– Anindya Datta (AFP 2011)
The emergence of the digital economy has created a fertile ground for harvesting path-breaking ideas. Many of them can take an organization to a nonlinear growth path. The fate of such powerful ideas largely depends on how we execute them on the ground. Businesses which are able to execute faster – reduce the cycle time of ideas to action to result are rewarded disproportionately. A live example of this phenomenon is how Amazon, Flipkart & Xiaomi’s of the world have emerged in the last five to ten years.
This speed to market is hallmark start-ups/small companies. It’s inbuilt due to owners working with small teams in an extremely agile mode. As organizations grow, executing big ideas with large workforces emerges as a major challenge.
Introspection over this topic may compel us to revisit fundamentals of management techniques – planning, execution, measurement & actions. Rethinking the current managing system comprising these techniques may throw some clue on how we can demystify execution to achieve speed & efficiency.
- Presence of planning does not warranty success, but absence surely attracts failure
- ‘My dreams are my plans’ – The big fallacy in planning is that we predict future basis what happened in the past. That sounds counter-intuitive. But that’s the reality. “Last year we did X so this year we will do 1.2X “such logic travels from office canteen to boardroom pretty quickly often with the approval of functional managers. Such plans are myopic & convenient at times. An Alternate approach is to start from blank paper disregarding past data & thinking from the first principle to decide where we want to reach. Essentially an organization will have to decide will it remain hostage to its historical trends or will dare to dream?
- Life beyond AOP– A much-celebrated document in the organization is the Annual operating plan (AOP) which is typically created for three years & left to lurch once approved by management in organizations. An AOP is fine but organizations need to devise a mechanism to make AOP as living document with adequate revisions/ update/ fine tune to keep them relevant. The crux is that, through this document can we align & bind the organization? This will happen if the AOP is not restricted to mere mechanical no.s rather clearly communicate leadership vision and what each org unit is expected to deliver.
- Fragmented we stand– Within AOP, often the most important line items are revenue/ sales. These no’s need to be tied up from the back end as well as front end. For example, more sales may require corresponding inventory planning as well more capacity to handle customer quires at a call center. There is a high chance that a fragmented plan will emerge if the org structure is not aligned. Every function will see their no. in isolation while the whole part left to CEO.
- Driving execution in a structured manner
- “Aim first, shoot later” – Sounds obvious, but many times we start in the reverse order.”Let’s launch this scheme ASAP…, why are not able to roll out this program tomorrow” are common phrases inside the conference room without end to end thinking. If we get back to basics and ask what is our end game is & why we are doing this, many such conversations will fall flat on its face. If not, we are good to go.
- “What’s in a name?”- This Shakespearian thought that purpose is more important than a mere name may not be relevant in Business. Behind every task/every objective, there has to be a name. Saying “Ramnagar branch in Bangalore is underperforming” Vs “Amit Singh of Ramnagar branch is underperforming” is very different. Assigning individual name against all task items in any project/ operation dashboards is the fastest way to establish ownership. You may argue it’s a team game. Yes, it is, but it should be transparent to all concerned who all are playing and who is captain.
- Discipline is a way of life– it’s not about starting meeting at 0900 hrs sharp or wearing tie on Monday. It’s about creating work cascade so that there is no confusion about who is doing what, operating through a well-communicated cadence with defined review, call & meeting schedule. Creating a mutually exclusive task for a large organization is the bedrock of efficiency & productivity. Else, as we might have seen the same task will be done by 3 different people & discussing in 6 different conference calls.
- Measuring the man, material & machines on the ground
- The plan Vs Actual paradox – most of the organization is obsessed ( rightly so) about outcomes. Measuring outcome in absolute, % terms are necessary and most managers use it as per their advantage (when the no.s are high, it will be like “we have done $10 Mn” & when the no.s are small it will be “we have grown 43%”, etc without mentioning baseline). An alternate approach could measure input rather than output with a fundamental belief that if inputs are correct, the output will automatically good. E.g. Retail consumer business perspective on any given day
Output [Total sales] = f [# of retailer participated in sales X retailer productivity] So, instead of getting paranoid about about total sales, if we turn the question to the sales team that how many retailers participated (daily active) today & what was their productivity slabs, the conversation will be more insightful.
The Dashboards that work – one of the key elements for driving business is to have a correct dashboard. An Actionable dashboard is an ask from the leadership which is often tricky & requires some serious thinking. Very few leaders have the ability to interpret data& initiate action and herein lies the importance of dashboard. If the dashboard is well designed, then no’s will do the talking, people can take back seat. in addition, if the top bosses are larger than life personality, very few people open mouth and conducting a pinpointed discussion without an insightful dashboard may turn out to be challenging. There are three parts to creating a good dashboard.
Creating Views: Multiple views of the same no.
– View by SBU, Geography, Channel, Product, segment, Role etc.
– View by order of magnitude (absolute) as well relative (%) no.s
– View by time frame – past (cumulative), present (last week), future (forecasted)
Customizing for Audience: Typically the MIS teams are focused making a dashboard for CxO trying to bring managerial productivity, but at the same time the equal focus is required for a dashboard for field teams which are very different and making them available in a real time[e.g. through app etc]. This will unleash operational productivity on the ground.
Drawing Inferences: The dashboard to clearly show- what is working well & what is not working well preferably by name so that accountability is established instantly & actions can be initiated.
Action orientation – move things on ground
Experiential Problem solving vs acting on data– I am not for a moment suggesting which one is better. It largely depends on the individual as well as organization culture. The discussion changes depending on which way we are swaying. A simple rule suggested here is – all managers /doers may strictly focus actions basis data leaving the prerogative to use “gut” to only final decision makers. This will push gut-based decision making only to people at the very top (owners/ promoters), while professional managers can stick to fact-based actions.
It’s about culture: If the top leaders engage in experiential problem solving, fact-based decision making takes a back seat. We hear many times conversations like “when I was XYZ Corp in 19XX…the same thing happened& what I did…” while experience is invaluable, it is of utmost importance that as leaders we should not act out of hazy hypothesis disregarding fact & figures.
To summarize, I am playing back my core argument that while organizations are obsessed with building core product/platform/services, which requires the power of ideas, will do themselves a great favour if they tie these ideas with disciplined execution framework. Building such capability of ideas to action especially for large organizations requires some serious rethinking about our current ways of working and a leadership culture of driving business with objectivity. The entities which are making the conscious effort to walk this path with the help of digital technologies are likely to be disproportionally rewarded by the market.
(Anindya is Leads-Geography Business Planning & Operations at Reliance Jio. The views are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)