A few days ago there was high-level Strategic Planning Meeting within my organization to plan for the internal goal/ initiative. The goal is to double the revenue by 2012 and to quadruple it by 2015!!! Certainly a very ambitious and daunting task…

So I was overwhelmed when I received following message in my Inbox:

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As we continue to march forward, we need to periodically reassess our market position and reinvent ourselves to stay relevant to our customer needs and expectations. We should anticipate emerging trends and align our strategies to capitalize on growth opportunities.

This year we will do this assessment and map out the charter for future growth and development at our Strategic Planning Meeting…and will share immediate communication and updates of these discussions with you on a daily basis…

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Now my excitement was not only because the organization was going to share with me the daily updates, thereby making me feel part of the BIG initiatives – creating a sense-of-belonging – but it was also because, I had this complaint about this organization for a long time, that nothing was planned, there was no strategy for growth, no vision, no action plan. Success had happened purely because they were present at right time and right place – and even the so-called ‘success’ was great or anything – just modest growth… So I was happy to finally see some Strategic Planning happening and was eager to know what our leaders (not just top but second and third tier management) think/ say. In last 2 years that I have been at this organization I have never seen how our BU head looks – forget about what he thinks and says! So I was all excited…

Now all my excitement faded and finally turned into anger and irritation when I read through the daily blabbering of so-called thought leaders at my organization. Here is the compilation of their ‘pearls of wisdom’ and then I will continue with my thoughts and cause for my irritation. (Pls. note that this was a Strategic Planning meet aimed at identifying action plan for a time-bound goal – to double and quadruple the revenue in 2 and 5 years respectively. Not some conclave where thought leaders sit together and discuss something abstract and totally unintelligible)

Excerpts:

XYZ has made good progress and we need to continue to enrich our passion and energy to support creativity and innovation. We need to continuously innovate to provide valuable products to our customers at right times with genuine customer orientation

Customers partner with us because we know more about them, respond to their needs, appreciate their business, build trust and form intimate relationships over the lifetime.  We need to deepen relations with our customer and prospects and commit long term sustainable delights.

Without an action and execution plan, a vision is just a dream. Collaboration and execution will drive us to realize our goal. We need to visualize broadening of our roles that entails greater collaboration across business units, horizontals, support functions, markets and sectors.

To best serve our customers, we need to move beyond our silos and enable efficient sharing of knowledge and experiences. Collaboration and co-operation of activities are keys to effectively serve customers.

Participating at current year’s ongoing Strategy meet, I am confident of one fact: XYZ is set for Unfettered Growth. We are geared for a new phase of larger growth and expansion.

We, as a team are planning for growth while keeping a careful eye on costs. I and my team are committed and getting ready for the goal, Are you?

XYZ has notably made progress and we should continue to optimize our market position harnessing our passion, talent and innovation.  Our charter is to reduce time to market for fulfilling opportunities by engaging with key market influencers, drive new accounts to quickly become strategic accounts and with strong collaboration across the organization to Key accounts. We also focus on leadership training-developing and nurturing talent.

Integrated service offerings, product partnerships with leading and relevant players in market place and a globalized talent pool will only accelerate growth

XYZ’s Strategic Meet 2010 is focused on laying charter for XYZ’s future growth and development.  Key areas of focus for us is aligning business services with IT structures and IT modernization amongst other key initiatives that we currently pursue

XYZ has exciting times ahead and with our commitment we progress towards our goal. To achieve this thrust, we need to collaborate, strive for zero defects in what we do and continuously look for opportunities

Involving, mentoring and training the identified talent will support taking up skill positions.  Our focus is to build new accounts, have clear aligned new account strategies, enlarge footprint in existing accounts and focus on building product partnership and service offerings.

With a dedicated focus on these we will achieve growth

To continue delivering value to our customers and achieve the aspired growth, building domain expertise, differentiated accelerators and offerings and strategic product partnerships will be key. We need to commit ourselves to continue our efforts to position XYZ as the best on the outsourcing landscape.

XYZ Strategy Meeting 2010 is focused on building collaboration and integration for XYZ.  External markets present very exciting opportunities in fields like Cloud Computing and Analytics for us to join forces and develop. XYZ Finance team will work in partnership with business groups to exploit these opportunities and be an enabler for future growth – funniest of all….from Finance team

XYZ is poised for growth and with collaboration we will build strength and take advantage of opportunities that arise in our industry. To drive us towards the goal, integrated IT-BPO service offerings, focus on new geographies and investment in technology and domain skills form key focus areas for us.

Key is to focus on what we want to achieve and execute it, and we will take XYZ to newer heights.

Our focus is on People Excellence as People excellence will lead to organizational excellence. While there will be focus on talent acquisition and training, the key drivers to People Excellence would be Leadership excellence, Process excellence, Innovation & Learning and Recognition & Employee Engagement.

We will together help XYZ progress to achieve its goal. … (HR – who else??!!)

XYZ’s verticals and horizontals, sales and support functions are all geared up to use collaborative efforts and use our strength to achieve our target. We should continue to provide innovative, offshore centric solutions to our customers. By focused process orientation we provide delivery excellence and value add to our clients.

Focus on geographical expansion of customer base beyond US and UK and geographical expansion of delivery centers beyond India will further fuel our progress towards our goal

XYZ’s talent is the source of its competitive advantage. I will personally drive 3 specific initiatives to help develop this key capability. Spend 2 hours every week on people development with my immediate and extended teams, participate at least 1 new hire induction every month and execute a structured engagement plan with our client facing teams – (This one came from the head of Strategic Initiatives – the only one that made sense and was relevant to the goal!)

XYZ’s journey gets better and better as the years roll on. While we are proud of our accomplishments, we know there is more work to be done. We know that success doesn’t belong to one area or one person; it belongs everywhere and to everyone and we will collaborate to ensure that XYZ’s exciting journey continues to go on.

There is much happening in the market place and we are recognizing and gearing ourselves to continue maintain our leadership market position. Disruptive technologies like Cloud Computing form our focus areas and we commit to take help our customers navigate through this turbulence.

We operate with a Global Mindset, support a Culture of Collaboration, foster a Passion for Learning, encourage Employee Development and Value The Individual. Key areas we focus today cover leveraging strong BNFS positioning using global experience, deliver strong set of service offerings and seed anchor accounts to ensure sustainable growth.

XYZ continues to draw strength from its employees, strong client relationships, excellent track record, and its strong positioning as it looks to achieve greater successes. Integrated service offerings, ownership and collaboration across the organization will support XYZ to reach newer heights

A lot of dedication, hard work and collaboration has led us to where we are today. We realize that there’s no short cut or silver bullet for achieving success in the marketplace and with team work and leveraging each others strengths we will make a difference.

There is no one formula to success. Continuous innovation to deliver new valuable solutions and improving operational excellence remains our team’s charter. Addressing customer needs at right times and with right solutions is our focus.

Market is changing and so are customer needs. We focus to enhance XYZ’s market position by deploying newer and better marketing practices. Improving XYZ’s brand visibility, understanding trends and pulse of the market place and supporting XYZ’s sales endeavors forms our charter

Consistently delivering value to our customers is essential. We have a great platform which has potential to deliver value and we commit ourselves to leverage such critical service offerings to take to market.

We will focus on developing competition analysis framework to create growth opportunities. We plan to form capability leadership teams to execute and support various strategic initiatives. Key is to maintain operational excellence and people excellence. People are our assets and we will ensure People excellence by maintaining Effective People engagements, Transparent Performance Management and Clear career growth planning. Horizontal and Vertical Interlock and zero tolerance on Quality compliance will be our force.

We need to collaborate, execute and replicate our successes to ensure XYZ’s growth.

XYZ’s unity of talent, energy and new ideas is enormous. Maintaining the industry leading standards and working together as one is important. We will contribute to ensure we as XYZ are amongst the best on the outsourcing landscape

Our focus on Operational and People Excellence is going to lead XYZ to be recognized as the best in the industry. This will ensure world class IT shop floor for our customer delivering First time Right.

The Strategic Meet made evident that there is tremendous potential waiting to be harnessed within XYZ. It has led us to understand how we need to manage growth and collaborate to success

Our team will be focused to ensure customer delight. We will close on business solution SME’s who are key drivers of growth. To ensure people excellence we will mentor emerging leaders and create opportunities of growth for our employees

My take away from the meeting is to take the ownership of my work, take initiatives for the organization, closely collaborate with my colleagues and departments and ensure that I leave no stone unturned to achieve our goals.

With our collective and sincere efforts, I am confident our growth will only multiply at a much rapid rate from here.

We will make strategic investments in building competencies around our core strategy.

We will ensure People Excellence by introducing new Career Tracks, deeply focus on Employee Engagement activities and enable Leadership Connection with our teams.

The “think big” excitement from the strategic meet must flow into every employee

Inculcating XYZ’s value system, creating a high performance work culture and providing ample opportunities to do different things using rotation is a key element that will be practiced to ensure people excellence.

We will focus on expanding existing accounts, winning large accounts. Expansion in other key geographies and investment in sales teams to expand outreach will help us build promising presence

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This was what the great leaders said during a five-day high-flying meet – considering their paychecks and the way the grand event was hosted – a good number of $$$ (6 digits sum at least – if not seven digits) must have been spent!

In the end I received the following message:

…The concluding Day 5 of Strategic Planning Meet was culminated into each BU and horizontal presenting their plan in support of our goal….

Our BU level plans are interlocked with horizontal and region plans. We will have a common definition of success and we will support each other to achieve as per defined objectives within specified timelines.

… clearly Collaboration and Ownership are essential to our success and we recognized these two themes as key.

immediate attention to Operational/Delivery Excellence

Business excellence will be a result of people, quality and delivery excellence.”

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How did you find this whole thing? If you were an employee, would you have been all charged up and excited and enlightened? Or would you have been confused and harassed by jargons, buzzwords, lack of clarity or action plan, to-do items???

The verbal diarrhea might have been well received by the participants of this meet but what did they prove or achieve by sharing this with all employees? Most employees ignored (promptly deleted emails without bothering to skim through the daily updates), many did not even know what Strategic Meet is or how it affects or influences them…few others who did care and bother to track the minutes were clueless, disappointed and irritated (like me!)

This got me thinking about a few things:

  • Are these strategic meets (and similar other high-flying initiatives/ events) for real or gimmicks to fool media, customers, investors, employees and management themselves? Do they produce results? How many of such initiatives succeed and how many fail?
  • Do such meets have any co-relation with what these leaders would do when they disperse and go back to Business As Usual?
  • Do, at any point in time later, they measure the outcome vis-à-vis the strategic planning that was done earlier? Or do they just keep on sitting through the meetings as a ritual – without bothering about its effectiveness? (There was an earlier initiative in my organization – with some goals for 2010..that just evaporated as we entered 2010 and set new goals for 2012 and 2015…nobody at top bothered to discuss or reflect upon the earlier goal and take away from it. I am sure similar meetings/ presentations, brain-storming must have happened when the earlier goal was launched/ announced. And partly the same crowd must have sat through the recent strategic meet)
  • Do people understand the intensity and significance of words ‘excellence’, ‘leveraging’, ‘innovation’, ‘end-to-end solution’ etc.? They have become so blunt and commonplace that you don’t feel excited hearing them… The head of strategic initiatives was the only person who spoke something tangible and actionable – the rest was Gyan (that too of inferior quality and jargon). I remember an incidence sometime back when we were preparing presentation for a prospective customer and the aim was to ‘demonstrate our capabilities and propose an end-to-end-solution’…a complete rowdy Account Manager (who was going to deliver the presentation!) looked at the first-cut (another buzzword…) and said ‘…arre kuch naya daalate hain iss baar…ek kaam kar, yeh Engagement Model wala slide edit kar…uss mein ek ‘Centre of Excellence’ ka box daal do. Aur usko ‘Knowledge Management’ aur ‘seamless integration with  service offerings’ waale box ke saath join kar do. Achchha dikhegaa…thoda punch aayega solution mein!’ I was simultaneously laughing and feeling like punching that guy in nose! A few days ago a US senator called Indian IT giant Infosys ‘chop shop’ – a disgraceful remark aimed not just at Infosys but the entire Indian outsourcing industry. I am not too sure that his comments were entirely disgraceful and there was no element of truth in it. But that apart, what I was surprised at was – the entire industry (including respectful and thoughtful names) condemned such harsh words – but the same people seem to ignore when we demean and ridicule such words as ‘centre of excellence’ and ‘ innovation’ and ‘providing value to customer’. I do not see much difference in the two extremes – the US ridiculing our industry as chop-shop and we ridiculing customer’s intelligence by loosely using phrases ‘centre of excellence’, ‘best-in-class solutions’, ‘state of the art or cutting-edge technology’ etc. In fact if I were to choose between the two extremes, I would  rather go with ‘chop-shop’ coz I see some element of truth there!
  • Do people at top understand difference between Management and Leadership? Is it sufficient to wear designer suits and talk jargon to be considered as a Leader? One of the Ten Things of Google Philosophy says ‘You can be serious without a suit’ – most of the Indian leaders seem to think otherwise.
  • Is is not necessary to talk sense and be relevant? What is such great fascination for high-flying hollow buzzwords? Why can’t people understand their role and restrict to their sphere of work? Look at the funniest comment above (marked in red). It comes from Finance department. Why on earth, the finance department – purely a support function within IT organization with no role to play in main business – would talk about (or even dare to mention) Cloud Computing? I guess the person would feel like a  ‘social outcaste’ in that meet if he did not use that lingo…but that would not make him a laughing stock as he would (or did) – by talking about Cloud Computing.
  • Lastly – how much of this Gyan is under the influence of management studies (MBA etc.) or imitating the ‘true leaders’??? I am sure most of these people wouldn’t have done MBA but may have some fascination for it. Or some might be reading the true thought leaders world-over and might desire to talk/ think like them. Nothing wrong in it – in fact it’s perfectly alright! But the problem is – if it is not backed by sound thinking and/ or owning/ inculcating that lingo then that talk remains superficial – only hollow bubbles of words. Quoting one leader at the above mentioned meeting ‘The “think big” excitement from the strategic meet must flow into every employee’…and for this to happen this excitement must first be real and honest at the source – the great leaders!

I am very much confident that the organization is NOT going to meet the goal (nowhere even closer) and have strong reasons/ data to support it. Let’s see what happens in reality. I will keep a close eye on how this story unfolds…

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