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Posts Tagged ‘management consulting’

Altruism and Organizational Behavior

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 9, 2013

I enjoy exploring evolutionary explanations for our behaviors. One such fascinating characteristic displayed by human beings is altruism. On an individual level three explanations have been propounded. “The kind of process, where animals help promote the survival and reproductive success of their relatives, is known as kin selection.” Outside relationships reciprocal altruism exists. It thrives on hope for a return of the favor and trust in the sincerity of the receiver. A third explanation for altruism is mutualism where cooperation yields results that individual endeavors fail to achieve.

It is at group level that altruism becomes more intriguing and certain explanations present key lessons for organizations aiming to strengthen teamwork and solidarity among their employees. Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson and philosopher Eliot Sober argue that, “..under certain conditions, it is possible for animal groups to function as the vehicles of selection, where the animals that make up those groups evolve traits that help increase the survival of the group at the expense of other groups or individuals. One of the most crucial conditions to be met is that there must both be competition between individuals in different groups and competition between individuals in the same group….it is crucially important that groups are in competition with each other and not isolated, each living on its own ecological island”.

Organizational-BehaviourIt is easy to see how such an argument can be used to foster constructive competitiveness among different departments/teams in an organization. I manage a manufacturing unit that houses four different production units, each employing around 35 workers. Until recently they worked as “isolated islands”. Each unit was accountable for production actualization with minimal wastage. Quarterly reviews were held with unit supervisors in “isolation”. To keep workers motivated, best performing workers from each unit were rewarded for their efforts.

A couple of months back, I decided to change things. We put the four units in competition with each other and removed the barriers that we had developed between them. The production teams now compete in monthly ‘5S” and Attendance competitions. We no longer reward individuals in the units, but the entire unit team. Quarterly reviews of the four units are held in the presence of representatives of all units. Analytic charts comparing performances of the four units are drawn and their contribution to the company’s top line and bottom line discussed.

While it is too early to judge the outcome of the change, positive signs are visible. Overall attendance of our organization has seen a 12% increase. Unit supervisors have observed stronger camaraderie among the workforce and wastage/defects levels have come down significantly.

While most organizations focus too heavily on dynamics within a team, better results can be generated by adding an external stimulus, an external threat or competition to the team. This will cause team members to evolve behaviors towards each other that will enhance the overall performance of the team.

Posted in Management Consulting | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Doing Business Abroad: Cultural Differentiator

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on March 7, 2013

Here is an interesting piece from “Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles” by Ruchir Sharma. It highlights a very subtle yet significant difference between two types of nations/societies, the “high context” and the “low context”. An important lesson for corporates looking to expand business across the globe.

Both India and Brazil are “high context” societies, a term popularized by the anthropologist Edward Hall to describe cultures in which people are colorful, noisy, quick to make promises that cannot always be relied on, and a bit casual about meeting times and deadlines. These societies tend to be family oriented, with tight relationships even beyond the immediate family, based on close ties built over long periods of time. In an environment this familiar, there is a lot that goes unsaid- or is said very briefly-because values are deeply shared and much is implicitly understood from context. The spoken word is often flowery and vague; apologies are long and formal. “Low context,’ in contrast, describes societies like the United States and Germany in which people are individual oriented, care about privacy, and are more likely to stick to timelines and their word. People tend to be on the move, to have many brief relationships, and thus rely on simple, open communications and codified rules to guide behavior.

Business is not just about numbers.

Posted in Management Consulting | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

To think outside the box…

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on February 23, 2013


…step outside the box.

I have seen several senior executives repeatedly urge their employees to think outside the box. A million minutes each year are spent in meeting rooms to cultivate this thinking in a company and its approach. Sadly, the outcome in most instances is limited to a few momentary flashes of brilliance and then a return to routine.

Most members of leadership teams fail to realize that simply urging their employees to stretch their imagination is just not enough. It is equally important to reveal to them what the ideal state looks like. I cannot expect the manager of a production line in India to meet the expectations of a customer in France unless I have established a channel of communication between the two.

The Innovation Circle at one of the companies I worked with was immensely fruitful. The key to their success was the exposure that the company provided to its employees. Every month, trips were arranged for the line operators. While some of the visits were to other factories in the district, others were fun excursions to neighboring tourist hotspots. The idea was to step outside the factory and expose our senses to something other than the sight and sound of our factory. There was something to be learnt from everything outside. And that learning reflected in the cost reduction and innovation projects that the workers implemented back at work.

The same applies to senior executives. They cannot evolve and innovate until they keep themselves informed about the changes occurring in the business eco-system around them.

No radical change in thought or approach inside is possible without witnessing an equally radical change outside.

To think outside the box, step outside the box.

Posted in Management Consulting | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

If it sounds good, then it must be true – A Symptom of Denial

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on January 24, 2013

Denial is a dangerous state of mind. And most recently I have seen some of the best “leaders” display it.Much to my dismay.

Management consulting is a wonderful experience. I am usually called when something is either going wrong or is already in the pits. And many times it is too late. I wish people called me during there good times instead, because it is then that lasting improvements can be seeded in an organization’s working. I often mention Genesis 41:54 and how Joseph’s plan saved Egypt. In the corporate world it is even simpler. Preventive measures can keep the “famine” away forever. And these preventive measures need to be undertaken during good times.

We live in a world that bombards us with data. True data and false data. All conceivable calculations and estimations are presented to analyse trends and strategize businesses. However, sometimes excessive data is injurious. Especially during times of crisis. And this effect is amplified when the decision makers enter a state of denial. In such a state, people tend to look at data that conforms with their plan of action, no matter how wrong that action is.

If it sounds good, then it must be true. If the data presented to them justifies their ill-planned actions, then the data must be true. If the data does not agree with their plan of action, then it must be false. Alas! Denial is an easy state to slip into. It makes us see things the way we want to see them and not for what they really are.


Do not put the cart before the horse. Do not plan actions before analyzing data, both subjective and objective. Pre-conceived ideas and actions corrupt our analytical appreciation and interpretation of reality.

As always, comments welcomed.

Posted in Management Consulting | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Management Consulting 101:Have a Problem, Google It!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 24, 2012

This advice goes out to everyone out there doing anything, anywhere. If you have a problem, Google* it! Chances are that many on this planet have faced the same or similar problems and have shared the solutions online. It will save you a lot of time you would otherwise spend banging your head against the wall.

And Management Consultants in particular need to follow this approach. Lets face it, given the nature of capitalism, there are only a finite types of problems in the world. And most of those problems have been tackled and details posted somewhere online in the form of a case study. So the approaches to problem solving are limited and out in public domain. The real value addition lies firstly, in identifying the unique parameters that influence the process in which the problem lies, secondly, innovation in the form of tweaked derivative of an existing solution for the problem at hand and finally, implementing the solution in the unique Eco-system that the problem belongs to.

E.g when manufacturing moved to China, the management there faced production issues that were faced by factories in the United States in their infancy. The new problems were not new in nature but new to the Chinese Eco-system. The solutions that were implemented were derived from US factories and tweaked to adapt to the new environment.

There is no shame in incorporating Googling* as your first step of problem solving. It saves a lot of time and lets you use more of your grey cells in the real value addition.

*Googling refers to the act of searching. This could be both online as well as offline.

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