The Digital Expert : Phenomenon

Not a day goes by that I don’t come across a Sr. Manager – Digital, Director of UI/UX & Digital, Lead Digital Strategist or some form of Digital Marketing Guru in Pakistan. Not a day goes by that I am surprised by the caliber of people who hire these self-professed gurus.

An industry as nascent as Digital Marketing globally, let alone Pakistan I am more confused than amused on a daily basis. The motivation for this blog post came from a posting I saw via Twitter: (Pasted verbatim, I cant make up this stuff even if I tried )

Required: Digital Marketing Wizard Guru & Expert

 Leading local group needs to hire an expert at making

  • Viral Videos
  • Increasing SEO/SEM
  • Reducing marketing fees paid to agencies on “google buying, facebook buying” other skype and local sites also good.
  • Experience from Agency is good
  • Max 3-5 Yrs experience

 Note: Initially you will be given a short term contract that can be extended into permanent position subject to your performance.

 

Where do I start. You want to hire a Guru and Expert but you want to do a short term contract:).  I mean do you go to any other expert in any other field and say hey I want an expert anesthesiologist but I want to incrementally build up the relationship by trying out the services. I want to faint , but just a little bit at a time, not all the way. Clearly you are hallucinating if you expect that.

What needs to happen is following the same instinct we follow for selecting a medical professional i.e references, the hospital of affiliation, where the person graduated from, what their track record is, do they pass an interview/screening process. So to all the hiring managers, please do our nation a service and stop screwing up on your hiring strategies, we know you don’t have an ounce of tactical and subject matter expertise in the pure play recruitment space. Just because you suck at recruitment and copy JDs from all over the internet and compress them, doesn’t mean that the potential candidates should suffer because of your compressed world view.

Now to the meatier parts of this JD, I want to hand a Darwin award to the genius who came up with wanting to hire an Expert but wants them to have no more than 3-5 yrs of proficiency at the task. This is so bad that I don’t even have an analogy to equate this to. It’s a crisis of intelligence both for companies who recruit like this and the hallucinating candidates who think that a 3-5 yr stint qualifies them for being an expert.

Who am I to judge? Ive only built one of the the largest Pay for Performance, Digital Media and Customer Acquisition teams in this part of the world. This piece is not about justifying my rant or my professional lineage, but I had to give some perspective, on why; I can qualify these JDs as a Joke at best and why every morning I scour the web for these nuggets.

My favorite piece is still to come, “Googe/Facebook Buying” wow, I said, it. Its like a crack addict admitting to the world they need some more of the good stuff. The reason why we are stuck in the “Mad Men” era of media and haven graduated to the digital school of thought in Pakistan is due to the fact that most of us don’t know any better. A 90 second synopsis is as follows, most of the traditional advertising agencies, came of age and decided, hey we need to do digital, they added some nice .Coms and .Nets and did some Facebook campaigns bought a few LinkedIn spots and placed an Ad or two via a banner exchange. Also had a cousin who had a friend who had a credit card and they bought a few Google Adwords, Wow just like that they become (pick one or many) “largest, biggest, media house, company, digital buying house “ in Pakistan. By their own admission, they probably are. They are the “biggest”, I just don’t know what yet. This led them to having their clients believe that they have some special “arrangement” with Facebook or Google to procure cheaper inventory of ads. Just like they did in traditional media, where bulk discounts were more applicable. Poor clients, fall for this every day of the week. I really do mean poor as no amount of money spent here has the ability to drive meaningful returns ever, so the client will be all the poorer for it in the vast majority of instances.

Not a day goes by that I have to resist the temptation in correcting either the candidates I happen to interview or otherwise prominent CEOs of local companies who cant stop talking about how they know how to get a deal on FB/Google Buying.

Next we come to viral videos, I literally have nothing to say there. People who either think they are viral video producers or experts in that space are most certainly not looking for placement ads online. Neither are they reading this blog, they are gifted and a rare breed who do not need to be applying for jobs or have the time to read opinion pieces. They drive those opinions by the work they do.

A quick look at the clients or agencies hiring these digital experts or one/2 person agencies, they only know Facebook, they only know likes. But they haven’t a clue on ROI , Consumer Engagement or Brand building. A cursory analysis tells me that of the vast majority of FB likes driven by such outfits & individuals in PK are store bought, meaning charging’s ones credit card online and buying likes for between 15-1500$ depending on the size, geography and type of fake likes you want to buy.

Its no surprise that the vast majority of enterprising folks I meet these days are in the category of self professed digital gurus, because the market is ripe for the taking. The end customer has no to little idea on what to expect and they are being swindled for the most part. Money spent with these agencies or with such freelancers or others is better burnt, because the ashes have a larger likelihood of being able to turn to compost and nurturing the growth of some thing from the ground. Sadly the same cant be said about their strategies.

The question to ask your self is, when you go to NYC, what does the T-Shirt say? The T-shit that every one ends up buying. Let me refresh your memory, It says “I ♥ NYC” it doesn’t Say “I Like NYC” so don’t go with the guy who guarantees you the likes on Facebook, because there is a huge difference between people Loving a brand and Liking it.

The customer service society, we are not.

The art of customer Service is an art that we need to look at very carefully. Just look around, from banks to telcos, from restaurants to every thing else in between. The common thread is the apathy in how we get treated. It seems that we don’t value the basic tenent of what makes a good customer experience, let alone a great one.

Lets examine the basic act of going to a restaurant. The experience starts from being greeted at the door, being seated followed by a server promptly taking your order. The orders are then written down(one would expect), so far so good.

Without fail, when multiple people are seated together and the server returns with the food, chaos ensues. Typically finger pointing starts as to where each order needs to go, a simple problem that perhaps is not a problem for many, but examine this critically as it sheds light into our customer service makeup.

All it takes to solve this problem is a simple note pad and a pencil and the act of noting who ordered what, so when the order comes through just placing the food corresponding to the person who ordered it. Without fail, every time I go to a restaurant in Pakistan , this is the rule and not the exception it seems. The servers are always scrambling to figure out, what goes where. Else where in the civilized world this is a common practice yet we some how fail to adopt it, frankly most of us don’t even care.

An other aspect of lack of customer service at any bank, utility payment outlet or other service oriented entity where people have to line up to interact and take turns to get their issues resolved, is the fact that we cant get into a line(just like we cant show up on time, or leave early as opposed to speeding and driving on the wrong side of the road to get some where faster). It is further complicated by the lack of training, as the staff that continue to ignore the first in first out model.

Without fail, it leads to inefficiency and more time than it would take to deal with each customer, should a first in first out model be followed. Customer service doesn’t happen by creating “gold” service lines or clubs; it starts by valuing the time of the individual being served. Irrespective of the service tier, basic service is the right of every consumer, but we fail to honor that commitment, sadly we are party to the crime.

We some how believe that technology will solve our customer service problems. Far from it, lets take the Call Center customer service phenomenon in Pakistan. If you have placed an order with Broadway or Dominos Pizza or you have had the misfortune of making a complaint via the PTCL Contact Centre, you are in for a rare treat.

Post the completion of an order, based on some random act of call back the Pizza companies call you back to check in how your service experience was. By calling a customer who didn’t “OPT IN” to be called the service provider has breached the first tenent of customer service “Privacy”.

Secondly the badly scripted or in the case of PTCL spammy or automated dial backs are a distraction with impeccably bad timing. For example on a Sunday morning at 7:30 . God forbid any one wants to sleep whilst they made a complaint to PTCL, till you press 1 on your key pad, that call back is not going away whilst your sleep may already have.

Forced rankings of customer resolution systems are to blame here. The people making the decisions to use these technologies do not or rather misinterpret the need and the deployment mechanisms.

An other big offender in this space are the mass SMS campaigns from otherwise noteworthy retail or service providers who feel that the act of buying mass SMS lists is an “OK” form of telling customers of an upcoming sale or thinking they may need roof insulation, or may have plumbing needs. In their mind, the customer was waiting for a godsend in the form a message with a Call back number.

We have to get our customer touch point data collection right, as opposed to buying carrier phone numbers and spamming them. There should be rules around the privacy of the consumers and strict regulation to manage the providers who engage in these services. The bigger offender are the telcos who now “allow us” to block offending messages by charging us a small fee. Wow, shouldn’t we sue the carriers and ask how the spammers got our numbers in the first place?

All this has to do with the mind set of the business. In an effort to follow the herd mentality of the latest and greatest technical solution, companies bypass common sense. This doesn’t draw engagement rather hampers long term brand value and growth.

True customer service for a brand would be the ability to walk into a store with previously bought unused merchandise and have the ability to return it for a full cash refund or do an exchange.

Typically businesses look the other way post the point of sale and once sold nothing is exchangeable without having a personal relationship with the staff of the outfit in question. From leading mall based retail to other more mom and pop shops the long term value of a customer is some thing we don’t think much about. Without fail people would return back to a brand if they have a unified respectful customer experience that does not involve a shouting match post sale or at the time of a service call or return.

One amazing example of such customer experience (local) is Brands Just Pret and their retail location. It has every thing to do with the mindset of the person running the show. Clearly in this case the founders intent is evident in the customer service that follows. Some others that come to mind who are very much local and getting it right are The East end and Kolachi. I am sure there are a host of others but these certainly come to mind.

We can draw inspiration for great customer service from global organizations like Costco stores, Zappos and Apple to name a few. There is always a starting point for these things and it must start from organizations reviewing who runs their customer service function and if they have real world experience in providing world class service. It’s a mind set thing, any body can get customer service right when you are dealing with higher end products, the real difference comes when mass market product and service companies get it right.

Here is a simple but powerful rule: always give people more than what they expect to get.Nelson Boswell

 

Has Business really recovered from Pan AM 73?

It was 1986 and it was commonplace that nationals from Algeria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, UK and the US would use Pakistan as a transnational gateway into Europe and USA. On one fateful day they became victims of a hijacking on our soil and Pakistanis became victims of allowing others to conduct what ever business they deem fit on our soil.

The perpetrators supposedly came in via Bahrain, were of Palestinian origin and caused havoc that ended in tragedy. We haven’t recovered since.

The 1986 5th September Guardian ran a piece that had the following “the initial negotiation was started by the Pan Am manager at Karachi airport, Mr Viraf Daroga, using a megaphone. Later, radio communication was established with the hijackers and a command centre was set up in the Pan Am office at the airport. The negotiations were taken over by the governor of Sind province, Lieutenant-general Jehandad Khan”

What does any of this have to do with business? Every thing, the hallmark of where we were headed as a nation and what was to come of our business sector was pretty evident from one class act in 1986. It still remains the same, in some way or an other, we are still run, managed, maneuvered or told what to do by some one in Uniform. From taking over as the negotiator in 1986 to what has happened post 9/11 every thing can almost materially be linked to the decisions of men in uniform, but not the common man. Yet our fate, economic fate is baked in by the actions of those who continue to lead us even though a democratic setup ensues.

Pakistan is a stage, it has puppeteers who manage the stage, set the scene, then sit back and watch their own theatrical performances. We have been every body else’s stooge, and our geo political and tactical foreign policies have essentially ruined our ability to compete globally.

We were more focused as a nation to get to the streets for Palestinian brethren, we allowed the Wahabi Saudis to come in and open madrasas far and wide in our country(yet there are none in their own), we stood for the cause of Iraq and we broke our own national infrastructure protesting for items and supposedly religiously linked events of magnitude that should have mattered to us. The common un educated man was more focused and more obsessed by the optimal thread count of his imams turban as opposed to the message being preached. Some how no one focused on getting our selves educated and setup to take on global challenges and build universities, (whilst we stood in line to protest westernization of universities of the middle east). Sadly, as we didn’t have many universities left any way.

As a country, three businesses have survived the test of time in Pakistan. Politics, Military and Religion. If you happen to be tied to either three you are prosperous. From that ill fated day in 1986, 1$ allocated to either of these professions would have resulted in many fold return. The people who saw that are titans of industry in our country today. Most if not all. Saw the opportunity, created the alignment and have been cashing in. For the rest of us, the best hope is to focus on what we have, optimize it and try to make it competitive.

The other thing we must do is, take charge, call a spade a spade and call out our leaders and so called political apparatus plus the Military. This is our country and we must show all, we mean business. I have never seen a protest in Palestine to show solidarity with Pakistan, neither have I seen one in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia , you get the point. Yet our masses will take to the streets given the opportunity. That is exactly the point, we waste our opportunities and we don’t create new ones, we are so lost and mis-guided that besides a few nothing new and Innovative is happening. We are so invested in the business of PMR(Politics, Military, Religion) that we have lost sight on how to be globally competitive. We have a Martial law imposed on our intellect and our ability to act. We have to rise above and reclaim what is ours, rightfully. The only way to do it is to focus on building jobs, creating opportunities and getting away from the age old business of PMR. We need to get back to the era of the 80s where Pakistan was open for business with any one who was ready to be fair. Lets not be open for business for any thing else. Lets only export the best products and leave the rest behind.

The Entrepreneur that cant be

With chaos comes opportunity. But some times I wonder if there is just too much chaos in Pakistan for real opportunity to thrive. If there was real opportunity, industries in general would be booming. But we seem to be becoming a poor country with a lot of rich people and economic dis-parity growing every day. With the lack of mobility of resources, personal mobility, funds and access to clean un federated domestic markets the average person can surely dream of being an entrepreneur but the odds are stacked up against them.

Traditional entrepreneurship is dead. Or close to it, it doesn’t have the returns one would expect(any where else in the world), if it has in some way still survived. The only form of entrepreneurship that remains is the “how to beat the system” entrepreneurship. It is some thing that is being uniquely exploited by government officials in the form of “looking the other way when people of means want things done, against a quid pro quo system”

Let me illustrate, you are an importer of sorts, you import items to resell at your fashion jewelry outlet, but the import duties are X, since every one in the eco system is under invoicing the true value of the product and thus not paying full duty, surely you cant succeed if you paid full value of the tax/importation duties, so you work with a government entrepreneur other wise known as a customs official and you figure out a balance that suits your eventual retail prices. This entrepreneur charges a fee for his service, the exchequer looses duties but he makes money as do you( the retail sales professional) since your goods are now a viable product.

What this is doing is that its creating an economy of fast cash and high disposable incomes. Whilst depleting the economy and the system of valuable funds. Arguably if the funds did exist, those left in charge to administer would truly evolve some other entrepreneurial venture to ensure they didn’t get spend on public works or development projects.

There is a simple co relation between just societies and prosperity. When there is no rule of law, no economic crimes related prosecution and no fear of the reach of the system, nothing positive will happen. It wont happen for most of the people. There is no shortage of raw talent, what is missing is the guidance to transact truthfully and with ethics. A country where half the morning conversations with 50%+ of the young adult male working population is muted under the consumption of beetle nuts (aka ghutka) do we really for see change and change for the better, do we really for see entrepreneurs budding every where? We truly don’t, but we should.

We don’t have access to fair markets, legal system, we don’t even have a cyber crime bill let alone thinking about digital entrepreneurship and success in building digital entrepreneurs. The very basic elements of starting a business or registering one, poses a hurdle, every conversation starts with a “masla/problem” but ends with “hull/solution” with the exchange of some pictures of the founding father. How can people achieve true scale or flourish where the entire system is broken and there is no desire or accountability on any ones part to really fix this.

Do we really blame every second Pakistani who has the choice to immigrate or to find work over seas? We truly cant, they owe it to their kids to be able to play out side, go to the zoo, walk to their neighbors or have access to a park. Its not a big ask, but its some thing. The same people when they leave here, they have the skill set typically to end up being entrepreneurs some where else. It seems our system has failed them. They have it in them to succeed but the mechanisms to achieve that success is non existent here for the vast majority of individuals. Yet its interesting to note, its this broken system that teaches them perseverance and the street smarts to go else where and be successful. The whole nurturing part is missing here thus where they have social justice they go and succeed.

It would be great to be an entrepreneur in Pakistan, theoretically speaking. The labor arbitrage numbers are big the access to talent is high(due to high un employment or under employment) but in reality it some how just doesn’t pay off big time. We have some great success stories but you could them on your fingers, in a nation of over 180M if all we succeed in doing over the last 60 years is enable 10/15 people to make it big, then we have truly failed in doing any thing.

The adage, that money makes money cant be any truer in Pakistan. Wealth makes more wealth here, even those who try and get to some scale eventually get shot down by some bureaucracy or red tape, sooner rather than later after a certain scale, people either give up, or give in to the system. Either way, true entrepreneurial success is not achieved. May be monetary success is.

Its easy to be successful and to be an entrepreneur if you have the means to experiment and if you have the financial muscle to take a bad blow, but entrepreneurship as a mechanism for larger economic prosperity is completely missing in our country. A handful few ever make it, most of the rest are entrepreneurs that cant be.

Vertical Growth by Horizontal Partnerships

“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.” ― Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935-1942

No one exemplifies this trait better than two brands who have seemingly taken the market by storm over night. It takes a lot to be an over night success. Both Meat One and Day Fresh have gotten the formula right. Looking at our demographics and subsequently our culture and cuisine trends in relation to true demand problems, these two have slotted them selves in to being on the supply side of that demand side problem.

What makes this even more interesting is that in Milk segment Engro Foods, tried its hand in a one year experiment with a large budget and 20 odd stores and failed. Both on the uptake of the service and market acceptability. The franchise model didn’t work out for them and they concluded the experiment having spent half of the allocated funds and graciously bowing out of a space dominated by the local player Dairyland . Some times its not a matter of scale or being in the business already its about execution and a well thought out strategy.

So whats next for Dairyland and MeatOne, in an ideal world one would like to think beyond individual companies and dynamics and look to build synergies. To that end a natural distribution point for Dairylands product would be at MeatOne and it would help drive foot traffic which would increase same store sales for MeatOne.

But some one has to take the imitative to review such corporate partnerships and alignment. It also builds a strategic barrier to entry to other Meat or Dairy players who would then think twice about entering the market as they wouldn’t be competing with one strong brand but two and both the incumbent players would have a larger safety net when a new competitor tries to enter.With other large local and foreign conglomerates planning to enter both dairy and meat markets it would be a very interesting mix if these to got together to come up with same store concepts.

With ICI now ironing out the details on a tie up with Unibrands to market the Japanese infant milk brand Morinaga, the writing is on the wall for people to tap in to the milk nutrition market space.In the Meat section there is no substantive information yet but both Engro and ICI are rumored to be exploring these segments, which tells a telling tale around the potential and market size. There are a dozen if not more mid sized, traditionally export oriented brands that are looking to solve the puzzle of cold chain, logistics, distribution and building consumer brands. Much like Meat One did.

Given our shopping habits and an emphasis on fresh consumables, but given the time/traffic and other pressures of not being able to go out to the corner store daily, A multi concept food store that has Milk, Meat, Produce and Bread could be the next retailing phenomenon in the local urban/metro space.

If some one were to build a store footprint that would cater to the consumers basic needs they would most certainly create a new market entry point for them selves, their brand and distribution channels. The market has already shown that people are willing to pay a slight premium for hygienically produced and packaged products in the dairy and meat space, the likes of Hyperstar have proven the same for fruits and vegetables, fresh baked goods at middle market bakeries also prove the concept of paying a premium for a healthier preparation of the same product. The combination of all four should result in an ideal mix for a new relating concept.

These items already exist today but in their own distribution channels if there were horizontal partnerships in the space, the vertical gains would essentially give the non-branded, lower end of the spectrum and traditional producers a tough time. Its time for Pakistani companies to look beyond the obvious and explore avenues that increase their footprint and share holder value.

 

 

 

Mind The Gap – Khaadi –

Gap Inc was the formidable US clothing retailer that was always relevant and wildly popular. It literally came from no where and then grew to having Banana Republic on the high end of the spectrum and Old Navy on the lower end. But some where in the middle it lost its own brand identity and it became too vanilla in a category it had created it self. Where others were giving it a run for its money on its own turf, it was a crisis of confidence, leadership and missteps.

We have our own, perhaps even better version of the Gap success story. Khaadi. It is the one brand that has done every thing right, from customer service, to designs, to branding, to placement to creating its own niche and beyond. But the question is what happens next? 2015 is very different from 1998, staying fresh over a 17 year run is not an easy task for any business, let alone fashion retail. Khaadi has to be commended for what it has done so far.

2014 saw it expand to online a few years after its expansion to the Middle East, Malaysia and the UK. Compared to other retailers, Khaadi has had a decent plan every time when it came to expansion but at a global e-tailing or retailing level there are some things that are strikingly familiar to Gap. Lets start with the Malaysian expansion, the target market there cant possibly be Pakistanis or South Asians alone, just by pure numbers it wouldn’t make sense. What would make sense is to target the local Malay population. They frankly don’t know what Khaadi means or represents.

What they do know is social engagement , their love for trendy clothes and bright colors(even the men). No less Khaadi does not have a Bhasa Malay media campaign. Id caution on taking the billboard and tv engagement space. Malays are pretty digitally plugged in, so a social media campaign or two targeting engagement and brand development would have most certainly helped. Khaadi is too big now to not think about these strategic missteps and it puts it in a similar space like Gap should it continue to not address these items.

Then we have the online store, a great leap into international retail without the physical footprint. But to be a serious player and to beat the “aunties” who are buying Khaadi product from Pakistan and stuffing suitcases and taking them to the US to retail or sell to friends or family, Khaadi has to re evaluate its supply chain, production, fulfillment and delivery logistics. Else it will be beat on price on its own goods locally procured and hand carried to the US and beyond.The first thing that has to change is the online experience. It is harrowingly slow, the site needs to be updated to a proper e-commerce portal with multi currency and multi location shipping. The site just doesn’t need a refresh but instead needs the Khaadi touch to make the experience special like the brand it self. The potential of the e-commerce store at some point would outweigh the sales volumes and FX earnings if executed properly.

That has nothing to do with Khaadis core business, which is to manufacture top quality product. Here in lies the problem similar to GAP, reach out and get the help you need as opposed to trying to do every thing in house or based on the advice of people you know.Its time to get professional advice. At a globally competitive level. Not at a mom and pop shop level where by having COD in Pakistan and shipping enabled to USA you start to think you are the best thing since slice bread. The shipping and checkout process is short of horrible. Khaadi needs to emulate its in store service equivalent to remain relevant. Enough said.

You have the potential, but you aren’t there yet. Its easy, you pay for what you get. In Khaadis case it has the cash to fund this growth. The question is, does it have the foresight and willingness to not die in an industry that it created, the signs are there, it needs a product reboot along with an online reboot. It has to innovate to stay relevant and grow. It would be interesting to see its in store year or year growth ratios.

Then we have the Khaadi Home and Khaadi Khas and Khaadi Kids phenomenon? Any one see similarities to GAP yet? Khaadi is a niche player that needs to go wider and deeper in its expansion strategy, just like Max out of the UAE. A home grown “value fashion brand” that has over 1.2bn$ in Sales and eyeing 3bn$ soon. Now that is ambition, fueled by growth, a stellar management team and not an army of one. They are focused, albeit their niche is a little different but they are doing all the things they need to do to stay on track.

Khaadi in its purest form is limited by the ability of its CEO/Entrepreneur/Chairman at large to wear many hats. The same person that brought it this far. That’s where a Senior global management team comes in to play to go beyond the current state. The CEO should have the wherewithal to see the shape of things to come and realize that he has done an exemplary job in building one of the smartest, well managed, high growth brands in the country. But to play at a global level, re-define the niche and build distribution and logistics capabilities along with production uplift, he needs to now move up to the big boys table. Commit financially, mentally and in principle to lead the charge to make Khaadi into Pakistan’s true first Billion-dollar brand. This can be achieved with focus on the brand it self and not diversions and distractions into other ventures just because you are cash rich.

Stay true to the core before diversification in to other lines of business. Khaadi has had an admirable and phenomenal journey; it can go further but only with the right strategic outlook and plan. The mix is good, but the leadership beyond the founder is questionable for a global expansion charge, that fuels growth 50X from where it is today.

| Performance Shading | the art of self-serving KPIs

KPIs(key performance indicators) in the broader context of the enterprise and in providing color to ones output are a great tool. Every major corporation around the globe has some form of KPIs, they have been around for centuries in one form or an other. The age old saying, “you can’t improve it, if you cant measure it” resonates with pretty much every one. So if we have established that performance management/ KPIs etc are good for business, then what’s the issue?

That in it self is the issue, namely the blind or sole reliance on KPIs , metrics, performance score cards without understanding the nuances of measurement it self. Here’s an interesting story that revolves around a decade of interacting with mid-to-senior level executives, who are potentially 2 degrees removed from the operative management teams of large scale enterprises that rely on these systems. This crowd to me, are in the business of executing busy work, work that is being created to measure only the things they feel are worthy of measurement, as those are the only things they can influence towards positive improvement.

So there are essentially entire groups of people, within enterprises we know and cherish around us, that essentially have people employed for the sole purpose of doing busy work; then representing it as a key input to the over all process of the organization and generating miles of score cards and performance charts around their accomplishments. At the risk of sounding inept or inefficient, leaders don’t cross question this type of output.

In my experience any one who takes more than four sentences to describe what they do and how it impacts the bottom line, basically has no input to the bottom line. Either their loyalty/perseverance or tenure has allowed them to essentially build a fort around them selves and lock themselves in. With only them knowing what they do all the time whilst creating the illusion of commitment and high-end performance.

As you peel the onion you find out, that all there is to this story is much the same, that it has not changed over the course of time, but these “performance shaders” have become so skilled at maneuvering the corporate culture & the organizational dynamics and have almost developed an instinct to shade reality by hiding behind meaningless numbers, charts and score cards. That is a susbtantial problem.

Elsewhere in the civilized business world, this sort of inefficiency is eventually caught and a course correction ensured. The reason why I am almost spell bound by incompetence around the enterprises I see domestically is two fold. Performance management is a skill, like a sous chef that needs practice, training and years of learning to master. But in our enterprises a course in “TQM”, “Franklin Covey-Modules” , “presentation skills”, “time management” etc all count towards the holy grail of a consummate HR/learning management professional. We have not equipped our functional leaders within the talent management space to either have the breadth or depth of exposure required to manage, grow and groom talent. At best we follow archaic systems. The CEOs and leaders of the organizations go to impressive foreign courses, they attend executive work shops, but two tiers below them the idea of learning and development revolves around buying software to execute a learning management or a performance management system- at best.

Secondly we have a culture of life time employment. Perhaps some of our societal needs govern that, but to be globally competitive we have to draw fresh blood into the system. Instead, we bring in fresh blood, which gets tainted an old color by the old guard that is still calling the shots. The old guard has to be counseled out of these enterprises. An enterprise by definition is not a charity, if that is the reason for employing some of these folks, then enterprises should do the next best and noble thing and setup charitable alternate workforce development opportunities much like the “many faces of the an organization whose ex-employees proudly display the coveted (R) in front of their names post retirement and go on to pretty well for them selves”.

The other cultural norm is the “scarcity” of the CEO/executive leadership and their interaction across the organization. This creates a temperature difference, much like on your windshield on a humid evening, you may perceive to imagine what the environment outside looks like even with the mist on the windshield, based on your own experiences having driven past a particular point every day for the last many years, but the reality could be much different on a particular evening. Using only intuition in most cases the CEOs perception may be far from reality, thus giving a false sense of what needs to be done. This is a classic example of being asleep at the wheel. The CEO may expect some thing, which the performance shaders are well equipped to masquerade when called upon. The CEO gets a fall sense of security in knowing that his people are closely looking at numbers and measuring things. Whats amiss in this equation, is the inability of the CEO to challenge what’s being measured and why.

Recently a group of very senior and talented external HR / Performance Management consultants (albeit not Sahabs by any stretch of the imagination)  in Pakistan were discussing some of their large scale projects. (Past projects for my benefit-without names for obvious reasons of discretion).

The central theme that emerged was, that like society at large, the corporate fabric of performance is also shaded, just like we shade the truth in our every day interactions, corporations are no different. For professional organizations, the typical life of an outside CEO is three years, hence they only tend to focus on short to medium term gains, they didn’t join the organization to be a hero, so they don’t ask the difficult questions. In the domestic “saith based” organizations, it is an implied rule that there is and can be no one smarter than the owner operator, who much like the feudal ecosystem of our country really only came to power by preying on the insecurities of the people, so the people will only do, what I call alignment with tasks which receive “clapping and praise”. By just doing the things that earn them the “saiths recognition” they are already very deep in the performance shading business. The only way to run a globally, regionally or locally competitive organization, short of the involvement of under invoicing, tax evasion, illegal subsidies, duty forgiveness schemes and the likes there of, is for the leadership of companies to question the performance shading that is so prevalent around them. This can only happen with the right level of skill set, exploration techniques and above all the will and integrity to really make a difference.

” Do not waste a minute — not a second — in trying to demonstrate to others the merits of your performance. If your work does not vindicate itself, you cannot vindicate it.”

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

“Cheap Labor” Inefficiency – The Short Cut Society

In a society where the only cut is a short cut, be it on the road to work or driving in the opposing direction to oncoming traffic to shave a few mins or seconds in reaching the destination, it is incomprehensible how we continue to survive.

In developing economies much like ours, with a large working class population, labor(economics tells us) is abundant, opportunities to deploy that labor are scarce. Hence every outcome should be maximized by the labor as the cost and price of substitution is marginal at best. Yet the exact opposite happens every day.

Lets take a basic example, scenario one, you have a simple task, you have a water pipe that has a leak, you reach into your pocket book and call the “plumber” you have on retainer. He comes in, potentially without his “real tools” and sees the issue, whilst chewing tobacco of some kind he mumbles some thing and says “not to worry”….

What you don’t know, is that because labor is so cheap and he knows he can get a quick “fix” of payment from you by temporarily fixing the leak, he applies some basic remedies to get you going. Two days later, due to the non-compatible adhesive he used the lines are clogged, the pipe burst in two places and the motor took a reverse allocation of water. You are really worried now, you call him again, he once again pacifies you and says not a big deal, this time around his last short cut that cost you more than you bargained for is fixed , full and final as best as he knows. Had he replaced the dysfunctional piece of pipe or applied appropriate treatment on the pipe in question. You wouldn’t have had to shell out the extra you just did.

So, wherein lies the problem? The problem starts with you, you want a short cut, the most valuable asset in your go to retainer black book of contacts is the guy who responds on the first call and get on site the fastest. In the long term by not measuring twice and cutting once, you have actually caused more harm. The second issues lies with the entire labor pool, there is no such thing as a days honest wages in the environment we operate in. Every one wants to amass more for doing the minimal viable output. Over time just pushing the minimal viable output, you are destroying value as opposed to creating value.

This is what happens when labor is cheap, we become cheap, in our intellectual ability to think straight and in rationally trying to solve problems. What we are creating or enabling is an entire work force of shoddy, below par, marginally qualified individuals who will spend a life time thinking and believing the tools and methods they use are by far the right ones. This happens because of acceptability by us the end user/consumer. In our plight to just solve stuff and not be dragged in to the mechanics of things happen, we have just given up, given up on demanding fair service for fair wages paid. Sooner rather than later we will drown under the weight of this short cut work force. As a starting point we are already disadvantaged by our economic disposition, over time we will be a society of large labor pool of untrained, un reliable individuals who would at best be utilized for repetitive tasks.

Lets shift gears and look at scenario two, the white collar labor pool. What’s shocking is, the “its not my problem attitude” that is far more prevalent , doing the right thing isn’t any ones prerogative any more. Across industries, clients, national , regional and multinational companies where I’ve had the opportunity to interact with folks from various age groups, its been a rude awakening. The amount of time spent on office politics and Facebook redirected to attitudinal change would result in a 10 basis point change in output for most organizations.

At the offices of a large conglomerate that fancies it self as a top employer, a brand of the year(what ever that means) and draws lineage from the best of breed corporations I witnessed the following. I walked in, at the reception, the receptionist looked at me, whilst continuing to take a personal call on their mobile phone. I stood by the reception, a few minutes later they waved me to sign the guest book and asked me, albeit not so politely to put my ID Card next to the register. I continued to follow the instruction. A good 8-9 mins in, she saw that id come to see the CEO of the company, by this time I was waiting in the adjacent area.

She came up to me and apologized, then called some one “upstairs”. “Upstairs” sent an equally dis-interested person, also chatting on a mobile phone who asked me to follow them. I was asked to be seated in a well appointed neo colonial waiting area. A third person, the CEOs executive secretary came to greet me. We walked passed a hallway, purportedly of this Billion $ enterprise where a row of laptop wielding corporate types were sitting, mostly atop desks, chit chatting, the common theme was that every single laptop had finger stains across the farm of laptops. That’s the first thing I saw, its left a mark on me as the first thing I recall about this organization. Its this lack of this ownership where no one cares. Yet in my mind this leaves a lasting impression. I shared this with the CEO, their response was “oh, the cleaning staff comes in again at 3pm”.

My simplistic view was, If you cant really take care of a company asset provided to you, as a shareholder can I trust my money in your hands? Should I? But millions of us do every day no less. Look at the stock exchange, where else would one invest? The question of intelligence and growth becomes secondary in my opinion. I cant look past the fact that supposedly rational people engage in irrational behavior. We have become so reliant on some one else to do the job for us, that we even refuse to under take the basic corporate hygiene items into consideration. Some one who is so disenfranchised from the get go, can they really ever become any thing but a short cut worker?

Given the scenario of a labor surplus pool, even for white collar jobs, we rarely care about the outlook we have or present. Some how I’d expect the opposite, where people would try harder to excel and project a far more professional outlook than that is prevalent today. When I walk in to an enterprise I want to see positive energy at the reception, that vibe should carry across. You should be treating your employees the way they want them to treat your best customer, slowly its becoming evident that this problem is systemic. It starts at the top. Its more about attitude than any thing else.

Just because we have a lot of people and we can put a lot of people to solve a task, it doesn’t really mean that we need to, or that they will produce a positive outcome. We need to be matching problems with right solutions as opposed to using the labor arbitrage we have and hoping some thing eventually sticks. We need to get efficient in identifying which short cuts make sense and do away with the rest. If we don’t we will be far worse economically than wed like to explain to our kids one day. Not like its not evident why, but some day our kids will ask us. Lets make sure we do a course correction today than wait to be a completely dysfunctional society and before its too late.

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little

                                                                                                        Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797)

M.I.T (Millionaires in Training)

I was going through a list of self made millionaires/billionaires in Pakistan and its interesting and perhaps noteworthy that a negligible amount are from this generation. The reality is, “daddy or great grand daddy” earned most of the current money within the coffers of the current generation. So then really, these kids/young adults are realistically Millionaires in Training (MIT). Substantially different from the other MIT that encourages and creates entrepreneurs and creates real and true wealth.

Looking a bit deeper, the entrepreneur syndrome is pervasive no less in the second generation M.I.Ts. I scoured the web for profiles of at least a few dozen-second generation M.I.Ts, without fail every single one of them lists “entrepreneur” as the central theme in their glorified profiles. An other interesting fact is that most of them started their career at twenty some thing with a Director of “something” role. That’s what wealth buys you, a seat at the table. But there is no reason to apologize for a noteworthy lineage of wealth.

My simplistic view is as follows, if you had 10M$ available to you, for arguments sake and you went and licensed a popular casual dining/fast food chain that you’ve seen from your various privileged child hood trips abroad you are not worthy of calling your self an entrepreneur, you can no less call you self an opportunist of the first order and some one who understands business dynamics really well. That, I will give you. You deserve the praise that in a stable of a few dozen similar individuals with equal or more cash than available to you, you were the first to realize an opportunity existed and you beat most if not all to market with bringing established brands to your home country. But that doesn’t make you an entrepreneur or a business wizard. That just makes you some one taking the easy road to glorified business success.

What really should be happening is the deployment of these funds available, into enabling Micro and SME type transactions. Wealth creates more wealth, but the deployment of this wealth(by M.I.Ts) into under served and upcoming segments with local and regionals solutions is what’s needed. Then these M.I.Ts would make a real difference and create true wealth independently and leave a lasting impact.

If they continue to invest in Sugar Mills, Processing Plants, Textiles, Tanneries, Power Companies to name a few, they will never be able to impact areas that need both capital and strategic partners which these M.I.Ts can prove to be, at a concession stand ticket price in most instances.

The focus should be to move away from capital intensive, or industrial businesses to more localized, impactful ideas. Become seed stage investors and help cultivate the entrepreneurs whom they invest along with. This is the only shot these M.I.Ts will have towards true greatness and in redeeming themselves as titans of industry. If they continue down the generational path they have historically they will just be “Mr. X’s Son/Daughter” of “XYZ Fame”. Time to change the rules of the game and re invest in the country (a little differently) that made their father and forefathers wealthy, but slightly adjusting their own outlook. Since the industrial and agriculture space creates a bulk of the jobs, by no means is this an invitation to stop doing that. The idea is for diversification. So you ask how do you seed the thought for this diversification?

It’s a good question, when you as an M.I.T have been classically conditioned to think about one thing since you opened your eyes, its difficult to have an other perspective. The first realization is the fact that you need to diversify and look else where. Like an Alcoholics Anonymous success criteria, the first step is to recognize you have a problem. This can only come from within. What comes after that can be achieved much like AAA meetings with support from others and a network of supporters.

In the corporate world such supporters. more and more coming from the outside. In the form of Chief of Staff roles that work with these M.I.Ts and established CEOs alike. The Chief of Staff generally works behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes, and deal with issues before they are brought to the Chief Executive. Often Chiefs of Staff act as a confidante and advisor to the Chief Executive, acting as a sounding board for ideas. Ultimately the actual duties depend on the actual position and the people involved. Given the inexperience in many ways of the M.I.T breed of CEOs propping up, this could be a saving grace in many ways. But for this to happen, the M.I.Ts need to move past the “saith” ideology of “saith” knows best.

It is some thing the M.I.Ts should look at. Bringing one on board without sacrificing egos, that they are incompetent or working their way up the ladder. This is the buffer that is missing in Pakistan. The smart M.I.Ts will recognize this quickly, the same roles exist in some ways in the form of Board of Directors that their parents have deployed and whose counsel they seek in matters of business. This is the one true shot the M.I.Ts have in creating their own working mechanism and define how they would do business and it really wouldn’t hurt to enlist some smart folks who would help them in the journey.

Its always easy to spot the smart M.I.Ts from the crowd, they are realigning them selves to have smart plays in new business domains relying on expert advisors and Chief of Staff personnel to setup their own family offices and build their own business frontiers. It does help to have a fully funded bank account, to bank roll the ideas, ventures and companies that will help them define their own legacy.

 

Are we there yet?

This is the question TCS should be asking it self. Given the market size, its operating experience in Pakistan and the scale that has made it ‘case study worthy’ at Harvard; nothing notable besides a spade of layoffs has put TCSs in the limelight recently. That and hiring an ex-banker to lead its re aligned strategic holding company. At the face of it, some change any change, with a positive glow would make sense. But nothing besides an ad campaign and billboards that say “hazir” void of even the basic contact details of TCS like a phone number or URL have shown up.

TCS is/was poised for a lot of things, namely a large play to vertically integrate its logistics and warehousing to squash the other players in the e-commerce space, by owning the last mile logistics and delivery along with years of distribution experience. It seems, TCS has executed many uncoordinated strategies and like others of a lesser corporate/technical pedigree slapped around a quick and dirty “online site” without thinking through the end game.

There is a sheer market advantage to being in business since 1983, having about 2000 locations within the country and 5000 people to support a phenomenal business. A few easy steps would have ensured sustained top and bottom line growth in a space that could be dominated for years to come. TCS was an innovator, a one of a kind hall mark in Pakistani business that created things like Sentiments express, way before it was fashionable to send roses on valentines in Pakistan via courier. They had the pulse of the industry/country and always sensed it a mile out. So what happened? An outsiders view in would lead one to think that they became fat and happy. It happens to the best of us.

While this was happening at TCS, local, regional, international players all sizing up the opportunity of a 200M people population have jumped in to the space them selves. Their success in diversification/online e-tailing and distribution is varied. Not for the lack of trying but for the lack of the missing pieces. There is still no real online payment solution in Pakistan, there is still lack of trust buying online, there is further the dilemma of distribution and warehousing, the last mile where in exchanging goods for a fee from the client.

TCS would be on top on all of these fronts, had it only tried. They are as trustworthy as a brand gets in Pakistan (many years ago I was at a DHL center in Karachi and a middle aged woman walked in and said “bhai is ko London TCS karwana hay” )so that their first check mark. TCS also has its own delivery network and warehousing hence its own people making deliveries and collecting payments thus that’s three checks in one, So why haven’t they leap frogged in and left every one biting the dust? For one, lack of vision. Its not just them its every one around them.

Lets explore this phenomenon. Go to any mid/large sized Pakistani enterprise, ask the CEO to meet their Head of Strategy and or IT, you’d be shocked at the response you get and further shocked once you meet the typical Heads of IT. If the conversation already hasn’t gone to, “Zara IT walay ko boliyae ga, (please call the IT Person)” there may still be some hope.

The average IT Leader in Pakistan hails from one of 4 areas, A Bank, An FMCG, Pharma or at best a mix of all plus some Saith experience thrown in for fun. With a potentially solid operating background but 0 to imaginary exposure to real  e-commerce , technical proficiency and web 2.0 style agility. It’s pretty much a lost cause when it comes to scaling and building technically competent sales, delivery and distribution channels. Yet by owning the newest smart phone and attending every conference in Pakistan and Dubai on (tech) some how the perception and industry worship is evident for the old guard in this space. Typically followed by the Sahab title at the end of the name.

This old guard is doing a dis service on many fronts, first by literally holding back organizations and subsequently the country as they try to enforce their limited know how on to problems much larger than their own comprehension. Secondly by systematically weeding out and not hiring people smarter than them selves and marginalizing the talent pool. Last but not least putting out products and services that come pre-packaged (at a pretty decent price tag) and slapping them with their own logos. Eventually the owner operators of firms will figure it out, hopefully not before its too late.

Lets re-direct our focus to TCS once again. I would like to see them position them selves as a worthy competitor and eventual acquisition target for Amazon.com. It’s a matter of time when Amazon comes knocking to Pakistan, that journey may be a few years out, but they are most certainly in India and they will come across the border.

The population density demands it and soon their shareholders will too for neglecting a market this size. Rocket Internet feels the same way, with nothing besides a marketing budget and an army of “Western oriented, 20 some thing marketing minions” they don’t have a lot going for them. But if TCS continues to disappoint, they have will every thing to gain. They have started consolidation wars within various channels where they were afraid they were loosing ground and on some not so honest to goodness advice from their minions.

TCS, you are almost there, I want to see Pakistani companies in the league of the best of the world, but you have some course correction to do. Don’t let traditionalist general managers run e-commerce and give strategic direction without having ever operated in the space before, take a leap of faith, don’t hire people you know and don’t put people in charge who come from the old guard. The Leadership should be asking some very hard questions, around break up value of the business units, the potential of an IPO , structuring for tax efficiency managing revenue leakages and things of that nature, way before any thing else. Last but not least, PR-Marketing-Branding need to be refreshed, the brand recognition is almost as good as Shaan Foods but its economic value hasn’t been cashed in nearly as much as Shaan. More on Shaan an other day, right now the task at hand is to really force some critical thinking at TCS not on just an e-commerce play but a host of other things. Advice is always free, so whilst we are at it some valuable services for TCS to consider:

  • Merchant to End client Delivery (Think Mall presence to collect, package and ship goods directly typically to overseas Pakistanis)
  • Using its expertise to get in to the food delivery business, using the same infrastructure to start with test markets in the evening.
  • Ebay-like store fronts for home based and other vendors to showcase via TCS and ship and collect cash on delivery via them.
  • Using its presence across Pakistan to be a true grass roots level survey company and data collection entity.
  • Hiring strategically at every level within the organization and taking hard decisions without emotions when it comes to right sizing

I neither have all the answers nor the course correction strategies, but as a fan of where the company started and how far it has come, only a well wisher who’d like to see this TCS in the same league as a company that’s shares its name across the pond.