Friday, September 24, 2010

Speaksfree: The Nights of an Aspiring Entrepreneur

Speaksfree: The Nights of an Aspiring Entrepreneur

The Nights of an Aspiring Entrepreneur

This is hardly news..Everyday we come to know or read about a new business coming into existence. Somebody who was well settled in a quality job left to start his own business, somebody who was studying  in a foreign country to pursue a different dream suddenly realizes that he has to run his family business back home, somebody who traveled somewhere got the enlightenment that he should be doing this or that to make living and lives easier and many many more such tales keep coming in front of us and I keep coming across for certain. Wonder what is there in them that is so unique or what is in the business that they do now that I don't understand? Of course there is merit in them, their skills, their background and their spirit of 'get things going'. I even read their stories to get inspired or attend consciously to what our management gurus have to say about the new age entrepreneurs/leaders. Even try to decode how circumstances can be different functionally and how they can be similar spiritually. But nobody seems to talk about emotions.

Yes, Emotions, the only facet of ones behavior or personality that cannot be eclipsed. Emotions are difficult to hide or more simply put, emotions are for real. No matter what you do, your emotions will reflect on you if they are real. Emotions don't need any mirror, they are self reflective. So they say, love can happen at first sight, pictures can bring tears, happiness can make you cry, idea of distance can make your nervous, luggage can make you weak, age can make you behave like a child and so on..

Words are the poorest form of emotional expression as they tend to either exaggerate or pretend.

I don't know if I have ever tried to hide my emotions, but they seem to have their own moment. For me they don't come when they are supposed to. And when I am by myself, they seem to be so loud and deafening, bright and pinching, bold and miserable.

Anyone who decides to leave the warmth of life, pleasure of regularity, convenience of accessibility, pleasure of immediacy, comfort of singularity, peace of predictability, is an emotional baron.

It is not easy at all to overcome the emotional dilemma. Functional simplification is easy, spiritual attendance is easier but emotional trauma is impossible to get away with.

I wonder what goes on in the minds of the aspiring entrepreneurs. What do they do when they are caught in emotions? How do they respond to their heart when nothing is working as per the mind? What do they say to themselves when no body seems to listen? Whom do they talk to when their ears are not prepared to listen to anything but their own answers?

How do they measure the days? Is it from the day they began or when they had the burn?

How do they measure their righteousness? By believing in themselves or justifying to the questions?

How do they wait for the first success? By being patient or becoming patient to critics?

I dedicate this to all my friends who have or are planning to step into the wild world of entrepreneurship.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Speaksfree: How to own your clients? Or what is ownership?

Speaksfree: How to own your clients? Or what is ownership?

How to own your clients? Or what is ownership?

This is actually specific to the service industry where account management or client servicing is crucial for business partnerships, relationship building, recurring income and long term benefits. To be more precise, in an industry where clients or accounts are created or acquired over a period of time and not overnight but lost in split seconds. Various kinds of efforts go into the acquisition, repeated follow up is required and one has to go through a lot of disappointment in the process as well.
The nature of service businesses are changing and the demand to control and manage the accounts is putting a lot of pressure on the front line. Who is completely responsible or who shares the responsibility is a debate in itself. People on the front line are under tremendous pressure to forecast the next move, next plan, next need of their clients. Whether it is possible or not is very subjective, but evaluation is certainly objective.
Rohit works as a Senior Account Manager at a reputed branding services company. He is a qualified MBA with three years experience in an advertising agency. He has recently switched over from Advertising to pursue his ambitions as a brand consultant. He dreams of becoming a well known Brand consultant in five years. But the transition puts him in a client servicing or more precisely account management role, which according to him is the beginning of his journey towards his destination. Not that he has not done client servicing previously but he is shown the brighter side of servicing which is more involving and is a  platform for learning brand management with the brand managers on the account. For him servicing is simple. He has to listen to all that the clients say, forward it to the concerned developers/planners, liaison between the creative department and planners, keep the client posted on the work in progress, prepare proposals or estimates for the job undertaken. ensure timely payments, fix appointments for the presentation, arrange for gate passes, make sure all the things are ready before the D day and after. He is quite happy with what he does and so are his bosses, but he wonders where is the learning. The moment he asks permission to be part of the preliminary or crucial discussions, he is shown the desk and asked to get more information or find out what else is happening. He thinks, where is he learning the brand management techniques/tools/processes? His role is limited to making sure that the things are in order, that proposals are signed in time, billing is done as per schedule, payments are collected when due, calendars don't clash and some things more like these. More than the learning, what he is also missing is the ownership of his client or account. There are several reasons for such occurrences. Company policy, hierarchy, attitude, experience, background etc etc......But one thing is for sure, whatever the reason, if Rohit does not understand this then he is not going to reach his destination ever. You can advise as a consultant only when you are asked and you are asked only when they know that you are a worthy owner of their brand.
Just by taking this example I would like to share some of my views.

Ownership is not about accurate account management procedures, it is not about clean records in account books, it is not about friendly relations with your client, it is not about delivering the project on time or keeping the client happy by organizing working lunches or after work leisure activities often termed as 'bonding'.
Ownership is also not about number of calls made to the client everyday or number of visits to the clients office in a week. It is also not about how many people you know in the clients office from admin, finance, production, marketing, r&D, legal etc.
Ownership is also not about how many sms are shared between the two parties or face book interactions.
Ownership is always mis-understood as something that has a direct consequence or something that will show results immediately. Ownership cannot be traded. Ownership cannot be priced. Ownership cannot be transferred. You cannot demand ownership, you have to command it.
Often people like Rohit get stuck in the definition and the action.
They start believing that constant interaction, being in the radar of the clients, exchanging some dozen mails daily with their clients means that they have ownership or they really own their clients.
One has to look at both the sides of the ownership coin.
One side is the side that Rohit belongs to. He is doing his job as per his KRA's and what he sees his peers doing, may be even better than some of them.
The other side of the coin is the client side. No doubt all of the above mentioned actions of Rohit will not cause any damage to the relationship but it will fall short of complete ownership. It will keep the client well informed and on track of his expenses and budgets, time table and deadlines, but they will not give the ownership.

It is important to know what the client wants from us. And within that what they expect a particular person to demonstrate so that they can give ownership or share. Clients want a peaceful working relationship but when they are under pressure or not in their minds, it gets passed on to the client servicing person from the agency. When their ass is on fire, they don't mind burning the behinds of everyone from the agency. Instead the equation should be that of sharing the problem and discussing the solutions. If the account manager is able to provide practical and favorable solution, he is in the circle of trust and already owns a part of the brand. He will always be the first to be consulted by the brand manager on his problems. He will have the trust of the client and the client will always depend on him. This sets the path for ownership.

It is important to understand that all clients are not the same and so are the brands that they manage. So how can the requirements be the same. Like every brand has specific expectations from its customer, every marketer has certain expectation from its brand, similarly every brand or brand manager has a specific requirement from the account manager. The account manager should not weigh them in the same scale. The account manager should have a reasonable understanding of the brand history, the activities of the brand in the last few years, what are the initiatives or actions of the current brand manager, what did his predecessor do, how many weeks/months/years the brand manager has been managing it and so on. It is also important to know the other affiliates of the brand like the printer, supplier, ad agency, photographer etc. Knowing them helps the account manager to know his client better and his needs. But above all, the account manager should never do any mistake with the brand information else he will lose trust. The account manager should always seek to know more and more from the brand manager in order to match his wavelength. This not only gets him closer to the brand but also the brand custodian who then does not mind sharing his dreams and actions with the account manager. This sets the path for ownership.

It is important to understand what is going on in their minds and doing it proactively. Only when the mail comes or the call is received, the job should not start. As an account manager, one should be able to think about the next steps or the next expectations. Knowing the forward and having solutions ready brings confidence between the two. The client will also discuss the plans before formalizing the brief. The client will always put down the challenges and threats before even crafting the intent/purpose of the exercise. The client will discuss the odds and ensure with you that all things are perfectly organized and worked upon. This sets the path for ownership.

It is important to provide 'knowledge ingredients' to the client. Never repeat what the client already knows or has shared with you. Neither say that you didn't know when it was already mentioned. Knowledge ingredients are the best tools for building ownership. These are ingredients that have a direct consequence on your impression, status and stamina. If you constantly share with your client direct or indirect information, information on what competition is doing, what is new at the retail shelf, what is the new hoarding etc etc and try to engage the client in  a healthy discussion, you are certainly going to score brownie points. Clients are interested inn updates that they might have missed, because they tend to believe that they really don't have as much time to keep up with everything that is going around. And as an account manager if you are able to fill in the blanks, then you are already on the path to ownership.

It is important to share your own achievements or company's achievement from time to time. It is important to showcase the 'Secret Sauce' of your company. How you or your team members managed work in tight deadlines or unfavorable circumstances. This brings a sense of comfort for the brand manager. Success stories or stories of distress management result in building faith in you. Your successes will not only bring accolades from the client but also his belief that his brand is in safe and responsible hands. This sets the path for ownership.

These are some of my views that I have been able to put down basis my experience as an account manager, observing other account managers and interacting with the brand managers of some of the most reputed FMCG firms in India.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Speaksfree: When you have to Layoff people

Speaksfree: When you have to Layoff people

When you have to Layoff people

Not the most desirable situation especially if it is not controlled by HR and the organization is small (less than 50). In small organizations (likes of boutique companies/single owner) HR systems are not so organized, controlled and procedures are not very well planned and exhaustive. In such situations when the pressure is on the bottom line, profit margins and EBIDTA, decisions about laying off people/trimming the strength are tough to make.
I have known someone who has been through this and the narration was equally nightmarish.
The toughest challenge is the selection or preparing the list of people. Definitely easy to decide on the basis of performance/contribution and project a professional approach, but there is a lot more that runs behind the scene. Performance in small organizations are not easy to assess as people tend to multi-task and KRA's are merely on paper. Their are certainly obvious roles but employees tend to perform various roles and provide support on extended responsibilities.
The first learning was into the term of the particular employee, the number of years the employee had spent. There are often one or two employees who are part of the company from day one with the owner/entrepreneur. They have been through the thick and thin of the circumstances, learnt from the early failures, partnered every planning process and contributed their extra hours without question. And then suddenly a time comes when the account books are under pressure and investors are asking for favorable results with numbers. It is indicated that remove the least productive, old horses, low cost entities, single role players to make the numbers look pleasing. There is also pressure to get specialists, aggressive workers, energetic and passionate MBA's fresh out of college or with relevant experience that the environment gets even more tensed. The question looms as to whether we should do away with the "old is gold" policy and lay them off or try to change the scenario by figuring out ways to handle the stressed bottom line.
There are often one or two employees who happen to be the bread earners/single earners of a family and their income sustains the daily running of the family. Unfortunately the number of people dependant on that one source is also not a good realization. The person is under tremendous pressure to make ends meet. Often compromises on temptations, always tensed about sudden expenses and always on the edge. There are often fixed payouts every month towards loans, education fees, medical bills etc and there is a thin line between pleasure and paucity. In such circumstances how will a decision to snap the source of income be accepted by the family members and moreover the employee himself. 
There are often one or two people who have been waiting for the next appraisal/ pay hike so that they could buy the color TV, washing machine, cooker or geyser. They have been sincerely planning for the next elevation, child's education, maternity, purchase a flat, buy a car/bike, child's bicycle, new school bad, new shoes, study table, cooler etc and then the company decision to part ways comes as big blow to ambitions and dreams. Just when they thought they had reached a certain level and superior place they seem to be exiled in endless despair. How will the blow and damage to emotions sink in with the family and especially the employee.
There are often one or two people who would have taken an educational loan or trying to meet the part time educational expenses through this job. Then there are people whose parents are ill and need medical support constantly, newly wed couples, just blessed with the first child or second one, admission fee for child's higher education, child's marriage or any such change in regular life that might have recently happened and then the company decides to make further changes in its structure.

How sensitive are we as decision makers about such instances before taking any decision? Is it considered irrational to even think in this manner? Will it reflect unprofessionalism if we get stuck up? Will it reflect incompetency? Will it question your job instead on failing to take bold decisions?

Many such questions come to my mind and I sincerely don't have answers. Is our HR Policy prepared or do they accomodate such considerations? What should be the managers role play who has to take these decisions and how does it affect their own lives? I am sure it affects them equally like those who get disowned.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How not to look at your employees when you are new

Often a change of leadership leaves employees wondering about the next best or the worst thing that could happen.
While many choose to remain silent and go with the flow, some take proactive measures to know the change and the guard. They will seem to agree and disagree with the lead and often try to impose similar thoughts upon others. They basically are unconscious people and want to be the first one to join the gang. They will be seen opening all chapters of no consequence to them and revealing stories that would win them the confidence of the lead. They don't seen to know what they are supposed to do, so spend a lot of time in the past. They don't realize that they behave like obstacles for so many others who would otherwise devote time to share the positive plans. They often give their judgement about people and what they think about them because of this and that. A new leader should beware of such species and try not to get caught by their attention seeking behavior. The leader should not develop any perception by listening rather should analyze and understand people on their own over time.
There are some, often in minority who really don't know what is going to happen or why did all this happen. They are happy to assume that may be the new lead will air their beliefs and expectations or even dues. They are the ones who get all different stories about the lead from sources unknown and as alien as their thoughts. They seem to portray that they know the reason, the person, the past and are very sure of what they would do. All this to hide under their own fears or lack of knowledge. They seem to assess what people say about their beliefs and information shared, or who is on which side, who can be trusted with the new change of guard and who should not be. They confuse people more than their lives.
There are still some who don't seem to lose the pace or the path. They are the ones who were and are working for the organization. They are the ones who hold the strings and the pillars of the organization. They do not intrude or interfere with the new lead. They let the lead settle and come to terms with the business. They gradually let the lead discover the secret sauce of the organization over a period of time. They believe in preserving the knowledge and very shy in disclosing stuff. They have a wait and watch policy. Often a lot of important information never gets revealed that might be crucial for the lead. This is harmful as these people tend to use the same to show their superiority over colleagues or even the lead.
Still others who always complain of how the past was always better than the present without knowing the future or the new lead. They seem to be convinced that the new lead could not even half match up. This is not by their wisdom, but by the lack of security and identity crisis. They seem to know that they will not be asked or even called for or introduced if they don't take the initiative. They seem to be driving on the unknown pride of their past with equal anonymity as feared for the future.
In scarce numbers are those who want to change themselves at the behest of the organizational change. These are ever evolving people who look for a base always. They will suddenly seem to be over active and responsive to command. They will work hard and try to push themselves to complete work. But all this is very short term. Very soon they will realize that nobody is paying attention and so they will retract and be themselves as always. They will again go back to their philosophy/den that nothing can be done here, nothing can improve, nothing will change and so on. This is all because they are themselves very impractical and believers in instant gratification and not long term hard work and benefits.
These are some personal observations of my experience at work.