Saturday, 3 August 2013

The People Paradigm: Why sticking to the basics will go a long way to ensure sustained growth

The fast-evolving, ever-changing, globalized world of today leaves us gasping for breath as the corporation of the 21st century tries to make sense of the myriad tools available at its disposal to take it to the next level. With the Indian economy slowing down drastically over the last few years, the focus has shifted from long-term, vision-oriented growth, to maintaining a consistent top and bottom-line, ensuring steady growth quarter on quarter, appeasing shareholders, and staying just a little ahead of competition. CXOs move at a frenetic pace to discover and re-discover technologies that help improve processes, strategy and quality. Entrepreneurship and learning agendas revolve around technology-enabled platforms that help improve these factors. Paradoxically, while we seek out tools that help improve efficacies and cut-down costs in a slowing economy, we self-impose constraints upon ourselves which disables us to think beyond top-line growth. It is natural that market-related factors would result in additional pressures on the firm. However, looking at the problem through the very narrow lens of just numbers chokes up the two crucial aspects of the evolving organization: outcome-oriented innovation and transformational leadership.
Let us draw a parallel here with something that we are familiar with: a bustling metropolitan city. Assume that your organization resembles this city. An ever-growing city, it acts as the financial, political and entertainment nerve-centre of India. The city resembles a living, breathing being spreading out its tentacles as it expands further in all directions. The bustling metropolis is a hotspot for a multitude of professionals: artists and bankers alike. Communities from all over the globe call the city home. Every day a new housing project is announced by a hot-shot developer, promising gated communities, green zones and wide open-spaces. But those of us who have a vision for our futuristic city also understand that this growth is not sustainable. This is also a city that is bursting at its seams. Endless traffic jams, bad roads, poor connectivity, delayed projects, pollution and waste-management / sanitation issues are blocks that degrade quality of life. It is therefore imperative to build a solid foundation on a bedrock of energy, conservation, and world-class infrastructure.
From an organizational perspective, this bedrock is its people, the employees. Just like the world-class infrastructure of a well-planned city provides a strong foundation for the city to grow, the people of an organization provide support to the firm through their personal and shared visions. Growth for its own sake neglects the people of the firm; and when we neglect our people for a long time, we risk weakening the foundation on which we build our institutions. Just like well-laden parks and public spaces allow personal enrichment for citizens in mega cities, opportunities to stretch the mind, created consciously within the firm, create the right environment for employees to grow and flourish. The parks may not serve any immediate purpose in furthering productive usage of the land (as some people may argue), but visionary city-planners understand that providing this benefit allows for happy citizens leading a healthy, balanced life. Similarly, creating metaphorical parks for employees that allow them to periodically break out to innovate and ideate go a long way in strengthening organizational foundations, as opposed to focusing on one-dimensional growth with single-minded ferocity. Neglect this most crucial aspect of building and nurturing the foundation, and you risk building a futuristic city on a foundation of loose silt, creaky infrastructure and poor sanitation. What results is a cranky organization, replete with honking drivers, endless traffic jams, filthy streets and potholed roads. 
Here are some questions for introspection: As someone with a vision for your organization, what do you as a person stand for? What does your organization stand for? How many times do you discuss your firm vision with your employees? How often do you evaluate gaps? How often do you listen to the perspectives and shared visions your employees bring to the table? Do you start your change-management process when you begin to see a spike in attrition levels? It is probably too late by then. Or do you prefer a proactive approach, by consciously, continuously investing in your employees, giving them enough opportunities to collaborate, take risks, and implement their personal and shared visions? Are you aware of your firm culture and what it is breeding? Where do you envision your firm to be in five, ten, fifty, hundred years? Are your people well equipped to march with you into the future? Do you consciously promote a culture of excellence, innovation and constant self-renewal? Or is it a by-product of the industry that you operate in? (again, a reactive approach).
These are some tough questions that organizations need to ask themselves. Any form of growth, be it frenetic or slow, cannot be sustained with weak foundations. We live in a world filled with unlimited opportunities and ever-expanding possibilities. It easy to get washed away with the ebb and flow of volatile market sentiments. Well-grounded leaders understand the value of investing back into the firm: more specifically, into developing their people. Company strategy may shift, numbers may fluctuate, technological influences may vary, but one crucial aspect remains constant through all of these: people and the power of transformation they bring with them. Choose to ignore this and you choose to convert your only constant into an unknown variable.

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