coming down fast and over time tending to become zero!

Another change that is being wrought by raw computing power is the unleashing of Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms on a scale unimaginable even a decade back. As you might have guessed, this is leading to machines performing complex tasks which have been the exclusive preserve of professionals. Like medical diagnostics on patients better than the best doctors. Or scanning and interpreting past legal judgments, written contracts and assess risks to make a legal recommendation better and faster than a lawyer. Over the next decade or so, no jobs could be considered safe from being taken over by machines.

Do you see what the above two aspects together would do? Cost of using technology for not only low end jobs but even complex work would keep on spiralling down towards zero. We can’t compete with zero marginal cost can we? The writing is clear on the wall. More and more of us are going to be laid off……. with jobs harder and harder to find. We humans are well on our way to technological obsolescence!

So as I gaze into the crystal ball, what do I see?

I see the process of human work obsolescence accelerating and societal structure changing beyond our wildest imagination. Due to key exponential technologies like the internet of things, machine learning and robotics converging together, wide vistas of traditional human activity have no longer the need for humans. Several projections indicate that over the next two decades, available jobs would decline by 50%!

I also see technology continue to remove money out of the equation by making products and services cheaper and cheaper. This in fact had been happening for a while. Did you know for instance that a one teraflop processor which used to cost forty six million dollars in 2000 now costs below fifty! And the smartphone which we take so much for granted has in fact replaced a plethora of stuff in our lives which would have cost nearly a million dollars a couple of decades back!

 The downward movement of the technology cost curve would only accelerate. So a ‘Car as a Service’ future populated by Uber, Ola and the likes would ensure beggars would also be chauffeured around. The best surgeons would be robots working 24X7 with precision and the records of million past surgeries, at negligible charge. Cost of Housing too would fall dramatically as more and more folks work from anywhere in the world with avatar co-workers in virtual offices. Most people would enjoy energy independence through roof top solar panels and energy stored in vehicles. Rather than spending on energy, they would be earning through trading with the grid. And of course most education and entertainment would be available online for free.

So the future that I see hurtling towards us is of a world of people having little or no work, rather not needing to do any work, with an abundance of products and services available at low cost or free.

As Morpheus says to Neo in the Matrix:

 “……This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you…. believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill……. and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more….”

Our Brave New World too seems to be a story of the blue and red pills allowing us a choice of the path we could take.

brave-new-world-small-logo-623x261

One road leads us to a virtual utopia. Inhabited by people fully able to realise their creative and innovative potentials. A world where people are uniquely free to follow their passions and creative urges. Where innovations are exploding every other day and unimaginable wealth is getting created. Where products and services are plentiful and available to all. Where being wealthy or not no longer matters. A world that has finally come to realise the socialistic dreams of Karl Marx and Lenin, but in a warped way.

The other way is to the land of dystopia. Of people lacking meaningful work and condemned to exist on the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy. With not a hope in hell of achieving the higher rungs of potential. Of folks condemned to live on a Universal basic income provided by the Governments of the day. Of large sections of society feeling increasingly dispossessed and spiralling down into drugs, gambling, terrorism and similar madness.

As the anti-globalisation clamour becomes more strident, I am left wondering about the pill that we as Mankind are about to take. What is the kind of leadership we need that would point us to the right pill? Is our current leadership upto that task?

In learning……

Shakti Ghosal

 

Acknowledgements:

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Change and Leadership


Are humans any smarter than frogs in a pot? If you put a frog in a pot and slowly turn up the heat, it won’t jump out. Instead, it will enjoy the nice warm bath until it is cooked to death. We humans seem to be doing pretty much the same thing.

Jeff Goodell, American author

Dear Reader, I wish you a lovely 2016 full of good health and cheer.
Happy New Year 2

Driving home from office the other day, I was drawn to an interesting talk show with an astronaut who has been to the International Space station (ISS) three times. As he spoke of his experiences, some of the things he said resonated with me.

The astronaut spoke of a huge perspective shift that occurred for him as he watched Earth below him. Even though the ISS, moving at a speed of 28000 Km. per hour, circles the mother planet once in one and a half hours, he never tired of seeing the ever-changing hues of blue of the oceans, green of the land and the brown of the desert and mountains on the daylight side and the twinkling lights of human habitation on the night side. But what he really saw was the connectedness of everything – the water, the land and the atmosphere. What he also saw was how human activity was creating pollution and shrinking the natural habitats. In that moment he saw the sheer artificiality and futility of borders, nations and differing ethnicities.

Earth from space

***

The Paris Climate deal is being hailed as a major leap for Mankind. What is it that differentiated this Paris negotiation from the earlier failed one in Copenhagen six years back? To me this success has been all about leadership.

In the words of Stern, a participating climate economist, “Openness and mutual respect were the hallmark of the Paris talks. Great care was taken to ensure that every country, however small or poor was an equal knight on the climate deal round table, was listened to and consulted.”

Paris also saw some very innovative processes being employed.

The Confessionals – As the name suggests, these were confidential spaces, assuring complete privacy, where delegates could speak from the heart with nothing held back.
The Informal-informals – These were small group huddles in the corridors or even on the floor in which delegates were tasked to discuss and remove the “square brackets” of disagreements in the agreement text being drafted.
The Indabas – A Zulu tradition in which large groups of senior delegates, sometimes eighty in number, would gather to thrash out the final remaining disagreements.
The Coalition of high ambition – With the deadline drawing near and the final agreement not yet in sight, the key figure of Tony De Brum of Marshall islands became an unexpected rallying point of more than one hundred nations including the US, EU, Canada and Australia.

As I said earlier, the success of the Paris Climate deal was really about Leadership.

A Leadership of listening to the concerns of every stake-holder nation, big or small, rich or poor. The Confessionals and the Informal-informals allowed this very well.

A Leadership about envisioning and realizing a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. A future which would restrict the global temperature rise to below 2 deg. C above pre-industrial levels. An alignment of the actions of 200 nations which would steer the world away from a default future of a 5 deg. C temperature rise based on current carbon emission trends. A default future of catastrophic droughts, floods, heat waves and sea level rises rendering large parts of the globe uninhabitable. The Indabas and the Coalition of high ambition supported this aspect.

Climate change 1

CC 2

As President Barack Obama said in a statement post the agreement.

“………………………….A few hours ago, we succeeded. We came together around the strong agreement the world needed. We met the moment.

Because no nation, not even one as powerful as ours, can solve this challenge alone. And no country, no matter how small, can sit on the sidelines. All of us had to solve it together.

The targets we’ve set are bold. And by empowering businesses, scientists, engineers, workers, and the private sector — investors — to work together, this agreement represents the best chance we’ve had to save the one planet that we’ve got.

I imagine taking my grandkids to the park someday, and holding their hands, and hearing their laughter, and watching a quiet sunset, all the while knowing that our work today prevented an alternate future that could have been grim; that our work, here and now, gave future generations cleaner air, and cleaner water, and a more sustainable planet. And what could be more important than that?………………………….”

***

Using the example of the Paris meet, can the world shift away from the power politics of the G7, the G 20 and the OPEC to a more inclusive forum where all the 200 odd nations have a say and agreements become more consensual?

And like that astronaut in the ISS, can each one of us too seize this moment and rise above our unexamined beliefs and perceptions of Humanity’s divisiveness that has created borders, nations and differing ethnicities over all these centuries and millennia?

In Learning……… Shakti Ghosal

The Turn of the Screw


“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”

by James Belasco and Ralph Stayer in Flight of the Buffalo,1994

Turn of the screw

China seems to be more and more in the news of late. Well I suppose with its clout as the second largest economic powerhouse in the world, that is hardly unusual. A couple of months back, the country unilaterally devalued its currency Yuan by about five percent to combat declining exports and economic slowdown. More recently the Chinese communist party at its annual conclave announced the end of the controversial ‘One child’ policy, allowing couples to have two children for the first time in thirty-five years. In an environment of economic slowdown, this underlines a heightened fear of loss of competitiveness to countries with better demography.

China degrowth

The Turn of the Screw…….

As Oil prices drop from above one hundred dollars to around forty dollars per barrel, the oil producing nation states in the Middle East led by Saudi Arabia seem to be stumbling, with fiscal deficit rapidly rising to unsustainable 20% of GDP levels. As these countries frantically dip into their reserves to balance the deficit, they fervently hope for oil prices to start climbing up again.

Oil and Gas

The Turn of the Screw……..

I suppose majority of the world believes, just as China and the Middle East hope for, that the economic and oil prices downturn are temporary and the ‘screw would turn back’. China would continue its rise, oil prices would climb back and all would be well with the world again.

My thoughts go back to that prescient article “Marketing Myopia” written by Professor Theodore Levitt of Harvard Business School more than half a century back. The central argument in that was “the history of every dead and dying ‘growth’ shows a self-deceiving cycle of bountiful expansion and undetected decay.” Professor Levitt goes on to say that with the ‘turn of the screw’ in terms of the environment, market and technology, there is always a small timeframe ‘window’ allowing an optimal match between these and an entity’s intrinsic competences. As the screw turns, that fit between such competences and the environment, market and technology starts getting lost. What is needed then is to rediscover and reinvent oneself in terms of ‘What business we are in?’ While Professor Levitt essentially wrote the article from an organisational and industry perspective, I see his concept much more universal and having relevance to nations and Global trends.

myopia

So how do I see the future trending?

For decades, manufacturing from the developed world has been migrating to China, attracted by low costs and productivity. But rising costs in China and development of sophisticated automation are tipping the scales back. Realizing the need to automate to remain competitive, China is implementing advanced robotics. It is constructing the first “Zero human labour” factory in Guangdong which would use a thousand robots to do the work of two thousand humans! But does this not run contrary to the effort to increase the Chinese work force by allowing a two child policy? And what happens to the Chinese manufacturing competitiveness as and when the US and Europe also employ similar robotics to manufacture? Allowing same costs but less the shipping time and transportation costs. Clearly, manufacturing is headed back to the consuming countries themselves. Once again a manifestation of the turn of the screw.

And what about the Middle East and its oil lifeline? For decades now, this region has been enjoying windfall profits from Oil and Gas and resorting to heavy subsidization of its citizenry. Says Meghan L. O’Sullivan, director of the Geopolitics of Energy project at Harvard Business school, “The expensive social contract existing between the Rulers and citizens in the gulf states will get more difficult, and eventually impossible to sustain if oil prices don’t recover”. (A few years back, during the days of the Arab Spring, I had deliberated on this ‘Social Contract’ aspect in my post, “Childhood’s End?”). The question that brooks an answer is when will the oil prices recover? More and more experts in the Energy sector are of the view that with improved energy efficiencies brought in by new technologies and the fracking industry waiting on the sidelines, there is no way oil prices can go up to earlier levels. This coupled with clean energy technologies like the Solar and Wind advancing exponentially means that the fossil fuel industry is headed the way of the dinosaurs. Yet another manifestation of the turn of the screw!

One might wonder that with such inevitable turn of the screw, what is the kind of leadership that would succeed in the world. As I think of this, I realise that such leadership needs to have the ability to envision and embrace a future unencumbered by the present- be it the technology, the geopolitics or the economics. A future which addresses core concerns rather than transitory symptoms. And a leadership which comes to live into such a future as it empowers others to deal with the socio-economic and other changes needed to realise that envisioned future. A future that was not going to happen anyways……….

In learning………….. Shakti Ghosal

Reference: Marketing Myopia by Theodore Levitt, HBR July-Aug 1960.