M&A Strategy: Things To Keep In Mind

A second panel saw panellists throw light on how they are developing a rigorous M&A (mergers and acquisitions) strategy while also touching upon finer details like how different a beast digital M&A is compared with traditional M&A and what are the considerations associated with buying innovation.

The panellists included Nishant Verman, vice-president and head (corporate development and strategic partnerships), Flipkart; Chandru Chawla, head (corporate strategy, M&A and new ventures), Cipla; Sundareswaran S., executive director, Morgan Stanley; Saugata Bhattacharya, senior vice-president and chief economist, Axis Bank Ltd; Makarand Padalkar, chief financial officer, Oracle Financial Services Software Ltd; Vivek Gupta, partner and head (tax M&A team), KPMG; and Sridhar Gorthi, partner, Trilegal. The discussion was moderated by Shrija Agrawal, national deals editor at Mint. Edited excerpts:

How does India’s top consumer internet firm think about M&A? You just raised a huge round of funding from SoftBank, are you preparing a war chest for acquisitions?

Verman: We are in an industry which is arguably 10 years old. E-commerce interest is just 2% right now but we believe that at some point this 2% will become 20. We have to think as to how should we accelerate innovation and this innovation can take the shape of some core capabilities or consumers. We work backwards from saying what a customer needs, what innovation will be required. Today when I look back, between the three group companies, we have about 65-70% market share. If you see how many consumers are buying online today and if I were to increase the number of customers that are buying online then I have to work in a way to make them buy more things online. There is an infrastructure layer, which makes the buying behaviour of a customer smoother and faster or quicker whether it is category expansion like grocery.

I need to think how we work in these areas (category expansion), and what are the capabilities that I might need. As to new customers, we are looking at both urban and semi-urban market. Eventually, all of India should buy from us. There are people who have access to customers and have a relationship with customers that we don’t have and we need to be faster to do something about that. When it comes to infrastructure and logistics, we continue to look at what others are doing and maybe partner with them. Wherever we see innovation in infrastructure and core capabilities, we will continue to buy.

What about Cipla’s M&A strategy? You recently stepped up your game with acquisitions in the US?

Chawla: Cipla has been transforming itself to become more innovation-oriented, more geographically diversified and also to take a jump in the US market where unlike our peers we were a bit late to enter. So it called for a bold and large inorganic move which we have completed. The external world seems to be positive as we took the right move. We are not in the fashion industry where we should be looking at what we do every other day. Firms like us, based on the old world of brick-and-mortar model, we have to think long-term and stay focused. The focus has to be our key mantra for the coming five-seven years.

For us, the US will still remain a big growth driver. There are tidal waves in the US at the moment. The timing was a little bit surprising. There is a lot more consolidation to happen. Health budgets are under serious pressure. The kind of mercenary and credit pricing that was quite phenomenal in the US won’t be possible in the future. But for companies like us, there are ample opportunities to climb up the value curve in a more innovation-oriented model without relying on the business models of the past. For companies like us, the basic model was copying the generic medicines. It had a copy-cat mindset which is different from an innovator’s mindset. You cannot incubate a company like Google or Facebook in a company like Infosys. Five years ago we created New Ventures which was like an internal incubator. The new things that we want to do require a completely new ecosystem. We started doing that in a unique way by sequestering it from the mainstream. Consumer health is a great example and we realised that it is not a pharmaceutical game, but rather a fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) game. Pharma company is more front-ended in a way that it gives returns on investment. An FMCG company, on the other hand, is more back-ended. We invited private equity to invest; that went well. Consumer health, creating an innovation-oriented business in the US and consolidation in India in a big-bang emerging markets are our key growth driving factors.

Consumer health, creating innovation oriented business in the US and consolidation in India in a big-bang emerging markets are our key growth driving factors.– Chandru Chawla, head (corporate strategy, M&A and new ventures), Cipla.

Could you break down the good, the bad and the ugly for us and what corporates should factor in when making investment decisions?

Bhattacharya: We are going through a mess due to the goods and services tax (GST) system. That’s a short-term pain which is the ugly pain. But there are lots of goods. As for macros, we are the darling of foreign investors. Global investors are all very bullish on India. The infrastructure is getting better, the government has a vision and they are willing to execute it. The legislative system is improving with the infrastructure, insolvency and bankruptcy laws, GST in particular and Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA).

The best parts are some structural shifts that are happening in the system like homogenization and financialization of the system. This includes people moving from cash to digital platforms. The tax revenues of the government have increased as a lot of people are complying with the tax regime and the government has become efficient in spending this money. Our payment systems are the best in the world. There is nothing better in the world than the unified payments interface (UPI)s. However, sooner or later one downside of this digitization is that you will lose on the regular salaried job market. It will be more of a sharing economy but with this comes the marketplace. There are three characteristics of this market-driven economy. One, this is very information-centric, particularly information with a lot of asymmetries. Secondly, more the number of customers you acquire, the more valuable the company is which is the key to the economy. What comes from combining these two is the stickiness that you can induce in your customer base. This can bring changes in the business model that the companies can begin to use to acquire scale. The key focus on short-term profits will slowly begin to dissolve and move further. The focus will now be a long-term capital strategy. That are the key changes you are likely to see in the next 10 years.

There is so much capital available out there. We have SoftBank Vision Fund, Canada’s CDPQ, CPPIB and other private equity players investing too much capital in too few assets. Is Canada the new Japan? What is your take on this?

Sundareswaran: There are new pools of assets. There is a diversification of assets. Sovereigns funds come from all parts of the world. The pools of capital have become large from what it was. People are no longer really dependent on asset managers. People are willing to take direct investments. In terms of chasing the sectors, there will be a moment at times where one set of sectors will be more attractive than the others. In general, we feel that we are in a zone where growth is going to be strong.

Give us a sense of what you are seeing in the information technology (IT) sector right now? Oracle has been a very prolific acquirer globally but not in India?

Padalkar: IT sector as of now is full of M&As both of shape and size. In this particular sector, a lot of intangibles are needed and this is one of the challenges in this sector. There are expectations of growth as we move forward. The second problem in IT is to determine a good valuation model for innovation. The third problem in IT is with people because while we all say that we make IT independent of people but in practice, it is not true. People suffer structural change when an asset is acquired. Ability to assimilate new talent and not let them go is another key factor which is taken into consideration. Fourth thing which happens in IT is that most of the acquisitions are done at a slightly green field or an advanced stage and therefore the capital required to make it successful is a difficult game. The challenge comes when there is not so much appetite for capital funding in an organization for an M&A. At a firm level, the decision of M&A, we take at a global level. We look for global footprint and not region specific. In India, there are no core IT assets available.

IT sector as of now is full of M&As both of shape and size. In this particular sector, a lot of intangibles are needed and this is one of the challenges in this sector.– Makarand Padalkar, CFO, Oracle Financial Services Software Ltd.

As a tax expert, if you could give us a sense of evolving tax laws in M&As which corporates should be cognizant of in the near future?

Gupta: Historically, we have been in a tax environment where largely we have followed a rule-based approach as to how we structure our taxes. Fundamentally, over the last three or four years, an overlay of substance norm is coming in. Ten years ago, lots of firms migrated ownership from India to overseas and to do that now under the current tax regime is far more challenging. Externalization was very simple 10 years ago but now the rules have been changed. We are now in a regime, where we are transitioning perhaps from a rule-based law to a substance-based law.

Give us a sense of how deal-making has evolved in the country. There is so much of talk around consolidation, tomorrow if Uber were to acquire or merge with Ola, which is not far or a distant possibility, will that be considered monopolistic by Competition Commission of India (CCI)? How are they looking at these transactions? We saw CCI setting the stage for Lafarge to sell some of its India assets to consummate its merger with Holcim?

Gorthi: From a legal adviser’s perspective, deal-making has evolved structurally almost unrecognisable from a decade ago. The environment is in a stage of transition. Structural changes like bankruptcy code, RERA, all these changes how they will play out is yet to be seen. The answer to your question of Uber acquiring Ola is little surprising. If this thing happens it will have a monopoly in the market and will have a massive market share but some of the mega-mergers, the experience has shown that the CCI is the most pro-active and facilitative regulator. The competition regime when first came in through and CCI was put into play, merger control became a thing. The first concern for many of us had that it is going to be a bottleneck and will slow down the pace of M&A. The actual experience, however, is different. So often if you see large transactions which require approvals from a number of different regulators, CCI has become an interactive facilitator in giving guidance. They have the power to disallow the transactions and internationally this happens very often. They have been facilitative in a few transactions. So Ola-Uber merger or an acquisition is likely to run more into difficulties on government policies for aggregators rather than monopolistic.

Vivek, if you can throw some light on how the present dispensation is trying to create a positive environment for investors? Has abolition of foreign investment promotion board (FIPB) proven to be a good move or a bad move?

Gupta: The intention is all correct and in the right direction. The government has come out with the guidelines for e-commerce and foreign direct investments (FDI). A lot of sectors have been opened up for investment. It is too soon to say whether clearances will become easier or not. Many applauded the abolition of FIPB. As per our interaction with FIPB for the past five to seven years, it was actually a body that got together with various parts of government. FIPB provided a forum where the government could take a decision together. They acted as a mechanism whereby the government was forced to respond to the meeting which was held every alternate week and there was a committee which would then take a joint call. I don’t quite know whether putting this power back in the hands of the administrative ministry will hasten approvals or it wouldn’t. I am holding my judgement on whether abolition of FIPB is a good or bad move, although from an intention standpoint, it was a good intent and we should remove bureaucracy wherever we can.

What we are seeing now is domestic consolidation, industry leaders coming together; it is no longer about who is controlling the business.– Sundareswaran S., executive director, Morgan Stanley.

Sundareswaran, as an investment bank, how are the deals in your pipeline looking like; where do you see most of the deals coming from?

Sundareswaran: Historically, we have always done inbound transactions which used to constitute 50% of the overall deal value, but that is changing a bit. What we are seeing now is domestic consolidation, industry leaders coming together; it is no longer about who is controlling the business. We are also seeing inbound interest coming back. Outbound transactions have been selective and therefore mega or large outbound deals would be fewer compared to inbound deals.

What is at the heart of e-commerce M&A which is largely a winner-takes-all market?

Verman: We acquire companies for people. One of the things which we keep in mind is thinking of who will continue to stay with us. We have hundreds of millions of customers and we don’t spend on marketing anymore. So if we acquire someone it makes sense on making them continue. Myntra is a good example. We let them build their own brand. One of the core areas for our M&A strategy is ‘category’, where we think what are those categories which we have tried to build or where do we get acceleration in six-nine months. Today, we do have a strong customer base and we would acquire for core capabilities and not for customers. The capital which we have today allows us to be very aggressive. The second area of focus for M&A would be around thinking of how to accelerate profitability.

How are you using Big Data for your M&A decisions?

Verman: Data is at the heart of what we do. As a digital platform, we have the ability to see a customer’s behaviour. With data, we can keep a track of customer behaviour changing over time and that builds into a firm’s strategy. We acquire in areas where we see a gap in the product roadmap.

This article originally appeared in Live Mint.

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The Neuroscience of Engagement: The Deeper Science of Learning, Change, and Peak Performance

A few months back, in February this year, at Belong, we started a podcast series called Belong Accelerate. The intent was to feature Business Builders, CHROs and Talent Leaders share their insights on all things talent. As part of this series, as of now we’ve got about 18 podcasts published on our website. You can choose to listen into the podcast on Apple PodcastsiHeartRadioSoundcloud or Stitcher on your phones as well. Since we were getting a lot of requests for written transcripts of the podcast, we decided to publish them as well. Featured below is the conversation I had with Prabir Jha – President and Global Chief People Officer at Cipla on The Neuroscience of Engagement: The Deeper Science of Learning, Change, and Peak Performance.

Aadil: Welcome to Accelerate, Belong’s Podcast Channel where we interview India Inc’s who is who across business functions, to get a sense on what’s on their timeline in 2018 as business priorities. I’m in Mumbai today, and we have with us Prabir Jha, President and Global Chief People Officer at Cipla. A LinkedIn power profile, a TEDx speaker, an engaging columnist who writes for most publications globally and in India, and a serial Tweeter, that’s Prabir for you. 

Prabir started off his career with the Government of India in Indian ordinance factory service before he switched to corporate and joined Thermax as their Head of HR. He then had amazing stints with Tech Mahindra, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Tata Motors, and Reliance, leading their HR functions. And just about two and a half years back, Prabir joined Cipla as their President and Global Chief People Officer where he leads a bunch of functions in the form of human resources, corporate communications, administration, legal, and corporate affairs globally for the firm. Prabir, thank you so much for making time for a conversation today, and welcome to Accelerate. 

Prabir: Thank you, thank you Aadil, delighted to be here. 

Aadil: Pleasure. Prabir, the theme of our podcast today is the neuroscience of engagement, the deeper science of learning, change, and peak performance. Let’s get started with my first question, Prabir. In firms like Tata Motors and Reliance, you’ve led India’s largest corporate conglomerates at a scale that’s pretty much unprecedented, what does engagement mean to you as a leader? 

Prabir: I think engagement is really to me the balance of the heart and the mind. I think it’s not just the scale and size of a corporation, but I think it’s very important to be able to connect the heart and minds of your people. Because at the end of the day they are really the organization, there’s nothing inanimate about that, and the leader’s job has to therefore understand, “What is that happy marriage?” And hearts and minds are different for different people, and when you run mega corporates, the hearts and minds are in any number of combinations that you can think of. 

And therefore for the leader, it’s, A, the humility to want to know the heart and minds. It is the ability to envision and co-create with these people a shared future. And finally, the authenticity of intent and the persistence of effort to be able to appreciate, reward, and recognize people who help the corporation become what it becomes. I think this is really about at the core of it all is about authenticity, and to me that is so very central for true engagement. 

Aadil: Bang on, Prabir. Prabir, today a lot of organizations when they probably talk to you, when they want your advice, when they’re seeking your inputs, they must often talk to you about culture, engagement, and the correlation between culture and engagement. What are your thoughts on this, and is there a direct correlation? 

Prabir: See, I don’t know how a statistician would answer this question, but I can share with you from my native experience, the two are linked. You know, every culture will produce the engagement that it gets. And every level of engagement also will impact the culture a corporation becomes. And having said that, let me tell you that this is at a very stereotypical level, there are subsets and sub-sects of culture, and there are different slices of engagement depending on the demographics. So, I first don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all definition for either of the two, but it is so important. And it’s a great question because every culture ideally should draw the kind of talent that will survive and thrive in that culture. Companies don’t do a great job of that, and I can talk about that later. 

So if you have hired just people because their resume says that the person has so many years of so-called relevant experience, and has a relevant academic qualification, and do a notional psychographic alignment to that culture that the person is coming to, you’re not likely to be getting the right people on board. And, therefore, it doesn’t matter whether your culture was good or bad, right or wrong, because these are all perceptual, engagement is not gonna happen. So I think the true issue is of trying to be clear what is the relevant culture for the context in which you want to survive and thrive? 

It is equally important to recognize that culture is not a static element. I personally am convinced culture evolves. And what you believe is your culture was not your culture many years back. What your culture will become tomorrow, may not be what you are today, and companies struggle with these because they are often prisoners of their legacy, right, and successful companies even more so. 

And the third dimension is engagement, again, varies. Depending on the demographic slices that exist in the company, the engagement believers could be very different. How much of that is in sync with the culture that you’ve articulated yourself to be, or by design, or otherwise become. And if you do not get that alignment right, the culture will either get disrupted, changed, mutilated, or your engagement levels will be intensified or completely demolished. 

So, I think it’s a very interconnected piece and people must be very clear when they make talent choices. Are you hiring people to change a culture or to sustain a culture? And the hiatus of interruption is understandable, but ultimately the culture you want to be will depend on A, what is your philosophy and what your operating context is. Because congruence will attract a certain kind of people but if you want to be a very free thinking disruptive culture, you cannot hire people who are fundamentally looking for instructions to be complied. 

So, I think understanding the kind of talent profile, the psychographic makeup, the culture that is relevant in your organizational context for today and for the future that you can visualize. And therefore the engagement levers, if they are not…three of them are in sync, I don’t think you’re going to get a very successful organization. 

Aadil: Excellent, excellent answer that sir. Sir, we started off by talking about really culture and then we kind of connected that to engagement. The third most obvious piece that comes to me when I think about culture and engagement are emotions. And I want to draw your attention to this research that was conducted by Professors Adam Waytz and Malia Mason, they wrote this in 2013 in an article for, “Harvard Business Review.” Where they said, “Neuroscience has already revealed insights that are applicable to the workplace including how to promote creative thinking, how to structure rewards, and the role of emotions in decision making, and the likes.” Practically, how do we solve for emotions in decision making today? 

Prabir: It’s a brilliant question, and I must first make a confession between the left and the right brain bias. I have a little bit more of a bias for the right brain, so I don’t know whether this will appeal to the very analytical data driven guys who would be listening in, but I think it’s very important. See, every decision making process at some level is an output of some emotion. Every emotion has supportive data. I refuse to believe that everything mathematically is bereft of emotion, but every emotion seeks and discovers its supporting logic. So, one is the decision itself and the entire process of decision making. Forget all the hardcore logic that one supposedly mouths, it’s really a decision making process amongst people. 

And people come into a decision making process with all their heart, their mind, their experience, their worries, their anxieties, their biases, their perspectives. It is fundamentally at one level an issue of emotions. I don’t think everything is about cold calculated logic, because even that cold calculated logic generates an emotion. An emotion that I am right for these reasons and someone who might be made differently also has his logic. So, I think the ability to understand the emotional interplay in decision making first helps you influence to a certain decision outcome. 

The second part is if you have not understood the emotional ramifications of a decision, your deployment is not clinically perfect. And that is why many decisions, especially when they are large scale organization transformation, change in strategy, change in people practices, or whatever else, it is so important to be conscious of the bias of the relevance of emotions in the process of decision making, in the actual decision, but most important of all, in the deployment and execution of decision. So, I think it’s a great question, a very central question. 

Unfortunately, a lot of our leadership in most corporations have a more analytical left brain bias. And, therefore, everything which works to a proven theory and theorem, and what the Excel sheets confirm, becomes a decision. And if all these bright men and women did what was clinically right, bereft of emotion, every decision should have been a perfect decision. But we all know the reality, most decisions don’t turn out to be the right decision. Because in most leadership teams, A, the emotional sensitivity and the emotional quotient is a little less developed, and you don’t bridge for bias because such people are different than you. And, therefore, the decisions even if on paper looked perfect, the deployment is not always successful, so it’s a very important dimension. 

Aadil: Fantastic. I heard some brilliant answer Prabir. Prabir, when you look at emotions in decision making, and then, of course, you always want to kind of ensure that the best people on the job are kind of super engaged. In addition to figuring out if the emotions, the bent of mind is right, the state of engagement does have the peak, what are the other parameters that leaders should look at to assess and ensure peak performance of teams? 

Prabir: We need to be first clear that is it only your top 5%, 10%, 20% people whose engagement and emotional connect is going to ensure peak performance of the organization? And views are divided. At one level the fact is I don’t believe everyone is equal, personally I don’t believe that everyone has the same impact to the organization success. At the same time, I’m also not of the view that just by managing a small coterie of people and their engagement you can move mountains, because some people can bring a lot of energy but many people can drain that energy away. I think it’s the balance and that is why this entire agenda becomes very difficult. Where do you draw the line? If you practice socialism of engagement, you will please no one. 

And this is a trap that many leaders fall in, they want to appease and please everyone and you end up pleasing no one. So, I think my response to this question would be, please understand what is it that appeals and emotionally engages different slices of people, and within each slice that individual. Just recognition for example, does not work equally with everyone. Some people are very embarrassed, shy, and possibly not accepting of recognition. Some people only want recognition, right, and therefore the ability to understand that person. It’s almost like atomizing engagement. And this interest or time is not something that I see in many leaders, they neither have the time nor do they have the interest. And, therefore, they do broad swipe interventions. 

And that is why peak performance does not happen because maybe something which works with 5% people does not work with 95%, something that works with 95% doesn’t matter to the 5% who actually are making a lot of difference. So, the choice of where you want to make the intervention, the specific engagement lever, almost atomizing your response, that is the commitment that is needed. And, therefore, people think this is soft fuzzy work, but this is a strategic issue. 

And just because people are unable to do it and if you do not have a mathematical equation for it, it does not mean that it’s an easy job, right? It is possibly the most complex job. Leading people is the most complex job, and it’s the most underdeveloped skills that you find in most corporations. And that is why just because you’ve met your numbers and your targets and you get promoted, does not produce a breed of high engaging, high talent thinking leader. 

So, I think it starts first by the resolve that it needs my time. It needs my focus, I need to make my picks and I’m going to be responding not from a point that I know what is good for you, because papa does not know well enough anymore, but to respond to what you will feel engagement. So, I always joke with people, in today’s world we are still trying to solve fundamentally a pediatric problem, a newish problem with a geriatric solution. You know, and it’s not gonna work, right, but it needs a lot of humility and authenticity of different leadership groups and their HR teams to actually think through and then practice the choices they make. 

Aadil: An excellent point there, Prabir, specifically about how you talked about personalization. That’s extremely important in today’s workforce because millennials really want what is right specifically for them not necessarily for the [inaudible 00:15:25], so. 

Prabir: And it’s true. And I’m saying even in this broad sweep millennial, person X could be very different from person Y. And the challenge for organizations is, how much of a broad brush, which is simpler to do, are you wanting to do vis-à-vis, actually individualizing and personalizing the response. And that is where I personally believe it’s a leadership challenge from a practicality perspective, but more than that I think it’s lack of interest. 

I just think people believe that they can get away by just doing something. And the best of leaders that I have seen in my career are people who’ve actually taken the effort, and it is doable. Because once you’ve been able to crack that problem, you find everything else flows so easily and naturally. But if you’ve not got this solution right, you can do all your numbers, and spreadsheets, and equations but you haven’t got the most important equation right. 

Aadil: True, true, true. Prabir, there are a lot of performance equations that have been discussed, debated. But I was recently looking at this performance equation which talks about, how do you really critically develop and solve for two things: capability, and capacity. So what is it that you look for in people when you really are looking at developing a strong performance equation? 

Prabir: You know, I have my thesis and I don’t know whether it makes sense. I believe that when you say capability it is individual capability, but when you say capacity, it’s about organization capacity. My thesis is, please do not be overly bothered about building individual capability, that is the fundamental responsibility of the individual. As an organization, you can enable it. And building individual capability does not by default create the organization’s wherewithal to deliver its strategic outcome. 

And, therefore, it is more important to pick what is that distinctive organization capacity, organization capacity that will help it win in the marketplace, or whatever is the operating context, right? So you don’t just have a ticket to play, you get a ticket to win, right? So, I think it is first and foremost necessary for organizations to pick what is their distinctive organization capacity. You can’t be the best in everything. You may be okay with some, you can’t be bad in many, but you can be okay with some. But you got one or two things which ensures that you have a ticket to win. 

And then you build a lot of the individual capability to contribute to that distinctive capacity. Many other things that a person may do to improve individual capability is great, but not all of individual capability building adds up to organization capacity. So, it’s an issue of, again, a strategic choice. What will help you, your organization, your firm, to build that distinctive capacity that will make you survive and then thrive. And leave it to the individuals to develop that capability. Now, people would argue that, “But Prabir, how can you actually build organization capacity without looking at individual capability?” There is a fine difference. Building organization capacity is a collective, strategic choice. Building individual capability is actually using a spray gun, different people can get better at different things but it doesn’t add up to giving you a collective right of success. And to me the strategic choice is about choosing the bigger agenda, and then trying to align the individual capabilities accordingly. 

Aadil: Got it, got it, right. I was recently, Prabir, looking at Glassdoor, this is a company that allows employees to rate their employers. And report showed that only 54% of employees using this site, recommend their company as a place to work. Now, what can companies do to solve for this? 

Prabir: It’s a great question, again, Aadil. And my honest answer is first is take it directionally, don’t take it literally. It’s like asking that question on, you know, are you happy with your salary? I haven’t seen in my career anyone who said I’m happy with my salary. So there’s no point getting overly worked up about it. But having said that, I think it all boils down to what is being said. Now, sometimes you might be taking some very difficult decisions because without that your company may not survive, given the operating context. 

And, therefore, if the employees have a seasonal reason to kind of pull you down, don’t be overly worked up. It’s fine, it’s part of the game. But if you take a longitudinal slice and find that there is a certain pattern that is coming, which you are really bothered about. Because sometimes you are not bothered, I know companies which are not bothered, [inaudible 00:20:43] and say, “I don’t care.” And whether they liked the company doesn’t like the company, I’m a more person independent culture and it doesn’t matter to me. Then it doesn’t matter, Glassdoors’ won’t matter to such companies. 

And there are companies particularly very consumer facing industries where people make the difference, they are really the company. And then it is important to pick the patterns. My own experience is, “Do what you will.” Even if you give them elixir, people get used to elixir and ask for something more, right? And they will always…that’s human nature. They will always raise the bar on expectations, and rightly so, because that’s how the world evolves, that’s how companies evolve. 

I would want to pick, is there something which really bothers me, right? Because that…you know, the neighbor’s wife is always prettier than your wife. So everyone will say, “Oh, this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.” Sometimes it is good for people to realize that maybe just things…like in this question itself, 46% of employees actually say it’s a great company, right? So it’s not something that you want to throw away because that’s a significant number as well, but what is that pattern that you’re bothered about, and that you would want to improve on, or reconcile? 

My own experience is that a lot of issues around perception, whether it’s for the individual leader or it’s for the company, are more in a manner of clarification requirements rather than substantive issues. People receive it in a manner not in the way it was intended, because most leaders are not the best communicators. Chinese whispers happen in organizations, that cascade down many levels takes a different form, and I think if companies can just listen a little better, which is why I call them that they must be listening organizations, not just transmitting organizations. I think it is very possible to pick the ones that you want to really intervene and repair, the rest, don’t break your head. The idea is not again to please everyone because when you hire somebody who will say, “My manager never smiled at me.” And someone might say, “It’s okay for me, it doesn’t matter,” right? So, you have to look at really the meta theme and see whether that connects with the strategic intent that you have for the organization. 

But if it actually matters then you must have the resolve and the humility to act on it. And some things you let go because you can’t resolve all the issues, because it sounds nice to talk, but let’s be honest, it is impossible to ever be in a situation where you’ll not have some issues, some criticism. I mean, you can write anything, there’ll always be someone who’ll troll you, right. I mean, you don’t get too worried. But look at the big patterns, and I think the big patterns which are available to you needs attention. 

Aadil: Superb answer, Prabir. I think it’s…I love the point where you said, “Every organization needs to be a listening organization.” I think a lot of times we have organizations that are hearing and not listening, and I think the difference really makes a large delta. Another interesting piece that I was looking at, Prabir, was according to Deloitte, the balance of power of late has shifted from the employer to the employee. And this is therefore pushing business leaders to learn how to build and org that really engages employees as sensitive, passionate, and creative contributors. Your thoughts, do you see the world moving in this direction. 

Prabir: Yeah. I mean at one level, yes, but at another level I also find that in the Bhookha [SP] world that we are in, why… There are many, many people who become free agents, experimental, innovative, risk taking. At another level, I find a very contrarian mix, where people value job security. Where people value stability, where people want to be assured. So there is no right or wrong because, you know, the media talks about some interesting trends and happenings, and some of them are global trends, some of them are not global trends, some of them are products also have business cycles. 

Suppose the world is going through a depression, people are going to value job security a lot more than all these fancy things about, you know, building their own worlds. At the same time there are many more people who are wanting to do their own thing today. So I just want first to clarify that I don’t necessarily believe that there is a clear stereotypical move from X to Y or the other way round. 

Having said that, I personally believe that careers are going to be individual choices, careers are not and will not, and in my way, must not be the responsibility of the company for that matter even of the manager. The best companies are those which will encourage their associates to chase their dreams, to pursue their dreams, create an environment in which they get the best for themselves. Because, otherwise they will move unless we are in a world which everyone values job security, so that’s the other thing I just want to caveat. 

The role of the individual leader, therefore, is very clearly about helping the employees. Again, you use words like sensitive, and passionate, and creative, that sound very nice, and maybe that’s the intent, but the question is, “Do leaders do it?” “Can leaders do that?” I believe they can, but do they really do it? They don’t. 

Because the “Reality” the pressure on short-term is so high unfortunately that managers and leaders are themselves a very hurried lot. And even if they intellectualised their advice to their employees, I think the hypocrisy comes through. And this is the big paradox that I see. I don’t necessarily say that they may not be meaning all this, but I definitely cannot confirm that every leader and manager is actually engaging their employees to be sensitive, passionate, and creative contributors. Because culture still have a fair bit of command and control of compliance of rules, regulations, and so on, and so forth, all of which actually circumscribe what will I call open thinking, right? 

And, therefore, at the end of it all, it is going to be balancing that tight rope. So, I think the best leaders and managers will need to deliver near term while ensuring that they don’t lose perspective of the long-term. They will need to ensure that they manage their workforce without necessarily becoming a control freak. And, therefore, this entire thing is, how do they make this journey from being the manager, from being a boss to being a coach? I think this is really the migration that the new age managers will have to make. But, I’ll be honest, I still think most people struggle, and some of it has to do with cultural socialization, in certain markets, cultural patterns in certain regions of the world. Because, you know, they grew up in a different environment, and you’re not necessarily going to say that let’s say a western framework is by default the one which works. 

So, again, I am very wary of stereotyping any such thing, but I personally believe and that’s been my experience that if you can pick your talent right, you can envision right, you can inspire them, give them their space to go out, in fact, people by default deliver, and deliver it in the right way. But if you start micromanaging, controlling, which is a challenge with many, many leaders, and it’s a big blind spot. Let me also tell you, in my own experience across the HR spectrum, this is why employees deep down switch off, right? And this is going to be a challenge which is not going to go away tomorrow because the poor manager is a hurried manager because his manager is breathing down his neck, but you expect him to do miracles or her to do miracles with his team. It’s not gonna happen, but…I think it’s more a directional quest rather than, you know, a confirmation of reality today. Yeah, I don’t think this is reality yet. 

Aadil: Fantastic thoughts there, Prabir. You absolutely nailed it when you said that, “Today, most of us are so pressured that we’re only looking at the short-term, although we have the longer term in mind.” And we live in a world where there’s complete chaos. Now, in this world of chaos, Prabir, how can leaders ensure that their employees thrive, and what are one or two things that they can do to make their employees work look more meaningful to them? 

Prabir: You know, it all depends on who is the leader and who is the employee. Because there are all kinds of leaders and there are all kinds of employees, right. So, and every employee has a leader to blame. And if I look at a lot of the social media posts that I read, I find the intensity of cynicism so high. I just wonder, I mean, these guys in their 20s or 30s and I’m amazed that at this stage they’ve kind of become so cynical that accept themselves the whole world is the problem. But having said that, I mean, leaders also have their job to do. So a couple of thoughts which come to my mind, I think leaders must be able to spend time communicating far more than they do. I think there is far too much of reviews in companies and far little conversations. It has to change. I mean, everyone is just reviewing, what are they reviewing? I don’t know, meetings after meetings, what a terrible colossal waste of time and money. 

If 50% reviews can be scrapped, I think organizations will be more successful and your people will be happier. Because you can keep pleasing but it’s a wrong culture to get to, because people then just comply, they just want to do it because someone will check. They don’t do it because that’s what they would be wanting to do. So, I believe that over-micromanaging and over-reviewing is one thing which must slow down. Because that gives people a greater sense of trust, a greater sense of ownership, and all of this is what makes people flow. 

The other thing that I think people and leaders must try and do and I see very little of that typically getting done when I talk to different kinds of people. I think people and leaders have to make sure that their teams get to understand their jobs with the larger purpose of the organization they work for. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in sales, you’re in supply chain, you’re the receptionist, you’re in finance, you’re in research, you’re in HR, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether you’re senior or a junior, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in one part of the world or another part of world. 

I think the inability of an organization to be able to connect the 8 hours, 10 hours, whatever hours that a person comes to work with the larger purpose of that organization is very critical. It gives people a greater sense of self-worth, it gives people…it’s like that old story, are you laying bricks or are you building a cathedral, right? It’s a great example but I haven’t seen too much of this with leaders. Again, maybe for the same reason that they are so tactical, they are so hurried, it’s all about, pushing, pushing, reviewing, fighting. I just feel that if they can create a little bit more of openness and conversation around creating a sense of meaning, people will not look at this as drudgery. 

Because let’s face it. A lot of many jobs is drudgery, some of it will go away partly because of automation and the new age possibilities, some because leadership styles could change, some of it will still be drudgery of some kind. But to be able to find purpose in that drudgery, I think is the genius that I expect leaders to demonstrate. Unfortunately, we haven’t done a great job in doing so, but these are two thoughts that I have. 

Aadil: What fantastic thoughts, Prabir, in the form of, you know, just doing less of reviews and more of conversations, I think people crave for conversations but they barely happen today. And I think you couldn’t have said better, that’s a wrap on our formal segment. So thank you so much, Prabir. We now move in into a slightly informal segment where our listeners get to know you a little better, which is where I’m gonna try and do a rapid fire round. Where I will ask you questions quickly, and I believe you could answer it in less than five seconds, that will be great. I will get started with my first one. My first one, Prabir, is, when you think of the word successful, who is the first person that comes to mind? 

Prabir: Mother Teresa. And I think Mother Teresa because, I mean, not only for what she delivered and for what the world knows her but the fact that she did something in a context which was so alien to her, and so inspiring. So, it’s not about power and authority but just service and service, but extraordinarily kind, very successfully. 

Aadil: Absolutely, absolutely. Prabir, the most useful product or service you’ve used recently for less than $100? 

Prabir: Oh, I bought a Dictaphone the other day. 

Aadil: Oh, wow. 

Prabir: Tells me, you know, when I’m thinking I now speak into the Dictaphone and, you know, later I can use it to write my blog. 

Aadil: Fantastic, fantastic. I mean, this is a very interesting answer. You’re a new addition to the crayon box, what color would you be and why? 

Prabir: Lavender. It’s soft and somehow it appeals to the sensibilities that I value and cherish. 

Aadil: Wow, wow, very, very nice. Which is the one television character you simply adore, Prabir? Do you get time to watch television at all? 

Prabir: No, not much. So characters I have enjoyed, some cartoon character but I don’t watch too much of series television. And if you allow me to name a cartoon character maybe Dennis. 

Aadil: Dennis, yeah, “Denis the Menace?” 

Prabir: “Dennis the Menace,” actually I think, you know, at any time, any stage, whatever the stress, one little bit of that snippet and, you know, he just brings a smile to your face. I wish organizations would just allow more Dennises to flourish. 

Aadil: Oh, such an amazing answer, Prabir, fantastic. If you were on an island and you could bring only three things, what would you bring? 

Prabir: I would bring myself, my heart, and my dreams. I wouldn’t want to bring my mind. 

Aadil: Fantastic, fantastic. Nobody has quite answered it like that. I’ve done about 12 podcasts until now, nobody has answered it quite like that, so brilliant, brilliant one at that Prabir. The most interesting person you follow on social media. 

Prabir: I don’t know about interesting but I definitely enjoy Elon Musk, but I really like a lot of the posts from Inc. I think that I find very, very purposeful, very succinct, and a lot of it which gets me to think. 

Aadil: Fantastic. A book that you’ll recommend most of us read, Prabir? 

Prabir: I think, you know, I have been a big follower of Patrick Lencioni, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” and anyone who aspires to be a leader, manager, has been or is a leader, manager, it’s a mandatory read. It’s all about trust which is the foundation of everything that you do successful. 

Aadil: Absolutely. I mean, textbook for people managers. 

Prabir: Absolutely. 

Aadil: Absolutely. At which store, Prabir, would you like to max out your credit card? 

Prabir: The credit card, yes, but I don’t know whether I have a bank balance that will be able to pay the credit card. So, honestly I’m not one of those who really has big time shopping on, so maybe I’ll let this pass. 

Aadil: Okay, okay. Three things still left on your bucket list? 

Prabir: To write my book. 

Aadil: Okay. 

Prabir: Which is a big popular demand that I seriously want to do, maybe act in a film, you know. And third, possibly a visit to Scandinavia. I’ve just seen them in pictures and I would really like to go and see that part of the world.

Aadil: Incredible, incredible. What’s the one question, Prabir, you would always ask your job applicant? 

Prabir: I always try to understand people, “Where do you get your energy, and where do you lose your energy?” This is almost something in different words I will always ask someone. 

Aadil: Fantastic. Is there a quality or trait that you’d spot in a applicant that will ensure you hire them most of the time. 

Prabir: I don’t know whether that will get them to be hired, but definitely without that they will not be hired by me, is authenticity. 

Aadil: Fantastic. 

Prabir: You know, I don’t expect everyone to have everything but if they’re not authentic then I don’t think it will work. Because, without authenticity there is no vulnerability, without vulnerability there is no learning, without learning I don’t think there is a future, so that’s how my logic works. 

Aadil: Bang on, bang on, incredible. Thank you so much, Prabir. This has been such a refreshing conversation, really enjoyed coming meeting you in your office at Cipla House in Mumbai. Super excited to kind of go back and really push this out online to let the world listen. But, thank you so much for your time. 

Prabir: Thank you Aadil. Great questions, it got me to think. And thank you for coming to see me here in Cipla House. 

Aadil: Pleasure. This is Aadil Bandukwala your host, ladies and gentleman, with Prabir at Cipla Headquarters in Mumbai, signing off. Thank you so much.

A Disease Called Myth

Real life is the fertile hub of startling insights. Picture this scenario straight from life.

A 6-year-old Indian boy in an urban metropolis was diagnosed with mild persistent asthma and had been started on daily inhaled corticosteroid. At a follow-up visit in 2 months, his symptoms had worsened and the dose of the corticosteroid was increased.

During a home visit required by the research protocol, the research team noted that there were a significant number of incense candles and sticks burning in the living room, a place where the child spent most of his time. At a subsequent clinic visit, it was suggested to the mother that the incense burning may be the primary cause for the poor control of asthma. The mother responded in agreement that she was aware that this could be the problem. However, since it was her mother-in-law’s practice and something she could not oppose due to her cultural upbringing, she was expected to comply.

Cut to another story where an Indian mother expressed outright denial when given a diagnosis of asthma in their child. The acceptance of the diagnosis of asthma results in the acknowledgement by the parent that their child carries a chronic illness resulting in an “imperfect “child. Certain other beliefs attribute the cause of asthma to ‘lack of love’ from a mother!

Watch how belief further mutates into bizarre myths. Asthma is usually seen as a serious disease, which leads to death, a belief propagated by the Bollywood cultural movies and stories in which the Asian Indians are used to seeing the major actors clutching their chests while looking for their asthma inhalers and succumbing to their illness. Since the respiratory symptoms of asthma have usually been portrayed as life-threatening which often take the life of the person with the disease, a barrier in the acceptance of the diagnosis and the treatment of this disease is inherently prevalent.

More stories populate the diverse panorama of India’s socio-religious ethos. Spiritual healers are often used to do special prayers and create special magical concoctions, which are given to the child for their well-being and treatment of the chronic illness. Belief in horoscopes and their effects are well-accepted factors that can influence the child’s health. Horoscopes are evaluated by specialists to determine the chronicity of the illness and for prediction of improvements in those conditions. Special articles of religious significance are given to the child to wear. Removal of these articles even if required by medical professionals is considered inauspicious to the point where it may aggravate the symptoms of the disease and distance the provider from the family of the illness.

Home remedies, such as tea, hot water, walking, ginger and turmeric, are perceived to provide relief in asthma.

Clearly, there is a cultural/folk cognition of asthma -the disease that permeates all areas of life manifesting in cultural barriers and also affecting other aspects of the social fabric like matrimonial alliance!

The increasing diversity of the nation brings opportunities and challenges for healthcare providers, healthcare systems, and policymakers to create and deliver culturally competent services. Cultural competence is defined as the ability of providers and organizations to effectively deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients. A culturally competent healthcare system can help improve health outcomes and quality of care and can contribute to the elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities. Today strategies skewered to move the health care system towards these goals include providing relevant training on cultural competence and cross-cultural issues to health professionals and creating policies that reduce diagnostic and cultural barriers to patient care.

At Cipla, we rose to the challenge by plunging into a ‘barrier-breaking campaign that attacks the root of the disease- ignorance that is currently rampant in fatal quantities. Berok Zindagi is a multi-channel communication arsenal that is aimed at eliminating the myths and reinstating the fact that asthma need not come in your way.

Because after all, cultural competence and therapeutic competence really go hand in hand.

Hopefully one day, blessed amulets and fish stuffed down the throat will give way to inhalation as an integral part of an asthmatic’s life.

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Campus To Corporate

This is the time of the year when graduates from technical and business schools join organizations across India. Often referred to as Graduate Engineering Trainees, Management Trainees, Post Graduate Trainees etc., this is a key transition that these youngsters are going through in their lives.

While they are taking a plunge into the world of work from the world of academia, learning is hardly over. While learning will be a life-long process, considering the nature of the transition, their learning over the initial few months at work will be both intense and immense. They need to learn about the organization, its culture and practices, the industry and the sector, the domain and skills associated with it, tools and processes that are followed as well as skills associated with work and personal effectiveness.

Here are some pointers on how they can learn the maximum and handle this transition effectively. Let me start with certain mindsets that they need to bring in.

I am a part of the whole – unlike student days wherein what one does impacts just their performance (my poor scores may not impact anyone else), in an organization, one is always a part of the larger ecosystem, a team. If I don’t do my bit, it is going to impact others’ performance as well. That is a big responsibility that one needs to be aware of always.

I am observed and assessed all the time – there are no periodical or term-end assessments to determine one’s knowledge and skill. Rather, one is observed on a continuous basis and impressions are formed. And all this will feed into evaluation. And it’s not just knowledge and skill, but more importantly behaviour – whether you are on time for meetings, how and what you speak etc that gets observed. In a way, every day is an assessment day

I am an equal employee – there is no teacher and student; the trainee is as much responsible as a very seasoned employee and needs to take the effort and initiative. One cannot wait for instructions and directions always

These mindsets can set the right context after which they can do the following to actively learn.

Pull learning – Unlike in college, learning will not be pushed always through a standard curriculum, sessions etc. One needs to set his / her own agenda – a personal learning plan – and leverage resources. For eg. one may want to start by learning about the industry and check for all possible online and offline resources that can help with that. Like everyone else they need to own their learning and get into a self-learning mode

Learn on-the-job – this is the most potent source of learning. As per the well-known 70:20:10 model, 70% learning happens on the job. However, this does not happen automatically just because one is at the job. One should plan it, seek it and consolidate it. At the start of the day, the youngster (and everyone else as well) should plan not just the activities but the learning aligned to it. And then seek that actively, through experience and more importantly through interactions. For eg. assuming the trainee is present along with the manager in a negotiation with a vendor, a 5 – 10 minutes discussion post that with the manager saying why did you do this, what model were you following, share a little more etc would help.

Reflection and consolidation at the end of the day would be very important to crystallize and sustain the learning. To quote John Dewey,

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” 

An online journal can be a good aid to jot down one’s reflections.

Seek a mentor – Mentor at this stage can be a huge developmental support. Mentor can be from within the organization or outside – a professor from one’s college, a senior from the institute etc. The mentor will not just act as a sounding board but can share perspectives and guide the trainee. I recollect my initial days as a school counsellor post college, when I used to travel from one end of the city to the other to interact with my mentor, who was couple of years my senior. Her guidance helped me in a big way to succeed in my initial years.

Form a PLN – PLN or a Personal Learning Network is another powerful source of learning. This enables Social Learning through sharing and collaboration amongst peers. Any online social collaboration platform can be the medium for this. While digital interactions are very much a part of our lives, the core purpose of a PLN would be sharing around learning. PLNs can be formed within the organization, say all trainees from a batch as well as outside, PLN of one’s batchmates across different organizations. Through external PLNs, I have often found that trainees are a very good source of information about external practices.

Gain the maximum out of formal training – One cannot ignore formal training. Starting with the induction / on-boarding programme that they would be a part of, trainees should take maximum advantage of all formal learning opportunities that the organization provides. This would include leveraging online learning platforms that many organizations provide.

Do not be limited by micro learning – Micro learning is the in thing. Byte-sized, short modules is what everyone, not just youngsters, favour. While micro learning has its value, I am of the strong view that it cannot replace mega learning. While micro learning can drive breadth, it is mega learning that will drive depth. One needs to understand and appreciate the value of mega learning and leverage it accordingly.

While the trainees need to own this, one cannot undermine the role of line managers and HR. They need to act as enablers and facilitators and sensitize and support trainees in the learning journey.

Let me end this with a quote by Henry Ford –

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young”

Let us keep learning and stay young forever!!

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How Cipla’s Self-Learning And Continuous Learning Approach Is A Game-Changer

Learnability is the biggest skill one can possess in the hyper-dynamic times that we exist in. There is a need for people to quickly learn and unlearn, and re-invent themselves if they seek to survive in the professional arena. At the same time, owing to how automation and technology are changing the nature of jobs, even organisations need to focus on continuously adding to the knowledge and skills of their people to stop them from becoming redundant. Gone are the days when learning and development were seen as a cost burden. It has now become essential for businesses that seek to sustain and grow in the existing volatile business scenario.

Cipla has been transforming its approach towards learning through focused efforts by its learning and development arm, Cipla University. In line with its philosophy of continuous learning, Cipla University believes in offering best-in-class training while promoting continuous learning that would enable all its associates as well as the organization on the whole Learn-Excel-Grow in a regular manner. This would not just lead to performance excellence in the present, but more importantly make individuals and the organization, future ready as well.

Hemalakshmi Raju, head- learning and development, Cipla says, “It’s not knowledge but a continuous learning approach that provides a competitive advantage.”

Raju shares that the organisation observed that there was a hunger for learning, and people needed guidance to be more efficient at what they do. More so, as the sales representatives in the pharmaceutical industry are mostly on the field and spend a significant amount of time, on-the-go. In addition, they have to deal with people who are way more qualified than them — the doctors. Even more challenging is the fact that their interaction window is limited to a few minutes versus the wait time that may be an hour or more.

It’s not knowledge but a continuous learning approach that provides a competitive advantage.

“Keeping all these challenges in mind, we realised that the field force required learning on the go such that they have anytime, anywhere access to relevant content. We launched mobile learning for the field force, a year ago. It allows them to utilise their wait time for learning, along with constant self-assessment on the same,” Raju explains.

The Company follows the 70:20:10 principle for its learning initiatives, and focuses majorly on continuous learning and self-learning. It has a unique programme called ‘Keep educating yourself’, under which it has provided its people access to a set of curated MOOCs. ‘My learning challenge’ is another unique initiative, that was organized sometime back, wherein employees could enroll themselves, pick a topic of their choice and spend at least half an hour every day, for ten days, learning the same.

Raju shares that over 250 people had enrolled for this programme across the globe, of which the best 10 were selected as learning champions. “The idea behind all these initiatives has been to inculcate in our people a habit of learning on their own,” Raju opines.

Cipla recently organised a learning expo at its office in Mumbai, with an aim to encourage self-learning and learning on the go. The event attempted to sensitise people and orient them to utilise various tools for self-learning through gamification.

Raju shares that the buy-in from the top management towards these digital learning efforts is extremely high and Cipla’s CEO, Umang Vohra and group chief people officer, Prabir Jha are strong proponents and ambassadors of the same

Looking ahead, Cipla is planning to organise social-learning drives, through digital platforms. It will include strong peer-to-peer learning through ‘tag and learn’ initiatives.

“Learning is not just about individual capability building but organisational capacity building” is a strong perspective held by Jha and Raju feels that Learning On the Go will be a key lever in bringing this alive.

This article originally appeared in HR Katha.

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