My experiences about Cranfield MBA ..... and beyond

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Phases come; Phases go!

It is funny how some stages in your life repeat, but the decision making process, the dynamics involved and perhaps the outcomes too can be radically different.

Ten years ago, when Divya and I decided to quit our plum jobs in India and pursue a second MBA at Cranfield, the considerations and decision making approach were, let's just say, simpler. It was perhaps, because we were going back to school.

Then, some months ago, I was evaluating an expat role and the opportunity to relocate to Dubai. The considerations had changed; so had the drivers of decision making. These years in UK had slowly established a rhythm in our lives; house, friends, kid and her school. Basically life had become LAU - Life As Usual!

There were the usual discussions of pro's and con's of moving. Better (perceived) lifestyle; tax-free income; luxury; more cosmopolitan culture; disruption to kid and her school; fear of unknown; etc. etc. - ever existing ingredients of a dilemma.

So we took the plunge and moved. Started a new job; found a new place to stay; a new school and a new set of faces for the kid to deal with; new neighbourhood; new currency; new cost of living - each element has had its share of shocks. Some parts of financial considerations proven totally wrong. Call it the cost of insufficient awareness. But all part of the deal we made.

My new job has made me super-busy and the satisfaction I draw from the work has been providing the adrenalin.

But am I the only one in my life? Did I miss to see the loneliness of my family? The isolation of my kid at school? The sheer joy on her face when she visited back home (i.e. UK)? The bonding reflecting in the hugs she got at her previous school?

All this makes me wonder - did I do the right thing? Was it fair to uproot them for my career aspirations, my growth?

I know most of us will have a lot of answers, possibly similar sounding too.

Change is disruptive but important; kids of expats become more adaptable; Dubai will grow on you; and so on...

But what about today? what about right now? how does one live through the change during that minute, that hour, that day?

As a corporate professional, this has been a profound reflection for me.....especially since I am introducing change in my organization. Ironical, isn't it?

I keep reminding myself what the mid-wife had advised us some years ago, "remember to see everything as a phase; it will come and go." 
 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Professionalism; Ethics; Competitiveness; or Plagiarism!

 
A few months have gone by! I was fuming then! I still am! A myriad of thoughts have crossed my mind during this period, surrounding an unprecedented experience that I just can't believe I saw and hope I never ever face again.
 
I have been engaged on a very large consulting assignment that involves multiple service partners / vendors - some big, global names including a Big 4. Each Vendor has a clear role to play in the journey and thereby, some very clear expectations and deliverable. From Day Zero, the Client has beaten the drum of "One Team", "Collaboration", "Honesty", etc. etc. as the principles to live by. You wouldn't expect anything else, anyways....these are the basic values to live by, regardless of the size, geography or nature of work.
 
The team I am working in delivered on a key expectation some months ago. This involved an extremely intensive, stressful period with mind-boggling hours of dedicated work. It was my firms deliverable; the other Vendors contributed "nothing" except project management of the schedule and reporting to the Client. Our team carried it on our shoulders. Yet.....
 
Two months ago, the Client's global leadership team was presented an update on the program. It was a different Vendors' deliverable - they arranged everything, including the messaging, etc.
 
As key partners to the program, we were not invited!
 
I know! That's not good enough a reason to be thrown into a fit of rage (I checked on this; I am using the most appropriate emotion here).
 
We were not even shown the content of update presented to the leadership team!
 
I guess the rage may still not get justified! So what happened??
 
Our deliverable from those intense weeks of blood, sweat and tears was reported by one of the partner vendors as THEIR contribution / achievement. Some fancy slides mentioned how this Vendor had brought their repository of past knowledge and credentials to deliver an output that was world class and next generation! Wow!!
 
Some of you may wonder - how did I come to know? Well, it took a bit more than networking to get access to the packs this partner had presented to the Clients' leadership team. Their reluctance was understandable, in hindsight.
 
You would pardon the blood in my eyes. 30 people toiled for 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for 1 full month! Gone with a puff of smoke!
 
Even after a repeated CTRL+F search for our firms name and rubbing my eyes in disbelief for an over hour, nothing had changed!
 
Since that day, I have been left wondering - is it just a different form of professionalism, ethics or mere competitive behaviour? No matter how many arguments someone may give me, I believe this was plain and simple Plagiarism!
 
Wikipedia says, Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as ones own original work.
 
To my mind, the question here is not, "Why did they do it?" But "What did they achieve from it?"
 
Someone has said, "Winning is not always important; what is important is that you stand for something. If you do not stand for something, what do you win?"
 
One thing they've lost is "respect"!
 
And another thing this Vendor has definitely lost forever is a prospective Client! Me!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Do you really know your Audience / Customer?

Many moons ago, in a training program, I had learnt the value of 3K's:
- Knowledge of your subject
- Knowledge of your tools
- Knowledge of your audience

It is the last rule that I have seen been followed the least, by most of us. On my part, I have tried to remember this in every possible interaction. I try to prepare myself for interviews, client conversations and even social meetings, by checking out profiles of whom I am due to meet.

A minor side note: In one of my previous roles, I observed that you need to be much better prepared and exceptionally well aware of your audience / customer if s/he / they were ex-employees of your organisation. They are almost "dangerous" in some ways. Keep this thought in your mind as I share an interesting perspective.

On a Consulting engagement, the power of this rule was thrown up to a completely new level. Here's a situation:

Ok. So you're a management consultant engaged by a client to execute a large scale program. You won this deal with an exceptional pitch about your firms rich experience and background relevant to the program, the kind of profiles your consultants have, the tools, etc. you will bring to the table, the differentiators and so on...
How much of this was really 100% true, only you and your firm would know. We all know that humans tend to over-stretch reality when the sales adrenalin is pumping and your bonus is dependent on Order Books.

So you won the deal and started the program. In all likelihood, you did not try enough to understand whom are you really selling to i.e. who's your audience or customer is really.

Bring in the side note I quoted above - surprise! Your customer representatives were "management consultants" before they joined your client firm. Now suddenly, your customer has become "dangerous".

The danger manifests itself soon enough.

After your consulting firm deploys a large team on site, the first salvo comes from the customer: "I want to interview your consultants to check for their skills / suitability!"
All your plans of using this engagement to teach and train inexperienced consultants just hit a bump. You plead - this is a fixed price deal, not a staff augmentation! We will deliver what we've promised to, whatever it takes us.
Nothing doing, my friendly Consultant, comes the reply. I cannot afford to become a training ground for your people and I want to see those profiles whom you promised in your pitch.
I bet your heart will miss more than a beat and perhaps some just avoided a heart attack.

A few weeks go by and you think that you've now hit a rhythm in your program execution. Then comes another volley: "Show me your resourcing bin. And No, I don't care that this is a fixed price deal".
Wow! Here you were, struggling with resourcing people. Here you were, somehow trying to hide that you still haven't placed all the resources you had committed and suddenly, you feel that someones stripping you of your pants.

Folks, by no means am I trying to put down the world of consulting. It is a wonderful industry for many, full of learning experiences and success stories. The message here is the critical need of that last "K" rule.

Wherever you work, whatever you do - do you "really" know who your customer / audience is?
 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Illusions!!

Someone has said, "The trouble with illusions is that you know you had them, only when they are broken."

I distinctly remember how much praise my Marketing Professors at Cranfield MBA used to shower on a big Retailer. There were enough case studies to showcase their prowess at understanding consumers, etc. etc.

Then a few years after I graduated, I ended up as an external consultant for the same Retailer. I was part of a 4-5 month long diagnostic to review their current processes for a specific function. The more I got to see "inside" that big retailer, the more disappointment I experienced. I really wanted to bring in my Marketing professors to show them the "real story"..but of course, that cannot happen. However, I was saddened because my illusion was broken.

During the course of my career over 19 years now, I have been fascinated by a few, large MNCs from the FMCG / Retail sector - primarily because most of my Industry experience comes from these sectors.

A few years later, after that first experience, I got another opportunity to lead a consulting engagement with another very large firm. Funnily enough, I underwent exactly the same experience as before. It was hugely disappointing to see the mess people create within such large and successful organisations. I wonder every day - if these organisations deliver so much success despite such appalling mess, what would their level of success be, if they weren't so messy? Do they realise how much potential exists to make significant improvements in their performance?

In parallel, however, I now also fear - if I stay a Consultant for too long, I might lose all respect for such large organisations. The more I get to see their inside, the more disappointed I would be.

Would you want to know that you too have had illusions? Isn't ignorance really a bliss?

Monday, April 09, 2012

Appraisal System - a disease?

I recently came across a discussion thread that talked about Dr Deming and the 5 Deadly Diseases he mentioned way back in 1984. One of the 5 diseases is called Annual rating of Performance - this can go by many other names i.e. Merit System, Management by Oobjectives / Pay for Merit / Reward performance, etc. The contributors' shared a wealth of thoughts, many of which resonated strongly with my past experience and views.

In an organisation where I worked previously, I had a colleague who led a large team in the region. Very nice guy, very high on EQ, used his heart more than his head and wanted to promote as many people as many times as he could - all from a belief of "greater good". In our daily car pooling, we used to discuss (and sometimes argue as well) about this subject. For me, a promotion was a function of at least 3 things: past performance, potential for future performance and positions' fitment within overall organisational structure.

But what worried me was that all our KPI's from the appraisal process were with a myopic horizon - next 6 months or at beast 12 months. After all, these KPI's decided our performance bonuses. More importantly, it gave us a sense of accomplishment - almost like instant gratification. There was no need to think long term, because in the long term, "you're dead"!

Yet, for years I hear about dissatisfaction with the Performance Appraisal system - doesn't matter which organisation or what country. This is all pervasive. Then, how come, this theory from Dr Deming never got the kind of acceptance it deserves? Perhaps, deep down, most managers and leaders agree with the notion, but do not have the courage to adopt it in their organisations.

As one of the contributors quoted, "If you think Annual Reviews are a great idea, try doing one on your spouse on your Anniversary."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What is Politics!

I am a fan of a good football game (not of any team though). Reading some headlines around FIFA over the past few days, some words have been floating in my mind – politics, definition of politics, organisational politics, politicians, etc.

Most of us have heard about the classic debate “Leaders – born or made”. But I couldn’t find much content on “Politicians – Born or Made?”
My immediate response – “Politicians are born”.

What Is Politics?
A little boy goes to his dad and asks, "What is politics?"
Dad says, "Well son, let me try to explain it this way: I'm the breadwinner of the family, so let's call me capitalism. Your Mom, she's the administrator of the money, so we'll call her the Government. We're here to take care of your needs, so we'll call you the people. The nanny, we'll consider her the Working Class. And your baby brother, we'll call him the Future. Now, think about that and see if that makes sense,"

So the little boy goes off to bed thinking about what dad had said.

Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying, so he gets up to check on him. He finds that the baby has severely soiled his diaper. So the little boy goes to his parents' room and finds his mother sound asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny's room. Finding the door locked, he peeks in the keyhole and sees his father in bed with the nanny. He gives up and goes back to bed. The next morning, the little boy says to his father, "Dad, I think I understand the concept of politics now."

The father says, "Good son, tell me in your own words what you think politics is all about."
The little boy replies, "Well, while Capitalism is screwing the Working Class, the Government is sound asleep, the People are being ignored and the Future is in deep poo."

Interesting!!

When you think of the condition Europe is in, the little boy's understanding comes across as spot-on.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

What good is your education?

A very recent personal experience has prompted me to pen down these thoughts.

Time and time and time again, I see examples around me where people (myself included) continue to fail in applying their education (and hence, knowledge).

I would challenge any arguments that would offer "memory loss" as the reason. I am beginning to believe that this has more to do with our failure to have learnt and educated ourselves truly and completely; it is a finger pointing towards how superficial our educational pursuit has been; above all, it is a reflection of how indisciplined we are as individuals.

A very powerful lesson I picked up at during my MBA at Cranfield UK was "the Ladder of Inference" - this is something that I have written about earlier too. More than 5 years after having completed my last full time education, I find that I still am a culprit - I fail to follow this mantra 100%....sometimes the slip-up is in my professional life, sometime in my personal life.

It does not matter whether there are many other MBAs who may also be failing to apply their education in real life. My use of "I" should at least tell the world that I am taking onus. The key reflection I need to do is "Why do I slip-up? What good was my education?"

Well, my education and my experiences at Cranfield were not only good, they were brilliant, irreplaceable and life-changing. However, perhaps that was the easy part. The difficult part began after the MBA - applying my education in real life and no one promised me that it would be easy.

So, here's the question to you - How good are you making your education to be?