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NPA Problem – 2 : Afixing Responsibility Properly

Published November 8, 2017 by vishalvkale

In the previous article – India’s NPA Problem, 2001-2012; we got an overview of the NPA Problem, and could see from the graphs its genesis lay in the high growth period between 2003-2008. As the NPAs started rising from 2008 onwards  they clearly pertain to investment decisions taken in the previous years. Now in any high growth period, some investment calls are going to go bad; if we play too safe – we sacrifice some growth. But, when the same investment decisions turn bad to an extent that Bank Credit to industry dries up, it becomes a serious issue that needs to be dealt with.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE AS PER CURRENT DISCUSSIONS?
There is a tendency by some to blame the UPA Government, and some to blame the NDA Government; as I looked at in the previous article, no one is calling the industry/s to task for failing to judge the environment properly. Is it the contention of the people that 100% of all NPAs were caused by unforeseeable external shocks? There is a strong case in these numbers for the industries & the regulatory authorities to re-visit these industries norms of operation and managerial skill-sets as well as operating environments to analyse where the real fault lay.
GOING INTO SPECIFICS
Let us look at the sectoral spread of these NPAs, and the details to get a more precise idea of the ground realities. NPAs are divided into Priority and Non-Priority Sectors, as we saw in the previous article, India’s NPA Problem 1. We also saw that the significant increase was from the Non-Priority Sector, which is what I choose to focus on to drive home my point. This Non-Priority Sector includes Loans {Retail, Housing, Credit Card, Durables, Auto etc}, Infrastructure, Coal, Iron and Steel, Textiles, Power, Computer Software, Rubber, Metals, Construction, Sugar, Food Processing etc.
HOW ABOUT DISAGGREGATED SECTORAL ANALYSIS



These loans – detailed in one sample chart above –  comprised investment decisions taken by thinking, responsible managers and boards basis available information, as well as their own understanding combined with industry trends and organizational strategic priorities. Given the above, this surprising tendency to question only the Banks for these NPAs is unacceptable. Agreed that looking at it from a Bank perspective allows us to study aggregated data. Also agreed that disaggregated data is near-impossible to come by, which makes any serious study of this at sectoral disaggregated level a rather specialist task. But, it can be done.
WHO IS REALLY RESPONSIBLE – ANALOGOUS EXAMPLES…
Let me start with one or two real examples of failed organizational strategies. Once upon a sweet time, an investment decision was taken by the Senior Management, and was communicated to the hapless Business Head chosen for this misadventure – me. The BH said nothing, put his head down, and started on the GTM Strategy; detailing which produced irrefutable evidence that this was a certainty for failure. This was duly documented with Top Management, who refused to agree – saying let us set a stop loss {!!} and proceed. They also stated, don’t be defensive, go all out. 7-12 months later, that industry was driven to obsolescence by market changes – it was a Technology Product, with massive unsold inventories across brands and states, for the entire industry. Who is responsible for the loans decision/s that went into the seed capital for the new division/s?
Another example – once upon another sweet, sweeter time, several companies {How do I know? From my trade, but of course! I was heading a Region in one such} ventured to take a decision to invest into products of a particular technology, or solution, despite the presence of free, rampant, ubiquitous and effervescent, bubbly and exciting new information of a new product. Now this product was costlier, so these industry veterans bethought that there will be a market for the older range- logical. But – they forget two key aspects – the rate at which costs are cut in the trade, and the probable size of the market for older products. Result was, once again – unsold stocks at distributor and company levels. Marketshare tanked, companies shut in some cases, and new products shot up. The companies have stocks of old products several times that market size. Who is responsible here?
CUTTING TO THE CHASE – AFIXING RESPONSIBILITY
In both the cases above, companies and managements lost, big-time, as the investments did not give the projected returns. Was it possible to at least limit this loss, if not avoid it? Most certainly, it was eminently feasible. Now we can either go on a blame-game, and find fault with these managements, as is the normal case; or – alternatively, we can go deeper into these cases, and find connecting threads, understand why erroneous conclusions were reached despite the presence of evidence to the contrary. Remember, these were thinking decisions reached by domain experts, good people, people who were proved comprehensively wrong. What we do is our decision now –  the choice is ours.
And that is the key point – thinking decisions, taken by good people, domain experts – proved wrong; this happened on a scale that caused the Banking Sector to come under stress, caused economic issues and other connected problems. That is what we can extrapolate from the above analogous examples given above. While I do admit not all the problems could have been foreseen, fact remains that some decisions were proven wrong. The RBI report clearly identifies such issues, if you read between the lines:
The problem of NPAs is related to several internal and external factors confronting the borrowers (Muniappan, 2002). The internal factors are diversion of funds for expansion, diversification and modernisation, taking up new projects, helping/ promoting associate concerns, time/cost overruns during the project implementation stage, business (product, marketing, etc.) failure, inefficient management, strained labour relations, inappropriate technology/technical problems, product obsolescence, etc., while external factors are recession, non-payment in other countries, inputs/power shortage, price escalation, accidents and natural calamities. According to another study, the major reasons for NPAs include improper selection of borrowers’ activities, weak credit appraisal system, industrial problems, inefficient management, slackness in credit management and monitoring, lack of proper follow-up, recessions and natural calamities and other uncertainties {See Bibliography}
That is why, looking at NPAs from a Banks-only perspective is fraught with risk; that is also one of the reasons why some experts are opining the Bank Recapitalisation is like the kicking the problem into the future – unless structural reform is not undertaken. This problem is far deeper, and is also rooted in the culture prevalent in Corporate India as well. Structural Reforms will of course mitigate the problem – as I may attend to in some future article; but these wont fully solve the internal issues identified in the report mentioned, as also proven by the two real examples shared above. The question we should be asking ourselves is simply this : how can we ensure better decision making within our organisations? This is something I intend to try and answer on these pages, which document my thoughts… stay connected!

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Fresh MBA Hirability – A Practical Industry/College Solution

Published November 4, 2017 by vishalvkale

An article in The Hindustan Times today caught my eye –  Fewer than half of new MBA graduates getjobs as economy sputters, trend at 5-year low. The articles open with a hard punch to your gut : “Job offers for fresh management graduates in India are at a five-year low, official data show, a trend experts blame on a sluggish economy as well as a mismatch between the years-old curriculum and industry expectations…. In 2016-17, just 47% of Master of Business Administration (MBA)graduates got placed on the campus, a dip of 4% over the previous year, marking a five-year low. At 12%, the drop was far sharper for postgraduate diploma holders.
Image Source : from HT Article linked above


I said this on my blog nearly 4 years ago – there is a dire need to revisit the MBA Curriculum; but it isn’t the only aspect of this problem. I say this with authority, as I have seen both sides – having been a Visiting Faculty, as well as a current Industry Veteran. There is an issue with the MBA Course, but correcting it requires a will; it requires a combination of fresh talent in MBA Colleges – Industry Veterans who should team up with Academicians for solving this complex problem. At the same time, Industry needs to invest in training – which it doesnt; it needs to re-visit the entire Performance Management System, which is hopelessly obsolete, number oriented and simply fails to capture the modern reality of business; it also needs to set up realistic expectations from new recruits. Let us consider these two problems one-by-one in detail
THE MBA COURSE
The view that all in wrong in the MBA Course is inaccurate – for any number of reasons. First of all, the MBA Course is an introduction to Business & Management, and establishes the fundamentals in business – without which we are lost. In my experience – all the courses I have been associated with, do it admirably, at least in letter. The difficulty is the absence of proper teaching aids – and I don’t mean AV equipment. Frankly, they are enablers; we require content. And content is the real issue – there is a need to revisit the content of the books, and make them more relevant.
The content is woefully inadequate in terms of Indian Examples. As a Management Book Reviewer and avid reader of Management Research Books,

  • ü I have observed many-a-time that I am yet to read too many Indian Institutes & teachers coming out with real  case studies on the Indian Market and Brands, as also Management Thought. We aren’t creating intellectual property – which is the real issue. Simply making cosmetic changes to the course will not suffice.  
  • ü Add to this the Language and Affordability barrier – content and books are damned costly, and in English, which is a major barrier
  • ü You need to make the content richer in terms of relevance to Indian Markets, which will enable deeper learning and also provide a deeper connect with students as they can easily relate.
  • ü The course as such is just fine; there is little that is missing. It needs to be made more contemporary in these terms.
The MBA Course is supposed to give basics of Business, Marketing, Finance, etc to prospective employees for the corporate sector; this is what it does. 



  • ü What it doesn’t do is – give a connect with the realities of the Indian Market. That is why we need Indian Original Content, not copied Western thought.
  • ü In addition to this, there is a need for students to do more realistic projects on all subjects; the course is far too theoretical, and gives the students zero idea of the domestic realities. The marking system needs to incorporate genuine brain-work on realistic projects, not just exams. 


  • The way to do this is simple –
  • ü deeper Industry College interaction; and
  • ü lateral hires at Professor level for MBA College teaching options
  • ü Given the lesser stress, it will be easy to attract talent for the universities;
  • ü this will require a re-visit of the qualification norms, and the development of precise judgement criterion to ensure the lateral hires fit in, have knowledge of their domain, and can contribute positively.
  • ü The pitfalls of hiring only basis visible achievement is inaccurate, as designation is no guarantor of true ability and knowledge, which needs to be kept in mind.



CORPORATE INDIA

In the paragraph above, I stress deeper Industry-College interaction; this cannot happen unless Industry understands that it is a part of the problem. I stated in the opening that both the colleges and the companies are responsible for the glut; let me add a third factor here – the students. The industry grouse that the MBA expects too much and knows too little is grounded in reality, that much is sadly true. But with deeper interaction – this can be attended to, as the reality sinks into students. Before blaming the students, we need to accept that we are making no effort to educate them as well.
The key question is, how will this interaction happen? This can only happen in the Human Resources Function, and some other staff functions; for reasons I attend to later on in the article. 
  • ü One possible way is regular interaction of HR / Staff function managers with a selected bunch of colleges – in terms of lectures by managers – properly curated by the College in terms of content;
  • ü Co-hosting real-time tiny projects in real scenarios, which same to be designed to be of very short {daily projects}, short {week-fortnight} projects.
  • ü An example of a daily project could be market survey of all retail counters in a street – which will take only 2 hours; or checking documentation in back-office etc. This can be suitable added on by a thorough training intervention – which should be regular, not sporadic.
  • ü Even a child requires help to walk; and a fresh MBA is a Child in the Big Bad World of Corporates.
The other aspect that needs attending to – the toning down of expectation from new hires. That will not happen unless you re-design the entire PMS – which leaves no scope for learning, or real training. I understand we are in a hypercompetitive market; and that bottom and top lines need to be achieved; but chasing numbers mindlessly, without heed to basics is fraught with even higher risks – as many in my parent sector, Telecom, found much out to their chagrin. There needs to be a balance between pure numbers, and business basics – and at all levels. You need to judge strategic ability at all levels – and this is even more vital in a hypercompetitive market, where the cost of a strategic misjudgement and improper strategic implementation are the precise same – Business Closure.
The list of companies that have paid the price for the above is incalculable; we need to do both – hit our numbers while also ensuring long-term stability of the business as a running enterprise. This we have clearly failed to do in many cases. And once you shift focus to the nitty gritty of business – the nuts n bolts, the basics – the need for a strong fundamental and theoretical basis will emerge ever more strongly. You don’t need an MBA to just hit numbers, to be brutally frank; but you need a good thinking and  trained MBA to be able to judge the medium and long-term impact of your short-term tactics even at field level, and  modulate your responses in the field accordingly.

  • CONCLUSION – INDUSTRY
  • ü Industry expects immediate numbers;
  • ü industry expects top performance without any time for learning; 
  • ü industry expects a softened person, whose edges have been rubbed off.
  • ü All three require training and experience.
  • ü You need people – so why not associate with idenitified universities – in Tier B and C towns and colleges as well and step in in a win-win situation?
  • ü Second, as a line manager myself – I too feel at risk when I used to go for a fresher; the risk to me personally, or my team targets, as well as the complete absence of a support mechanism or space in operation deny me the space to create my own strategies. {That is one reason why I feel this initiative has to be owned by the staff functions}
  • ü This, in a nutshell, is the gist of the problem on the company side, which is complex mutli-layered problem with no easy solutions…
CONCLUSION – COLLEGES

  • ü On the education side – they also need to do the same as above; they need to open up and admit lateral hires, as well as be more open to partnerpships with companies.
  • ü Create Intellectual Property of your own… invest in Research, papers, books creation on the Indian Market, and make them publicly available. Don’t treat them as classified secrets!
  • ü Revise the course to make it more contemporary
  • ü Increase the practical work importance, content and relevance so that students are in touch with reality!

Inherent Risks Of Social Media Advertising – And How To Mitigate Them

Published October 28, 2017 by vishalvkale

I was enjoying my morning read of the Business Standard, when my eye fell upon a story – Facebook and Google helpedanti-Refugee campaign in Swing States, Business Standard, Friday 20thOctober. I  noticed this story, and marked it for later contemplation. The recent saga over Twitter usage by  Indian Politicians brought my mind back to this story – and its many implications. While the ethical & moral implications are also present – but most vital is the implication of this, and similar happenings we may or may not be aware of, for us the people as well as for democracy.
Image Credit – Google Search

It is one thing for a politician to openly come on Social Media – quite a few have done it quite successfully; they lay their views, attitudes, national plans, ideals, problems etc – like one Indian Politician. Others use Facebook, and especially  Twitter in their own names to further their own views etc. There is nothing wrong with that – in fact, that is actually welcome, as it helps a large number of people become aware of what that person stands for, as well as have a judgement of his or her potential. Used that way it is ethical, transparent, open and disseminates information.
TARGETED USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA BY INTERESTS
However, I would request that you open the link above and read it; the usage of – maybe even targeted usage of – the Social Media platform as described in the article, goes way beyond what has been described above, and indeed way beyond the scourge of fake news that is now a common phenomenon that we are seeing on Social Media nowadays.  “In the final weeks of the 2016 election campaign, voters in swing states including Nevada and North Carolina saw ads appear in their Facebook feeds and on Google websites touting a pair of controversial faux-tourism videos, showing France and Germany overrun by Sharia law.
This is quite frankly, extremely disturbing, worrisome and should cause unease and disquiet in most minds. The article goes further, showing emloyees roles as well as targeted advertising : “Unlike Russian efforts to secretly influence the 2016 election via social media, this American-led campaign was aided by direct collaboration with employees of Facebook and Google. They helped target the ads to more efficiently reach the intended audiences, according to internal reports from the ad agency that ran the campaign, as well as five people involved with the efforts.
FACTOR 1 : OUR ENTIRE LIVES ARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE INTERNET
In the modern world, those of us connected on Social Media have our entire lives on these platforms; it is easy to collate and study patterns for the SM companies – with a larger customer base meaning more defined patterns. It allows advertisers to target people specifically as per your individual tastes. Just think – you click on a site, and ads related to that site pop-up in your feed; used this way, it is legal, ethical as well as a powerful advertising tool, which can and does lead to win-win situations for the customers as well as the companies alike. But recall that we have our opinions, likes and dislikes etc all openly stated; it is easy to spot patterns and create interest groups on a large database.
FACTOR 2 : IMPACT OF AV MESSAGES & MODERN PREFERENCES OF PEOPLE
Secondly, the impact of Audio-Visual messages is known to be strong in both psychology as well as advertising. Further, add to that the increasingly short attention span of the audience combined with the sad phenomenon of lesser personal time / greater work stress, as well as the propensity to prefer easier to assimilate modes of information gathering {AV}, and short tit bits. These two sub-factors combine to create a situation that enables a mind to easily assimilate and accept messages that meet these criteria stated above.
DRAWING INFERENCES FROM THE TWO FACTORS
The two major factors above create a situation wherein a targeted message can be accepted with readiness and ease at least by one segment of the population. The abilities and concepts described in the first factor create a set of people with vested interests that enable the creation of ability and skill sets that can be put to use to reach the set of consumers identified for targeted messaging. In other words, to put it crudely, a set of people willing to accept, and a set of providers willing to use this acceptability of the people to get across a targeted message comes together to create confusion.
Let me explain – on one side, you have a set a data, voluminous, about people – their likes, dislikes, views, readership, viewership, opinions. We can use this to create sub-groups according to various tastes, opinions and what-have-you. This is the company-side skill. On the other side, you have a set of people with easy acceptance of AV or short messages, short content as told in the second factor. The companies can spot patterns among the people, can group them together. Thus it is becomes easy to make tailormade messages that can influence people with specific proclivities and propel their choices towards a targeted objective.
It is feasible to create patterns, extrapolate and draw inferences from Social Media activities. If one person has a habit of regularly visiting Food sites, specific to Chololates, Desserts, Cakes – one can draw the inference that this person may have a preference for sweets. Similarly, if a person regularly likes, tweets, gives opinion on one side of any view in the political or social spectrum, you can extrapolate that he believes in one POV. In large enough data – hundreds of thousands of respondents – this will enable the identification of a set of people predisdisposed towards a thought process. This may not hold true for all instances –  but in a large enough data sets of people, patterns will emerge that generally hold true; and remember, in Social Media we are dealing with live data sets, not snapshots of time.
As can be seen above – a targeted message {Anti-Refuge} was delivered through social media. And again, as we can read, there was direct collaboration of employees. Result was a strong message was delivered at a targeted audience, again as stated in the article.  And that is why the article above is so disturbing. While it is possible for this to happen even without the collusion of employees of SM companies, it becomes infinitely easier with their help; also, the data is also relatively error-free. Add to this the issue of Subliminal Advertising – of which currently there is no provable evidence in the public domain, and neither is it a legislated area.
COMING TO INDIA…
Can this happen in India? Has this happened in India? We do not know; I hope not. But we do know that now the political parties are using Social Media in myriad ways, as has been extensively reported. We also know of at least one book on trolling or usage of SM by one party. We have seen another getting smarter in its SM presence. This they should do – SM is an efficient way to reach audiences – be it politics or be it consumer goods. No issues with that whatsoever.
The problem is if this newfound capability is used to get across a targeted message – especially one of the fringe variety, towards a targeted audience. The biggest question is – where do we draw the line? And who is to judge what is the line specifically? If we have the capability to segment audiences as per tastes, I for one see no reason why that should not be used for mutual benefit. But – as I asked in my previous article as well – how far is too far?
It is we ourselves that are giving these parties and these companies this ability, by placing all our choices openly. This cannot be avoided in increasingly connected world – just not posting on SM is not the long term solution; other proxies can easily be developed, as so much is online in the modern world, that with time, money and capability drawing inferences from data sets is dead easy. This is the evil side, the negative side of the technology that drives our civilization. It really boils down to data security, and a question of simple regulation and ethics.
A QUESTION OF RULES & REGULATIONS
The Social Media companies need to have a strong set of internal rules &  regulations governing content that is accepted by their advertising departments; one that is specially rigorous for political parties or for messages that can be construed to have a political content, or indeed for social content. There has to be a differentiator clearly placed between product-service advertising, and cause advertising. This is doable and is frankly easy to do and operate. It requires an iron will within companies. It also requires strict regulation and a code of ethics so that pressure tactics are not used to pressurize companies.
CONCLUSION

Both the above are doable; we in corporate India need to wake up and smell the coffee. We need to open our eyes, and see the immense potential for good that technology holds as well as the immense potential for influence it holds – and the potential for damage. On a personal side, we customers need to be made more aware of privacy issues, data security and issues arising out of the above. It is not feasible to expect 500million people to stop posting opinions etc on SM; that is not going to happen.  Above all we need to understand the immense creative as well as disruptive power social media holds, its potential, as well as the need for regulation. This is a space that is not self-regulating. We need to wake up, and ensure that some borders are set in place. The US example should not be repeated… 

Book Review – Make Success A Habit ; 50 Stories That Enlighten, Empower, Energise and Entertain

Published October 23, 2017 by vishalvkale

This current book under review is quite unlike any I have reviewed, with only one – Subir Chaudhury’s The Difference – making as much of a connect with me – as a professional. As a person, this book has connected with me big-time; but that is something I will reserve for a private conversation / communication with the Author, Mukul Deva. Almost every page of this book, taken seriously, is a learning and an experience. In light of the above preamble, let me depart from normal custom or style, and quote lines from an iconic Hindi song, one which came to my mind as I was reading one of the stories contained in this collection of 50 real life case studies.

इक दिन बिक जाएगा, माटी के मोल
जग में रह जाएंगे, प्यारे तेरे बोल
दूजे के होंठों को, देकर अपने गीत
कोई निशानी छोड़, फिर दुनिया से डोल
इक दिन बिक जायेगा   …
{Source : Lyricsindia.net}
We, in the daily humdrum of business, rarely give time to focus on the small, tiny and seemingly irrelevant, or unimportant, or lesser vital, or basic issues & habits that go into making us a professional and a person. So acute is our focus on ourselves, our KRAs, our lives, our desires, our ambitions  that we forget these rock-bottom basics. These are the bedrock of life; be it personal or be it professional. This exclusive focus tends to take us away from our maximum potential, rather than make us more effective in achieving our potential. That is why we need to re-train, re-charge, re-focus, and look for – introspect – analyse ourselves to make us better people and better professionals.

Mukul Deva

That, in a nutshell, is the lesson I have drawn from this book. Now the question in your mind ought to be, what is that song doing in between a perfectly reasonable business discussion? That brings me to the story number 45 in the book – my own sticky pad notes on it should be self-explanatory. I wrote : In this {story}, the lesson is that the basics of care, honour, decency, respect & importance should be provided with and to each person we speak to – professionally as well as personally. The lines above also says much the same – in an oblique fashion; if we can get others to sing our tune – we are done. They wont sing freely unless they like, understand & agree to it! The key here is that this is not a theory – this is told through a real life success & turnaround story.
All too often, we treat people roughly, or don’t listen to them, or half-listen, or insult, or ignore them – leading to long-term damage down the line. The impact of this behavour on business bottom and top lines, professional relationships etc  is amorphous in real life – in this book, a clear line has been drawn for us. And this is something that repeated in 50 case studies, all around small with vital aspects in Business or in life.
You have stories around communication, team handling, development and management – building scalability – sustainability – performance in teams / developing teams and members; personal development -goal setting, thought management; simple yet often ignored managerial processes, the importance of sticking to the basics and fundamentals in this ever-increasingly paced life, values & ethics, training self to inculcate process oriented thinking, leadership & leadership roles; and more.
This is a review – not a summary; therefore, I have to stop here. But, let me organize the above into some fashion of order. The stories contend around Leadership, Team Management, Team Development, Personal Development in broad categories. The various real life case studies together provide a multi-faceted look at different parameters of the above broad categories. Each story has names and details changed – but is a real story, from a Business perspective. Here you will learn the importance of the small, the basic, and the intangible things that separate good from great is the way I put it.  
That said, I do have a grouse; it was surprising to note top managers not having a connect with, or not giving importance to, some things that are clearly basic to any business : a shared  vision, values, ethics, basic decency, team development, empowerment etc are all fundamental requirements of a strong performing sustainable and scalable team. Without these, the team may return excellent performance over a short period – but will lack sustainability and scalability. A leader needs to, above all, ensure that teams and their performance are sustainable and scalable. That is precisely what goes wrong as sales go up, and resultant quality and customer experience goes down – leading to sales losses!  And this book also teaches us the way we can avoid that pitfall!

Now, all stories will not hold equal attraction for all – there may be some areas where you are doing fine. Thus, you have to pick and choose. Question is – how do you pick? The only way you can judge where you yourself are upto speed is do the small questions at the end of each case study – these questions are self-analytical, and provide insights as to where you need to work on. I used sticky notes to annotate my thoughts where I found relevance to me  to work on. But that is my style; you can do it any way you choose to.  All in all, rated 5 stars, must read book for businesses and professionals alike!

Lessons From The Humble Shaving Alum

Published October 16, 2017 by vishalvkale

I don’t really know why I purchased that shaving alum; I was at a medical store, I just spotted it in the shelf top glass display. I just asked for it on a whim, as in  “dekhein toh sahi” types; and took it home. Started using it, aside from my regular after shave lotion. After a period of time, say a week or so, I began to notice that my after shave lotion doesn’t burn as much; that my skin feels real soft as I run the alum over it, and feels nice and relaxed. I shrugged the thought off – I mean, it was after all, just a piece of alum and I was doing basically a relatively unimportant daily ritual. Not worth doing any brainstorming, or so I thought.


Until that day the alum ran out – what lives must die, the immutable law of nature. Well, I mean – it was just alum, wasn’t it? No big deal. I still had that Lotion, nice perfumy in a decorative bottle, one which cost one hell of a lot {that is what it seems like now}, and one that I was used to. My skin, who happens to be a most independent and self-centered chap, had most definite and other diametrically divergent ideas though. It would have none of it, and revolted. It began to miss the calming soothing caregiving touch of the Alum… and drove me to the medical store again, to buy… the humble Shaving Alum!
Now that set me thinking – about customer demand, what influences demand, the entire customer experience, the product benefits & features, the entire marketable package – and about human behaviour as well.


HUMAN BEHAVIOUR
Let me first look at the human aspect – I was aware that the Alum had many benefits; not just shaving benefits. Yet, I in my Upper Middle Class educated punch drunk stupor, never thought of actually trying it out. Why should this be so? The thought itself did not occur to me. And when it did, I was consciously telling the Pharmacist let me try it out. Why this needless clarification? My ego – and my perceptions, which dictated that Alum was downmarket! I thought myself to be superior, in other words – and that perception had a defined marketing benefit, recognized by most marketers as such. Had I gone along with my perceptive biases – I would have missed on a great experience every morning, and that is too high a price to pay for either ego or choice or perception!
There is another deeper level here – many times, very probably, we do not observe the real good qualities in people, objects and the world around us, as our self-placed perceptive biases do not allow these to permeate to our consciousness. This means that we allow our biases, perceptions, images, thoughts to cloud our realization – leading to incorrect assumptions as well as missing out on some great people, great experiences, and great opportunities. Thus, it is vital that we, each of us – self included, actively make an effort to recognize these perceptive biases that cloud our vision!
These biases and blockages of perception not only prevent us from a richer experience, but they could also be hampering our performance, our relationships, our outreach, our values and beliefs; as Mukul Deva says – my reality is as real as his or her reality {approximation}. We need to see the other reality as well as the hidden aspects – some of which may actually have deep resonance with yourself at an individual level as well – as the Humble Shaving Alum taught me. For example – you may not agree with someone’s views; , or you may have higher achievements… in that case, broaden your vision – move ahead even if he or she doesn’t, look beyond! See the larger perspective of the personality involved in front of you – and spot synergies. Once you do that – hidden benefits will certainly emerge!


MARKETING AND BUSINESS LESSONS
Look at this entire business transaction from a Channel Perspective before we move into theory in the next article: A customer of a premium product has discovered an alternative for a core function of the product – each product has core and additional features. Scent, form, packaging, psychographic & behavioural factors etc are also critical – note that I still use the original product, which I find to be quite excellent by the way. Yet, I cannot but miss that in my opinion, the Alum does a far better task of soothing my skin. This is a direct attack on a core product feature. {Not only that, it is also a big learning-  the power of observation, inquisition, and willingness to learn. But that is another story, for another dedicated article}
How did this happen, arise? I saw the cheaper alternative in a channel display in a premium shop, one which is not a standard solution for such cosmetics, namely a medical shop. You would ordinarily not associate Alum and Lotion as competitors, and yet – at least one customer of Lotion has gone in for Alum. Where is the guarantee that someone else might not, and that scale wont build up? Now this may never happen – the point is that what we can learn from this as managers.
First learning – the power of the channel, displays, good old retail marketing, involvement of the retailer, POP marketing etc. This is the basic and easily visible level. Let us go deeper from here onwards. This anecdotal evidence hides something deeper within its womb – the second learning, which is the dynamics of customer choice, the role of the first semester marketing lesson of early adopters, innovative customers, {There is a small  chance my write-up may cause someone else to buy Alum!} as well as the vital importance of keeping in touch with the market at the bottom levels.
At this second level, the bigger question arises that how do we measure, judge, compare, study these interactions which  take place daily at thousands of retail outlets? Marketing says Marketing Research – which is basis, at the core, a defined sample. That is one method – granted. You have another readily available source-  two of them. One – your own sales teams. Find a method to reach out to these, and identify a method whereby minute-by-minute market feedback can be captured in real time, not on your smartphone gadgets you give to the FOS but through deeper methods at slightly higher levels, that is SO / ASM / RSM levels, wherein you now have the requisite education, experience to be able to summarise these trends into actionable formats. This will improve performance in terms of range choice, channel decisions at RSM level as well! How – stay in touch with my blog as I develop my thoughts further.
Second method – India has a management college in every single district. These students by and large have zero practical experience, and summer placements don’t help. Reach out to these colleges and formulate a methodology whereby students get hands on projects to complete, either paid or unpaid projects – real market research to implement; have it incorporated into the marking system – and use this resource to identify market and consumer trends. This wont cost much, and will be accepted by colleges so long as the project is designed well enough; is devoid of illegal / unethical perceptions, and is sufficiently broad in in core objectives – giving a win-win scenario, allowing colleges to mount original research into trends, creating a pool of talent as well as knowledge.
CONCLUSION
We need to recognize perceptive biases in both our human societal sides as well as our professional sides. Personally, not recognizing common ground in the middle of an argument can lead to losing a valuable relationship – and is thus a win-win scenario. A perceptive bias does not mean you are wrong; it only means that you recognize there are other views as well, right or wrong, and that you cannot force your choice even if it is correct  on the other person. The other person may value Ego, or scent – higher than a functional product core benefit; that is his reality!
Professionally, identifying, recognizing, and sorting out perceptive biases is not something that we should be doing just for self-improvement; it ought to be a vital and constant parameter of self assessment, done in a positive light, so that we may be a better decision maker. Being from Sales, I presented the Sales and Marketing side with a channel example; the point of learning is that we ignore the strongest resource we have in our organisations – our internal teams, which regard Market Data as something to be collated with minimum intelligence and effort. We need to be far more vigorous in ensuring we reach out to and connect with these people. And we need to, most vitally, be inquisitive in every professional endeavor, constantly open to new ideasThis is just one example – how many other areas can we re-look at & introspect so as to eliminate perceptive bias and find new superior ways?
NOTE:

I would like to give credit to Mukul Deva, whose book gave me the final idea that allowed this observation to fall into place, and Debashish Biswas Sir, CEO of SILC, a discussion with whom also gave me deep introspection…

Book Review – Re-Imagining India: Unlocking The Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower

Published October 14, 2017 by vishalvkale

Re-Imagining India – Unlocking The Potential Of Asia’s Next Superpower is a collection of essays by an eclectic mix of writers from various fields, Indian as well as foreign, edited by McKinsey & Company. It is subdivided into 6 sections : Reimagining, Politics & Policy, Business & Technology, Challenges, Culture & Soft Power, and India In The World. The authors of the essays range from Foreign Policy experts, to businessmen, to eminent Indian sportspersons, to journalists – listing some pretty famous and accomplished individuals from the various fields. Out of a total of approximately 63  essays, approximately 21-22 are by foreign authors; this gives a nice gives, while also being revealing

Mckinsey

THE NEGATIVES
First, for a book on Reimagining India, I got the distinct impression that the focus on agriculture was woefully inadequate, underrepresented – and in some ways questionable.  Agriculture & Rural India comprises the majority of the people, of employment; by contrast, there were few essays on this topic. The few that were present did not deal with the issues by and large. In fact, only one dealt with the relevant issues directly – India’s Farms, Harvesting The Future on Pg 247. Agreed that Energy, for example, is an issue – but when you give more real space that as opposed to Agriculture / Rural Sector, then it becomes hard for me to see how you can re-imagine India!
Second, several write-ups by foreign authors {Exceptions prove the rule} are preachy, slightly impractical; and in at least one or two cases, unimplementable and objectionable. For example, the foreign policy “experts” who opined, some of them at any rate, were off the mark by nearly 100%. The Americans were quick to shift the blame, as I perceived it, off their own shoulders, and advising India to take the forward step! What else have we been doing all these years? So, that part was frankly the worst in the book. But it does serve to highlight the fact that The West still has somewhere near zero idea of India, sadly.
THE POSITIVES
There were many top essays that provoke thought – all of them by Indians, bar one. Next time, kindly use more of Indian Authors – people who understand India, not look at it through either rose-tinted, partially informed, uninformed or through biased lenses! And that one is the Polio essay by Bill Gates, which was stupendous to put it mildly. Moving on, I recommend the thought provoking essays by Ruchir Sharma, Anand Mahindra in the first section; topping it with the classy Gurcharan Das essay dealing with hard reform, dealing with citizens and institutions.
The book comes alive in the second section, with a series of really educative essays starting off with Sonia Faleiro on Rural Women empowerment, and Shekar Gupta’s Something Is Working being topped off with Ashotosh Varshney’s essay on regionalism, language, diversity & federalism – these make the forceful point that our decisions on Language, Federalism are excellent. There were many other essays that are noteworthy: Aziz Premji is another example. I found the western critics in this section uniformly negative, which is strange considering the topic. You don’t reimagine by criticizing; you do so by suggesting positivity and change for what isn’t working. There is a fine dividing line.
The third section is on Business; and misses the bus by somewhere around 81%. The Indian Economy is 19% Corporate India, around 60% MSME + Unorganised, and rest Agriculture. Not one of these latter 2 – not one- appeared significantly anywhere. What is more, I noticed 9 of the 16 essays by non-Indians! Who is expected to know more about my economy & business environment – Indians, or outsiders? Among all the 16 essays, I found barely 2 or 3  upto the mark, so I shall not name them. Suffice it to state this section was uniformly preachy or anecdotal.
The lackluster third section is made up for by the fourth section – 100% Indian almost, or at least Indian Origin {if anyone was an NRI or PIO – I don’t know, didn’t check}. Again, slightly skewed – what is our biggest challenge? Without a shade of doubt, it isn’t energy; it is Poverty and Rural Employment specifically agriculture. Energy is but an offshoot of vaious sectoral challenges- and is a part of the solution. But you cannot give a proper solution without first defining the problem! And here, one essay – India’s Farms – Harvesting The Future by Barnik Maitra and Adil Zainulbhai stands out as best not just in the section, but in the entire book.  That said, this section does identify Health care and education – brining some sense of balance to the book, elevating it to a large degree.
The fifth section again loses it – cannot understand the relevance of Mumbai Movies, Cricket, Chess, Western impression of our culture and arts, restaurants, and Olympics – not to Reimagining India! Not when we have other pressing concerns. Nonetheless, most of the essays in this section are good, and  written by Indians by and large, thus practical and realistic. The one that stands out- Suhel Seth on The Fourth Estate – kudos for that one.  
The sixth section is preachy in its foreign policy; you can safely ignore 100% of foreign policy essays in this as impractical, and / or one-sided views as the case may be. But in this lackluster segment – two essays lift it on their own single shoulders each; the heart-warming, and yet though-provoking class write-up by Kumar Manglam Birla on adapting to changing environment, India as a nation and more; and the top piece by Ahmed Rashid on India-Afghanistan
THE CONCLUSION

All in all, rated two-and-a-half stars. The essays are good – by and large; the ones that identify the problems & suggest probably solutions; or the ones that impart positivity. The critical ones- God knows we have much to be critical about – well, frankly – it is dead easy for an outsider to criticize – what about a solution? Have you lived here? Are you aware of the ground realities? And the Indian articles that criticized, well – they were correct, and spot-on; but taken all together, the book simply fails to connect, and does not achieve its objective of Re-Imagining India. It gives an excellent idea, to be fair – but the negatives pull it down. Not worth the original price; I got it as a hefty discount! 

The Power Of Energy – A Business Tool Like No Other

Published October 13, 2017 by vishalvkale

The L&D Rendezvous on the 8th of October at the SILC Pune will remain etched in my memory for more reasons than one; in my previous article I highlighted one reason – Snehwan. But the event, and my overall experience being a part of the Core Team at L&D Global Pune Chapter, has had many learnings and ramifications for me as a professional. Being a Line Function Manager & all that comes with it – the good and the bad, meant that this experience was a truly defining one for me as I document in this write-up; this is despite me being a former Visiting Faculty in Brand & Advertising Management, and having handled training assignments in corporates as well as extensive cross-functional projects.
THE L&D Pune Chapter
My introduction to L&D Pune chapter was a direct outcome of my business blogging and non-fiction books blogging, which lead me to getting in touch with a variety of professionals outside my core function and specialty, {which is and remains Telecommunications / Technology / ECommerce and Channel Sales / Marketing / Business Management / Logistics} – including top Management thinkers / gurus and cross-functional exposure to a variety of domains, whose utility in broadening my horizons I cannot understate. This is not tooting my own horn; I am just underlining that I was not new to cross-functional teams, neither was I a frog-in-the-proverbial-well person.
This habit, or rather, this disconcerting habit {apparently, impression is sales persons don’t read} got me in contact with some LnD professionals, as well as Writers; leading to an association with a fast-upcoming Writers connect outreach, which I shall subsequently document once things are clearer. It was as a result of this that I got in touch with the L&D Global Team Pune Chapter, where I got associated more out of curiosity and without any real expectations, to be honest. Well, I was wrong. Period.


The Difference
The stunning openness, willingness to experiment, learn from juniors, seniors, and easy relaxed rapport impressed me; this was clearly a professional outfit. And yet,despite being hobbyists all, with no personal financial interest in the venture – if you can call it that – their level of commitment, and their thoroughly professional approach and planning floored me. This is difficult to master even in hierarchical teams, as all Line Managers are only too well and painfully aware. But beyond all this, was the transparent enthusiasm – and here I learnt perhaps my biggest corporate lesson.
THE L&D PUNE CHAPTER EVENT TEAM


For decades, Management Thinkers have waxed eloquent of the role of positivity, enthusiasm in Business execution in particular and Business in general. I have documented several management books on this blog itself, and a few also touch on this point. Like most Line Managers {Yup, gross generalization here, basis personal experience}; I remained leery and dismissive of this, for the perfectly  simple reason that I found, through self experience as well as discussions with my teams and peers, that finding or inculcating such a team was next to impossible in the real world. Here, in this team – devoid of documented controls, was the clear proof of the theories written in the books… the enthusiasm, commitment, energy levels, common association with objectives and the way it impacted overall team performance was and is an education. The way this team overcame level, status & achievement differences was exemplary. Stay connected with my blog as I progress further in my hunt for the truth, and how can we create such vibrant teams…
THE EVENT
The preamble above is, in my opinion, vital to understanding events; I have a habit of documenting each significant self-learning on my blog here insofaras it pertains to Business, Management or Indian History; and this preamble will enable my readers to get some vague idea of the energy and spirit of the people behind the event. It is the energy of the people planning and executing that gets translated into quality – be it a product or be it an event. We saw in my latest book review of Management Thought {The Difference: When Good Enough Isnt Enough – Subir Chaudhury} how small things can translate into big epochal business impact. Well, these small things did translate into  vibrant and alive event.
I have seen many events, planned and executed, helped in – many – CXO events, Sales Events; from that perspective I can honestly state this one I attended from LnD Global was among the top drawer events I have attended. We had some 63+ paying members in attendance – all professionals, making for a very targeted and interested audience, as well as alive with energy. They were here to learn and to contact; their interest was two-fold, and it showed.


The focus areas were two learning platforms – Power Negotiations, a panel discussion; and Leadership and Innovation Strategies, A Masterclass. The Power Negotiation Panel was suitable high-profile, fielding an IAS Officer at Director Level, two CEOs-MDs, and one Head of Learning & Development of a top Indian Firm. Given the subject of Power Negotiations, this enabled a wide-spectrum participative look at negotiation as a Business Skill


The keynote speaker was the CEO of Sakal International Learning Center, Mr Debashish Biswas, who took a Leadership and Masterclass Strategy session, which was the frontispiece of the event. One can write volumes on this subject; so I shall desist from describing it, or indeed the one above. My Take-away from this masterclass is my preferred focal point in this article : which was the relevance of staying updated, current – in the words of the keynote speaker – reinventing oneself. I am proud that I have done this throughout my career – but out of a pure play passion, a desire to learn, read, re-skill, try new tasks even in my job {Handling Port Stevedoring Operations for import, or training, or faculty}; I never thought of this as a powerful tool. Until the 8th of October, that is.
Conclusion

This was a paid event – was it worth it? Yes, it was; it cleared my brain, my mind; gave me a kick in the proverbial ***, {excuse my language please – cant put it any better}, and taught me a lot. But most importantly, it was infectious with positivity and free flowing energy, which has a tendency to rub off on others  as well. That, and the fact that it gave me confidence, ideas – rekindled my passion, as well as put me in touch with like-minded professionals made it one hell of an experience. Would I attend one again? Sure I would – spending from my own pocket. Why shouldn’t I? I stand to benefit! And the icing on the cake was I met someone like Mr Ashok Deshmane… to know more about him, click this link