Sunday, December 18, 2011

“Ready for Takeoff - a leadership Story” - Book review

Book: Ready for Takeoff - a leadership Story
Author: Sachit Jain
Published in 2010
Publisher: Rupa Publication India,New Delhi

Review by: Sachidanand Kulkarni

About the Author: An alumnus of IIT Delhi and a gold medalist from IIMA, Sachit Jain started his career with Unilever India as a management trainee. He has been working as Executive Director with the Vardhman group. In his tenure at Vardhman, he has headed project management, manufacturing, TPM, marketing and ERP implementation. He currently heads finance and control functions of the group. This is his first book and it is based on his unique style of leadership and strategies for performance - improvement.

Story at a glance:
It is a leadership story of hardcore Career Investment Banker Mr. Anurag Amar Sachdeva, forced to become the MD of the Steel manufacturing company ‘Ajanta Special Steel’. It talks about how he emerges as a good leader and raises Ajanta Steel from losses.

Why Me?
Anurag out of curiosity asks to Mr. Sehgal about his selection as a MD of Ajanta. Mr. Sehgal says, I trust you. Are you Happy in what you are doing? This question of Mr. Sehgal’s turns Anurag to think about this opportunity.

1st Open house:
Anurag addresses workers of Ajanta first time and shares financial situation of the company. As a leader he deliberately chooses to put this front of his workers and along with crises he also shares his vision about Ajanta.

Vision from the leader:
Ajanta to be knows as World Class Company. He believes that unless people are aware of what is our dream, what we want to achieve by putting our efforts together they don’t come along. Sharing of vision with workers was much appreciated amongst all. Everyone was charged to work for making this Company World Class.

Anurag starts meeting his senior management team and understands their functions. He visits floor shops regularly to learn more about steel manufacturing. It is the quality of ‘Natural Leader’ – they don’t care about levels in positions when it comes to knowledge sharing. They are always ready to learn from junior most as well.

Anurag starts thinking about where to begin and he first thinks of visiting workers toilets. This is the quality of People Oriented Leader. He issues instructions to get it done neat.

He chouses to eat lunch in mess where all workers have their food and everyone is surprised of this as they are not used to see MD coming for lunch in workers mess. Anurag is down to earth personality and believes in utmost value to human beings hence doesn’t consider his positional cap.

The Man in Action:
The action starts, meetings are being held, people are understanding the new boss. And the new boss is very clear about his vision for the company, new ideas, opens discussions to all and seeks their contribution in all initiatives. Taking a team along is the great quality of Anurag.

For various developmental initiatives, Anurag calls for a meeting with all senior executives and together they arrive at ‘Project Arjun’. Through this initiative they first tackle burning issues like, unnecessary costs and decides to sale Ferrari used by earlier management team, give up costly Guest house and cut the staff. This helps team to recover some money out of these assets.

He feels leader has to:
1. Take calculated risks
2. Giving a free hand to team
3. Having an uplifting vision (becoming world class)
4. Communication with team
5. Listening
6. Involvement
7. Ownership
8. Learning
9. Discipline
10.Be nice and treat other people well.

Management by walking around:
Anurag chooses to have a regular round on floor and see how things are progressing. Meeting Engineers, managers and workers, interacting with them directly at their workstation motivated everyone to give their best. This also helped him to learn more things about steel.

Eating in mess, walk around, and involvement in people’s discussions, walking in meeting without informing and being observer created a positive impression about Anurag. He would not allow individual escalations, prefers to take both departments to approach him together and this helped him to take faster decision and close issues.

1st celebration:
After initial few months success and kick-off of the project Arjun, Anurag decides to take his team out for drinks. True leaders know when and how to plan for celebration. They know how to appreciate efforts, motivate people and at the same time being tough to get things done.

1. Project Arjun – formed several cross functional teams to attack on areas of vital improvements
2. Anurag chooses Sunaina and Arun to work on new initiative of making “Actively Good” organization
3. Action plan to move to an ‘Active Good Work Culture’ was put in place.
4. Introducing Quality Circles
5. Education for lower band worker
6. Insurance policies for employees and personal loan schemes

Big boss’s visit:
Mr. Sehgal’s first visit at Ajanta, he was taken to floor shop for a round and then to Bright Bar shop. Through project Arjun the production in Bright Bar shop had increased by 35%. Boss was happy with the overall progress and positive change. For a leader, when to get the big boss to visit and when to use him as a tool is an important skills to have.

Theory of Happiness:
Leadership is not something complicated, it is intrinsic to us. We just have to be aware of this and allow ourselves to be open and receptive. Look within.

If there is a positive environment created in the organization then there is lesser fear and in such a situation employees are overall happier. Since they don’t have to worry about unnecessary negative issues, it encourages excellence & enables them to think of improvement and long term health of the organization.

Creating a positive environment:
1. Appreciating performance
2. Smiling
3. Giving respect to people
4. Controlling Anger
5. Delegation
6. Training
7. Controlling Ego
8. A feeling of gratitude

Towards excellence:
Now that Ajanta has moved from losses to profit, people were happy, things are better, Anurag is still not that satisfied and his hunger to implement more better ideas, bring new processes to enhance and expand the organization further continues.
Some of the best practices introduced for further improvements are as below:
1. NVA – Non Value Added Activities – reduce this to improve productivity
2. ETDBW – Easy To Do Business With – achieve ETDBW
3. ERP implementation for common database
4. Spend more time on Value Added Activities
1. Expansion
2. Training & Development
3. Self development
4. New business/customer development
5. 5 S implementation
1. Sort
2. Set Location
3. Shine & Sweep
4. Standardized
5. Sustain
6. TPM – Total Productive Maintenance or the concept of ‘This Plant is Mine’

1. Bright Bar production increased by 35 %
2. Overall production up by 25%
3. Internal rejections went down by almost 50%
4. Ajanta moved from losses to profit
5. Implemented quality circles
6. Profit up by close to 2 crore a month

Finally Mr. Sehgal has to appreciate Anurag and teams effort in making Ajanta the profitable organization. Ajanta marked sales of 900 crore in a year with net 25 crore profits. Mr. Sehgal offers Anurag to head group of companies after succession from Ajanta.

Leadership lessons:
1. True leader gives respect to everyone regardless of authority and hierarchy.
2. Appreciates people and encourages them constantly to do better and better
3. Would trust people and his team & allow them to be more independent
4. Creative, visionary, focused on improvement.
5. Welcoming new ideas, encourages innovation and involvement of all the levels

Moral of this story is, Leadership traits can be learnt and practiced. It is not necessary that you need to be born leader to succeed. Taking team along, involving every single stakeholder in the process, openness, welcoming ideas, knowing teams capabilities and capacity of delivering, motivating team to work for the ultimate excellence, focused approach to vision are some of the great qualities Mr. Anurag’s leadership styles has highlighted through this book.

Friday, April 1, 2011

My journey to extreme end...!

Day - 1

23rd Feb 11, Wednesday, 3:00 PM, I was boarding ‘British Airways’ from O. R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg. My journey to extreme end of ‘land’ of African Continent was about to begun. Flight was not that good, it was bit old Aircraft. I didn’t get chance to do online check-in and I ended up getting middle seat. Anyways, that was not what was important for me as I was looking for much beyond this Aircraft and middle seat.

In few minutes after Takeoff I was feeling uncomfortable due to small seat and being middle one. The Gentlemen on my right seat humbly said, sorry if you are uncomfortable, but no choice. You can rest your arms with little adjustment, its matter of 2 hrs. I said thanks Mister…..and he offered me handshake saying I am David, I am Sachin. He instantly replied with smile, Tendulkar…! Sorry David, I am not. However I am from the same land where he belongs to, “India”, I said. Within short while we started discussing on cricket and ICC world cup. Soon our conversation turned to our professions. He said, he is working for ‘Sanlam’ at Cape Town. I said that’s good to know David. In fact I had visited ‘Sanlam’ for a presentation during October 10, I added. He was happy to know that and our discussion continued.

I landed at Cape Town International Airport at 5:15 PM. David & I shared our cards and word of pleasure. Rohan, my colleague working at Cape Town was ready at Airport to pick me. He straight took me to guest house which is located at one of the best area in Cape Town city, Sea Point. This was my 3rd trip to Cape Town in the last 2 years of my assignment in South Africa however I never got a chance to explore the beauty of this place.

We came to guest house; Kamlesh opened the gate for us. He is one of my colleagues from India office and was on 2 weeks assignment at Cape Town. Kamlesh was also staying at guest house. Great, I had some company. We had good chat for an hour and we decided to go for a beach walk. During my last visit I did go for evening as well as morning walk on the seashore. Besides that I didn’t go any were as I was on one day trip. This time I had planned my visit for 4 days. 2 working days office work and then weekend was devoted for the beautiful Cape Town and its nature.

It was Sunset time almost; Kamlesh & I stepped out for a walk and in just less than 5minute we were at beach. The huge Atlantic Ocean was singing ‘Deep Raag’, whole city was lightning. Sun was winding up for the day and I was looking at the possible end I could see of Atlantic Ocean. Just on top of it, the deep orange Sun was spreading its rays and the portion of Atlantic Ocean was looking just like a beautiful Sunset painting. I decided to buy a painting for my house with similar sort of scene. This is something everyone doesn’t see often. Those are very lucky and blessed who live their life at such an awesome place. For me, it was a moment of life.

We walked on the soft seashore sand; it was pulling my legs inside. Something shined in the sand and I picked it up. Wow…very beautiful shell..! It has doted line around with different colors. Sun had reached home and we too decided to move back.

It was simply beautiful evening.

(To be continued, await your turn for Day - 2)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Escalation, can we avoid it?

By: - Sachidanand Kulkarni

23rd May 2003, we were about to windup for the day. I could hear some noise from Amit’s cabin. He was firing Benny about delay in releasing offer to AVP who was expected to join from 1st June. The position was very critical; Benny somehow missed it because of regular workload. Sumanth had escalated Benny’s careless attitude to Amit and the fire was on for quite long.

Next day, Hi Benny, good morning, she just glanced at me & smiled. We met for a lunch in cafeteria, I was curious to know about yesterday’s incident and I asked Benny about it. Benny said, that’s very regular here, I have chosen my profession already where Escalation comes as a free kit, I am used to it Sachin...! You will see going ahead; it is just your first day here. Obviously it was new for me, and I was bit nervous about it.

Fundamentally it was Shobhana’s responsibility, her signature and fitment as a Manager-HR was important and she was not in office for a week. Despite reminders and calls from Benny, there was no response. Amit was marked in communications however he overlooked Benny’s emails. Shobhana was Benny’s direct manager and Amit Shobhana’s. Sumanth as a VP should have known that escalating Benny will not help as it is primary responsibility of Shobhana to close offer before going on leave…which in this case failed and Benny had to face bosses boss. Even Amit didn’t bother to review with Shobhana before she went on leave. Chain of gaps..!

It is very obvious that Benny can’t give excuses to big boss as escalating immediate manager may spoil relations later. For me, this incident was really lesson.

I think escalation is to be used for getting things done on time, in time or right ways however at several occasions we notice that people use it as a weapon to revenge. Even small issues goes up to top management and almost everyone contributes to make it worst than working on what went wrong and how to resolve? Many times, irrelevant people are pulled in and then it goes out of control. The main issue sidelines and it brings something else on the table.

Take a moment and think about these questions before doing or being part of any escalation:
1. What is Escalation?
2. Is Escalation must?
3. What is the appropriate time when Escalation must be done?
4. Does it bring the salvation?
5. Can we avoid it?

1. What is “Escalation”?

Very tough to define in simple words, the only reason could be 8 out of 10 escalations at day-to-day work are done or initiated for getting things done on time. Now point here is what these things are and who has to do it on time and to meet what sort of expectations? Is it someone’s demand or the need of larger goal?

I think these questions deserve a pause and provoke a thought to investigate what lies behind all the escalations we see and get irritated.

People assume that ‘Escalation’ is a mechanism to get things done “On Time” inline with expected outcome. Hence it is important that every single object involved in the process has inherited the final goal to be achieved. It is the last step in any executable plan; this step is climbed only if the required results are not visible and if it’s clear that matter is going out of way. But if you want to get things done “In Time/Within Time”, then it calls for Proactive Planning. It requires setting up clear and visible benchmarks, availability of required resources to perform the task and timely monitoring measures.

It is extremely important for the leadership to have the sense of visualizing what can go worst and which factors can contribute to it?. If this is in place and communicated to task force, the chances of getting lost or getting deviated are less than 2%. However this 2% can cause a big Escalation and wipe you out.

2. Is Escalation must?

The answer is; it is not. But if it is not, that means you agree to be Proactive enough or to use ‘Put first things first’ (3rd Habit). If one fails in prioritizing the task-card for the day, it is difficult to meet expectations at the end. Besides this, one has to also master required skills and knowledge. Be updated with new areas & technologies required to perform your role or day-to-day tasks. Many times when one is expected to do particular task, and if he/she is not enough skilled to do so, it becomes embarrassing for the individual as well the desired output doesn’t come up. This leads to irritation of senior managers and calls for escalations. It can further lead to performance issue of individual which may axe job.

It is essential to work on sharpening self, understand expectations and then get sign-off on your understandings. This is what Mr. Covey calls “Seek First to understand and then be understood” (5th Habit). Seek clarity and set timelines for delivery. Put plan in place for required resources before you start. Communicate frequently on progress and make sure you are validated timely.

Escalation can become ‘must do’ if you are careless, if you don’t respond to things which are in your inbox fore more than 1 day. Prioritizing of tasks is the only key to avoid potential escalations.

Do not start your project unless all resources are in place.

3. What is the appropriate time to initiate Escalation?

If you are on other side of the table, make sure you have provided enough clarity and documented your expectations and mutual understanding. Besides this, the timelines for response and frequency of communication is set and mutually agreed. Despite having this communicated beforehand, if the desired outcome is not coming through, you have your rights to raise the alarm.

In today’s fast moving world and having 24 hrs much less to do, I am not in favor of giving 2nd or 3rd chance for improvement. The traditional way of sending 1st, 2nd and then 3rd reminder is no more a suggested way. However there can be one chance and that’s the final one.

There is no appropriate time for escalating, the only time you have is to work on solutions. Key is to realize this and not to spend time on things which have turned out of your control already.

4. Does it bring the salvation?

Yes very much. If you realize that even one chance doesn’t really bring significant value to meet your plan, then escalation is not the solution. This requires handholding, coming together and seating across the table, list down issues, figure out loop-holes and map responsibilities to experts to lead the force.

Working together on the solution is the only mechanism which can bring expertise across and innovative solutions on the table. This doubles your chances of analyzing what went wrong, where to and what to fix.

‘Together we can achieve more’, is not a new phrase for all of us, but we still tend to forget it when it comes to “your way” or “my way”, whereas the efforts should be towards “best way”.

5. Can we avoid it?

We can and we must, put a deliberate effort to make sure 0% escalations while achieving the final goal. It is the final goal that matters. When it comes to an organization or take a team of cricket. There is no point in blaming just one player for not performing, you loose the match because lack of team efforts. Let’s focus on performance of team, appreciate best qualities, celebrate achievements yet have the program in place for individual’s improvements.

Before even making an attempt to escalate anything, we must ensure whether it is must, if yes, why and whether the matter is worth of escalating? If yes, who is the right person to recieve this escalation? We notice several times that top management (COO or CEO) being pulled in escalations which can be handled at VP's level. I call those a 'Natural Leader' who understands their authority in right sense and resolve the issue rather escalating or accepting the escalation. 'Positional Leaders' do exactly opposite.

Let’s make sure before thinking of any escalation, explore possibilities of avoiding it, however if the situation calls for alert then do it for right purpose and limit it to get your purpose resolved within the outlined process.

Hate status-quo..!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

“1-On-1 Meeting”, an essential tool…
-29th Jan 2011
-Sandton, Johannesburg

“People are Key to success”, everyone says this and to some extent do follows the required paradigms to ensure people are motivated and their interests are taken care. However I feel there has to be a program in place to execute initiatives such as Talent engagement and development of people.

One of the best ways to understand people and their aspirations is to meet them in person and conduct 1-on-1 meetings. The traditional approach of conducting Annual Appraisals and limiting it to only monitory corrections doest really help anymore. People are keen to know where the organization is heading. What is the management plan for next 3 years? What is the career plan for each individual and how their growth is aligned in organization? There are thousands of such questions every ambitious employees has. The need today is to create a forum for such employees to come together and raise this. Finally it’s question of theirs & organizations ‘Survival-Growth-Success-Significance’

I think ‘1-on-1 meeting’ is very essential tool and first step towards knowing your people. It is an attempt to create opportunity for one to come up with new ideas and contribute to the final goal. Following 1-on-1 route, you boost confidence in people. They open up and give honest feedback on what is right and what is wrong. This shouldn’t be limited to one sided approach, it is to be aimed to collect feedback from individuals, and also communicate and clarify organizational goal.

1-on-1 can be also conducted as ground for ‘Performance Review’ and then focus on certain key areas like:

1. Role and Responsibilities
• Communicate role and responsibilities of individual aligned to Management Objectives
• Provide clear direction and quarterly objectives with measures
• Conduct 1-on-1 at the end of every quarter to carry out performance review and revisit next quarter plan
• This has to be mutually agreed and accepted plan

2. Road ahead
• Show clear picture and organizations vision for next 3 years
• Individuals to commit for the contribution and continuity
• Design your ‘Road Map’ and paint your milestones

3. Environment and initiatives
• Create and live in healthy environment, make others smiling with your presence of persona
• Take initiative; be proactive to be part of the game than criticizing behind the board.
• Create forums for people to come together and share experiences, help others when are stuck

4. Performance feedback and Expectations
• Communicate performance feedback as is, and make people understand the gap.
• Give opportunity to review and revert with feedback
• Clarify expectations and align future objectives

5. Corrective measures
• Suggest corrective actions and plan for grooming
• Revisit grooming plan, have assessments in place and review mechanism
• Track progress and communicate

‘1-on-1’ gives opportunity to establish due dates, timelines and significant events to determine ‘go’ and ‘no go’ decisions. These conversations go a long way in helping us to learn about each other. They are essential to team-building and creating meaningful long-term business as well as personal relationships. Every single manager must follow this at team level and there by at organizational level to make people happy, to take organization towards healthy growth.

This is the heart and soul of development towards a larger goal. If you don’t have 1-on-1’s with your people, you are missing the primary tool for moving your people from good to great.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Nihilent’s - CEO Excellence award (2009)

Date: 08th Jan 2009
Auditorium of SIBM,
Viman Nagar campus, Pune

We were celebrating 8th Anniversary of Nihilent Technologies combined with Annual Award function for year 2008. It was 5:00PM, more than 500 people had occupied their seats in auditorium, and it was not looking less than a multiplex theatre.

Function began with lightning the lamp by Mr. L C Singh (CEO & Chairman) and Mr. Minoo Dastur (COO & Director). There was a classical dance performed by one of the employee to start the cultural events, and then second one was song performance. After every couple of performances anchors were announcing different category of performance awards for year 2008.

I was enjoying the function and was seating with few of my colleagues from HR and RM team. Then remarkable performance of the team began, about 6 of them, it was a band formed and fresh voices. Vocal and music couldn’t meet on single line together, they just started singing and dancing on stage. Jumping high with higher nodes but voice had almost gone to zero. It was really fun and everyone in the hall was just laughing but these men’s at work continued and accomplished what was planned by them. Oh…that was just too much..!

The next category of award was ‘Associate of the Year’; for the moment I felt that it’s just 1 year for me in Nihilent hence there cant be any chance for any kind of award. As normally in first one year you just get settled in organization, you have to build your acquaintances, achieve more than what was expected from you etc. I was at least sure that I had done much as expected and I was personally confident about it however award is something which many times you feel you deserve and fail to understand at the end when you are not even nominee for it. This category was also over and my name didn’t appear…!

My boss was seating on front row and I was just behind him in second row, he turned to me and glanced. May be he just wanted to make sure whether I am present or not. The next category of award was ‘CEO Excellence’, this is second highest award category. I and colleague next to me were talking on something, and the announcement bounced…CEO Excellence award goes to...

1. Sachidanand Kulkarni
2. Shohel Noor
3. Vishwanathan J
4. Vikram Indla
5. Prashant Dabhade
6. Mohammed Irfan

We were 6 of us out of 800+ employees in the organization to receive this award. I was shocked for the moment but realized quickly that I was expecting something and I got more than that.

What I appreciate is, I was just 1 year old in the organization and was proving myself. However I was recognized for my efforts and was cosidered for this honor. Nihilent has been truely great journey from my day one and continues to the same.

For the moment I remembered Lord Krishna’s promise from ‘Bhagwat geeta’, “Karmanye wadhikaraste, ma faleshu kadachanam”. (Keep doing your job, never do it for award or appreciation). This is absolute truth and I was experiencing it. This award for me was more than getting Padhmashree or Nobel price.

I was called on stage, I offered handshake to my boss Mr. Gyan and thanked him for nominating me. I received certificate with cheque of Rs. 10,000 by Mr. Minoo Dastur.

It was simply great; I was thrilled and was feeling on top of the world.

Along with the recognition and pat on my back by Mr. Dastur, I moved from stage with promising for lot more to do in coming years.