There are two kinds of losers.
1. One is a loser who lost despite his best effort but doesn’t accept defeat. He analyses what happened, accepts what he needs to change in order to win. Then he disciplines himself and works ceaselessly until he wins.
2. The other doesn’t even understand why he lost, doesn’t bother to reflect on it, accepts defeat and tries to adjust himself to his new situation as a slave.
The biography of Genghis Khan is a good place to study Loser # 1. His story is a litany of woes and losses and defeats one piled on another right through his childhood, teens and twenties. But what shines through is the almost irrational belief in his ability to win, when there was nothing happening in his life to indicate that there was even a modicum of proof to show that his belief was true. I am sure there were people in his life who thought he had gone mad. Yet his life shows that he didn’t waver in his belief and continued to make attempt after attempt, shrinking at nothing which he thought would enable him to win. As they say, history is then witness to a man who created the largest empire that the world has ever seen in his own lifetime of just over 60 years.
The biography of Muhammadﷺ the Prophet of Islam, 7 centuries before Genghis Khan is another example of a man who didn’t accept defeat when there was no sign to show that he would ever win. His life, after he declared prophethood, is usually divided into two parts – the Makkan period of 13 years and the Madinan period of 10 years. The first part, the Makkan period is a story of defeat after defeat without a ray of hope, piled one on top of another. It was almost as if anything he touched, failed. He lost his reputation, his position in society, his wealth and influence, even the love and friendship of his people which was legendary before he declared prophethood at the age of 40. It was as if 40 years of gain in his life were wiped out with one fell stroke when he declared prophethood and proclaimed Islam. Yet he never faltered, never gave up hope, never accepted defeat and never stopped doing what he believed to be right; working for his mission when there was nothing to show that he would ever succeed.
I am sure there were people in his life who questioned his rationality. But once again, history is witness that in his own lifetime he once again became the most beloved man in Arabia, the uncrowned king of his people. A king, temporal, emotional and spiritual whose kingdom continues fourteen centuries after his death.
I have quoted two examples which are almost opposites of each other in terms of focus – one completely worldly, merciless, ruthless, materialistic and which though it spread like a forest fire, like a fire, it died out in less than 200 years such that there is not a single sign of its passing – disappearing as if it never existed. The other not only continues undiminished but grows continuously despite all forms of opposition. There are lessons in this about the longevity of empires of greed compared to empires of love and compassion but that is not my aim in this article except to simply place a marker so that we can also reflect on that aspect.
The lessons that I want to draw from these two very different examples are that the laws of winning and losing are like the laws of physics, universal, which give the same result every time. And these are three – the unwillingness to accept defeat, willingness to learn from their own lives and the discipline to do whatever it takes to win.
Let me give you a more modern example as well – the example not of one man but of an entire nation which refused to accept defeat or slavery. Japan – a classic example of a nation that refused to accept its crushing defeat as anything but a temporary setback. An entire generation dedicated itself to building the nation. Unlike other similar situations, crime and hopelessness didn’t dominate the scene and instead examples of selfless service were the order of the day. History is once again witness to the fact that in the lifetime of that one generation – in less than 50 years Japan emerged as not only one of the most powerful economies in the world but as a leader in scientific development, innovation, creativity and productivity.
Once again, the same three lessons are visible:
1. unwillingness to accept defeat,
2. willingness to learn from their own lives
3. and the discipline to do whatever it takes to win.
The Japanese demonstrated the three critical requirements for winning:
1. Willingness to analyze what happened,
2. Learn from it and make tough choices and ..
3. Support them with moral and material investment to make a difference.
Today if we look at the plight of the Muslim Ummah (nation), generally speaking, we find the absence of all these three factors which can change defeat to victory. We have accepted defeat, we refuse to face the facts about our own mistakes and we have no discipline to change our lifestyles or to make hard choices.
The history of slavery in America is a good place to study what happens to people who accept defeat. Once again generally speaking, the average black person in the South had accepted defeat to such an extent that black people brought up, served and protected their masters, sometimes with their own lives. Masters who treated them worse than they treated their pet cats or dogs. Yet not a single hand was raised to protect the dignity of the human being. True, that the masters used heinous ways to punish the rebellious because the purpose of such punishment is to serve as a deterrent to future aspirants and not merely as a recompense for the sin. So, it always exceeds the gravity of the crime. Yet instead of fueling righteous anger, the punishment fulfilled its intention by striking terror in defeated hearts, further confirming the belief that they couldn’t win. It took action outside the purview of their lives to eventually free them from slavery – Abraham Lincoln and his comrades from the North – and we are left to imagine how much longer slavery would have lasted had this war not happened. Naturally there are exceptions to every rule that go on to prove the rule – that people who accept defeat are condemned to slavery.
That is our situation today. We have accepted defeat. We have accepted slavery. So, we do two things – we speak of days of bygone glory forgetting that the key word is bygone; and we wait for an Avatar to come to save us, forgetting that Avatars exist only in mythology and Facebook. Meanwhile we engage ourselves in the equivalent of slave pastimes of drinking and singing sad songs – intoxication in an attempt to forget the horrors of our existence.
We spend money in ostentatious pomp and splendor, in fat weddings, in self-indulgence and materialism but not in anything which has a chance to take us out of our slavery. How else do you explain personalized aircrafts, 13 million-dollar Christmas trees, solid silver cars, multi-million dollar colored rocks and a collective reading average of ½ a page annually. How do we explain a society which has palaces known for their shameless ostentation and luxury and universities known for the bankruptcy of their ideas, teaching and learning?
We fight anyone who talks about freedom and do our best to discredit him and ensure that he doesn’t win. We don’t support him, call him insane and refuse to help him even to the extent of what we spend on our mindless entertainment.
We must choose; we who refuse to accept defeat and we who seek to change the path of the destiny of an unwilling people. We must accept that we will not be supported easily so we must stop relying on support from those who have chosen to accept slavery and defeat. We must understand that behind the resistance is fear. They have learned to be afraid. You and what you represent scares them ****less. They don’t want you to rock their boat even when they are mere rats in the hold. They have forgotten what it felt like to stand on the bridge with the wind in your hair and the spray of the ocean in your face, guiding the destiny of the ship. Until you can help them conquer that fear nothing will happen. Remember that to the uncommitted, commitment always looks like insanity. But only the totally committed can take risk. Commitment removes the fear. When they call you mad, understand that this is a sign that you are on the right path. Walk on and you will find that slowly they will awake, remember and start following you. Walk on.
You will need supporters because nobody can win alone. Don’t hire rabbits to climb trees. Don’t try to convince the frightened. Find those who resonate to your goal. You need people you can rely on. One you can rely on is better than a thousand who need pushing. Great goals need engines of power not bogies that need pushing. Finally remember that if you want to soar in the heavens you need condors for companions, not chickens trying to fly. Both are birds but worlds apart.
And remember that as I mentioned earlier, the laws of winning and losing are like the laws of physics; universal, which give the same result every time. Results depend on choices, not on who made the choice. So, choose well.
In my many visits to the beautiful country of South Africa one of the things that I was struck by was the proliferation of violent crime. The situation seems to have reached truly alarming proportions where people have lost all sense of safety and are in a state of siege. The situation appears to be at a stage that if it is not tackled effectively and urgently it can easily result in a total meltdown of civilized society. The most ‘alarming’ thing in my view is the ‘acceptance’ of the situation that I heard in the tones and words of the many people, who seem to be getting resigned to the situation. I remind myself that in the presence of injustice, the truly alarming sign is the lack of will to fight against the injustice. That is the truest guarantee that injustice will prevail in the land. As long as there are those who fight against injustice, those who perpetrate it, need to fear the consequences of their actions. When that fight stops, then the criminals will rule the world.The classic example of this is the difference in the stance of people, between Tibet versus South Africa in the apartheid regime. In the former, the people of Tibet tacitly accepted Chinese occupation. And so, it remains under the heel of Communist China with no hope of ever becoming free. On the other hand, in South Africa, the oppressed people fought against the oppression and though it took 50 years and the lives of countless martyrs, South Africa is free. For as long as the fight continues, there is hope for those who believe in justice and freedom. This shows us that the first thing to do in the fight against crime in South Africa is for the people who are law abiding citizens, not to lose hope and never to accept the current status quo. It is their duty to continue to look for ways to make South African society a place that the criminal fears. Not the law-abiding citizen.Multi-pronged accelerated StrategyI am not going into a detailed analysis of the causes of violent crime. I believe these reasons are clear to all those who know the history of this beautiful country and all those who fought and laid down their lives to create a land where people can live with dignity, in freedom. The martyrs of the freedom struggle did not die to create a situation where the normal, law abiding person still has to fear for his or her life and dignity. To change this situation is the responsibility of those who inherited a free South Africa. In my view crime in South Africa must be tackled at multiple levels. The objective must be to remove or reduce the ‘need’ for crime and make it as difficult as possible to commit it. This must be supported by very tough policing which raises the stake for those who commit crimes. And finally, a judicial system that is swift in its disposal of cases so that criminals pay a fair price for their crimes. It must be remembered that the purpose of law is to make it safe and comfortable for the law-abiding citizen to live in society.Not to make it safe for the criminal to commit crimes and then to hide behind the cloak of fairness and justice. It was the criminal’s choice to breach good faith and violate the law of the land. And for this he must pay a price that is not only ‘fair’ in the context of the crime that he committed but becomes a deterrent for any aspiring criminals who may seek to emulate this ‘easy’ way to earn a living by preying on people.1. Partner with Companies to alleviate poverty and create employmentThe historical reasons for poverty are clear to all those who live in South Africa. I will not go into them here as we are more concerned with ways to solve the problems. Poverty breeds crime. It is not that rich people are intrinsically honest but that if people are extremely poor, then respecting other’s life and property becomes more an academic argument that is easily lost sight of in the search to fill the belly. We know for a fact that the government is truly concerned with doing all it can, to alleviate poverty. What needs to be done is to get citizens involved in the process as well. A very successful model that has been adopted in India voluntarily by some corporate organizations is to adopt villages. This means that the company pays for schools, hospitals, cheap housing, roads & drains and all welfare civil work as well as to create employment opportunities for the people. Some companies have also entered the area of micro-credit and entrepreneurship development. They also work to introduce better farming methods, seeds, fertilizers and so on. The government allows the company to deduct some or all of the expenses incurred from its taxes. These are all hugely empowering programs and since companies are compensated for what they spend there is an eagerness to contribute.2. Police Training & Citizen PartnershipOnce again, I draw on the Indian example because it parallels the South African one. In some ways, the Indian situation is more complicated and the forces of corruption are more entrenched. After all we have had more than 200 years of practice. However mercifully violent crime is still a rarity in India and holdups and robberies South Africa style are seen mostly on the screen in Bollywood movies. The way the government has tackled this is by setting up an elite officer cadre called the IPS (Indian Police Service). This consist of cadets who are recruited on the basis of a very tough examination at the all India level (called the Union Public Service Commission exam) that allows successful candidates to enter the bureaucracy in different ‘Services’ like the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Audit & Accounts Service (IAAS) and so on. The minimum qualification to appear for the examination is a graduate degree. Most applicants are post graduates.The written exam which is conducted anonymously is number driven. Competition is at least 1/300. Following this, there is a personal interview with a board comprised of serving and retired officers. Once the candidate passes this he or she enrolls into a very intensive 2-year training program consisting of both college study in the different Service Academies (for the different services) and field training in real-life situations. At the end of that period they formally enter the Indian Police Service. These officers are supposed to be of higher quality and more dedicated and committed than the rank and file that is recruited apart from the UPSC exam route. I say, ‘supposed to be’ because this is not always the case, but the system itself is an excellent one.I suggest that a similar system be created for the South African Police where highly qualified young people are recruited into a fast-track officer cadre and then intensively trained to become career service professionals. I am personally involved with training IPS Officers at the Indian National Police Academy in Hyderabad, India and can say that we can do wonders with the right training. When these officers take charge, they will change the face of policing.Simultaneously with training the officer cadre it is essential to start a Police-Public Network where citizens become the eyes and ears of the police and partner with them to solve crime. Citizens must be armed and formed into policing committees with some police officers accompanying them. There must be frequent interaction between police and the public in informal settings to build bridges and create an atmosphere of mutual trust. Religious leaders must take a lead role in this and have interaction with local police officers as a part of their religious event calendars. If enough awareness and openness is created then it makes it difficult for police officers to be corrupt or to support criminals.3. Education: Moral and ethical code of behaviorThe third element of the strategy to fight crime is to work on the minds of the young ones by introducing and strengthening their code of moral and ethical behavior. This may be done both through religious and faith organizations as well as through the secular school system. The key is to help them see the value of morals and ethics in their own lives. For this, apart from theoretical instruction it is very useful to have an exchange program where children from backgrounds which are high crime, deprivation and lack of good parental models visit homes where there is a strong sense of family, moral and ethical behavior is clearly evident and the home has a sense of harmony and safety about it. When children see these models and experience love, respect, concern for one another and good manners, they start to see the value of these things and theoretical instruction starts to make meaning.4. Fast-track Courts to handle criminal offencesThe fourth and last element in the strategy to fight crime is to create fast-track courts to handle criminal offences. These courts must naturally insist on proper investigation and following of due process of law but must dispose of the cases without any delay. The sentences handed out must be in relation to the seriousness of the crime. More serious the crime, more severe the sentence. The death penalty must be reinstated (even if it is done temporarily) for all convictions of murder and rape. This may seem harsh but in my view the torment and suffering that innocent women undergo when they are raped is far more. As also is the torment of the families of those who are murdered in cold blood for no fault of theirs by criminals who have no concern for either the law of the land or for the lives and dignity of people. As I have said earlier, the purpose of law is to protect the one who abides by it. Not the one who breaks and violates it. The law breaker must feel the pain of breaking the law which he chose to break without any compulsion from anyone. It is his choice. And all choices have a price tag.We get what we pay for. What we support, grows. It is essential to ensure therefore that we don’t support lawbreaking and lawless behavior no matter who does it. And to ensure that the lawbreaker pays a price that is at least equal to the harm that he has caused. Only then will we be able to create a society that is safe for those who respect the law.ConclusionAs you can see, the situation of crime in South Africa is complex in terms of the reasons behind it and needs solutions that are multi-pronged. Some of them must be empowered by legislation or ordinances. Others by training and education. The situation is grave enough to warrant all the energy that we can put behind these efforts.
What is kindness? Is it accepting substandard work or is it insisting that only the best quality is acceptable? There is often a lot of confusion about this and people think that they are being kind when they say nothing to their group members, family or friends who routinely over promise and under deliver. I want to distinguish here between inability and unwillingness. If someone is learning English I wouldn’t discard something he had written because it had spelling and grammatical errors. But if the same work comes from someone who knows English well, then it indicates an attitude of carelessness and inattention to quality, which is a reflection, not of their language ability but of a much more dangerous malaise of an attitude of lack of attention to detail and a lack of concern for quality. When I see this I know I am looking at a person without self-respect because in my book, my work is my signature. So if I am not concerned about putting out sloppy work, then it means I am not concerned about my own image. It is not about projecting an image but about becoming complacent and comfortable with poor quality. Such a person in my opinion is not someone who I would want on my team, no matter what his qualifications are.
In my book, ‘Hiring Winners’http://amzn.to/1xFWmgO I have argued and shown that technical competence can be hired or trained, but attitude must be selected and hired. It is almost impossible to change the attitude of people once they are hired. I say ‘almost’ because it is possible in exceptional cases with exceptional leaders in exceptional circumstances. It is not something that I would recommend to everyone. Much simpler and easier to hire people with the right attitude and train them in the skills you want.
Just to give you an idea why I call this dangerous let me share some statistically valid data:
1. According to a 2006 study looking at the frequency of surgical errors in the United States, each year there could be as many as 2,700 mistakes where a surgery is performed on the wrong body part or the wrong patient. That’s about seven per day.
To understand this properly imagine having your good kidney or good eye removed. Both have happened.
2. The Federal Aviation Administration lists pilot error as the leading cause of plane accidents, but pilot error is almost always part of a chain of events that starts …
The details above are only to give you an idea of the seriousness of being careless – it can result in loss of life and limb. I am sure that the more we dig the more we will find incidents where significant loss could have been avoided if only someone had checked. That is where this is related to spelling and grammar. They are indicators of attitude. Someone who sends out a letter full of spelling and grammatical mistakes is more than likely a person who will not do an instruments check if he were flying a plane or read the patient’s data sheet or count the number of sponges he took out of the incision in a surgical procedure. I for one, wouldn’t want to be on that plane or that operating table.
This attitude of careless is not restricted to English writers or pilots and surgeons. We have careless teachers who ruin children’s enthusiasm to study. Careless parents who bring up little animals instead of responsible human beings. Careless scholars who leave the remnants of their mistakes to confound people long after they are dead and gone.
And that is where the issue of demanding quality comes in. Sloppiness is not a sign of passion but of the lack of it. By and large we seem to have quality problems in third world countries because we accept poor quality. People can do better but they need to be convinced that it is worth their while to do so. We must demand quality without apology. And without confusing it for a lack of kindness. In my opinion, the willingness to take tough calls is the key to quality. Ask yourself, ‘Is it kindness to allow cancer to develop because you don’t want to hurt the patient by cutting him or is it kindness to be concerned enough about the life of the patient to cut out the cancer?’ That is what you are doing when you allow sloppiness in the name of being kind. You cut out cancer because you know it will kill you even though it is your own cell. That is precisely why your internal defence mechanism can’t deal with it and you have to use external intervention.
That is why Jack Welch of GE used to say that the ultimate test of the leader is if he had ‘Edge’, which he defined as the ability to take tough decisions. Among the 4Es of GE – Energy, Energize, Edge, Execute – Welch would say that a person may have three of the four but if he didn’t have Edge, then he would fail even though he had the others. See this excellent article about this: http://www.stratoserve.com/2011/05/jack-welch-ges-4-p-and-one-e-curve.html Quality is all about being tough for the right reasons, firstly with oneself and then with one’s team. Without that Edge, there can never be any quality. Of this I am absolutely convinced.
Mikel Harry of Motorola was the man who conceptualized the 6 Sigma Quality Standard based on the principle that one can only measure mistakes. You can’t say how efficient someone is except to count the number of mistakes they make. The fewer the mistakes, the better the product or service. So let’s say someone has a service delivery of 99%. Now that may sound perfectly acceptable and we may say to ourselves, ‘We must be compassionate and not give that person a hard time because they made just one mistake in 100.’ Until of course you translate it into 6 Sigma terms – how many per million? 1% is 10,000/million. 6 Sigma is 3.4 mistakes per million. How would you like to fly at 39,000 feet in a plane where the engines were manufactured by a company operating at 99% efficiency?Or where the pilot is operating at 99% efficiency? Or be operated for heart surgery by a surgeon who is 99% particular about hygiene? Do I need to give any more examples?
This is where the importance of metrics comes in. It is only when you have metrics to define what is meant by acceptable quality in your context, can you be sure that everyone understands the standard, can be measured and will know clearly if he or she met the standard or didn’t. What you don’t measure, you don’t know. What you don’t know you can’t control. What you can’t control you can’t guarantee. Subjective assessments can’t substitute for metrics. So do take the trouble to measure quality.
This is what Toyota did with the development of their luxury car. They went to the owners of Rolls Royce, Mercedes and BMW and asked them questions about what they felt (felt, not thought) when they used their cars. They asked for example what the owner of the Rolls feels when he gets into his car and shuts the door which shuts with a very satisfying thump – not a tinny clang like the door of a small cheap car. They asked them what they felt when they sank into the luxury of real leather seats which hug them and give them back support. They asked the owners of BMW what they felt when they were behind the wheel and on an open stretch of road, they floored the accelerator. Those who have driven BMWs will know what I mean. The car acts like a leopard gathering itself to pounce. You can feel it in your belly before it leaps forward and thrust drives you back in your seat. Toyota engineers took all these highly ‘touchy feely’ answers and converted them into engineering drawings – the most specific of data. The result was the most successful and fastest selling luxury car on the market – the Lexus. This is the magic of numbers; the power of metrics. They convert wishes into reality, vision into action, effort into result.
Quality is serious. Lack of quality is deadly. Lack of quality happens simply because we permit it. It happens because we don’t insist on quality. It happens because we accept poor quality, most often in the name of being kind and compassionate. Not realizing of course that there is nothing more unkind and unjust than accepting poor quality. It fools the provider into believing that his/her product or service is good enough. It takes away their incentive to improve and makes them vulnerable to collapse. This is not kindness but a lack of understanding of the whole issue of quality which has very long term and very destructive effects. Unfortunately our society is full of examples of people who don’t keep their word, don’t deliver on promises, don’t work to high standards and give ridiculous excuses when challenged. People who confuse effort with result, while it is only results that count.
Let me tell you two stories about quality to end this article:
The story goes that Motorola ordered a part for their Pagers from their Japanese ancillary and impressed upon them that they were a 6 Sigma company and wouldn’t accept anything but the 6 Sigma standard of 3.4 mistakes per million. When the consignment was delivered, to Motorola’s surprise they found two packages – a big one and a small one. When they opened the big box they saw that it had the entire consignment of one million parts that they had ordered. The small box had four parts in it. When they asked their Japanese partner they were told, ‘We didn’t understand why you wanted us to give you defective parts. But since you asked for them, we gave you four defective parts. Otherwise we don’t manufacture anything with defects.’
The second story is about Tata Motors who were plagued with re-work and cost escalations and hired a Japanese consultant from Toyota to help them to solve their quality problem. The man entered their factory and walked straight to the end of the manufacturing line and saw that there was a huge area marked, ‘Rework.’
He said to them, ‘Please remove this sign and eliminate this work area. That is all that you need to do to fix your problem. If you have no rework area, you will have no rework. People will do the right thing, first time.’
Tata executives however were not convinced and reduced the size of the area but were too frightened to remove the rework area entirely. The results were predictable.
My question is: If you had a choice, which car would you buy? A Toyota or a Tata.
Many young and old (post retirement) friends and acquaintances ask me for pointers to enter the world of Organizational Consulting & Training which I have been in since 1985. I thought it would be good to share generally what I have been advising people for several years. I hope it will benefit many more. It is easy if you are a motorcycle mechanic. What you do is clear. The customer has a pressing need. It doesn’t cost much to repair his motorcycle. So he comes.
But with Organizational Consulting & Training you are dealing in concepts, feelings, emotions and some techniques which mostly depend on the sincerity of the learner in applying them as well as his expertise in doing so; to show their effectiveness. That is a very challenging ‘s environment. The customer’s need is not as immediate or pressing like the man with the broken motorcycle. And he must pay a jolly sight more to fulfill his need. Moreover, his benefit is far less clear, especially as it depends on what he does with what he learnt from you. Having been in this business now since 1985, I can tell you that it is perhaps the most challenging and exciting business that exists – provided you know what to do. So here are some thoughts about what works and what doesn’t.
1. Define & Differentiate your product – What do you have to offer and how is it unique?
The more clearly you can define your product, the better. It is not what you think you do, but what your customer thinks you do, that matters. That must be crystal clear to him, so that when he has a need in the area of your work, you are his natural choice. So, give a lot of thought to what it is that you do and how you tell people about it. Remember that the world of selling is the world of words. Not deception, but palatable truth. Unpalatable truth is equally truthful but not equally edible. So, craft words thoughtfully and take brutal feedback from others about it. Being married to your words is suicide. The key is not what you used to do but how you can use it now to help others. Don’t leave that to the customer to figure out. Spell it out for him. Not because he is stupid, but because the need is yours. Don’t tell him what you used to do but how you can help him and how that will benefit him. That will mean knowing his business sometimes better than he does himself. Certainly, in terms of an overview from the outside. That is your key differentiator because perspective is a function of distance. Leverage it and show him how it works.
2. Define your customer
Not everyone is your customer. This is the biggest mistake you can make; trying to be all things to everyone. That way you are seen as a generalist, nothing to nobody. People like to feel that they are dealing with an expert, even if it is for a haircut. That means that you must learn to say a very definite, ‘No!’ to some businesses. I stayed out of recruitment from the beginning (1994) when recruitment was a booming business. That classified me as a confidant of business managers and owners; not as someone who would probably poach on them to grow his business. I never regretted that decision. It is not to say that all placement consultants do this but enough do to spoil the reputation of everyone. Err on the side of caution in accepting assignments. Only the hero who survives lives to tell the tale. In consulting, if the client fails, you carry the can. So never accept assignments where the outcome is doubtful because you doubt the client’s sincerity or learning ability to carry out your recommendations. Remember that both success or failures are news; often the latter being remembered more vividly. So, look for quick wins. Both parties will be happier.
3. Define your fee
I have a basic rule. Stand in front of the mirror and say the number aloud. If you feel comfortable with it, it is the right amount. Do some hard-nosed analysis about your finances and see what you need – not want – need. Then base your fee on that. Develop a mindset of contentment, so that when that figure is reached you have no stress. Then whatever else comes thereafter is icing on the cake. Remember that once you quote a figure to a client, that is what he will pay you as long as you live. He will take an increment every six months but will moan like a cow in labor if you ask for a raise once in six years. So, be careful what you quote. “We are going to give you a lot of business, so give us a discount”, is the oldest, most threadbare line that exists. Even more than, “What are you doing tonight?” So, don’t fall for it. Giving a discount to someone who will actually give you a lot of business means that you are tying yourself down to a low productivity client in favor of others who would have been more productive. Quote fairly and confidently. Perception is in the mind of the listener but before that in your own heart. If you are confident of your product or service, then be sure that people will come to you again and again. I have not made a cold call since 1995. It is as simple as that.
4. Deliver premium and demand premium
Buy me because I am cheap – is not a slogan that ever appealed to me. Remember no matter what you charge there will always be someone in the market who will pay that to you, once. It is repeat business that is your bread and butter – so ensure that your customer is so tremendously satisfied that he will not only call you again but you become his natural choice. The repeat customer is the only one who can compare you to others, because he has experienced you once. Make sure that his experience with you is so superior that everything else pales in comparison. He then becomes your ambassador and there’s no better or more effective ambassador than a customer who has experienced you and is delighted.
Selling cheap has several problems: You position yourself as a low-quality provider (default implication of cheap); the client will never agree to a fee raise later so you lock yourself into a low remunerative bind and you can almost never pitch for high-end work. Nobody will consult the trainer of security guards when the Board wants advice. So, positioning is critical. I have found that positioning in terms of quality is best. If you deliver top quality, you get a very good name and people don’t care what you charge. Those who still count pennies are not your clients. Smile and leave them. The fact is that if you are not confident about your product or service then don’t expect the client to feel confident about you.
‘Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten’, (Gucci family slogan).
5. Do only work that you are passionate about – leave the rest
That is because you can’t deliver quality unless you are passionate about something. So never do something for the money. Do it for love. Money will follow. Money is the natural consequence of all quality work. But if you do something that you don’t believe in you will never succeed. That is why I have always refused work for cigarette and liquor companies and companies who are known for corruption – no matter what the fee. I have also never done sales training because it doesn’t excite me. I teach leadership where I am paid to do it and I teach it free where the client (like schools) can’t pay me but I believe that they will benefit and need that training. That gives me practice with a variety of audiences and builds equity in the market. Work for love and you will be loved for it.
Genuinely want the best for your client. If you are not interested in the welfare of the client and are working only for the money, it will show and it will go against you. Genuine interest means that you will end up doing more work than you may have anticipated, including some that is not billable. But being genuinely interested means that you won’t grudge or regret that. Take only projects that interest you because if you want to succeed in a project and make a mark, then you will need to be mentally engaged with it 24 x 7. You can’t do that unless it genuinely interests you. That too will show. Genuine wanting the best for your client also means that sometimes you will tell your client to go somewhere else if he needs something that you know someone else can provide better than you can. It is a tough call and that is why you need to think beyond your income. Remember that in the end it all comes back. People remember and are grateful and will promote and recommend you. Consulting is not business. Consulting is friendship. I have worked with this philosophy for the past 32 years and never regretted it.
6. Communicate, communicate, communicate
There is no getting away from this. Talk to people, write things and share with everyone. Have an abundance mentality with sharing. It all comes back. Speak at conferences and seminars. Offer to teach (even if it is for nothing) management development courses at business schools and training establishments – pick and choose of course – but do it. This will teach you the skills of dealing with people. It will energize you, expose you to your potential client base and give you visibility and credibility. I used to teach at IIM-B when I lived in Bangalore, at Asnuntuck Community College and the Government of Connecticut when I was in the US and teach at the National Police Academy, SSB Academy and others now that I live in Hyderabad. All for next to nothing in terms of money but great networking benefits.
Answer phone calls immediately, always respond to emails, call people just to say hello. Have a toll-free number where your clients can reach you. Never leave a phone call unreturned or an email unanswered. Good people skills are far more important than anything else. People hire you not because of competence but because they like you. Competence is a given. It must be there. Being liked is the decision maker. Communication is the key to being liked. Aspiring consultants who play (or are) hard to get are digging their own grave. Nobody loves you enough to chase you. That will happen one day provided you build enough equity. But it will happen after a lot of hard work. I once had a client wait for two years for me to return from America to do some work, but the exception proves the rule. If you are not reachable, someone else is. No matter that you think you are the best in the market. Even if you are, they don’t know that until they work with you and if they can’t reach you, if you don’t return calls or mails, that will never happen.
7. Document and focus on your own training
The written word has high credibility. So, write. Record meetings, thoughts, ideas and questions. Then read them. You will be amazed at how much you will learn. Every year or so, go over what you have recorded and you are likely to have the makings of a book on hand. I wrote more than 12 books in 28 years of consulting. Almost all of them this way. You will be amazed how much research and learning happens in the normal course of life, except that we don’t record it. Beat the rest. Record your learnings. Books are an excellent way to build credibility. They are also a strong way to advertise what you have to offer without having to be crass enough to talk about it. A book is a quiet but confident statement of who you are and what you have to offer to the market. People trust the written word much more than the spoken word. In the words of Martin Luther King (Jr.), ‘If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.’ This also keeps you busy in the lull periods where you may otherwise fall prey to anxiety and stress. So, write.
Ensure that you invest in yourself by upgrading your own skills. Set aside time and a budget to invest in your own learning. Read and get trained on a regular basis and you will find that to be a competitive advantage. I have found this an absolutely unassailable argument on the rare occasion when someone says to me, ‘But so-and-so charges less than you do.’ I say to them, ‘Ask them what they spent on their own training in the last 12 months.’ Nobody ever came back and I never lost a client for this reason. The hard reality is that if you have not upgraded yourself, then you are really not fit to offer anything to the client. His reality changes on a daily basis with greater complexity, more demanding challenges and an ever more ambiguous environment. How can you help them if you are still living in the stone age? Remember that consulting, especially leadership consulting is not about technology but about helping your client sell his dream and then help him to create a concrete roadmap to achieve it. It is about building trust, keeping confidence and being there for them.
8. Finally, never compromise your integrity no matter how hungry you are
Remember that your client is not the one who feeds you and the One who feeds you doesn’t lack resources. So never do anything which is against your beliefs and values. Have the highest values and live by them. That is the biggest incentive in my view of being an independent consultant – that you can afford to live by your values. And guess what? Not only will you never starve but you will gain a huge amount of respect in the market which you can’t buy even if you wanted to. For example, I have always insisted on clients respecting copyright and never agreed to use photocopied instruments, books and so on. On one occasion, I had to walk away from a very lucrative assignment from a very famous company (you’ll be surprised if I told you the name) because the training manager insisted that I used photocopied MBTI questionnaires to ‘reduce cost’. She said to me, ‘But everyone does it.’ I told her, ‘I am not everyone.’ That was in my very first year as an independent consultant (1994) when I was very poor and hungry and it hurt very much to walk away. But I did. And as they say, the rest is history.
Another aspect of integrity is to keep the confidentiality of the client. Especially if you have high profile clients, others will try to put pressure on you to talk about them. By all means share the good stuff. But anything that is confidential like business information, personal information about anyone, any plans that you may be privy to, must all remain completely confidential. Remember that it takes years to build a reputation for integrity in consulting and it takes a single instance to destroy it. It doesn’t matter whether you did it deliberately or accidentally. If you did it, it is a bullet in the forehead. It is instant death. A reputation of high integrity is your best brand, your greatest asset. It is your signature, your key differentiator in the market and it is what you will always be remembered for. I can say with great pride that I have worked with GE from 1994, but have never been asked to sign a NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement). So also with all my other clients. I have never signed an NDA with anyone. Not that I would have refused. If someone has a policy about it, I have no objection to following it. I am saying that nobody ever asked me to do it. As I mentioned earlier, your reputation is your greatest asset. By far greater than anything material. Don’t sell it for love or money. It is simply not worth it. Guard it very zealously and jealously. It will benefit you all your life.
Consulting is hard because it means that someone else must feel that the advice that you will give them is worth paying for. So, it needs hard work, consistent results and extremely good social skills and interpersonal relationships. But like a giant wheel, it is hard work to move it but once it is rolling, it builds momentum on its own.
I hope this is helpful and gives you a start. We have to work very hard – very, very hard to begin with. That is why passion is important because it will keep going up the long uphill climb when breath is short and burning in the chest, your legs are leaden, your back is a mass of pain and the sweat is pouring off your brow like rain. But you keep climbing because you know what awaits you at the top. To sit on a rock and watch the world at your feet, your face cooled by a gentle breeze and your body slowly relaxing as you gaze down – not up – at the clouds.
‘In every one of us there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow, wherever they may lead; the one being an innate desire of pleasure; the other, an acquired judgment which aspires after excellence.’
~ Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedrus
First question of course is to ask if I am qualified to write about this issue. Let me tell you how I started and let you decide if you want to read beyond that account.
I have been an entrepreneur, formally (in the sense of owning my own business) since 1994. I started business however while I was still in a regular full time job (in 1983), with the full knowledge and blessing of my employer and paid for it by working on my business during my vacation and unpaid leave.
I worked at learning and building a management consulting business for 12 years. I invested every available paisa (cent) on books and train fares (3rd class – a bare wooden plank for a seat) and every available day of vacation leave, interning with one trainer or another. I did not take a single day off in 12 years. Then in 1994 I started my own company (Yawar Baig & Associates www.yawarbaig.com ) in Bangalore with all of Rs. 3000 ($ 60) in my pocket and a dream in my heart, of becoming an internationally recognized leadership trainer with a global business. That in my view is typical of being an entrepreneur – to dream of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” This is 2013, 13 years after my first international assignment. Today I have a business with clients on three continents.
It is this innate aspiration for excellence that I believe is at the root of all successful entrepreneurial activity. It is the desire to differentiate. To be different in a positive way. To stand out from the crowd; not to blend in with it. To express your identity in a unique way such that it is recognized and honored. That is the meaning of ‘Branding’. Without that you are a grain of rice in a sack. Excellence is to take responsibility not only for your own well-being but that of others. To lead others on the road which will not only help you to make your dream come true but to weave the dreams of others into the fabric so intrinsically that when they look out on the achievement of your vision, they will also see their own visions becoming reality. To leave behind a legacy by which you are remembered with affection and your passing regretted. Entrepreneurship is to always act with this consciousness about the long term effects of our actions. To be willing to give an account, because we know that we will be held accountable.
Entrepreneurship is all about spirit. It is recognizing that you did not come into this world either randomly by accident or by your own choice. Your parents did not choose for you to be born. I believe that we were sent and we were sent with a purpose. When we discover that purpose we enter a state of grace. A fish out of water is the most clumsy, awkward creature in the world. It can’t move, it flops desperately, it gasps for breath. But the same fish when you put it back into the lake disappears like a flash – the epitome of grace, speed and beauty. When we are in our appointed task we are like a fish in the water. The world conspires to help us to succeed. But first we must recognize our purpose and then we need to consciously accept it. That is the scary part. But that is the threshold that must be crossed to demonstrate that we are in and not out. Without crossing the threshold of owning responsibility for our own lives, we can’t expect anything to happen.
We are never compelled to make one choice or another. But the doors that open, the vista that unfolds before our eyes and the road that beckons ahead all depend on the choice that we make. Behind each door is a different destiny. We get to choose which one we want to open and walk through into the world that it opens for us.
Choices are not always easy. As a matter of fact all the important ones are difficult. The most difficult thing is to choose between two apparently good alternatives. But the choice must be made. Everything else depends on that. We complain about difficulty. We forget that difficulties come to test us so that the prize can be given once we surmount the difficulty. Success goes to those who can overcome difficulties. Each difficulty resets the bar and creates a new definition of excellence without which we would have been lulled into a false sense of security which hides fatal flaws. Only winners get medals, remember? Those who fail are relegated to the garbage pile of the detritus of history.
Without the challenge of Goliath, David would have remained a shepherd boy. But when he stood up against the might of Goliath and his army, Allah guided his arm which swirled the sling about his head and the stone met its mark. That was the destiny of David which opened up before him when he took the step forward. The same destiny was not written for those who did not take the step forward, when the King of the Bani Israeel, Talut (Saul) called for volunteers to fight Goliath in single combat. Taking the first step forward was the key to the door that led to David’s victory. Similarly our destiny waits for us to stand up and say, “I am ready.” Then the challenge stands forth. Faith is to remember all this and to take the first step.
Every time we stand and say, “I am ready!” a challenge will come forward. If we see the challenge and run away then we are back to square one. It is only when we take a step forward towards the challenge that we actively make the choice which will lead to victory. Notice that I use the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may, can or probably’. That is because I speak as an entrepreneur who knows that every time you take a firm step in the direction of the challenge, victory has already been written. The first step is a sign of that. When we take a step towards a challenge and we don’t succeed, the answer lies in the way we took the step. It was not a firm step with conviction. It was a step with one eye looking backwards over the shoulder looking for escape routes. We did not burn the ships upon landing on the distant shore, with the resolve that in this new land, we shall make our home. The burning of the ships is symbolic because it signifies commitment. Commitment that we will live here in our new homes or we will be buried in our new graves. But there is no going back. Commitment is the line we cross between wishing and doing. And that is what I mean by the first step. Entrepreneurs take it with conviction. They don’t look back.
I believe very passionately and firmly in the fact that in the end, it is quality that scores over everything else. I know that every entrepreneur worth the name shares this belief with me. I have met many along the way who cut corners, pretended to be what they were not and compromised quality for short term gain. Most of them no longer exist. Those who do, live with a reputation that constantly sabotages their effort. I believe that everything that we do or choose not to do defines our brand and reflects our character. Therefore all initiatives and effort must be measured against this standard to see if it stands up to the mark. Compromising standards and values for gains is a very expensive bargain and adds no value at all. Indeed the most profitable way to run a business is to work to the highest standards and become the benchmark in the industry against which others measure themselves. Then you can claim a premium where your competitors are busy competing on price.
‘Buy from me because I am cheap’, is a slogan I never liked.
So what are the questions that arise when you are thinking about becoming and entrepreneur and what are their answers?
1. But am I ready?
That depends on what you mean by ready. There are two aspects to this question: an emotional aspect and a material aspect.
a. Emotional Aspect: Please answer these questions:
a. What does it take to make you content?
b. How much faith do you have in yourself and in Allah?
c. How much support do you have from your environment?
b. Material Aspect: Please answer these questions:
a. What is the market need? What does your research tell you?
b. What is your value proposition? What is your differentiator?
c. Does your target customer agree? What’s in it for him?
2. When is it the right time?
Now is the right time simply because ‘now’ is the only time in your hands. The past is gone. The future may never come. The present is all that we have. So when should you take the first step? Right now.
3. How do I sell, especially when I may not be a technology expert?
a. Have basic overall knowledge of the product/service so you don’t seem ignorant.
b. Gain in depth knowledge of the customer and his business …the more you know, the better.
c. Know and speak the language of the customer. Speak to as many people in the industry as you can and get as much anecdotal data as possible.
d. In your meeting speak the language of the customer. Use their internal words and phrases but do it unobtrusively and seamlessly.
e. Draw attention to how your product/service can help him (benefits)…not on what the product/service does (features).
f. Don’t leave him to make the linkage. Make it for him which demonstrates to him how well you know his business and gives him peace of mind and adds to your credibility.
g. Then keep silent and let him decide.
a. Never fall into the trap of organization building for a non-existing business. Sell first. Then depending on the need build infrastructure and hire people. People start with an office. Big mistake. Your home is your office, warehouse, bedroom and kitchen all rolled into one.
b. Remember that all that you spend on infrastructure and overheads is expense. And all that you save by working without these two is income. So be very careful before you build or add anything. Keep your money.
c. Hire only salespeople and put them on a revenue sharing scheme. Don’t hire anyone who doesn’t like the idea of sharing revenue and wants a salary (I want my money whether I make any money or not! You don’t want someone like that, believe me.)
d. Outsource all other functions. That’s why experts exist. If you are honest you don’t need two account books and any good accountant can do all your accounts and file your tax returns for less than 10% of what a full time accountant will cost you. Same applies to everyone else.
e. You go out there and sell. Do it yourself simply because nobody can do it better than you can and that is experience you need like a fish needs air. It is invaluable and without it you can’t even survive, much less grow.
f. Every evening sit down with a notebook and pen and ask, ‘What happened today and what did I learn?’ And make notes. There’s nothing more valuable than this documentation. So do it religiously and every day.
g. If you take partners be sure of what billable value the partner is adding. Holding your hand is not billable value. That is a psychological placebo. Make sure the partner brings something that you can’t do. If he replicates (or wants to replicate) what you do, he is a competitor, not a partner.
h. Have the partnership strictly on a profit sharing basis. That is better for the self-respect of both partners.
i. Document the partnership clearly in terms of duties and deliverables. That is better for your friendship. Taking friends for granted is the single biggest reason for partnerships going sour. You lose the friend and the business.
j. Take someone you trust as an advisor/mentor and listen to his/her advice. Listen, not necessarily follow. Listen, don’t argue or try to convince them. Listen and take your own decisions. It is your life, after all.
For more read my book, ‘An Entrepreneur’s Diary,