Saturday, December 30, 2006

In Search of Excellence

In Search of Excellence
(Tom Peters & Robert H Waterman Jr)

Chapter 3 – Man waiting for Motivation

In chapter 3 the authors take the topic of motivation – motivating the entire organization. There are some contradictions built into human nature like:
All of us are self-centered and consider ourselves as winners. But the fact is that our talents are distributed normally – none of us is really as good as (s)he thinks;
Our imaginative, symbolic right brain is at least as important as our rational, deductive left.
As information processors, we are simultaneously flawed and wonderful.
We are creatures of our environment, very sensitive and responsive to external rewards & punishment. We are also strongly driven from within, self-motivated;
We act as if express beliefs are important and yest actions speak louder than words.
We desperately need meaning in our lives and will sacrifice a great deal to institutions that will provide meaning for us. We at the same time need independence, to feel as though we are in charge of our destinies and have the ability to stick out.

The question raised is how do companies – especially the excellent ones – deal with these conflicts? The authors reveal that the excellent companies design systems that continually reinforce the notion that most of their people are winners. With a normal distribution of people the reinforcement is of winning rather than that of losing. Further, the systems in excellent companies are not only designed to produce lots of winners; they are constructed to celebrate the winning once it occurs.

A way to keep the levels of motivation high is by keeping things simple. One of the key attributes of excellent companies is that they have realized the importance of keeping things simple despite overwhelming genuine pressures to complicate things. This is done in many ways a small staff, shorter memos – as in P&G any memo longer than one page is returned.

Another way of keeping the motivation high is by positive reinforcement. B F Skinner says that punishment doesn’t suppress the desire to “do bad”. The person who has been punished is not thereby simply less inclined to behave in a given way; at best he learns how to avoid punishment. In excellent companies a good try that results in some learning is celebrated even when it fails.

Second, a reinforcement should have immediacy. Thomas Watson Sr. made it a practice to write a check on the spot doe achievements.

Third, the system of feedback mechanisms should take account of achievability. Major gold banana events are not common, so the system should reward small wins.

The fourth characteristic is that a fair amount of feedback comes in form of intangible but ever-so-meaningful attention from top management.

Above all, regular reinforcement looses impact as it comes to be expected. Thus unpredictability and intermittent work better.

Action, Meaning and Self control – Only if you get people acting, even in small ways, the way you want them to, will they come to believe in what they’re doing. Authors emphasize the fact that in excellent companies there is a dominant use of story, slogan, and legend as people try to explain the characteristics of their own great institutions.
Talking about cultures, poor performing companies too have strong cultures but dysfunctional ones. They are focused on internal politics rather than on the customer. Or, they focus on numbers and not product and the people who make them and sell them. In contrast, the top companies always seem to recognize what the companies that set only financial targets don’t know or don’t deem important. Excellent companies seem to understand that every man seeks meaning (not just top fifty who are in bonus pool).

Nietzsche believed, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”.

Handling criticism of their research, the authors say to the critic’s observation that the conventions are so strong that companies might be blindsided by dramatic environmental change by arguing that in general excellent companies value and stress on being close to the customer or are otherwise externally focused.

Talking about Transforming Leadership, authors argue that excellent companies are the way they are because they are organized to obtain extraordinary effort from ordinary human beings. Leadership is many things. It is patient, usually a boring coalition building. It is the purposeful seeding of cabals that one hope will result in the appropriate ferment in the bowels of the organization. It is meticulously shifting the attention of the institution of the institution through the mundane language of management system. It is altering agendas so that new priorities get attention. It is being visible when things are going awry and invisible when things are working fine.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's really not easy!

I never knew choices could kill!
Bound in a situation where I need to choose one from three options – IIMA/ISB/Cranfield, I am troubling my grey cells like I never did before.

To ease my perspective I tried to list down positives and negatives of both IIMA-PGPX and ISB-PGP. I ignored Cranfield as I am not too keen to leave India despite the award of 50% scholarship.

IIM-PGPX (the new one-year MBA)
Strong 60+ years’ history and a reputed brand;
Unmatched resident faculty;
Focused target on senior management positions post PGPX;
Built in mandatory exchange program at no extra cost;
Clear monetary advantage of 6lacs (including the exchange programme);
Strong alumni (but will PGP alumni gel with PGPX is a question).

Comparison with PGP inevitable – may happen on 7 Jan;
The confusion for a PlaceCom strategy for PGPX vis-à-vis PGP will continue for initial few years;
Too academic;
With all students coming after 7+ work-ex, the mind sets are rigid and it may take some time before our thoughts, beliefs are shaken and reshaped. Initial few months could be very tough owing to ego clashes etc.;
I am told that for PGPX-1 the institute could not arrange a faculty for finance.

Sans the “X”;
Pursues only one course PGP so efforts are well directed & coordinated;
On the high growth path;
Chance to interact with international faculty;
We old dogs get to learn new tricks with more of younger population around which also means lesser ego clashes;
More of student initiated activities;
I am awarded a fee waiver of Rs.2 lacs;
I stand to save Rs.3 lacs if I get 50% scholarship, and a Rs.10 lacs if I get 100% scholarship.

Too diverse a student profile – work-ex ranging from 2 years to over 15 years;
Point (a) must create confusion among recruiters;
Expensive and too royal;
International faculty is not resident leaving students to fend for themselves after they’re gone;
Nothing known about the resident faculty. Seems the school relies more on visiting faculty;
Alumni support not strong;
Despite the fee waiver, I may suffer a financial loss of Rs.3 lacs if I don’t get the scholarship.

DO I LOOK CONFUSED? You can bet!

Monday, December 04, 2006

In Search of Excellence

In Search of Excellence
(Tom Peters & Robert H Waterman Jr)

chapter - 2 The Rational Model
Accepting that professionalism in management is regularly equated with hard-headed rationality, the authors aver that it doesn’t tell what excellent companies have learnt, doesn’t teach us to love customers, and doesn’t instruct the leader to make an average Joe a hero and many others things that make a company excellent. The authors are in fact against wrong-headed analysis that is too complex to be useful and too unwieldy to be flexible. They are against analysis that strives to be precise about the inherently unknowable and especially analysis done to line operators by control-oriented hands-off staffs.
“Those who implement plans must make the plans”.

The authors introduce the “paralysis through analysis” approach where action stops while planning takes over and express their abhorrence for it.

The authors rue the fact that there aren’t many managers who are hands-down and will go ahead to make and market a product if it’s good enough even when the payoffs mayn’t be clear. There aren’t any such managers now.

The Japanese have excelled in manufacturing and the main reason behind it is that they treat people – not money, machines, or minds – as the natural resource.

Coming to planning, the authors tell that once a plan is made it should be put on the shelf and company should take up action and should not be bound by the plan. It shouldn’t be used as a major input to the decision-making process. Planning is important but should not be an end in itself.

Refuting the traditional assumptions, the authors tell that under those assumptions, cost became the priority number one and revenue enhancement takes a back seat, and quality is given no value. Numerical analysis is done without any feelings and is heartless philosophy. An anti-experimentation of traditional assumptions leads to over-complexities and inflexibility. The rational model causes us to denigrate the importance of values and leaves little room for internal competition.