PTO – Peeling The Onion

In a figurative speech or in a negative connotation, we have heard “peeling the onion” means dwelling deeper and deeper into a cause or an event or exposing the true characteristics of a person. It is like the ‘turning a page over’ or simply PTO that we are used to while reading a book or novel. We are keen to know what remains at the end. This is the general nature of human mind to be curious all the time to know what are the next steps and how do we move forward.

An onion gets rotten if we allow it too long in the basket. We peel it layer by layer until it is good to be cut and used. Sometime it is so rotten that we cannot even use it for any good. Humans wear multiple layers of skin as we grow old, but our basic characteristics that were formed at our cognitive years of learning and growing do not change entirely during our life time.

The skin of innocence that we wore in childhood gets shed as move into adolescence to get into another skin. This is when we form our strong likes and dislikes in worldly matters. Years pass-by, we become more matured ( rather we think we are) and start pursuing our beliefs and disbeliefs. A strong character emerges here that eventually shape up who we are and why we feel we are less important or more important than others. Just like an onion turning rotten is a slow process, these strong beliefs and disbeliefs turn dormant in our inner self and reflect our true character. We expose this character to others in our words and actions and those in turn invite positive and negative actions from them. Conflicts in views and actions often the result of conflicts in characters of people involved. Wars are fought by leaders and not by people, for the right or wrong cause. Even when people do not want a war, the society or the political set-up has given their leaders that liberty to wage a war against a cause they only believe right. This belief is precisely a reflection of the true character of leaders. Similarly, societies get into turmoils due to the action and inaction of its leaders and what we see today around us is hatred towards one another or group or a religion. We have seen many of those long standing friendships or partnerships turn sour when friends or partners start seeing the rotten left over in a peeled onion. Divorces happen, siblings disagree, neighbours quarrel, team members fight with each other, political parties accuse each other and all these because the rotten stuff is exposed.

In our ancient way of education, the relationship between a Student and a Teacher was that of a knowledge giver and a knowledge seeker. A knowledge that was imparted in such a way was never aimed at creating hatred and intolerance but at creating harmony and to live a righteous path. A teacher of those times, peeled the skin of the student layer by layer to make him feel what was good for him and why it was so.

The education system that is practiced today has mostly failed in the above aspect of a student asking what and why. It is just preparing him to memorise what is taught to him by the teacher and pass an examination. There is no attempt to make a student intuitive or creative to deploy his mental, emotional, Psychic and spiritual thinking abilities. Let us bring those elements in our methods of teaching.

Artificial Intelligence – Is it something new?

AI has been there for many years and it is not something new today. Every automation effort in the last few decades was the result of AI, whether it was XL Spreadsheet formulae or the auto spell correction in MS Word or MS Project scheduling. Robots and Robotic machines are classic examples of AI but let us remember they all came out of human intelligence which is much superior to AI. The stock markets are driven by data and the algorithms have taken over the decision making patterns to make you a pauper or a billionaire. Data analysis and interpretation form the fundamental logic behind these innovations and it is still continuing in more incredible manner. In short, AI is all around with us, almost invisibly. From the applications we use for work to the devices we carry with us to how we use social media, AI is working hard to make all of our lives better.

Dicing and slicing of data is the core component of an organisation’s strategy in every industry vertical. Health care, Geology, Space, Energy and Environmental related studies are so vital to the survival of humans on the earth and more research in these areas with the help of AI/ML is of paramount importance. We are obligated to solve more complex human related problems than increasing the bottom line of a balance sheet. Global spending in these studies should be exponentially more than what we spend on Arms and weapons. Luxury should never be our aim to expand AI capability. Our lives are precious than creation of wealth. Human race will always survive with its boundary-less intelligence and accumulation of wealth for our next generations should never be a priority. Our mind is not to be occupied with a thought of how much portion I will get in a 4 quarter pizza or 8 piece pizza to determine the size of the pizza to order.

AI will surely be a mind boggling area of capability in the coming years and it will assume ascendency of unimaginable scale to create innovations and support decision making so much so that we would feel it took over our natural intelligence. The neural networks in our brain are being replicated with AI programs that it will be hard to differentiate between human thinking and machine thinking.

Crisis Marketing

No CEO or a Marketing director would want to experience a situation when their business gets into a deep trouble due to mounting customer complaints, product failures, legal issues or safety concerns. It is a do or die situation for them to resurrect the image of the brand or product and to resort to averting a major disaster that would question the very survival of the business.

Crisis Marketing is all about what a CEO should do before a crisis, during the crisis and after the crisis. Many businesses do not plan for such an event ( actually there is no need for a plan) but the marketing experts always advocate why averting a crisis needs to be built-in their strategy and communications to customers or stake holders. The crisis could happen in any phase of the business – start-up, growth or stabilisation.

Before a crisis

In the first place, It is the responsibility of every leader of the company to know all about their company, products, the market and the competition through awareness and attitude research.

  • A product should be positioned to the customers not by tall claims that it is the best and the biggest but by establishing the value it could offer to its customers in terms of benefits of the product or service. The customers must realise what’s in it for them to buy that product or service. Advertising or personal communication need to convey the benefits.
  • Paying attention to customer queries/ complaints and timely answering them creates the confidence about the company, its people and the product. A dissatisfied customer has the potential to create a feeling that the company doesn’t care for its customers and that negative feeling gets spread across the market to reach many customers through word of mouth, product reviews or ratings. Customer service team should listen to the voices of the consuming market, internal staff, distributors, dealers, regulators and the trade journals or media that cover the industry.
  • The sales materials, brochures, reports and newspaper clippings about the product must be used well to communicate to the customers and to keep the product or the service offering always on the top of the minds of customers because those would certainly help in the event of a crisis.
  • A problem always comes up un-announced and it is the responsibility of customer facing team to smell it through customer interactions, feedback or random checks.
  • Public relations through publications of articles and sponsoring a high profile event – a sports,cultural or art festival and seminars increase the good will of the customer and the buying groups.
  • Building trust is of utmost importance and the rhetoric claims or ads should not exceed credibility.

During a crisis

A crisis has hit the company and how well it is mitigated to reduce the impact of its aftermath consequences helps to keep the product and the business alive.

  • A single spokes-person must front end the team to represent the company’s position and to issue updates. CEO or Marketing Director or the company’s Lawyer must refrain from doing this act. The messaging is important and no flamboyance is needed by that spokesperson to clarify the stand of the company.
  • As a primary rule of crisis management, get the company’s side of the story out first to the customers and stake holders before someone does it from the media or competition. In this way, the narrative of the story is set and the tone will amplify the openness and candour.
  • Keeping a statement or a hand-out ready rather than being extempore, helps to avert confrontation with the audience. “Off the records” statements have the danger of mis-quoting or distorting by the critics.
  • In a crisis, more than a product it is the image of the company or brand that is likely to get a beating and hence all the good-will from the industry peers or forums should be used to minimise the impact of the crisis. Brief statistical data about the positive information need to be offered.
  • Employees may turn out to be the epicenter of the crisis and hence it is important that they are made aware of what is happening and how the crisis needs to be addressed and confidence of the customers restored. The ability of the business to survive the crisis depends on the employees’ commitment and support. Keeping them in the know of things that led to the crisis and management’s effort in mitigating its fall-outs would help them to continue to be loyal to the company.

After the crisis

It is business- as-usual like it was ‘before the crisis’ with all the do’s getting repeated.

  • The company is in a better position after having learnt the root causes of the crisis and putting in place all the necessary steps to build a better product, to know more about the customers and their expectations.
  • Marketing communications and advertising campaigns should reflect what the company thinks of its customers and what the customers think of the company. Honesty in what you say and do pays in the long run and it is an effective ingredient for success.

Crisis marketing requires a positive attitude to succeed when things go wrong. Cover ups of mistakes gets the company deeper into the mess and it becomes impossible to recover. We have seen businesses that are banished from the market and they are classic examples of crisis management taking a back seat with leaders looking for causes that created the crisis rather than preparing them to handle it and succeed. In a challenging business environment, it is absolutely important that one must know how to foresee crises and avoid them. If it had happened once, it should not repeat again when the lessons were well learnt.

Reference: Crisis Marketing: When bad things happen to good companies by Joe Marconi.

Building a Brand

In a simple language, brand building is about communicating with the brand’s customers, prospects and the influencers. What is communicated with them and how it is done is the rest of branding exercise.

The internet is inundated with articles and papers on how to build and nurture a brand but an apt definition comes from the renowned marketing gurus of the world – It is a voyage of building a corporate soul and infectiously communicating it inside and outside the company to all your partners, so that your customers truly get what your brand promises.

A brand conveys an emotion, an identity, the benefits, a social message and the ability to make the audience imagine or get assured of THE PROMISE, the product or service that it represents. A brand manager or brand custodian’s sole objective is to keep the brand always in a recall mode of the audience, which is achieved by advertising about the brand’s products or services in magazines or newspapers or technical journals. It is also done through social events like sponsoring a musical concert or a sporting event. But the most important job of a Brand Manager is to ensure either the product or service that the brand represents is in no way offends the feelings of its audience in terms of usage or inference of a message that is not socially well appreciated or accepted.

A brand is considered a winner when two crucial moments of truth happen at the hands of its customer- firstly by selecting a brand among the many that offers similar products or services and secondly by using that product or service to verify the promise made by the brand about that product or service. If the promise is not fulfilled, the customer is dissatisfied and consequently the brand earns a bad name and it is a huge challenge for the marketing persons of the company to employ methods to restore its image as a performing brand. A consistently non-performing brand quickly vanishes from the market with low sales of its products or services.

In a highly globalised environment and in a hyper competitive market, a successful brand needs to constantly establish its status as a performing brand and the communications that go out from the organisation seek to re-affirm its promise and continue to keep the positive image in the minds of the customers. Brand names or logos alone do not sustain the position of the brand in the market place. It is how well the brand is oriented or the lack of its orientation tells you if the brand is a winner or not. Brands differentiate, reduce risk and complexity, and communicate the benefits and value a product or service can provide.

Both B2C and B2B companies need to build their brands for sustenance and longevity of business. It should never be taken as a sub-sect of marketing. A brand being an asset of the organisation, it is vital that the top leader conceives a holistic approach to building a brand and ensures a strategy towards executing that approach to win more customers. Brand management is a portfolio of the Chief Executive with a senior leader of his/her team focusing independently on it. This is the first step towards successfully creating a brand. It is crucial to align brand and business strategy, and it can be effectively done if the brand is monitored and championed closely by the top management of an organization. A start-up with a VC funding has a low gestation period and hence the founder or CEO needs to focus on the messaging from Day 1 to its intended customer segment and the message needs to highlight a solution to a problem and how that solution differentiates the brand from its competitors. The faster the reach of that message, the quicker is the sales graph going up.

A good brand promises the benefits, attracts more customers by constantly communicating those benefits and creates a sense of pride among its internal and external partners. Bigger corporates get valuated on their brands by 3rd party agencies and Brand valuation is an important parameter in the performance metrics of the organisation for the stock exchanges, competitor analysis and investors.

Imbibing moral values in kids – Story telling

There is a grave concern that children get swayed by hate speeches and actions that impact them in a negative way and alter the views of their thoughts on what is right and just. This has a consequent effect on our social fabric that binds the people to live in harmony.

For generations before us, our forefathers had a method to imbibe the moral values in the minds of children and most of us did the same to our children, brothers and sisters. These moral values were about compassion, love, valour, patience and respect that shaped young minds on how they need to deal with others in society.

Story telling has been a customary habit for many generations and it was the only source of teaching moral values to young children in their formative years. The future generations, I am afraid, are going to miss this learning of what is good and bad for them and for the society. The art of story telling has died and unless the sons, daughters and grand parents make conscious efforts, we are depriving the present day toddlers of a platform which had held the moral fabric of our society for many generations. Let us strive to minimise the impact of TVs and mobiles on them.

There are story telling platforms on YouTube available and they come at a subscription. But there is no substitute to a one to one or one to many interactive conversations , which are so essential to answer whys and hows from the kids. Such conversations help to arouse the Curiosity in their minds and they tend to open up from their reticent, timid and introvert behaviour to turn into a more welcoming outlook of people and their views.

Project Management Today

The art of managing and delivering a successful project within budget and on-time is not everybody’s cup of tea. There are a lot of moving parts that do not conform to the patterns of past experiences but usually take a huge time and effort from a project manager in anticipating the risks that emerge from those moving parts and mitigating them. Project Management has become more complex these days and often you hear about project time over-run by several months and cost over-run by several millions, in both private and public industries.

If a project is termed as success on these important parameters and is also of good quality then the Project Manager or Project Director is considered as a Diva, a darling of the team. The new age project manager considers the changing environment outside and the challenging environment within the project as critical success factors and works on how to anticipate them upfront and put counter measures in place to face them. There are a few factors that a PM would like to work on as the most important – Critical Thinking, Creativity and Emotional Intelligence – that are within the realms of a chosen project team. These have also become the essential aspects of Project Management Training.

Critical Thinking – There are always assumptions, biases that are based on past experiences in any project. When dealing with a new problem or problems, these assumptions and biases need deep deliberations, employing a systematic and logical approach to problem solving. Asking probing questions and seeking answers help to foster not only the approach to a right solution but also help with a healthy environment within the project. It becomes then easier for the project manager to track the business or operational risks, assess their impact on the project and resolve them successfully. It is in this facilitation process a project manager can bring in value and realise the benefit of critical thinking process.  A Project manager who uses this way of thinking and facilitates deliberations for a meaningful outcome is sure to resolve potential risk threats more quickly and develop better solutions.

Creativity – it is the process of thinking alternate or innovative methods to decipher and solve a problem statement and implementing the best suited one. Every member of the project team can contribute to this process and it is not an one time effort but a continuous one as it repeatedly gets refined. A person in any sphere of life can develop this creative mind set through practice. Design thinking and technology support help in this process. Design thinking is an iterative process that the team members use to understand and think from a user’s perspective about a problem or redefining it and then creating an innovative idea that is piloted as a prototype and tested for deployment. Every project is not similar and also the problems that require unique solutions. Project Management works on them, considering the characteristics of the project and organisational environment that is being managed to deliver a quality and acceptable project to the end user. Tech support in the form of AI and ML help through this process with data to analyse and decide.

Emotional Intelligence – Typically a project is perceived, expressed and managed through emotions of individual members of that project and how well the Project Manager manages these emotions to produce a desired result is important. The mental and social behaviour of each of them are best managed by a deep understanding of their emotions. A herd of cattle is manageable, a herd of ducks is manageable but a herd of cats is most difficult to manage, as people say. Emotions are like cats that wander. Directing and controlling them is a huge challenge. The best definition would be – ” Emotional intelligence is the ultimate soft skill, encompassing everything from the way we listen, communicate and resolve conflict to how our teams work together and stay motivated”.

Disruptions in technology, Changing external environment, diversity in people and varying cultural tendencies of people involved are new challenges today for a Project Manager and for the organisation. Artificial Intelligence, IoT, Cloud Solutions or 5G Internet are the new tools available in the project portfolio of the Project Manager to support an increased automation, increased productivity, better features in products and better decision making.

Credits: Praxis Framework, Project Management Institute’s ‘Maximizing the Benefits of Disruptive Technologies on Projects’ , Gartner’s “The Future of Work and Talent: Culture, Diversity, Technology”

#projectmanagement #criticalthinking #creativity #emotionalintelligence #digitaldisruption

Project Management and Digital Disruptions

Project management has been a subject of great importance and relevance in all industrial and Information Technology projects. As new technologies are getting adapted, the way the projects are run need modifications to include the methods to counter the impact of those technologies.

Digital disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Automation greatly impact the project management methodology and confining the PM techniques and best practices to a Project Management Methodology becomes a challenge to the project managers. Agile delivery framework and project governance processes also undergo significant changes in a project delivery. Data mining, predictive analysis and forecasting techniques play a role on how the project is to be delivered.

There is a prediction that by 2030, 80% of the work of today’s project management discipline will go away when AI takes on traditional project management functions such as data collection, tracking and reporting.

The addition of above mentioned project management tools will surely improve the way the projects are delivered and help the managers to understand the new Project risks, and how to mitigate them. An experienced manager learns not only from the methodology or process that he had studied but majorly through his own experience and that of others. A repository of risks of such critical projects that have interface with the emerging technology is boon to them.

Marketing Strategy – how does it get impacted by other factors

In a competitive market, the focus for a product company is mostly on improving the sales and retain or gain market share in a specified period of time. There are factors within and outside of the company that impact the marketing strategy of a company. The leadership of a business firm attempts to build a strategy that addresses all the components of marketing – branding, communication, channels, promotion and pricing but it is not always a comprehensive approach that stays for a longer period of product life cycle.

A stand alone strategy for marketing is not sustainable or expandable unless that strategy encompasses the elements of R&D, People, Finance, Supply Chain, Information Technology and Customer feedback to deploy a holistic approach to increase the sales. Such an approach is easier to manage at a granular level and take a course correction if the desired outcome is not seen. It is the responsibility of a CEO or a Strategy Officer to put together a team of leaders managing the individual functions to evolve a strategy that has the least impact to these individual functions besides evaluating the macro environmental, economic and social factors. Some examples are:

– A higher output from the shop floor involves managing the supply chain challenges

– An increase in no of channel partners involves keeping enough quantities on the shelf at their warehouses or at retailers’ outlets.

– An additional feature on the product involves efforts of R&D function but also the redesigning the machine tools on the shop floor besides the cost impact on the final price.

-An in-depth analysis of which market segments are performing well and which are the ones lagging behind, using IT tools, helps to re-align the methods of campaign and reach the target customer segments.

– Social, Political and Economic environments have impact on how a strategy needs to be developed and executed for increased sale of the product.

– The capability of the organization is put to test in terms of its people aligning with the execution of marketing strategy. Culture of the organization, skills of its staff and the technological / manufacturing expertise.

– A product has its own life cycle but the strategy changes based on the stage of the product in that cycle. Strategy during the growth and declining stages significantly differ.

Lastly the competitive environment of the product determines the success of the product and its sales.

Value creation or Valuation?

What is the role of a CEO of an organisation? Is it Value creation or Valuation?

For long, we had known that the purpose of a business was to help the society and to protect the interest of all stakeholders. Today, there are many who think that the purpose of business is to make huge profits and it goes with the saying – the business of a business is to do business and make profit.

The Stock market expects phenomenal performance, the Regulator is interested in protecting the share holders’ interests and the CEO is interested in increasing the valuation of the business. But everyone is not working in unison towards the larger picture – protecting the society and adding value to human efforts and their living conditions. A case in example is of how some big Pharma companies let go a golden opportunity to help the people and took advantage of the Covid pandemic to rake in billions of dollars while scores of other businesses were down and almost vanished from the market. On the contrary, a mid sized $600 M software technology company shifted its development office to a remote town in down south India and its CEO relocated there from his US office and hired local talents.

The corporates have been compelled by the market regulators and the Government to declare CSR initiatives and fund them to get tax exemption, otherwise imagine what could have been the situation. Let us hope more businesses give back to society that bought their products or services and unless their CEO’s convince themselves and their boards to set this direction, it will be profits being the only motive all the way.