Potential and Performance

Last week I heard from one of my clients that a very junior resource of her young enterprise outperformed every other person in the firm. In fact her performance gave the start-up the optimism needed to continue the journey in today’s challenging environment. The email exchanges around her performance taught me this:

  • This junior girl who outperformed everybody else was not the identified as the one with the most potential
  • This junior girl outperformed everybody else because she was focussed on executing what she was taught to do
  • This junior girl outperformed everybody else because she knew only focussed effort / hard work will help her achieve and perform
  • This junior girl outperformed everybody else because she had very limited things to do (role was clear)

Why did everybody else (so called high potential ones) not achieve in the same situation?

The others (especially those who were identified as individuals with a lot of potential) could not perform because:

  • They were told that they had potential
  • They were told that they have to do multiple things
  • They were told that they had to take lot of responsibility in the business
  • They were told that they were good and had to show the way to others

Clearly the lessons are evident. Here are my top take aways:

  1. Potential and Performance have a huge gap between
  2. If you focus on a single (or limited number of) task(s), chances of performance are high
  3. Focused effort (hard work) is an important factor of performance
  4. Potential (especially pointed out by others) is a big enemy to performance

The next time you think lack of great resources is what is stopping you from achieving success as a start-up, think twice! You may actually be able to build a performing workforce with a team with much lesser potential, which means much lesser cost. For entrepreneurs who struggle building teams, this is a very strong lesson. Performance can be got out of people with much less potential than what is seen as required.


Interesting Links This Week: 13-April-2014

All entrepreneurs strive to understand their potential markets better. Entrepreneurs do this exercise through ad hoc methods for want of better approaches. But who can help entrepreneurs understand markets better than economists? Economists are the people who understand markets best but much of their work remains inaccessible to entrepreneurs. Here is a book that attempts to make this easier. This review shares a peek into the book and its intention. Read more here – Link: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2014/01/06/how-nobel-winning-economic-theories-can-help-your-online-dating/

There is tremendous interest amongst young minds towards working in the developmental sector. But most youngsters are lost in finding their way in this space. What should they do? Where should they search for information? What roles should they try to align towards? What is best suited for them? What’s the scope in each role? Many such questions trouble minds inclined towards this fast growing sector. Here is a chance to gain some clarity. This article speaks about how one can go about knowing and choosing roles in the development sector. Read more here – Link: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/aug/27/global-development-flow-chart

Core Competencies – a concept that was popularized by the professors Prahalad and Hamel, is more misunderstood than understood. Entrepreneurs should not misread the paper written by these professors or get misguided by the wrong interpretations of the concept. Here is short take on what the phrase ‘core competence’ really means. Finding it out for your business can lead to new potential markets! Read more here – Link: http://www.inc.com/erik-sherman/kick-your-idea-of-core-competencies-out-of-your-business.html

Sales and Start-ups: Are you doing enough?

‘Sales’ is one of the functions in business that is closest to the customer. There are two big things that start-ups / entrepreneurs miss while handling this important function in business:

  • Lack of methodological practices
  • Lack of a formal feedback system from sales

If the first one is not done, most of the life of the start-up is lived using investor money. Eventually the start-up ceases to exist when investor money or patience dries up. In fact the second loss is much greater than the first one. This is because the start-up has actually invested effort in the sales function, and probably seen some revenues as well. Having come so far into making the start-up a reality, if we don’t learn from the sales activities, it is a great loss. Why is this so? Because, the sales functions is the place where the start-up and the customers meet, engage, and exchange. This results in both the sales people and the customers getting to know each other better. The level of engagement decides the level of knowledge of each other.

Every start-up needs to know the customer – as much as it can understand this group, the better! The problem is that this activity never finishes, because the start-up is changing, the customers are changing and so is the environment and possible interactions between them too. Gaining feedback from the sales people is the best thing a start-up can do to understand customers better. Consumer behaviour, traits, habits, etc can be easily understood by sales people and brought back to the enterprise. These inputs can help the entrepreneur / start-up team re-look at the product, offerings, business models, etc

If you as a start-up are not doing enough sales efforts – start it now!
If you as a start-up are not learning enough from sales interactions – start it today!

How should you do this? Get everybody into a single room, get the sales people to share their experiences, and let all others only ask questions to know more. No one should be allowed to criticize observations, no one should be allowed to dismiss observations, and also no one should be allowed to share opinions on observations. This is the only way to improve the product, the way it is offered, the business model, the marketing efforts, the operations, the sales efforts and may be even re-look at the customer segments themselves.

Think about it!

Vedantic Wednesday: Your work is what you’re there for

If you are a reader of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) you would have noticed that there is a section beyond ‘Executive Summaries’. The section comes on the very last page of every issue. As though by habit, I now open the HBR issue that I receive from the package, turn it to the back cover and open the last page to see who is covered this time around. The section titled ‘Life’s Work’ has now become one of my favorite reads every month. And this time around (March 2014 issue) I found that it covered an artist. Artists are close to my heart as much as entrepreneurs and so I read the entire interview. She is 73 years, who reached the peaks in the 70’s, almost shut shop in the 90’s and is now making a come-back! Aren’t these people true inspirations? In the interview she offered some advice to entrepreneurs and I found that it was apt to what I wanted to share this week on philosophy.

Vedanta is an Indian school of philosophy. As I have shared numerous times in the past, it urges us to find what we are here for and follow it through till the end. It is said that in doing this every human being can aim and achieve liberation. It makes life peaceful and happy. I find that it is very much useful to entrepreneurs – the group that I tend to spend most of my work life with these days. Entrepreneurs seem to be finding and doing what they love in life and that is so much like an ideal path to also reach liberation (freedom) or whatever that may mean. In line with this thinking I found Zandra Rhodes share a key piece of advice to entrepreneurs. Here is the answer to that specific question from that interview:

“Keep going by whatever means you can. Don’t let people crush you. Have an inner belief in yourself. In the end, what you do will come through. We suffer today from people wanting fame rather than earning fame through their work. Your work is what you’re there for, and you should do it regardless. If it brings you something else, that’s a plus. You can be ambitious, but you have to be content with the fact that it might not make you a millionaire.”

While every question in that interview is amazing I found this response interesting. Even within that I found that her reference to “Your work is what you’re there for, and you should do it regardless” seemed like listening to what Vedanta teaches us. If only we can strive to keep this spirit up and living through life as an entrepreneur – there is no doubt that success will be ours, even if the world does not see it immediately. It will lead to a life lived fully. It will lead to loads of energy. It will keep us in peace and happiness. We will be part of that small group of entrepreneurs who are happy for being entrepreneurial.

In a lot of ways isn’t the spiritual path (if correctly understood) itself an entrepreneurial journey? Who said Spiritual Enlightenment is for the meek and the fearful?

Read the complete interview of Zandra Rhodes! Link: http://hbr.org/2014/04/zandra-rhodes/ar/1

Extract your lessons from it! If you are entrepreneurial think about this specific message!

Creators Vs Curators – who is a better entrepreneur?

What do you think is the answer – Creators or Curators? And more importantly, who are you?

During my research, training and consulting engagements I constantly deal with entrepreneurs. I find that they come in all shapes and sizes. But they essentially belong to two broad categories:

  • Creators: These are typically people with technical backgrounds, training. They normally think product / service design. They are people who love their creations. They enjoy creating. They enjoy it so much that they often forget the commercialization aspect of it. The excuse is – passion. But if passion is for creation, then we should focus on partnering with others for commercialization. Even commercialization requires passion! But the creators are clearly entrepreneurial minds! They are entrepreneurs as well since they took a problem, designed and constructed a solution, and most importantly took it to the customer. This requires courage.
  • Curators: These are typically people who love trading. They are not typical traders (traditional understanding). They are people who are not stuck to their own ideas. They live and thrive on opportunities. They enjoy putting pieces together (created by others) and solve problems that customers face. They are passionate about what creates wealth. They have no attachment to specific products / services. They enjoy the market facing activities so much that many times they become over confident about their supply side – they assume that they can put together any solution. The careful and intelligent curators create innovations by using the fundamental creations of others. If they are for the long term they partner with the creators and formally create businesses. If they are fly-by-night operators, they simply copy and use the inventions, put pieces together and move on. It is difficult to be the former type of curator as it involves being on the field on both the supply and the demand side. It requires understanding not just the requirement of the market, but also digging through the creations to figure out the right pieces for the solution. These curators need smart perseverance.

The world is filled with both the types of entrepreneurs (two types of curators included). My work in entrepreneurship takes me often to engineering campuses across India. I meet number of engineers who have interest in becoming entrepreneurs. But many are stuck to being good creators. On the contrary I find on my visits to business schools that there are number of curators, but not of the first variety. There are occasions both the groups are situated on a common campus – with both floundering with their weaker halves. Why don’t they meet? Is there lack of interest or lack of commitment? Or is our ecosystem not allowing this cross pollination to occur?

While we hope that a lot more of our engineering and business school students interact and form start-up teams, the big question remains?
Who makes a better entrepreneur – Curators or Creators? Or is it as always – the ideal state: a combination of both?

If you have thoughts, ideas or experiences on this please do share so that we can keep this conversation going…

What do teachers deserve to get?

Though I am not a full time professor at a University, I spend a fair amount of my work time ‘teaching’. I loved ‘teachers’, ‘teaching’ and I am so glad that I am able to practice it today. I conduct workshops across India for entrepreneurs and owners of businesses. They range from start-ups to mid-sized emerging corporations. The only common thing amongst all of my audience is their entrepreneurial inclinations. This gives me a chance to learn a lot from conducting these sessions.

In recent times, after the publication of my book “Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice” (http://rajshankar.wordpress.com/books/), I have had the opportunity to spend time ‘teaching teachers’ across undergraduate, graduate and post graduate colleges and universities. I teach them how to teach entrepreneurship and make their classes more effective. During the process of interacting with thousands of teachers from arts, commerce, science, engineering, medicine and pharmacy – I have found that invariably one of the topics that they discuss at length is salary. Since they do not normally get to meet peers from so many institutions, workshops are a good place for them to seek greener pastures.

While improving remuneration seemed to be what many of them felt could be their biggest motivation – none of them felt the need for more feedback. Many felt that if the jobs were made more attractive with exciting packages, their teaching would improve. I felt saddened but that is the reality today. I asked myself this – “But don’t we have to earn the pay by deserving it first”. How do we know what a teacher deserves?
Before we decide what the right salary for teachers is, we also need to make their professional lives more interesting by giving them ‘feedback’. If we don’t get feedback, how are we going to improve? So when I heard this TED talk of Bill Gates (http://www.gatesnotes.com/Education/TED-Talk-Giving-Teachers-What-They-Deserve) this week, I was reminded of what many of the teachers missed asking for – ‘feedback’. If we could get feedback and we could get some time to review and internalize it, maybe we will have many more ‘super star teachers’. If one becomes a super star teacher, do they even have to ask for larger remuneration? It will go through the roof.

With thousands of successful students reaching back to you and sharing their success stories – your desires for monetary requirements will simply drop. We will also have truly happy, motivated, inspiring teachers walking on our streets (corridors).

Truly every student needs such inspired teachers to learn from!

If you have thoughts and ideas on this topic of how we can improve the teaching profession – do share it here so that we can keep the learning going!

Interesting Links This Week: 30-March-2014

Entrepreneurs have a great lesson in this short write-up. ‘Vision’ is not ‘Sight’ – and it is an important lesson to internalize. Using two simple but brilliant examples the author makes the point that ‘vision’ is seeing beyond what you can see currently, challenging yourself to reach it and again repeating the process. But even after the first stretch we often settle down for the normal and repeatable – avoid it for your own good. Read more here – Link: http://www.inc.com/lee-colan/vision-is-greater-than-sight.html

Dilbert may have inspired working executives to start laughing at their own rational ideas and decisions – but the truth is, it has silently influenced the workplace itself. Today a large part of the workforce is self-employed or contractual in nature. They don’t seem to love working at a cubicle or old office setting. Most of them work from home or coffee-shops, or open floor office arrangements. This write presents a short peek into the book “The Rise of the Naked Economy” by Professors Coonerty and Neuner makes it look like a book you need to have on your reading list – especially if you are a new age professional, an entrepreneur trying to hire people or an incumbent company not able to understand why people hate sticking in office the whole day! Read more here – Link: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/goodbye-dilbert-rise-naked-economy/

A retired professor of anthropology identifies and encourages her domestic help to read and write. She does him proud by becoming a bestselling author! When I read this short article on Ms Baby Halder, I was impressed over many things – her perseverance, her mentor and his benevolence, her gratitude and her maturity. Lots to take away from this short story – don’t miss! Read more here – Link: http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/a-bestselling-author-she-works-as-a-domestic-help-in-gurgaon/article1-1169444.aspx