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Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said the management guru Peter Drucker.  The statement was popularised by Mark Fields, president for Ford Motor Company.  He realised that the culture of an organization is an offshoot of the beliefs and values, which in turn guide the behaviours, as a result of which people beget high or low quality results.  Fields had a powerful vision for Ford but he realised that the achievement of that vision was dependent on the collective beliefs and behaviours of the employees.  Therefore, he made culture the top priority at Ford.

Steve Jobs turned Apple around, made it into the most valuable company in the world by inculcating his vision into each employee. He created a dynamic culture of results and accountability.  His vision was to create Apple into a company driven by extraordinary innovation and performance.  With this vision he built a team and a company around him that delivered on this vision.

When one looks at an organisation, or group of people, that requires change, it is helpful to view them in a similar way. Any organisation or group of people is essentially a collection of potentials. No matter how well an organisation is performing, there are always untapped reserves that are inaccessible because the mechanisms don’t exist to exploit them. However, when an organisation is not performing, meeting its financial or other targets, then what becomes apparent is that the mechanisms that are supposed to bring out this potential are defunct, and evolved mechanisms are needed to address the new needs that have now arisen.

Shaukat Raza Mirza created Engro and thus gave birth to its culture when he engineered the highly complex employee buyout of Exxon — a most difficult transaction, seldom completed anywhere in the world.  The buyout was made possible because Shaukat Mirza inspired every single employee working for Exxon to not only trust him but to buy into the vision he had for the new company by investing every penny.  The quality of his leadership was evident in the degree of trust afforded to him by every single employee. With the creation of Engro he gave birth to the culture of visionary foresight, teamwork, strong leadership and aggressive performance.

Asad emulates Mr. Mirza and with his background in change engineering, having to deal with the human psyche and his years of martial arts training, he employs a unique blend of deep compassion and ruthless courage.  This enables him to cut through the dead weight of a bureaucratic organisation regardless of the political storms and stay focused amidst the furore. His strong empathy allows him to gain the trust of employees, to gain their ear —   to gain their faith in his leadership.

Asad uses his skills as a change engineering expert to bring about what he calls organisational transformation; to train the entire management level staff.  Transformation in the corporate arena is the process of unleashing massive growth and evolution on several parallels: people, processes, systems, paradigms, and leadership. This translates into a higher quality work ethic, faster and more efficient processes, and finally, exponentially higher quality results. The synergistic effect of fine tuning multiple factors creates a geometric outcome. It is not simply increasing profits — it is the redesign of the organism.

The mechanisms that make this possible, however, are a far more complex and technical matter. This is the difference between transformation and change. Change is a largely random and undirected process: you can have good change, you can have bad change, and you can have accidental change. Transformation is the idea of change, but with the goals and desired outcomes defined; it’s change with a purpose. Every group, organisation or procedure requires individual treatments through this process and every course of action lays out the steps according to the goals and needs of the people in question.

When a current passes through an electric grid, before it comes to us it goes through a device called a transformer. The transformer has only one function: it takes an alternating (AC) current and turns it into a direct (DC) current, which is used then to run electronic devices. The process by which it does this is at once simple and complicated. It is based on the simple idea that running two streams of current side by side will create a magnetic field. This field then applies a force that converts a current from an alternate to direct (or vice versa). Like most scientific discoveries it finally came down to a very simple equation, which required someone with the intelligence to see it. The idea is simple, but building a transformer is a tricky business; one needs good copper, induction coils, and other components to make a machine that works.

To achieve this, Asad promotes an ingenious and highly effective system that yields rapid progress and accountability — RPM.  Asad has used RPM (Rapid Planning Method) countless times to swiftly get to the heart of the problem. To ensure transparency and create an atmosphere of trust and progress, the disintegration of silos and cliques is a necessity. Asad’s training techniques of management address this need. Further, it takes them in a new direction of evolution and innovation.

One method Asad has used successfully in the past is quarterly face to face meetings of every single management level employee — anyone who manages a team of 5 or more is required to attend. In one case, he spent an entire weekend with 120 of the most senior of the organisation’s employees, including the CEO, in one room.  The key here is planning, says Asad. Before any meeting, the attendees must construct a detailed RPM plan of action.  The magic of the RPM is in its sequence of development.  Step one is to get to the essence; figure out precisely what the ultimate outcome is and distill it down to its very heart.  The next step is where the genius of this mechanism lies: to understand your personal driving force or what Asad refers to as the “batti factor,” (light bulb factor). Only when people step out of their comfort zone and get creative, does evolution and breakthrough-progress take place, and that’s only possible when people get inspired!

Asad’s focus has always been driven by organisational turnarounds. These require a critical mass of people who can come up with innovative solutions, which is only possible when they become passionate, when their very heart and soul are engaged.  When it dawns on a person that their life means something, that they can contribute of their very core, then it’s a whole different level of engagement and a different quality of relationship is developed with the team, and that is the “batti” factor!  Asad drills this mindset into his trainees relentlessly.  Breakthrough ideas then come forth from the RPM and the consequences of are always astounding.

In another company, by the end of the very first meeting, the employees had gained a sense of trust in each other and the company when they witnessed first-hand the commitment, progress and passion each team had. Employee collaboration began to rise, which cultivated progress in unexpected ways.  Furthermore, employees who had languished under layers of fear and mediocrity came forward and began to perform.  They were applauded, encouraging them and others to move out of the shadows and demonstrate their real capability. They saw a future for themselves.  With each successive quarterly meet Asad reinforced the principles of the RPM and drilled the “batti” factor to encourage, push and cajole the employees’ personal and professional growth.  His dedication to the employees propelled the growth of the company. With each successive quarterly meet the openness increased, and the accountability and communication rose geometrically.  Through his inspired, passionate and committed leadership Asad was able to leverage the creativity, direction and energy of a hundred plus people — that was the genius that allowed him to gain momentum rapidly.

One of the keys to creating consistent wins, Asad explains, is to have the edge and that is made possible by putting into practice a simple yet profoundly sophisticated mindset: the power of anticipation.  At every step he trains his team to ask the right questions and thus be able to have an insight into the road ahead.  Once these changes are made, and processes refined and streamlined, immediate progress is instantly visible.  Teams are motivated by the freedom to perform and the elimination of endless loops of bureaucracy.  It becomes possible to give credit where it is due thus encouraging progress and conversely management is able to pinpoint and hold people accountable.

Asad’s passion from young adulthood has been learning and studying exceptional leadership, be it of business gurus or warriors. He comprehends that both successful businessmen and warriors have two qualities in common  — their unwavering focus and their ability to look their opponent in the eye. The opponent is mediocrity and fear. To bring about extraordinary results does not require extraordinary effort. It requires a paradigm shift. The mediocre can never bring about change.  The danger of changes are all too real and the fear overwhelming. It is men of extraordinary strength, courage and vision that can take dead weight and transform it into excellence.

It is Asad Rezzvi’s unique leadership style, a merging of the warrior mindset, corporate finesse and abiding integrity that has inspired employees to emulate his mindset.  This leverage of being able to inspire people to action has expedited the transformation he has managed to achieve. Transforming cultures, mindsets and habits is not an easy feat.  However, it’s the fulcrum that unleashes the performance, productivity and creativity of human beings in a way that few other things do.

Asad tells me that to create consistent wins takes a degree of conviction in one’s self. Gnothi Seauton– ‘Know Thyself’ was the warning/advice inscribed at the door of the Temple of Apollo: if you wanted to ask the Oracle for advice you had better have the inner capacity to take the advice. Unfortunately, in today’s world such depth is all but lost, or at best captured in pop psychology ‘self-help’ books. However, to lead, to inspire confidence, and to create extraordinary business wins still takes a significant degree of courage, capacity, and creativity – that remains unchanged.

As he puts it, Pakistan as a country needs many more such people: we need to cultivate and nurture change and growth  in every little corner and at every level in this country. He points out that while we do have many such people, the challenge is that we do not recognise them as assets to the country and lesser yet, we do not promote the idea of growth and change.

Culture does eat strategy for breakfast; it is the fertile ground in which people’s genius blooms — that is the vision Asad has been able to bring to life for all those he advises!  In Pakistan, the idea of tapping into the inner potential of people is only slowly catching on, but Pakistan has no lack of visionaries. Asad believes that with the advent and spread of information technology, and particularly the internet, enabling the communication needs of this diverse and populous country, we can see a bright future where Pakistan and its people live up to their incredible potential.

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