Saturday, 1 September 2007

India Week – The Problem With Managers and Management

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I am sorry to tell you that while a quick look at the CEO's of leading companies inside and outside of India will show just how many Indians are highly successful; it does not tell the full story. There is another side to Indian management which is a lot less positive and may even prevent India from growing as she should.

As with anything in life there are many different levels of truth and while what I am about to share may be one of them, because it is anecdotal and based on my limited research it is certainly not an absolute truth. I know there will be many counter arguments to what I am about to say, but if my reading causes just one person to think or act differently then I will feel the rewards will have been worth it.

Firstly, Indian Managers and Leaders need to put a little more effort into continuous learning, the world has changed a lot since they were in University and whilst the internet can be a useful source of information and seminars can provide ideas they are only one source. I was amazed to find by a simple show of hands poll at my seminars across 5 cities in India, that of the three books on Indian success and management that I had read in the previous week, not one person had read them all and one book by no one, one book by around 6 people and one book by 10 people. ( my sample size was around 400). I was also very surprised that for an audience concerned with BPM and Business Improvement that almost no one had read a recent copy of a particular magazine that detailed India as she was now, as she was 60 years ago and as she hopes to be in 10 years time – from a business perspective.

Now I am not suggesting that the people in the rooms were not actively continuing to learn new skills and keep their technical skills up to date. Merely suggesting that perhaps the learning is too narrow and also that there are many lessons to be learned in India about doing better business in India.

So I guess some of the most interesting questions would be around what did I discover? Well I discovered that like managers and executives around the world Indian CEO's say one thing and do another! E.g. in Outlook Business Magazine they asked a number of CEO's what the top 10 things that would prevent them achieving the dream of 2017, number two on the list of potential issues was "The availability of sufficient properly trained and motivated staff". Now, in simple terms if this was really an issue then we would be able to find numerous initiatives underway to mitigate this risk right? Wrong! Again in my simple surveys the announcement of this raised more than a little laughter (another good gauge of reality), and suggested that most companies would only conduct limited training and even then would focus more on price and technical relevance than on quality or value to the organisation and not consider training that broadened the knowledge of the employee. It appears that the worst in this regard in this respect are the Indian IT services companies who appear to see training as an overhead as they chase each other down to the bottom of the pile on price with their customers (but perhaps this a subject for another day).

This training example highlights another trait which became apparent in my reading and in talking with people, Indian managers seem to have higher rates of "denial" than might be seen elsewhere in the world. By this I mean if a company has a slogan like "we are the best multi global provider of widgets at the lowest cost and highest quality" they actually believe it and so tend not to see that they need to fix of change anything, therefore could have a tendency to act with the Ostrich syndrome. The Americans have a saying which Indian managers might like to remember as it may help them on this one "Never believe your own marketing bull***" – of course you have to put up a positive front to the world, but on the inside you have to have a firm grasp on reality and deal with where you are not where you say you are.

My last two observations come from a book called the "Indian CEO". I am still reading this and so there may yet be more insight, the book compares the attitudes and behaviours of Indian CEO's of companies inside India with those of Indian CEO's of companies outside India. Outside of India they have found that in business terms the CEO's are great chess players, making good use of the available talent pool and management at their disposal, like a good general they make use of all of their assets. This contrasts with those inside India who appear more likely to play draughts with their chess pieces e.g. they see everyone else as pawns rather than understand and make use of their strengths.

This tendency may be linked to their second find, which is that Inside India the CEO's appear to have a much lower Emotional Quotient (EQ) and will often talk of "their people" rather than individuals my name, they will also know and understand less about their people, which of course means they can neither use their strengths, nor expect them to be highly motivated as individuals.

Although the books and articles talk about the CEO's we can, I think, reasonably extrapolate that if this behaviour is exhibited by the top management, then it is likely to result in similar behaviours percolating down the organisation. It would also explain why it may prove difficult to get buy in for BPM and other change initiatives within those organisations.

In closing I want to make it very clear that the comments here are not meant as a criticism of Indian Management – hey many of them are better educated and more successful than me!, but to act as a bit of a thought jog, after all these are behaviours and attitudes that can be easily refined and changed if required – provide one is aware of them.

I may be wrong, but I think that more companies would do well to look at the success of Pantaloon the Indian retailer, form what I see and read this much maligned and press abused company appears to already be one jump ahead in actually implementing policies that ensure these traps are avoided. In this I speak as a customer as well as an observer.

Thoughts for the day

  1. How will you take the time to stop talking about people and learn about individuals?
  2. Are you walking the walk or just talking the talk.
  3. If growing people is the number two obstacle for CEO's then what are you spending to invest in people ?


Prasad said...

Hi Mark:
My own experience tells me exactly the opposite. May be the sample you have seen is limited and lop-sided.

Anonymous said...

You have hit the nail on the head. It can't be more true than this. This is a problem that plagues most of the companies. Training is a much neglected activity and top management DOES tend to think that they don't need to associate with their subordinates on a personal people.