As I look back on my career, there are many lessons that I have learnt; but the one that has and will always stay with me has been about people; that "People are all that matter". This is not a learning confined to the corporate world, but rather to life at large. The definition of people is not restricted to our immediate teams alone; it encompasses peers, managers, other stakeholders and even family, friends and social networks. They all have had a role in shaping you as a person and as a professional; equally, each one of you has had an impact on them.
As I pen this column, a few big insights on people come to mind.
Passionate teams create magic: In June this year, Mondelez was globally afflicted by a malware attack which paralysed our IT systems. It was a huge disruption and just three days before the cutover to the new GST tax regime in India. If we didn't get up and running in the shortest possible time, our plants would stop, our invoicing and product dispatches would stop. But despite all these challenges, what I witnessed over the next few days was pure magic! The resilience and resourcefulness of the team got us to cut our first GST compliant invoice on time just five days after the attack, our plants didn't stop at all, and we ensured no disruption to our consumers and trade. As I reflect on that intimidating week, I ask myself what drove the team. There is just one word that best summarises the answer - passion! Passion to rise to the occasion, to ensure that this disruption didn't completely derail the business that we all so assiduously built and were so proud of.
Passionate teams are driven, they want to make a difference, they find solutions to the toughest problems and energise the organisation. No amount of dollars can buy you passion! It has to be created, enabled and nurtured. To do that, as a leader, you have to go beyond just creating a vision and strategy for the business (which is necessary, but not sufficient to ensure success). Try answering these questions: Why should talent work for me or for my organisation? What is in it for them? Is it the pride, is it a larger purpose that my organisation delivers, is it the kind of people they like to work with, is it the skills that the organisation imparts to develop them or something else? The answer to these could be different in different organisations; however, in all cases, teams need a strong hook beyond compensation to create magic. A strong sense of vision and purpose does wonders to create passionate teams.
As a leader you will need to create, enable and nurture a culture in your organisation which ignites passion. As an example, Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx, engendered passion in her organisation by enabling the team to try new things. She simply redefined failure as "not trying" versus "missing a goal". The passion she unlocked in her organisation around stretching above and beyond what was normal to achieve had a huge impact on business performance.
Fearless leaders make a big difference: So very often, managers have fallen prey to mediocre ambitions citing insufficient funds for marketing, sales or supply chain. Contrast this to the many Indian entrepreneurs who had high ambitions but not many dollars to show for the same (and I refer to an era a few years ago; not today's world with angel investors and PE funding). I am sure there will be innumerable examples that jump to your mind on how these entrepreneurs made it big.
For a manager, ambition is equal to resources, however for an entrepreneur, ambition is far beyond resources. Ambitions and resources are not necessarily directly correlated. Therein lies another big lesson that I learnt on why people matter; you need a bunch of fearless leaders whose ambitions far outstrip resources on hand.
Networks and relationships are invaluable: In every new role or new organisation, you start from 'Ground Zero'. Your past successes don't guarantee anything as you need to deliver in that role to move forward! Of course the knowledge, skills, behaviours and mindsets you acquired will serve you well, but you will most likely need something more. As you build your career, you will "carry-forward" (using accounting parlance) something invaluable from the past - the 'Networks' and 'Relationships' you built. And here again, it is about people and they matter!
Your networks and relationships will be huge pillars of support - they will provide moral support at the least and possibly come to bail you out in difficult times or they will offer to coach and mentor you when you need them the most. A broad and diverse network will lend diversity to your development and just as importantly they will be influential voices in the 'power-corridors' of your organisation in shaping careers.
When I coach my team I often tell them about three aspects of building networks and relationships: 1) They are a two-way street, hence it is all about give and take 2) Make them diverse 3) Are you investing time in building and nurturing them or just hoping they will happen?
Talking about give and take: Each one of us is passionate about our views and often we defend them stoutly. Yet they are only our perspectives and maybe far from reality. And if such a realisation dawns upon us we would be more accommodating of alternate views. Life is about give and take and likewise in relationships we can take nothing unless we give something. Life in the corporate world is just the same, unless you are willing to hold your position lightly and hence yield on some strong personal views you will have no friends at work! As a provocation; you possibly cannot win more than six of the ten battles you fight at work and yet have friends, and if you are a maverick you still cannot win more than seven of ten and yet have friends at work!
Talking about making them diverse: When you think about networks and relationships don't just think about which senior leaders you need to nurture relationships with. Think more broadly about your peers, your team and other external stakeholders i.e. your alumni at work and school, consultants you work with, search partners who engage with you, members of the board, etc. For most senior hires, good companies do reference-checks not just with past bosses but also with peers, subordinates and other stakeholders.
Talking about investing time: There is no one-way that will work for all, do it your way but do it you must. One CEO told me how whenever he would travel, he would create an additional day just to connect and network with stakeholders. I personally spend around two hours a day just connecting with my network. And one caution: connecting offline alone will never deliver, your behaviour in each and every interaction at work counts - it is about how you show up every day.
Outstanding alone, better together: While I have penned quite a bit about people, it would be incomplete if I didn't call out the fact that teams matter more than individuals. There is no better testimony to this than relay races - teams with great runners who passed the baton better won more often versus teams that had rock-star sprinters.
In conclusion I would like to quote a global CEO who once told me: "I would never bet my dollars on your economy or your population; I would rather bet them on a great team with a great leader". In other words, people are all that matter.
By Deepak Iyer, MD, Mondelez India Foods