Bowling coach to Sachin Tendulkar – Make sense?

Of course it doesn’t make sense!

Why do anybody want to appoint a bowling coach to the greatest batsman that cricket has ever produced? Why do we want him to get better with bowling when he is so good at batting? He has been pretty decent part-time bowler who bowled few overs and got some crucial wickets (with some special ones like 1993 Hero cup semi finals against South Africa) as well. All he did for his two decades of historical cricketing career was to bat, bat and just bat!

When I look beyond Sachin, here are the key attributes of Indian top order today:

Sehwag/Gambhir (attacking, aggressive) – Apt for first 15 overs

Virat Kohli (controlled aggression, matured stroke-player) – Apt for 15-35 overs

Raina/Dhoni/Yuvraj (excellent strikers who can effortlessly clear the field plus great finishers of the game) – Apt for 35-50 overs

Of course, when wickets fall early, batsman should adapt to the situation and play. Definitely, this batting order is not arrived in a random fashion. It is arranged based on which position a batsman is exactly good at, based on his natural game. It is done with specific intent in mind so that the possibility of success in a match can be maximized.

Cut to corporate! In teams we end up having different set of people who has different set of strengths. For example in a product development team I typically find individuals who are good in different areas – innovation, requirement analysis, customer interfacing, coding, software designing, user experience, crisis handling, quality assurance, critical problem solving ability and some all-rounders who can do all the above mentioned roles fairly well. It becomes extremely important to have right people in right roles (similar to cricket batting order) to maximize success of the team. Again “success” here could mean anything – increased customer satisfaction, increased sales numbers, quality and on-time product launch etc.

Its always a puzzle and challenging task to identify what individuals are actually good at and provide them with right set of opportunities. In my opinion this is THE critical responsibility of leader who should spend good amount of time in doing that. When roles are identified according to individual’s strengths and corresponding responsibilities are defined, it can be completely left with individuals to produce desired result. When individuals feel they are doing the job where they are good at, it automatically increases their self esteem thereby lifting the overall moral of the individual. In summary is multiples result produced by the team. Let me explain this with some example.

Say an individual A who is extremely good at finding new technology and passionate about innovation. Driven by his creative mental ability he can almost always suggest a new way to get things done. However he may not be a process oriented individual, who might even think process kills creativity. There could be another individual B, who is meticulous when it comes to getting things done by following the process with 100% discipline. He would love to do same things again and again and improve it over a period of time. For him the maximum pleasure comes from continuously refining it, whereas for the former case it could be continuously creating something always. Given the core strength of individuals, they need to be placed in appropriate nature of work. For example A can be part of organizational technology incubation team, which demands frequent survey of latest technology and suggest future business possibilities. B can be placed as a customer facing individual who can champion by following meticulous steps with each and every customer, failing which can cause customer dis-satisfaction. Now what if these roles are reversed? The answer is obvious – planned disaster! A will get completely bored and frustrated with customer facing and B will get scared to come up with new things very frequently.

Identifying individual strengths and providing them with right roles is not always 100% possible in an organization, where there could be multiple options. The team/business may not require a particular strength or skill which an individual is good at. In such cases it is much better to rotate individuals to different opportunities inside the organization where their skills can be utilized in a better manner. Or in some worst scenario, it is better to let them go (or they will get frustrated and leave the organization) rather than wasting both individual and organization’s time. In some cases there would be a possibility that the individual skills matches to the role to a larger extent (say 80%) who can be still provided support for making him effective in the role.  In some other cases individuals need to be rotated across different roles (ex: R & D -> marking) to expose them different aspects of the business, which is part of leadership building process. As a direct impact, this will immediately reflect in an individual’s performance ratings. I will talk more about this in a separate post.

Sustainability Vs Delivering on numbers

For organizations it is always a challenge to balance between delivering numbers (ex: quarterly financial results) and balance our long term strategic priorities (ex: new business). At an individual level also we face similar dilemma, especially at leadership levels.

Typically in annual business planning activity would identify certain goals with specific targets. Popularly known as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), these numbers take multiple forms: sales quota, revenues, improving efficiency or delivering some number of patents, depending on the type of organization. Linking KPI with business definitely helps to bring focus in leadership team. This will also help to measure results in as numbers demonstrate “unambigiousness”. If the organization is big enoug, this is typically what key stakeholders (customers, share holders, investors and employees) look forward in terms of Return of Investment (ROI).

In my opinion, this KPI oriented model has its own disadvantages when taken into extreme. When the leadership team is completely focused on delivering numbers, many bigger and strategic opportunities will go out of the window or gets missed. From people perspective when they come to know that they are measured only based on numbers, they will do anything and everything do make “numbers look good”. Many of the corporate scandals, sudden collapse of a leader or a business unit is mainly because of the polarized focus towards ‘number crunching’. When extremely high amount of importance and focus is given for delivering numbers, original thinking process gets restricted in leadership team, because of which organization may not forsee potential opportunity in the future, leading to sustainability issues in business.

On the other hand taking the KPIs out of the management system will create accountability issues. The whole organization might look to be doing something which is really long term and strategic but never oriented towards providing tangible results/benefits to the organization. The difference between “articulation” and “accomplishment” will go away where people will assume doing former is same as later.

The real spirit should be to use KPI as “indicators” to really get realistic view of what exactly happening in ground zero. In case of an individual business unit or a leader is failing to deliver on his numbers, proper introspection should be done by senior level leadership to make it better or take some strong decision. Simply put in Jack Welch’s terms, leadership team should be able to take a choice from “Fix, sell or close”. When there is an opportunity to fix the issue, corresponding leader should be given necessary opportunity and empowerment to “openly” say his numbers are bad and put in actions to close gaps for making things better.

KPIs should indicate something which should be reflection of reality, so that actions are taken to solve real time issues. The more realistic those actions are, better the organization becomes. Next time you get an opportunity to check some numbers, ensure you read the “meaning” behind those numbers.

Right thing in a right way

Recently I was given an opportunity to discuss about ‘Business alignment’ with a set of people in my group.  To make the session interactive, I asked each one of them what exactly they understand by aligning with Business. Most of them replied saying ‘aligning individual aspirations to business needs’, ‘understanding organization opportunities in better manner’, ‘developing business acumen’ etc. While most of them are correct, I asked them back ‘In every given opportunity is it possible for an individual to be absolutely open and align himself to business needs? Can we always say business is heading in the right direction?’ and I could see many blank faces. While text-book definition of business alignment looks easy to understand, it’s extremely hard to implement.

Let us take an example. Assume a business leader is having a specific business goal (ex: improving customer satisfaction) considering the current business trend of customer complaints. Based on his understanding of business and his personal view, he typically comes up with ways to implement certain actions to achieve desired result. However, when the business task starts coming down the hierarchy, it gets interpreted by different layers in different ways. What is seen as the ‘right thing’ from the top might be seen as a ‘absolute blunder’ from the bottom layer of people. It can also be easily interpreted as the business leader trying to implement his ‘personal agenda’ to gain some benefit for him. This is one of the key reasons why practical implementation of business alignment becomes very challenging except for cases where the whole hierarchy consist of ‘yes sir’ type of people.

Now, how a business leader can ensure the ‘right thing’ gets implemented in the ‘right way’? In my opinion there is only one way to do it – Establish trust! For people who see value of implementing an action (to improve customer satisfaction) will right away go ahead and implement without fail. For people who don’t see or perceive the value of implementation will still implement because of the trust. He will work on a fundamental belief that ‘I might be missing something, let me implement this and understand this better rather than telling reasons for not implementing it’. This also leads to another case where an individual in the chain will build ‘disagree and commit’ mindset. This individual might not believe in the way it is implemented but still go ahead and do it in his own way because he is committed for the business leader.  For all you know such actions might lead to totally new set of possibilities which the business leader might not even thought of.

The power of trust is much bigger than we actually can think!