Monday, July 06, 2009

Lessons from this year's Wimbledon

This year' Wimbledon has seen many records broken and new created. But certain matches brought me some insights into management skills. The other day I was watching the semi final match between Dinara Safina and Venus Williams. For a former World. No. 1, Ms. Williams played a non-sensitive, cool and plain game which unfortunately was not the same for Ms. Safina. I saw the lady desperate, tired and feeling her leadership challenged when facing a former World No. 1. Venus also was wearing a knee-cap, probably due to an injury. Even if Dinara did play some soft games (let me assume for the sake of simple ethics), but when it almost came over her head, why didn't she make use of the situation? In fact I'm much surprised by the way Venus pushed Dinara to chase the ball around the court, despite her discomfort/injury. And a World No. 1 has to concede her game in just two straight sets, less than an hour? That's pathetic. I just did some soul-searching about this: why did Dinara have to lose?

I took a different view later: what made Venus win? Apart from just what I saw on screen, I just checked the statistics of the game again, and have some clear answers. Venus has only 1 unforced error in her account compared to Dinara's 16. Also Dinara wasn't able to convert any of her break points to success (0%) as compared to Venus' five (100%). These are just some of the key numbers. Also watching them play, I found Venus more calm and composed with a non-sensitive face (no anger, no desperation, just plain looks) compared to Dinara whose looks reveals that she's dying hard to defend her No.1 status. This desperation and anxiety made her make more mistakes than expected. And honestly, that's what made Venus reach her target easily.

On Sunday, the scene was reversed in the Men's singles, though with some remarkable differences. It was Federer who had more errors to his account. And the crowd cheered much for Andy Roddick. It was a great match. Except for the break point conversions and the number of aces served, the statistics of both players look similar. But on screen it seemed to me as if Federer has almost lost the match, the same way it happened last year. And to me personally, it was a little uncomfortable to see Federer making no conscious effort to break Roddick's serves. Add to it the small blunders he did with his forehand and the tiny little pick-ups he did which made Roddick leap too much and fall down many times, the match was spectacular but with no imminent direction. Where the match was heading was a wild guess. A marathon match of four hours and a half must have been boring, except for these errors and spectacular shots.

Here also I asked the same question. What made Federer win this near impossible match? Well, I also don't have any direct and clear answers to this question. My twitter box was filled with comments from different people expressing of desperation, relief and disbelief about the outcome of the match, a few minutes after the conclusion. Lots of people feel that the match was perfectly in Roddick's hands, but destiny had it otherwise. But the length of the match...I feel it might be Federer's strategy to keep it going on and on especially given the fact that Roddick is "not used to playing five-setters" according to the TV commentator. And the last few sets (12 onwards) I felt a change in Federer's plight. Suddenly he became more aware, his moves more aggressive and thoughtful. In fact when I see him cheer himself after winning a set, for a moment I was surprised. But there wasn't any trace of desperation in Federer's face. It seems that he was only aware of what he's doing. These are certain traits for today's managers.

Be aware of the situation and make the best use of it. Safina couldn't take advantage of Williams' limited mobility. Williams used it to her full ability in forcing Safina around the ball in court in different directions. Federer knew that Roddick isn't much used to five-setter matches. So he made a match virtually equivalent of an eight-setter. Otherwise, there's no hope that he can counter Roddick's efforts to overpower him.

Don't give up hope. There's always light at the end of the tunnel. In Federer's case this was true. It seemed that he almost lost the match. But he found a hairline opportunity and made full use of it and therefore was able to conclude a successful match. Safina lost her cool, was not mentally at peace with herself. This added to the errors she made and no wonder Williams made full use of this opportunity to jump into yet another Wimbledon finals. Overall this year's tournament was exciting as it used to be every year.

Photo credit: Reuters

Monday, May 04, 2009

On Resolving Conflicts - 1.0

One of my annual goals as Senior Executive – Sales is to keep the product catalogue of the company web site update. How it became so is a story. Efforts for creating a micro site – a website within another website, began much earlier before the new financial year started, with the VP – Marketing Strategy also contributing to the cause. This micro site shall supposedly contain the product menu and catalogue (with info on what we have ready on the platter to offer clients within a quicker turnaround time). This catalogue is linked to a Goole interface in order to give users a sense of familiarity while they browse for solutions of their choice – I should commend my boss on this wonderful idea. So we got it approved by the top management, and sought assistance from the Corporate Communications team (who reports to the VP - MS), who are the stakeholders for all official efforts of advertising and brand development.
Corp. Comm. undertook the initial steps in identifying the right resources for web designing, approval flew down from the software division. The web designer happens to be a friend of mine. Since both of us have spent considerable time with the company, we had several opportunities to interact with each other and explore each other’s creative sides. So the efforts went on the right direction. So by the break of the New Year (I mean financial year), our micro site was on beta phase. So when the software team came up asking for a test drive, they were directed to us. We were asked to provide inputs on the same. Given that I was comparably new on my assignment and therefore relatively free to do creative pursuits, I chose to do the testing part – a decision I’d regret months later. I had this habit of documenting my thoughts, preferably in a structured manner so that it makes me easy to reproduce it at short notice. So when the Corp. Comm. representatives turned up unannounced, only I had a documented set of responses that were to be handed out. Since the markets were doing simply great, we had a list of great projects in the pipeline, and therefore naturally other account managers were busy with their clients. We almost didn’t anticipate the outbreak of another Great Depression to infect our business the following month.
It took a couple of weeks’ time for both teams to return with their comments. A few of my observations were looked upon as impractical and unnecessary. Others appeared to be fine with the developers. However my boss supported my views, and asked both stakeholders to do the needful. This initiated a Cold War-like situation between the teams. However I managed to coax my friend to look into the situation, and act upon the other observations, which he feels, can be implemented. He promised to look into the matter and get back to me with a tentative time-frame. Since the New Year had just only begun, the Company was in the Annual goal-setting process, and therefore any non-value added comments like mine were hushed down. Of course, for every marketing team, what matters is the size of the cake they have to win – how large is the target sum, what’s the increase in percentage, etc. Big questions. With the recession eating up our clients’ economies (we were spared till then, not knowing what was in store for us), it even seemed a little cruel to raise the bar halfway more. So here our story begins.
It’s natural, mind you, to look at every trivial business activity with caution when you’re bitten by the recession bug. So now that we were all (along with our clients from the respective geographies) on the same boat, the flow of dollars was turning low. It was becoming increasingly difficult to survive in office. My friend the developer didn’t return with his comments till then and I was forced to ask him what’s taking him so long. There was a lukewarm reply mentioning that the project was over for his team, and he has other important tasks to take care of. This has kicked up a row now. The situation has grown out of hand. A few mail exchanges were made but no action followed. Adding to my worries was the fact that one of my largest clients was declared bankrupt, and I had to hurry to retrieve the payment of the project which I considered my birthday gift from them (yes, I received the purchase order for the said project on my birthday). Given my friendly relation with the developer, my boss also felt if can set things straight. Anyway, the best way for my boss was to set this task assigned to me as part of my individual goals for the financial year.
So when the war was on a high rage, it was added to my annual goals that I need to oversee developments and see to it that the site was updated and running fine. Obviously with both the Corp. comm. team and the software team up against us on a non-cooperation movement, it was difficult for me to provide a comprehensive reply whenever this question of “And Manu, what’s the status of the website? Get it done sooner man” rose up. In such situations, what is important is that you need to initiate to get both parties to talk. That’s what I’ve learned from governments around the world – the way they all deal with insurgents. At least this will make both parties understand what the other has to say. Else you’ll get killed by what I call the Middleman’s Dilemma Syndrome. So we got to talk, and finally things changed. Thanks to my homework, I also found the origins of why the entire catalogue can’t be on display as my boss wants. I had all the necessary corrections applied to what we internally call Metadata. So here are my solutions to the problem:
  • Verify the Metadata with the Google interface. Since I have a good relation with the data librarian, it wasn’t that difficult to get the job done.
  • Update the database that runs behind the catalogue in the way the software team wants it. Though it’s nice to make suggestions, I prefer to put myself in his shoes and look at the task before forwarding a demand.
  • Initiate discussions with Corp. Comm. after you have made an agreement with the software team. That’s the best way to convince them that since the user and developer are both in agreement with the KRAs; the Corp. Comm. only needs to get the site up and running.
Finally we have the site up and running. Well, almost up and running.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ode to the New Linea Ad

The other day I was watching the ad of Fiat Linea with the punchline "Admiration guaranteed." On the first look, I too fell for the car. For people like me, automobiles are object d'art, as much as they are machines. So of course, the first response goes to the good looks. But the story doesn't end there. There is much more to a car than just the looks. I admit the fact that the Linea ad could have been much better. I was pondering over the comments of Brijesh in the Mint blog recently. I feel that since the product in question is an automobile, and since we hear thousands of questions being posed at almost every automobile reviewer in auto shows aired by different TV channels, the word "admiration" should comprise of much more meaning than just meagre good looks. Additional features like mileage, cruise control, making way on difficult conditions, whichever could be the USP, the brand manager could have cashed in more on these features. I've heard good things about the Linea from some automobile review sites in the Web. So there is no doubt that the product might have a good stand among its competitors. Though I would refrain from making such vociferus comments like Brijesh did, that the ad was a total waste, I feel it would have been a much better ad. In its present form, yes, the campaign is nice and simple to watch, but misses out to convey the message which is critical for advertisement campaigns as opposed to entertainer movies.