Monday, June 9, 2008

The Big Picture.

You have big ideas and you believe your business model is as good as it gets. But you feel something is wrong. Watch out, it may be that your teammates and employees don’t see the same big picture that you see. Learn to share your vision and values with them.

AT A POPULAR party venue just outside Delhi, about 3,000 had been asked to gather one evening four years ago. They were the employees of Daksh, a business process outsourcing firm, and they were a little perplexed. No speeches, no presentations and none of the usual gobbledygook unleashed in motivation camps. They were just being shown short clips from a range of Hollywood films: Pretty Woman, Titanic, Gone in 60 Seconds and Mighty Joe Young. What the then-CEO, Sanjeev Aggarwal, was trying to do was to communicate with his large team what he wanted from them to build the organisation.

• From Gone in 60 Seconds, he highlighted the need to set a target (steal 50 cars) and accomplish it within the allotted time (three days).

• In Pretty Woman, the clip showed Julia Roberts’ character getting ill-treated by a store keeper, but later treated with respect by the manager of a hotel. By showing this, Daksh wanted its employees to treat everyone properly, irrespective of status.

• A Titanic scene in which the music troupe keeps on playing even as the giant ship is sinking, demonstrated to the employees devotion to customer service comes first.

On that one evening, Aggarwal succeeded in communicating his vision across his company, without having to resort to motivational posters around the office. The unique experience also stayed in the minds of the employees, helping them constantly remember the lessons.

Very often, a startup puts together a team and people are attracted to it because of the excitement of being part of a startup, a bigger paycheck or even a stake. They hear what the target of the company is, but they are not sure what it stands for. While a vision is set for the company, the values need to be put into place as well.

A business leader needs to articulate the corporate vision clearly so that the organisation’s progress towards its goals can be effectively monitored and employees are empowered to take decisions on the move. “Someone once said that leadership is not about leading from the front. It’s like herding cats; you have to herd them from the back. If you are at the back then the ones in front have to know where they are heading. The paradigm where leaders assign tasks is gone. Sharing the vision helps people make decisions on the fly. They can take decisions in the appropriate direction without feeling lost about it,” says Alok Mittal, managing director of Canaan Partners.

Some like Laura Parkin, executive director of National Entrepreneurship Network, believes that a team wouldn’t even be formed without sharing the vision. “The only reason anyone would join a startup is if they see the same vision as the entrepreneur,” she says.

There are entrepreneurs who hesitate to share their vision with the rest of their startup team, worrying they may share too much and lose the idea to someone else. Some may simply be unable to articulate the long-term goals for the company. “Many entrepreneurs are poor communicators. Though they see the light, they are unable to share it,” says

Mr Aggarwal, who is now the managing director of Helion Ventures.For the tongue-tied entrepreneur, help is now available from industrial psychologists, corporate trainers and motivational speakers who can help her/him voice it. One such person is Uma Arora, the founder of Idam Learning. Quoting from her experience, she cited the case of a startup firm that had been growing slow and losing people. “After examining this company closely we realised that they all (team members) hadn’t arrived at a set of values and that their visions were purely in numeric form. They goal was to gain a certain market share, but we didn’t see any vision of what the quality of the company was. There is very often an excessive focus on numbers and not on what kind of company it should be,” she says.

“What I find among today’s entrepreneurs, and there are exceptions of course, is that when we dig deep enough, we see that their vision is simply to raise the valuation and sell it off,” she points out, continuing, “If this is the case then you have to learn to speak two languages. One for your confidantes and core team, and the other for your employees.” For the entrepreneur with the big picture dreams, the vision and values can be etched in stone. For retail chain Subhiksha, it has remained “Be the largest player in the market we operate in and give the consumer the lowest cost.”

Subhiksha is now 920 stores-strong. “Instead of sharing the vision, co-own the vision,” says R Subramanian the founder of Subhiksha. Their vision and values was set back in 1996 when the six member core team set sail.

“If you get the core team into the formulation process, then it becomes our idea and not my idea. Here the team sets the goals, the values and works backwards from there,” says Mr Aggarwal. In 2000, Daksh asked the members of the 25-member core team to make presentations on what it the values of the organisation should be. At the end of the day the funnelled it down and handed it to the human resource department to make it into posters and cards to be distributed.

Sometimes the vision and values change and entrepreneurs must be ready to face it. They can be purists and decide to stay true to their original plan. Or they could evolve with the market for higher gains. “Our initial mission statement was ‘build exceptional customer relationships by leveraging India’s high quality, cost effective intellectual capital.’ In 2000, we thought that India would be the place from where we would deploy our services. We eventually discovered we could deploy our services from Mexico and Philippines as well. So we had to modify our mission statement,” says Mr Aggarwal.

In the case of a large organisation, hitting upon the right vision could be a day-long process that involves numerous people, a clubhouse, a buffet lunch and PowerPoint presentations. For a lone entrepreneur or small team, this could happen at the coffee shop on a paper napkin. “There are a lot of personal styles involved in communicating a vision. But first of all you (the entrepreneur) have to be clear in your head. Clarity and brevity is essential. If the entrepreneur were to write down their vision, if it is longer than even a 150 words, then it is too long,” says Ms Parkin, NEN.

The vision is a mix of numerical targets, values and big picture plan. These automatically set up a monitoring system. ‘’How you do’ and ‘what you do’ is a derivative of ‘where you want to go’,” says Mr Subramanian. Ms Parkin says: “We ask people to envision what their success looks like, and then work towards that.”

Aggarwal and Subramanian had the courage to think out of the box and disseminate their vision innovatively and effectively. As a result, the companies they founded have grown beyond their peers and broke their own targets. Great companies don’t just get the big picture right, but also hang it on the wall for everyone to see.
Article Resource:
Jacob Cherian is the Chief Editor in the The Economic Times, Mumbai and the article appeared in one of their successful columns on Entrepreneurship/Startups.

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