Strategy versus Execution

Strategy & execution are like the two words – thought and action.  The issue is which comes first.  Thought or action.  We have people around the world, who believe that action leads to thought.  On the other hand, purists believe that thought has to precede action.  We need to plan first before we go for execution. It is like in the photo above, any amount of study of wind direction and planning to play the frisbee on the sea shore is of no use unless you try it and learn by your failures and successes.

It is similar to the debate on Theory versus practise.     After having worked in industry for more than three decades, my learning is that both are equally important and they complement each other.  You need to have a plan to execute it.  However, on the other hand, if we spend our entire life planning of a dream future, it may remain a dream in our life.  Hence, execution is as important as planning itself.

Let us look back at every stage of our life.  As a child, we are trained to dream big.  Aim for the moon we are told.  However, if we aim for the moon and do not work hard to achieve our mission, we may reach nowhere.  Whether it academic or sports, we have to have a dream and then we need to evolve milestones to realise our dream. No plan leads to action until executed with discipline.

The work life is no different.  We all are ambitious and want to become the CEO within years of our starting our career in an organization.  There is nothing wrong in having such aspirations.  However, we need to have a plan, work towards executing that plan through hard work and discipline.  As we progress, we may face obstacles.  This should not deter us from proceeding with our plan execution with necessary changes and perseverance.  However, if we give up mid way, we can neither blame the plan, nor our exection for our failure.

Life is no different.  We all have a dream.  We may be born in lower middle class families.  But, we want to conquer the world in our own sphere.  Its great to have such dream.  It would be wise to plan meticulously to realise this vision of ours.  After visioning, we need to put our neck out and experiment.  We need to take the risk associated with our actions and be willing to learn from our failures.  No wonder they say failures are the stepping stones to success.

Most of the time, we neither plan nor we are willing to try.  We give up even before we begin.  Let us take a simple example from our lives, which happens to most of us every year.  We make grandiose new year resolutions.  We want to be fit and healthy.  We resolve that we will walk or jog for ten kilometres every day before the dawn of the new year on the 31st of December, while we are still rejoicing welcoming the new year.

The very next day we do not get up and postpone our plan for the next day and then the next week and may be the next month.  This way it never happens and the next year arrives before we realise it.  Now, in this scenario, can we blame the plan or the execution.  We need to blame ourselves as we neither were serious in planning or in implementing what we planned.  

I recently met an Olympics bronze medalist in swimming.  She told us that she practises for ten kilometres of swimming every day.  She does this for four years before the next Olympics and thus plans for winning a medal.  We need to plan to walk for at least one kilometre every day before we dream of being fit.   This teaches that meticulous planning and relentless execution is the key to success.

Let us start today.

S Ramesh Shankar
January 2017

Vision – thinking beyond the obvious..

Organisations and individuals can have visions.  In my definition, Vision is our ability to dream about the impossible and make it possible.  I recently attended a conference wherein a company CEO nicely illustrated the concept of “Dreams and details”.  He said it is important for all of us to dream but it is equally important to convert the dreams into details and work out the road map to achieve it.

It is very similar for organisations and individuals.  While all of us dream big and set out almost impossible goals for ourselves but we do not reach them because we do not work on the details.  It is like our new year resolutions as an individual.  We set idealistic personal goals for ourselves and more often than not falter in the first month of the new year itself because we never bother to work on the next steps.

Let us first reflect as individuals.  We are content with what comes our way.  Mediocrity becomes a way of life. If we are born in a family with all comforts in life, we tend to become lazy and content.  Another interesting dimension is that children tend not to look beyond their parents for inspiration.  We are happy to maintain the way we have been brought up in life. 

If we move to the organisational context, the story is not very different.  Most organisations want to grow in an incremental way.  They do not want to tread on troubled waters or take undue risks.  They do not dream big or set themselves daunting goals since individuals working in the organisations cannot think beyond the obvious.

The trend is similar for countries too.  It takes a Mahatma Gandhi to think beyond the obvious.  It takes a great leader to dream big and then work on the details to make that dream a reality.  Similarly, in organisations it takes a great leader to set an impossible vision and then rally the whole organisation to realise it.  Even individuals who can think big can realise it more often than not.

I recently met an olympic bronze medalist.  She said that you need to trust yourself and your team and then work hard to realise your goals.  This is equally applicable for individuals, organisations and societies to achieve their vision.  All of us have to develop the ability to think beyond the obvious and then work on the ways and means to make that vision a reality.

It is like reaching the sun in the photo above may look impossible today but the human being is capable of it in the future if we set ourselves to do it.

Can we think beyond the obvious from today ?

S Ramesh Shankar
Oct 2016


The definition of success can be different for everyone.  It also depends on the stage of our life and our career.  It could be simply stated as achieving what we want in life.  As a kid, we mostly feel that we are successful if we achieve our scholastic goals in school or college.  We also are happy if achieve our goals in sports or cultural activities.

Most parents also define success for their children as acamedic accomplishments. This definition of success changes as we grow in life.  The moment we get through our acadmic part of our life and stand on our own feet, we redefine success .   At this stage, we tend to define success by our material wealth and accumulations in life. We would like to be the richest and the wealthiest amongst our peers.

As the career stabilises, promotions are also a measure of success.  Then we yearn for recognition and status in society.  We also grow in the family and respect is a way to defining success.  Our happiness gradually moves from self to others’ success.  At home, the accomplishments of our kids make us feel successful.  At work, the performance of our team members make us feel proud.

After we pass through this stage of our life, we realise that it is time for us to give back to society.  We redefine success in life now.  We believe that our contributions to the success of other family members and friends makes us happier.  At work, we would like our team to excel.  We also want to give back to others what we have learnt from our elders and seniors.

We now are no longer looking for more material wealth but mental peace and happiness.  Our spiritually gets redefined and we reach a stage of self actualisation.  At this stage of life, we start working on how we can support others and make them successful.  We are no longer in a rat race being competitive with others.  Our concept of success is more within us than without.

The interesting aspect of the evolving definition of success in life is linked to our life stages.  Some of us grow faster than others.  It is important to remember that we are human and hence we need to adapt ourselves to the meaning of success in life as we grow up.  It is equally essential to respect the definition of success of others in our life as they may be at different stages and may have different needs to fulfil.

Running for a marathon like in the photo above could be measure of success for some and not for others.  It is quite fine to be that way.

Let us learn to enjoy our successes in life as we define it.

S Ramesh Shankar

Women Leadership : New age imperatives

The International Women’s day celebrated on 8th March every year reminds us of the role of women in society.  It is true that in India and around the world, women have played a stellar role in leadership in family, organisations and society.  History teaches us of brave women who have transformed societies with their selfless leadership.  We in India have the privilege of women playing a pivotal role in all walks of life.  We have had freedom fighters, politicians, a noble laureate, historians, academics and very recently space scientists, who have made our country proud by their outstanding accomplishments.

In my book, leadership is gender agnostic. We need to lead by example and be a role model for our followers.  Leaders inspire change.  How does it matter whether you are a male or a female leader ?  It does not.  I have worked with women and men leaders and have found them equally inspiring to lead.  So, gender does not matter to determine your quality of leadership.  What matters is our ability to understand the needs of a multigenerational workforce and how to keep them engaged and motivated.

What are the new age imperatives, which the women leaders of today are challenged with ?  The first and the foremost challenge for women leaders would be the unconscious bias of others.  Although, I strongly believe that women are equal to men as leaders, there is a unconscious bias especially in the Indian society that women cannot lead in particular circumstances like a battlefield, flying fighter planes or even working in the shop floor of a manufacturing unit.  In my view, the bias is more in our mind than in reality.

Today India can be proud to have women fighter pilots, space scientists, manufacturing managers and even captains in the defence forces.  Thus all the so called male bastions have been shattered by sheer merit and performance.  It is time for the biased Indian male to wake up and realise that women today are not only equal to men but could be even better in many fields purely based on their talent.

The second challenge which women leaders may face in the new age would be the willingness of men and women under them to accept them as leaders.  As I said earlier that having worked under women leaders, I do not find any change between men and women as leaders.  But the feudal mindset of men and women may make them uncomfortable to accept a woman as a leader. This may be experienced by many women leaders and they get over it by their sheer performance and inspiration.

The third imperative could be the balance of work and life.  It is very difficult for women leaders to balance family needs and work needs unless they have an excellent family support.  In the absense of this support mechanism, it could result in strained family relationship or sometimes giving up a challenging career at your peak.  Most women leaders work double of their male counterparts since they have to balance home and work and this is a big ask of them.

As in the photo above, women leaders have equalled men in all aspects of leadership.

Having said that, I would like to restate that in my books, women leaders are as smart as male leaders if not smarter.

It is time to reflect and support them to succeed.

S Ramesh Shankar

Power of Listening

We are all born with two ears and one mouth.  But we generally end up talking more than listening.  Why is this so ?  May be it starts with the family, then the academic institutions and finally organisations and society.  We are always encouraged by our family, friends and society at large to communicate well and make an impression, wherever we are.  We have always been guided to outsmart everyone around us.  There is nothing wrong with this teaching.  However, it is important to realize that God may have given two ears and one mouth to all of us with a purpose, as illustrated by this kid in the photo above.

We possibly need to realize that effective communication in life means listening more and talking less.  Let us examine this from own life experiences.  Who in the family we like to spend our time most.  In all probability, it would be our mother.  This is because she would be the best listener in your family.  She listened to our non stop blabbering and the unending questions without losing her patience or cool ever.

If we move to the school or college, who was our favourite teacher ?  Its always the teacher with whom you can share all your stories – good or bad.  The teacher always created space for us.  She was ever willing to listen to us and our views .  She made us comfortable and let us experiment and fail in any situation.  On the other hand, imagine the teacher who advised you on everything in life even before you asked.  What would be your reaction ?

If we move to organisations, employees love peers or managers who lend their ears under all circumstances.  Such managers and peers attract you like a magnet.  You can laugh with them or cry with them and you can be your self.  They are non judgemental and always have the time and space for you.  On the other extreme, you meet managers who are instructing you all the time even on issues where you do not need any advice.  None of us like to work with such managers.

I have sometimes wondered as to why listening is more powerful than talking ?  I recall an incident, where I was conducting an interview of a candidate for the head of manufacturing position.  The interview lasted for an hour.  The candidate spoke for 50 minutes and I may have spoken for ten minutes.  At the end of the interview, I asked the candidate if he had observed anything in his behaviour during the interview.  He was puzzled.  When I explained to him that most of the time he was speaking and I was listening, he realised the power of listening.  I could listen to him and make my decision without speaking much.

Life is no different.  If we look at our kids.  Most of the time if we are willing to listen to their questions and chatter, they are happy.  They are more than happy even if you do not answer all their questions.  They appreciate your patience and listening skills more than your talking.  Listening is more effective in communication than speaking.

I can share another incident in my life.  My father was a government servant.  He was a very patient person.  He hardly spoke and never lost his cool.  But still his staff  adored him.  I was very curious.  I asked his staff one day as to what did they observe in him.  He responded by saying that he admired him for his calmness and patience.  This proves listening is much more impactful than speaking. 

Let us resolve to listen more and talk less from today.  It is worth a try.

S Ramesh Shankar

Flying birds

I have always been fascinated at the way birds fly high in the sky. I used to envy them and think how lucky they are.  One day I was wondering what the birds would be thinking of us as human beings on earth.  While I envied the birds for flying fearlessly, they may be envying us for enjoying ourselves walking around on the ground.  We believe the birds have all the freedom in the world and they do not need to stay at a permanent place.

On the other hand, the birds may wonder how lucky human beings are that have a permanent place to stay.  Birds have to keep flying endlessly till they are tired and have to find a place every day to rest at night.  They have to earn their food by flying around trees or other places and may be lucky some day and not on other days. We are so lucky we have a home to stay and get food served on our plates every day.

This phenomenon teaches us an important lesson in life.  We tend to compare ourselves with others and feel jealous.  Further, we think others do not suffer as much as we do.  We feel we are always face the most difficult situations while other rejoice.  We never realise that others may be in similar situations like us or may be even worse than us.  It is like me envying the birds in the sky till I wondered one day what the birds would think of me.

Life is a journey and has its ups and downs.  All of us have days of joy and moments of sorrow.  It may be worthwhile to admire others and learn from their goodness.  It may not be worth the while to envy others and die out of comparison.  If we need to compare anyone, it could be ourselves.  We can always be grateful to God for all the joyous moments he gave us when we face some miseries.

It is the attitude of self reflections and learning, which may make us better human beings.  Each living being is created by God and have their own pluses and minuses.  It is up to us to look at the positive of others and learn from them.  Jealousy can only make us move backward in life.  It is worthwhile to fly high in the sky like the birds and dream big.  It may be useful to leave the bad moments of one’s life behind like the birds leave their nest behind when they migrate.

It is up to us to be free and enjoy life like the flying birds.  If we learn from them, we benefit.  If we compare ourselves with them and feel bad, we lose.  Let us learn to learn not only from other human beings around us but from birds and animals, which have enough to teach us.

Today can be a new beginning.

S Ramesh Shankar

Every employee is a brand ambassador

Someone nicely said that ” if you take take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers”. This is true in letter and spirit. We launched an organization development intervention two years back to bring “customer centricity” in our organisation.  We were keen to keep the customer at the centre of everything we do.  While we had many key aspects of this intervention, evolving a “Customer first culture”was one of our major priorities.

It may be easy to measure customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction.  However, we were wondering as to how do we define ” Customer first culture”.  We did workshops across the organization and invited employees who were customer facing and also those who were customer supporting.  This helped us define what “Customer first culture” could mean for any organization.  

Interestingly, employees told us that “Attitude, Empathy & Commitment” were the three key cornerstones of creating a customer first culture.  Then we decided that we need to train our employees to understand what customers felt about us, inculcate the right attitude , build empathy and instill commitment in whatever their role is in the organization.

We trained most of our employees – direct, indirect and even third party employees and contract employees working with us.  At this stage, we realised that the real success of creating a customer first culture would be to make every employee a brand ambassador of the company.  Every action of every employee every day can either promote the culture of customer first or become a impediment in evolving this culture.

Interestingly employees gave us a lot of ideas to evolve this culture.  We realised that we need to share success stories and learn from the mistakes our employees did every day.  We shared all the success stories and evolved rewards and recognition for great customer orientation displayed by employees in different parts of the organization.  This propelled this movement and helped us promote the right envirorment for evolving the desirable culture.

So, almost every employee in the organization was trained. Customer facing employees, customer supporting employees, employees in support functions, our workmen in the shop floor and also the security staff, pantry staff, receptionist et all.  This ensured that every employee kept the customer at the centre of everything she or he did in the organization.  Every employee realised that every action every day was critical for evolving this culture.

This gradually became a way of life.  Our security staff were courteous to every visitor coming to our organization.  Our pantry staff were caring and conscious of our guests.  Our workmen were prompt in responding to customer complaints on the shop floor.  Our support function staff were responsive and proactive.  Our sales and service personnel realised the benefit of having a positive attitude, being empathetic and keeping their commitments to customers every day.

This has not only resulted in more than doubling our customer satisfaction index but has helped the organization grow multi fold in business and profits.

We learnt by making every employee our brand ambassador.

S Ramesh Shankar