November 10, 2017

Is your passion hurting your startup?

A few days back, I read an article on Forbes. It reported that the 3rd most important reason why startups fail is “Not the right team”. What a revelation!

Founders of startups, when they begin, are so fuelled by their passion they work crazy hours. And it is perfectly understandable, given the faith they have in their idea, their product. If they had 50 hours a day, they’d still be craving for more, such is their passion!

I am aware passion is a wonderful thing, and an absolute must if you wish to succeed; there is no alternative to passion. In the history of mankind, no great task has ever been achieved without tons of passion.

But are you aware the same passion can sometimes hold you back in chains and can keep you from growing?

“I can do it better”

Startup founders are the ones who have found a solution to some tangible problem. Their solution is ingenious, inexpensive, easy, fast or novel in some way. In other words, founders are doing something better. Effectively, founders are pretty good with their core solutions.

And it’s here that the problem begins.

When founders hire people to grow their team, they often believe the people they’ve hired aren’t doing as a good a job as the founders themselves. So the founders put in more time and do the stuff themselves instead of getting it done by the new hires.

But they quickly reach a limit. There are only so many hours in a day, so the founders can’t afford doing everything themselves.

So what happens is they can never grow beyond a limit, because they aren’t delegating things right.

Here’s what you can do:

Instead of taking up everything, every activity, founders need to focus on the following.

  1. Get the right hires. Invest a lot of time and resources in hiring the right people. Having one great team-member is worth five or ten mediocre team-members. Make sure you get the right people, even if you have to wait. That also means you will need to understand the hiring process much better.
  2. Invest your time in training: No matter how good your new hire is, she will still need some training. The objective of the training is make the new hire familiar with your setup, the skill requirements and, most importantly, align her output with your vision.
  3. Be demanding, but also give time: Most likely, your startup is built around a new idea. There may be few, or may be zero, examples in past of how things can be done with such an idea. Hence the new hire will need some time figuring out things. Be demanding in the quality of output, but also be patient.
  4. Remember the whole is bigger than the parts: There might be times when you, as a founder, feel you could have come up with a better design, a better code, a better print than your hires. Hold yourself from doing everything yourself. If you think something can be improved, explain what can be done and get your team-members to do that; don’t do everything yourself. Sitting alone, you can never achieve much, so don’t rush burdening yourself with too many tasks.

Conclusion

As I said earlier, passion is a must for success. But don’t let your passion keep you, the startup founder, from delegating as many tasks as you can. Remember, you, as a founder, are a team-leader and your job is to explore newer ways of solving problems, networking, leading your team and scaling.

Instead of getting trapped into the mindset of doing everything yourself, learn to get the right people and get the best out of them. That way, you’ll be able to scale faster and work better. Good luck!

Deepak Bhatt is a communication, media engagement and publications professional. Currently he manages communication at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), one of Asia’s finest B-schools. He can be reached at hellomrbhatt@gmail.com

October 23, 2017

Role of Public Relations during Public Reactions

In the past seven years as an HR and PR professional, I have always wondered what makes people or organizations react differently in moments of crises. A product or brand may have remained unknown after hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad-spend; just one crisis, one controversy and everybody is talking about the product.

Will crisis always lead to the downfall of an organization? Can it be ever handled so as to convey a positive image of the organization? Can the crisis ever be turned into an opportunity to show the core values of the organization? Here’s a good example to begin with.

On June 17, 2012, Clayton Hove of the ad agency KK Bold, tweeted

“Saw a bird had crapped on a Smart Car. Totaled it”

He was poking fun of the size of the Smart Car (a new electric, eco-friendly car), hinting that the car was so small even bird droppings of a single bird could totally damage the car! The tweet, by huge exaggeration, was meant to make the small size of the car look silly. It was a bit embarrassing for the company.

The company, SmartCar USA, could have gone into a defensive mode. They could have come down harshly upon the tweet and accused Hove of indirectly snubbing researchers or pursued the legal course, accusing Hove of maligning the image of the company.

They, however, decided to take a very different path.

Two days later, the company tweeted

“Couldn’t have been one bird.
Sounds more like 4.5 million. (Seriously, we did the math).”

The company had actually researched the weight of the droppings of one bird and, in a good-natured spirit, calculated how many such droppings it would take to damage the car! Not just that, SmartCar USA also published a funny Infographic along with the tweet!

From what could have become a source of embarrassment, the company, in one single tweet, won the hearts of people all around. The sense of humour was highly appreciated and it remains a memorable lesson in Public Relations (PR) skills.

Crises and Public Relations (PR)

Unfortunately, almost all crisis is fundamentally negative in nature and unless the PR department acts swiftly and smartly, these occasions can severely damage the organization’s credibility, hurt sales, tarnish the brand image, and, in extreme cases, kill brands and force organizations out of business.

PR, at critical times, has the ability to tremendously reduce damage, quickly take control and prevent the situation from deteriorating further. One of the most common misconceptions is that PR skills are useful only to generate publicity; actually it goes way beyond.

PR is a leadership and management function, targeted at sending out structured communication content to third parties. The first and foremost role of PR is to ensure that organizational goals and expectations the society keeps from the organization remain consistent, as experts like Latimore Dan and others view it. That means PR must conceive, design, deliver and execute communications that expand the influence of the organization. Handling crises is certainly a top priority for PR.

Let’s take a look at two extreme cases of PR exercises.

What not to do: The case of United Airlines

On April 9, 2017 United Airlines personnel approached four passengers, carrying valid tickets and seated on a flight about to take off, to give up their seats for airline crew members. At least one passenger David Dao refused to give up his seat.

In the heat of the moment, the airline and security personnel physically dragged Dao out of the aircraft. Many passengers found this very disturbing and unethical. Some recorded the video of the entire event. In no time, the video went viral over social media, and the airline’s reputation dipped in no time.

The airline issued a statement, apologizing for having overbooked the flight. Its twitter message was worded too diplomatically and did not directly acknowledge its poor handling or rude behavior. Subsequently when two more incidents in the same month surfaced, the poor PR in the first case led to these two incidents being highlighted on social media, further degrading the airline’s reputation.

What to do: Tylenol  

Johnson & Johnson (J&J), the multinational pharma giant was faced with a serious problem in 1982. Its drug Tylenol, then an OTC drug (Over The Counter drug, meaning one that did not require a medical prescription for purchase) used to relieve pain and fever, was caught in a bad controversy when seven people died after consuming the drug. The deaths were due to addition of potassium cyanide, a malicious act that had happened outside the company’s production plants and effectively out of its sphere of control.

J&J’s response is considered a classical example of what should be done and how a powerful and positive PR can go way beyond damage control. Putting the safety of customers first, J&J quickly recalled about 31 million bottles of Tylenol, worth over $300 million. Statements reassuring the common people were issued. When the drug was reintroduced, it was presented in tamper-proof packing. It answered tough questions that were raised from various quarters.

The J&J PR took a stand befitting a leader – instead of going on the defensive, it accepted responsibility, drew as much learning from the incident as possible, clearly put the safety of customers ahead of costs, entered into better engagement with media and customers and patiently responded to over 2,500 calls. All this positive PR helped J&J reach its way back to dominating the market.

When a similar incident repeated itself four years later, J&J took a more far-reaching decision: It announced no Johnson & Johnson drug would be OTC anymore, since it was not possible to fully assure customer safety. Media lauded the decision and the brand established itself firmly in the minds of customers as a safe, customer-first company.

A few more examples

Pepsi and Coke displayed inadequate PR skills in India while handling some reports that showed their products contained harmful levels of pesticides.

Odwalla juices USA were found to have been contaminated by E Coli. Odwalla responded swiftly by altering their production processes that drastically lowered the chances of contamination.

Texaco USA was charged with racial discrimination by a handful of its African-American employees. The oil company swung into action by offering apology, suspension of erring employees and hiring an African-American owned agency for damage control.

Cadbury’s India was charged with selling chocolates that contained harmful chemicals. Cadbury’s handling of the crises was not great, and it took a long time for the brand to bounce back. 

The Tatas could have better handled the situation when Cyrus Mistry was removed from the Tata’s board of directors.

Mel’s diner: An unusual case

Once, when the streets of Los Angeles were flooded due to a burst pipe, a local restaurant Mel’s Diner realized it was not possible to conduct business since customers wouldn’t be able to walk in. It came up with a brilliant idea.

To all the workers who came in to repair the broken pipeline, Mel’s served free hamburgers. Workers appreciated the kind gesture. Soon, the word spread and TV crews got the news. They video-recorded the act and by evening the same day, thousands of viewers watched news and interpreted this gesture as one of positively responsible corporate citizenship. By capitalizing upon an unexpected and unrelated crisis, Mel’s strengthened its corporate image and brand.

Concluding remarks

Absence of accurate and timely information leads people to react irrationally and in an exasperated manner. They even fall prey to rumors. That’s why it’s important for organizations to respond appropriately and swiftly.

Organizations must begin by explaining the situation clearly. Next they must answer questions from media, customers and all other stake-holders, explaining how the situation is likely to affect each of them and find the best way out. Most importantly, the organization (actually the PR department and / or the spokespersons) must appear fully in control, efficient and honest in sharing information in a way that minimizes the damage, prevent any further panic or erode shareholder value.

The key takeaway is what the organization can learn from it and how it can prevent such crises in future. When handled intelligently, organizations can emerge stronger, more reliable and more alert. And that’s a mighty achievement for PR.

Deepak Bhatt is a communication, media engagement and publications professional. Currently he manages communication at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), one of Asia’s finest B-schools.

June 14, 2017

પુસ્તક પરિચય: સાહિત્ય ભીની સફરે - લેખિકા: ભૂમિ ભેસાણિયા

લેખિકા: ભૂમિ ભેસાણિયા 
પ્રોફેશન: ચીફ મેનેજર, કોટક મહિન્દ્રા બેન્ક
શોખ: કવિતા / ગઝલ લખવાનો અને બીજાને વંચાવવાનો

"અરીસા મહીં ખુદને નિહાળતા ડર લાગે છે,
ક્યાંક ખુદને ખુદની નજર લાગી જશે." - ભૂમિ ભેસાણિયા

કલમ અને લાગણીનું જયારે સ્નેહ-મિલન થાય છે ત્યારે સાહિત્ય સર્જાય છે. હું થોડો સાહિત્ય પ્રેમી તો ખરો જ અને તેમાં પણ જો કવિતા અને ગઝલોનો એક ઘૂંટ મળી જાય તો શું કહેવું? લાવ, આ પુસ્તકને થોડી મીઠી નજર લગાવી જોઉં. કદાચ ભાગ્યના દરવાજામાં કોઈક ટકોર કરી જાય તેવું પણ બને.

આ પુસ્તકને હાથમાં જોતાંની સાથે જ જાણીતા લેખિકા આરતી પરીખની એક કવિતા યાદ આવી ગઈ. તે કહે છે કે, 'વર્ષાને કહી દો, માપથી વરસે, નયનને વહેવાની આદત નથી.' 'સાહિત્ય ભીની સફરે' પુસ્તકમાં લેખિકા ભૂમિએ એક્યાશી પન્નાઓનો હૃદયસ્પર્શી આલેખન રજુ કર્યો છે. પુસ્તકના અમુક અંશો વાંચીને એમ થયું કે કલમની શાહી હજુ સુકાઈ નથી. ઝાકળનું એક બિંદુ જેમ વાદળમાંથી ખરીને આંખોને ભીનાશ આપે છે તેવી જ સંવેદના આ પુસ્તકમાં રહેલી છે. ચાલો, લેખિકાની સર્જનશક્તિનો થોડો અહેસાસ કરીએ.

"સંબંધ કેરા સાગરનું જળ જરા ખારું હોય છે, પણ જલ્દી જણાતું નથી તેટલું સારું હોય છે."

"વસંતની બહારના ફૂલ નિહાળી પાગલ થનારા તમે પૂછો મને, મેં રણમાં ફૂલની ફોરમ માણી છે."

"રણમાં ભી મને હજાર લહેરો દેખાય છે... બંધ આંખે જયારે એનો ચહેરો દેખાય છે..."

"સંબંધોના પહેલા વરસાદમાં ભીંજાતા હું અને તું, વાત હોય બહુ નાની ને છતાં, હરખાતાં હું અને તું."

“એ વરસતો વરસાદ એમ જ રોકાઈ ગયો તો... પૂછ્યું તો જાણ્યું એને ભી રસ્તો ચૂકાઈ ગયો તો...”

પુસ્તકની ખરીદી તમે એમેઝોન.કોમ ઉપરથી ખરીદી શકો છો.


નોંધ: પુસ્તક વિશેનો આ મારો અંગત અભિપ્રાય છે. વાચક ગણ મારી વાત સાથે સહમત થાય તે જરૂરી નથી.

January 27, 2017

Skills required to be a successful professional in the field of Corporate Communications

I have often been asked by students and aspiring professionals to share what I think are the skills required to succeed in the field of corporate communications. Just like any other field, here too there is no magic key which will open the golden gates for aspirants. However, I am happy to share whatever my wonderful profession has taught me. I will start with the skill I think is one of the most important – perhaps, the most important – to excel: Passion.

Why I think “Passion” ranks slightly higher than other skills is that the field of communications is a lot of art and only a little bit of science. Hence, any aspirant wishing to make a career in the field of communications will have to do a lot of learning herself.

If you study medicine or engineering, there are precise textbooks, which, if followed scrupulously, ensure that you know the basic working. A textbook of anatomy, for instance, can tell you how the human heart operates. No matter the gender, age, ethnicity and so, this fact will always remain true.

A textbook on hydraulics will help you study the various scientific characteristics of water and water flow. No matter what, these characteristics remain largely unchanged.

The reason is simple: anatomy and hydraulics are exact sciences.

Communications is different: it is largely an art. What words work well with individual A cannot work with individual B. In fact, the same words that worked for individual A today, may not work tomorrow for individual B. That means you have to have the passion to constantly learn, try, observe, correct and improve. The principles of communications that you used yesterday may turn completely ineffective tomorrow.

Let me explain with an example: some fifty years back, children were expected to follow whatever the parents and teachers asked them to do. That was the communications policy then. Today, things have changed. Children of all ages are a good deal more assertive and demand proper logical explanation for everything. Teachers and parents have to be more democratic and open in their communications today than they were fifty years back.

Twenty years back, the print media was a dominant force. Today, slowly but steadily, the digital media is overtaking all other forms. The strategies that produced results in the print media aren’t necessarily effective in the digital media.

This is where Passion comes in. The Passion to learn on the go, the Passion to never accept anything as the final answer, the Passion to always question the status quo… all because communications is an ever-evolving art. If you think a certain practice has worked today and intend to keep using it forever, you will be proven wrong very soon.

So friends, that’s what Passion is. Being passionate about your chosen field will ensure there won’t be a dull moment. There will be numerous challenges, but never a dull moment. If you are passionate, I would say you’ve won half the game already.


I will share other skills in my upcoming posts. Meanwhile, let me know what you think.

Image Courtesy: Google

January 11, 2017

Demonetization: 7 Lessons on Communication

Note: This is not an economic or a political analysis of demonetization; this is an attempt to study the communication strategies used while the government declared something extremely important.

The Modi government’s demonetization raked up a hornet’s nest, to say the least. People have vehemently argued on either side. Opposition parties have cried hoarse on how insensitive and counter-productive the decision will turn out. Modi supporters have whole-heartedly welcomed the decision, expressing strong optimism.

We will not discuss the social, economical or political aftermath of the decision – we will study the communication strategy Prime Minister Narendra Modi used during the entire announcement and what lessons management professionals can learn from it.

Nothing about the declaration could have been easy. A seasoned statesman like Modi and his entire team would have known all along what they were attempting was extremely delicate. That is where using a great communication strategy was not only important, it was critical. Let us take a look at the strategy used.

1. Be direct: When PM Narendra Modi announced that Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes will cease to be legal tender within hours, he didn’t mince words – he was direct. However tough and potentially unpopular the decision may turn out to be, he did not beat around the bush. That prevented baseless speculations.

Additionally, notice the way Modi chose the audio-visual medium (the television) instead of relying on print. When you see a leader in flesh and blood (even if virtually) announce a strong decision himself, it contributes to his image as somebody who is direct and forthright with his people, and reinforces the image of a strong leader.

2. Appear logical: He made sure the decision didn’t sound Quixotic or Tughluq-like. In his speech, he carefully explained the entire rationale behind the decision, the likely problems people might face, the way the administration was expected to respond and the potential benefits.

A true leaders doesn’t merely announce, because he knows a true leader needs not only the full support of his team but also the co-operation of the masses. The way displayed the long-term benefits, he completely silenced extreme remarks from the common man. Notice that the reactions from the common man have been extremely mild, considering how momentous the decision was.

3. Keep it simple. Had Modi chosen, he would have shared the dais with RBI governor, deputy governors, finance secretary, senior economists or top officials. Prima facie, this could have added more credibility to his decisions, as the economists and others would have brought out all the economic terms to explain and justify the decision.

Modi apparently knew it might be helpful to a very few people, but the majority of common man would only be more confused. He explained everything in the easy language so everybody understood what the government was trying to do and what objective the government was trying to achieve. Without jargons, he sold the idea in simplest terms possible.

4. Show how the listener would benefit: Two of the biggest ills troubling the common man were terrorism and the rising gap between the have’s and have not’s (brought about, at least partly, by a black-money economy). He claimed the decision to withdraw the notes would fully or partly solve both the problems. While the problem of black money is still wide open to debate, terrorist activities came to nearly a standstill – no major terrorist attacks have been reported for a long time.

Demonetization seemed to cripple financial support to terrorist activities that was fully fuelled by black money and counterfeit Rs. 1,000-notes. By derecognizing the Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 note, he almost pulled the rug beneath the feet of the nation’s enemies.

5. Appear sensitive, be diplomatic but not overly emotional: During the 1-hour speech, Modi empathized with the masses. He acknowledged that the coming weeks may not be easy. That, however, did not conveyed a sense of helplessness; indeed, he presented it as a short-term sacrifice every citizen was to make for long-term benefits.

The tact with which he asked for a 50-day window for things to settle down was a sound diplomatic approach: anyone momentarily scared was assured that the hardships were really short-term. Besides, the way it was put showed his was a participative approach: he had taken a decision that he felt was in the best interest of the country and he was asking the people to co-operate.

6. Show you are in control of the situation: When you impose such a severe measure upon a 1.3 billion people, you simply cannot get away without putting emergency measures in place (Government hospitals, for instance, were instructed and permitted to accept currency notes that were to be unacceptable tender elsewhere.).

Modi and his team very well knew the kind of chaos demonetization was likely to unleash. To contain it and to prevent the situation from going out of hand, the PM conveyed the sense of having thought of everything and that everything was going to be under control.

How successful or effective these measures ultimately were is a debate that belongs elsewhere, but the government tried to show it was trying to be as helpful in the situation as was possible without ruining the overall objective.

7. You don’t have to respond to everything: There were countless criticisms (and even allegations) against the announcement. The common man criticized the measure wasn’t executed well, some economists said the decision did not make sense in the long run, and parts of the opposition parties questioned not only the wisdom of the PM but also the very intention behind the decision. Modi sat silent. He had said all he had wanted to and wasn’t too keen to respond to every allegation floating around.

How far this strategy of not responding was fruitful is debatable. But he got a few benefits too. One, because he did not respond (mostly), there was only one version of the action. Had he clarified over and over again, it might have brought up newer interpretations which his critics might have termed self-contradictory. By choosing to mostly ignore criticism, he could contain his contents.

Two, by not responding, he refused to play the game his critics or political rivals wanted him to get involved in or get defensive. He could focus on what he wanted, instead of wasting energy on debates. While in a democracy, a leader must be accountable and answerable for every decision, Modi’s shrewd approach of choosing to respond only when he decided to ensured communication was properly delivered in the right quantity, at the right time and not in a haphazard way.

Even the worst of Modi detractors confess Modi is one of the top communicators of our generation, so any lessons we can learn from such situations must be more than welcome.

Views expressed here are personal

January 5, 2017

Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader by Linda A. Hill, Kent L. Lineback

You never dreamed being the boss would be so hard. You're caught in a web of conflicting expectations from subordinates, your supervisor, peers, and customers. You're not alone. I believe this book is a good and quite complete one - at least for me :) being a manager/lead for 2 months now when it comes on the duties and challenges of a manager.
The idea is to be aware of the 3 imperatives of a great manager.

Manage yourself: if one wants to be an effective and trusted manager of people, he/she should start with managing the self. What means to be a boss, the role, the relationship with others. Being aware it is all about results in the end, but the ones around you who need to achieve them still have brains and hearts.

Manage the network: - exercising influence super important to understand who are the ones around you who can make you and the team succeed and whom you can also advice. There are 3 types of them: operational (for day to day activities), strategic (resources, see the potential, being the sponsor) and development (people who you need to trust that will give you candid feedback about your performance.

Managing the team: clear roles and direction, clear sense of where the person as an individual and team member is. Always asses when to delegate (low, moderate, high touch) and constant discussions around performance and perception are needed.

It is so useful to remind yourself about the pitfalls of friendship, the extreme authority, the loose ends, the fear of having strong team players, the lack of trust, the always better self-perception... etc. I would recommend this book as I think one can take away lot of info and put them into practice.


Image Courtesy: Google