Have you read the ancient Indian story about the elephant and the six men? The story holds an important lesson for organizations.

In the story, six friends blindfold themselves and play a game where they try to identify objects they come across. As they venture out, they come across an elephant. As the story goes, none of them had seen an elephant before. Each one of them proceeds to feel different parts of the elephant.

After careful analysis, the first man declares the object is a large drum. He was touching the elephant’s stomach. The second man objects vociferously. It is a rope, he asserts as he feels the tail. The others vigorously forward their assessments: the trunk of a tree, a fan or a curved stick.

Finally, when they cannot agree on their assessments, they take off their blindfolds to discover that the object they were envisioning and the real object are starkly different. While their individual assessments were based on valid information gathering and analysis, they realize they could not have been more wrong.

Different points of view

The different teams and departments in a company more often than not act like the six blindfolded men. They view the company and the issues it faces from their distinct perspectives, which leads to different assessments of what is important or what is urgent and, unfortunately, sometimes a lack of respect for the viewpoints and capabilities of the other teams.

For instance, in many companies, sales and operations departments do not share a high opinion of each other. The operations team may feel the sales team makes unrealistic promises to customers. The sales team, on the other hand, may feel the operations team is unable to deliver the quality and timely performance necessary to thrive in the marketplace.

The issues exist at all touch points and involve all the teams. While teams have their heart in the right place and want to contribute, they are caught up in their way of thinking and fail to see the big picture. Their hard-nosed assessments do more harm than good.

Re-engineering and realigning perspectives

As a leader, you must recognize the severity of the problem and address the issue diligently. Ensuring that your teams develop a broader perspective and solve problems from a company perspective rather than a departmental perspective is a crucial component of your job.

Changing the perspectives of successful departmental leaders who have a good measure of self-esteem (read it as ego) is an excruciating task. To encourage a company perspective, invest heavily in cross-functional, companywide initiatives. For instance, develop, crystallize and propagate a detailed and meaningful mission to unite the teams. A strong mission would serve as a higher purpose than individual departmental interests and concerns.

Emphasize improvement and performance themes that are cross-functional in nature and scope. Hoping that the teams will just rally around companywide goals is not a good strategy. Generate a vigorous discussion with all the teams present so they can appreciate the goals and develop joint ways of achieving them.

For example, achieving revenue goals cannot be the sole responsibility of the sales department. If it is perceived that way, the probability of success is lower.

Similarly, efficiency cannot be a goal of the operations team alone. All the other teams, from sales to customer service, HR, IT and accounting have to understand and respect the value of operational efficiency and provide their full support, ideas and active cooperation and contribution.

Help your team members recognize and appreciate the elephant so they are not lost in their individual parts. ?

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the “BusinessMakers” show, CBS Radio, and “Nightly Business Report,” he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or feedback@cohegic.com.

Published in Houston

Having the best ideas in the world does not do you any good unless you execute them. Execution gives life to ideas and makes them a reality. Execution of significant initiatives is particularly challenging because it often involves many moving parts and multiple teams inside and outside the organization. Collaboration and coordination are the infrastructure, the engine you need to execute successfully. Without them, you will be limited in what you can accomplish.

Expectations

For successful collaboration, expectations management is critical. Often, things break down because the teams involved have different expectations. They assign different levels of importance to the project and, hence, assign different priorities. That affects the amount of resources allocated and influences the commitment to timelines.

Avoid the train wreck and align expectations. Set the right context so all teams understand which aspects of the project are absolutely necessary for its success.

For some projects, meeting deadlines is most important, while for others, the quality of work may be the single most important criteria. Knowing which attributes constitute the definition of success guarantees better coordination.

Respect and trust

The foundation of collaboration is mutual respect and the spirit of cooperation. To cooperate is to have the right attitude of helpfulness and openness.

Often, different teams, whether they belong to different organizations or the same company, find it difficult to collaborate because they do not trust each other. It is not clear to everyone how success or failure will be shared. The fear is that others will take credit for success and deflect blame and fault for failure.

For effective collaboration, roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined and accountabilities be clearly and openly assigned. Nothing helps as much as creating a spirit and culture of collaboration by enforcing the right conduct and behavior.

Effective communication

The foundation of collaboration and coordination is communication, not the quantity of communication but the effectiveness.

Effective communication is not just about disseminating information. It is making sure others receive the information, process it, interpret it correctly and understand what is expected of them. Then the process is complete.

If information is communicated with the hope that the recipients will have the time to duly process and act on it, then you are putting the project at risk. It is the job of the communicator to ensure that the message is received and understood. Doesn’t that put an extra burden on the communicator? Shouldn’t you expect that people who receive the communication act on it judiciously? Yes and yes.

However, in this day and age where people are overcommitted and work on multiple projects simultaneously, taking extra care to follow up on critical communication items goes a long away to ensure flawless execution.

One problem with communication is overcommunication. People are often copied on emails, invited to meetings or involved in discussions where they have a marginal contribution to make and little to gain.

When we communicate, we must appreciate that we are making demands on the other’s time and attention. When we communicate incessantly, superfluously or profusely, we run the risk of being tuned out.

Collaboration and coordination need a constant vigil. Things can break down quickly. Ensuring the right expectations, respect and communication will help you execute effectively.

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the “BusinessMakers” show, CBS Radio, and “Nightly Business Report,” he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or feedback@cohegic.com.

Published in Houston

Have you watched an experienced juggler at a carnival or circus? He masterfully juggles several objects in the air, ranging from simple balls and bats to dangerous fire-spitting torches and sharp knives. An awe-inspiring juggling performance involves years of strenuous practice, meticulous planning, precise rhythm and flow, and an incredible presence of mind. A juggler never wings it.

In many respects, running and growing a company, such that it constantly pushes the envelope, is no less challenging than an elaborate and risky juggling act. Great managers never wing it. They pay meticulous attention to every aspect of the business, planning diligently, ensuring rhythmic progress and vigilantly guarding against missteps.

Dropping the ball

When they are not on the top of their game or when they take things for granted, even the most experienced managers drop the ball — or the knife. At times, managers mistakenly believe, because they have been successful so far, they will be successful in the future. They try to wing it, overconfident in their abilities to manage a complex organization. Juggling flaming torches is quite different than juggling balls.

A juggler never takes for granted any object he throws up in the air. Managers must develop the same level of respect for strategic aspects that they may have overlooked or underserved.

A good example is culture. Too often in companies, culture develops by default, without regard to the strategic imperatives of the company. Effective managers do not take culture for granted. They carefully cultivate a culture that matches the stated values of the company.

A juggler is diligent and methodical. He precisely positions the objects he uses during his act. He understands the sequence and the rhythm. Likewise, managers must understand the beat of their organization.

Take the example of goal setting. Some managers like to set overly aggressive goals. As a result, the organization falls short, and in spite of significant progress, a feeling of failure pervades the atmosphere.

On the other hand, some managers set goals that are too easy to achieve or are not meaningful. The effective manager sets goals with just the right intensity. As a result, the organization strives hard, achieves the goals, feels good and moves on to tackle higher-level goals. A few cycles of successfully executing the right intensity goals creates the rhythm to strongly propel the organization forward.

Systematic management method

The million-dollar question is, as a manager, do you truly follow a systematic management method? Too many managers do not. They manage from the seat of their pants, but fail to realize it. Some use a management system but rarely question how proficiently their method addresses the strategic and management needs of their organization.

An effective manager recognizes the limitations of the human mind. A person can only manage so much from their head. Effective managers employ a well-thought-out systematic method, and importantly, they coherently articulate and explain that method. Then the whole organization appreciates the business drivers and issues, and each member contributes at a strategic level, as opposed to just doing his or her job.

In too many companies, the strategic aspects do not form a cohesive group. Execution is out of sync with strategy. Strategy does not match the mission and goes against the core business model. Goals exist in a vacuum, with the organization unclear on the road map to achieve the goals.

It takes a substantial amount of work and practice to systematically and cohesively connect all of the strategic aspects, from mission, vision, goals, strategy to execution and culture.

You must employ a systematic method as excellent as the experienced juggler’s. It is your most important responsibility. You will then build a successful and outstanding company that excites and motivates its employees and thrills your audience of clients and customers every bit as much as the juggler thrills his audience, tossing a circle of knifes or flaming torches into the air above his head.

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the “BusinessMakers” show, CBS Radio and “Nightly Business Report,” he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and is president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or feedback@ cohegic.com.

Published in Houston

Core management philosophies are the DNA of a business. Having a crystal-clear set of core management philosophies is pivotal to a company’s growth and sustained success. They have a profound impact on an organization because they help define and describe the business model of the organization. Your company’s philosophies must drive every decision and action at all levels. Companies that invest the time and rigorous effort to detail their core management philosophies perform commandingly in the marketplace and leave their competition behind.

To understand better what core management philosophies are and how they impact an organization, let us consider the example of Southwest Airlines, which has carefully developed a set of such philosophies that have been central to the company’s success. Southwest’s core philosophies are high-value to customers, operational excellence and a progressive culture. These three philosophies work hand-in-hand and permeate every aspect of the company. They are the Southwest’s DNA.

To provide high value to customers, Southwest offers a number of features: low fares, quality service, on-time departures and arrivals, high frequency of flights and consistency. Southwest does not compete with other airlines — it competes with your car. Its customers ask themselves, “Is it cheaper to fly or drive between two cities?” Southwest is in the business of getting people to their destination reliably without fanfare. It has trained its customers to expect only a bag of peanuts and half-a-can of soft drink. When customers receive exactly what they expect, they rate Southwest high in customer service. Consistency is what endears Southwest to its customers. Consistency is the magic recipe.

To keep costs low and deliver consistency, Southwest focuses on the philosophy of operational excellence. It keeps its operations simple, and optimizes the use of its biggest capital investment, its aircraft. The airline keeps its fleet staffed with new airplanes, uses only one type of airplane to standardize operations (prior to the acquisition of AirTran last year), and limits in-flight services.

Southwest makes sure its planes spend more time flying than on the ground. To optimize the use of its assets, it provides short-haul flights (long-haul flights cause large gaps of idle time), minimizes gate-time turn-around, and uses less-crowded regional airports so planes can get in and get out quickly — no need for them to be in holding patterns to land or waiting on the runway to take off.

A company that does not rank its culture as a large part of its DNA needs to rethink that position. Southwest’s focus on its culture is legendary. It goes through extraordinary lengths to value and respect its employees. Employees in return understand and value the company’s management philosophies.

I don’t advise arguing with any airline gate agent, but especially don’t argue with a Southwest gate agent. Even if you are upset, she or he is likely to ask you to step aside as passengers board the plane. The agents know their No. 1 goal is to make sure the flight leaves on time. They cannot risk delaying 120 passengers to satisfy one. They do care about your specific complaint, but they understand their priorities.

As you study Southwest’s approaches, you begin to understand the degree to which they have developed their core management philosophies and how well they use it. Other airlines have tried to mimic Southwest’s model by offering “lite” versions. They have not succeeded because their core management philosophies have not been well developed. That is the biggest lesson from Southwest. Carefully select your core management philosophies, your DNA and pay rigorous attention in implementing them through every aspect of your business.

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the “BusinessMakers” show, CBS Radio and “Nightly Business Report,” he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or feedback@cohegic.com

Published in Houston

Your company has a critical aspect that could help it succeed extraordinarily or fail miserably — corporate culture. Your company may have the best developed mission, vision, goals and strategy, and yet it may fail without the right matching culture. Culture is a crucial part of the engine of your company. Without the right culture your organization will not move at the speed you need and want.

Culture is the culmination of how everyone in the organization from management to front-line employees behave and think. Culture reflects the combination of conduct and mindset in your organization and there are many different forms.

Companies have many different types of culture. Some companies are laidback and slow to change, while others are hyperactive and ready to move at the slightest change in the marketplace. Some companies have a fun culture, others a more serious culture. Look at the culture in startup companies. It is quite different than companies that have been around for 100 years.

Cultural differences exist in other ways too. Some companies are sales-driven. These companies are experts at deal making and thrive on it. Others are operationally driven, with sales competencies and processes taking a back seat. In some companies, various business units compete against each other for financial and human resources, while at other companies, business units work closely together to create a seamless entity. In some companies excessive office politics is part of the culture.

Lack of a conscious culture

Every company has a culture — either it is explicit or implicit. Most often companies develop a certain type of culture without conscious design. Companies focus on developing their mission, vision, goals and strategies, but rarely do they stop and think about the specific culture they want to cultivate. You as a leader, must realize the importance of cultivating the right culture, and then help your organization cultivate it.

Cultural challenge

Failure to change employee mindsets and set ways engrained by organizational culture is often the reason why mergers and acquisitions fail. It is also the reason many new CEOs fail to succeed. Cultural disconnect is a recipe for disaster. You have to take charge and make sure your people fit your culture or your culture fits your people.

Developing culture

You cannot develop culture by edict. A memo from the CEO does not establish the culture. How do you change the behavior and mindset of people, and change it in such a manner that behaviors do not revert back? I hope you can appreciate developing the right culture is a huge challenge. Culture is driven by the tone set at the top. The organization watches carefully and takes its cues from how the leaders think and act. Therefore leaders have to be mindful. If you have raised children, then you know, kids do not do what parents ask them to do, kids do what they see their parents do.

Culture decision

The right culture for your company depends on your mission, core management philosophies, vision and strategies. If your core business model is product leadership, then your culture has to encourage and celebrate innovation. If your new vision is hyper-growth, then your culture has to change to encourage risk taking in new products and markets. You cannot achieve a new hyper-growth vision without asking the organization to change its thinking and its mindset.

Conscious culture

As a leader, you need to take the time to understand and crystallize the right culture for your organization that is in-sync with its mission, business model, vision and strategies. Then you need to lead by example, changing your behavior and mindset to reflect the desired culture. And, you need to follow through to ensure your management team and employees imbibe the new culture.

Ravi Kathuria is president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting, executive coaching and sales coaching firm. He is president of the Houston Strategy Forum and is a recognized thought leader who has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, WorldNews, and has also been featured on CBS Radio and the “BusinessMakers Show.” He is the author of the highly acclaimed leadership parable, “The Coherent Company: Drive coherence across mission, vision, goals, strategy, execution & culture to unleash performance.”

Published in Houston