Go on the offensive, advises the respected management guru Ram Charan
Successful business founders are usually disdainful of management gurus. But not of the rare exceptions such as Peter Drucker (of an earlier era) and Ram Charan (today) who command near-universal admiration. Charan was a born in a cobbler’s family in a dusty town of Uttar Pradesh and went on to become a world-renowned business advisor, author and speaker working with the top managements of GE, Bank of America, DuPont, Novartis, 3M, Aditya Birla Group, Tata Group, Wipro, etc.
Charan, an engineer from the Banaras Hindu University, got an MBA and doctorate from Harvard Business School, where he graduated with distinction and was a Baker Scholar.
Over the past 35 years, Charan has authored as many as 16 books, many of them bestsellers. In all, he has sold over two million copies in more than a dozen languages. Execution, which he co-authored with former Honeywell CEO Larry Bossidy in 2002, remained for more than 150 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list.
His latest book, The Attacker’s Advantage, has a lot of fascinating insights one of which is the rise of the ‘Math Corporation’, which refers to the use of computer algorithms to create a sharp business edge. In many businesses that have substantial digital interface, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, information technology is an important weapon. This will get accentuated with better analytics, use of sensors, cloud computing and application of mobile technologies. This is just one way business is changing. Who would be best-placed to deal with it? Those who have the following characteristics:
A mindset to see opportunity in uncertainty
The ability to see a new path and commit to it
Adeptness in managing the transition
Skill in making the organisation steerable and agile
All this is explained in the four parts that the book is divided into. The first part sets the premise (The Fundamental Leadership Challenge of Our Times), where he argues, based on firsthand knowledge, of how quickly the ground can shift beneath a business leader’s feet, especially in a developing nation. He believes that while uncertainty has always been with us, the current times are unprecedented—uncertainty is structural.
To deal with this, he suggests developing, what he calls, ‘perceptual acuity’ to see around corners and detect, ahead of others, those forces—especially people, who are the catalysts of change—that could radically reshape a company or industry. This forms Part 2 of the book. He cites the example of India’s Tata Communications in this regard.
At the same time, revolutionary changes also offer immense opportunities. Charan advocates having the mindset to see opportunity in uncertainty. For this, CEOs have to define the path and go on the offensive. This is explained in Part 3.
The last part is devoted to making the organisation agile and steerable by aligning people, priorities, decision-making power, budgeting and capital allocation, and key performance indicators to the new realities of the marketplace. To do this, companies must break free of internal constraints and acquire new expertise, even at the cost of severing ties with past money-makers. If they can do this, CEOs will be able to create something ‘new and immensely valuable’ in a very short time.
Each chapter ends with a checklist of questions that summarise the talking points, making the ideas easy to remember and refer to. For managers at all levels, this would be a very educative book.