Monday, April 08, 2013

Bidding adieu...

Last Monday was the most memorable day for the outgoing batch of PGSEM - Convocation and receiving of diploma from Mr. Mukesh Ambani. And I believe this will be my last post as a PGSEMer in this blog.

It has been almost three years since we entered this campus as a PGSEMer. More than 200 case studies, 60 exams, 30 projects and hundreds of sleepless nights - that is what it took for us to reach where we are today as a proud IIMB alumnus. Life as a PGSEMer gifted some of the most memorable days to us. Whether it was the mesmerizing lectures by our Professors, or interaction with the industry stalwarts or the long long hours of intellectual discussions during projects - they provided some of the exciting moments. We had the opportunity to interact with eminent personalities like Dr APJ Abdul Kalam to Henry Mintzberg or from Anna Hazare to Narain Karthikeyan  or from Harish Hande to Anand Sharma. While it would be unfair to pick just a few, I would like to call out some of our personal experiences from PGSEM. Grueling; yet fun-filled orientation days by our seniors were perhaps the most memorable which helped us break the ice quickly and become a group. Some of the occasions that proved our caliber were when the 'one' thought that stuck us at 1AM while sitting in EPGP lounge becoming an insight appreciated by Professor the next day in Consumer Behavior elective or the five minutes pitch that we made during class that was well received or the impact we made through our projects in helping NGOs. At the same time, it was not always positive too; we also had some 'get-out my class' and even professors closing the class abruptly because we didn’t read the case.

Mahatma Gandhi once said “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” I think all the PGSEM students believe in this; otherwise we would not have joined PGSEM sacrificing the weekends, family functions and official promotions for three years to learn more. At the same time we all had the desire somewhere in the mind to achieve those heights that we dream t of, that the media boasted about for IIM students. Some of us are confident of reaching those heights, some are already in the path, some are struggling; some are even skeptical. But, I am one hundred percent sure that with the caliber we have, each one of us will reach the echelons that we dream t of tomorrow if not today and make a difference in this world. Otherwise we won't have reached here, studied in one of the best B Schools and received the wisdom from some of the brightest faculty in our country  and  received our diplomas from stalwarts like Mukesh Ambani or Raghuram Rajan. We juggled multiple demands while we were a PGSEMer; didn't succumb to any pressures and proved what we are capable of. I am confident we all will strike the iron when it is hot!

Some of the life-time friends were made during these years; there was also a couple in our batch :); some of us started our own; some of us are all set to join big names in the industry post PGSEM. While we conquer the new heights every day, I wish we never forget those who helped us to get through this course - the one who helped us quickly revise portions for an exam or the one who stepped up for us during projects when we had a bad day at office or the one who gave advice in handling a personal situation or the ones with whom we watched endless number of movies; and those who provided us the much needed moral support!

While I officially exit the iconic grey wall, some of my long pending dreams are fulfilled, some are yet to come true. Some of the lessons I learn-t will act as a beacon in my future and some of the memories are to be forgotten. This blog gave me an inspiration before joining the course; and to write about my experiences during the course. Managing some aspects of PGSEM online channels including this blog were some of my first online marketing experiences :).  I hope to continue my blogging at An MBA Diary.

I thank all the readers of this blog for the continued patronage to us and I am sure my junior batches will continue to bring the PGSEM life experience to you through this blog.

Once again, I take this opportunity to congratulate PGSEM class of 2013 and wish all the very best...

ps: This post is a vivified version of my final speech given to the outgoing batch.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

5 reasons to do an exchange term abroad

It’s been long since I contributed to this blog however this is a very apt occasion to make a comeback by describing the experience of an exchange term. For those uninitiated: PGSEM offers the students a chance (or 2 chances which I’ll explain later) to take one of their term in a foreign university. This is the same as offered to the PGP batch studying along with you and same to the extent that the rank list for choosing universities is common between the PGP and PGSEM students. For e.g. this year’s 2nd ranker overall was a PGSEMer and he got to choose London Business School for his exchange term.

Anyways, exchange university selection process is a thrill in itself but to keep it short, around the 4th quarter of your studies, you’re asked to choose if you want to take a quarter abroad. Now by 2 chances I meant that since PGSEM has 10 quarters so they get to opt 2 times for the exchange process (though they can only take 1 exchange term during the course). Based on your 1st quarter marks, all students, PGP and PGSEM are ranked together and asked to choose the universities in order of the student’s rank. And don’t worry, IIM Bangalore has partnerships with most top institutes in all geographies.

Now coming back to the topic, what are the top 5 reasons for PGSEM students specifically to do an exchange term abroad? Though reasons below might overlap with numerous folks who have taken exchange term at different universities, ones stated below are strictly derived from my experience at NUS Business School, Singapore. Ordered from least important to the most important according to me:

Subject Choice is good reason for taking up an exchange. A lot of schools IIM has tie up with work in a university system and what I found exciting was that at NUS Business School, you have access to the whole university to choose some of the subjects. People can take up 1 subject outside of Business School in any discipline of their choice. Some people picked up Chinese language, some picked Music and so on. I ended up picking a course with school of design and environment out of my interest in Clean Tech. Even the business school would present you a different subject choice simply because they’re a different school with different faculty. To state it another way: It’s not needed that the foreign university is better, it’s better that there is more variety at your disposal.

Networking:  I feel that exchange term drastically increases your network. Especially when you’re a PGSEMer, you’re interacting with your batch mates in classes and to some extent after classes for extracurricular or projects. Being full-time in a hostel with a bunch of MBA students is a totally different experience. The friendships formed when you’re studying together, networking together (read partying) or eating together are fairly more involved. A totally new environment and new country helps your forge several new friendships in a short duration. Also since you’re studying full time, you could pick up even unpaid internships in fields that you’re more interested in and build your network further.

Diversity: Your network is not only large but more Diverse. Going into a foreign university during the exchange term, brings in people from various nationalities and various backgrounds. If two people had the same set of people they knew, the gain in network connections is not that much, but if the set of people are totally from different field and country, you gained a whole new network of friends. However perhaps scoring high on people you know is the least benefit of working in a diverse group. You learn a lot about team work, cultural sensitivity and tacit knowledge about dealing with a variety of people that’s much more valuable.

Career Services: Another important reason for me to choose exchange was for the career services that the exchange school provided. Let me clarify, this doesn’t mean that you’ll be sitting in placements in foreign school. What it means is that you can take help from career services of these schools to improve your profile, get your resume reviewed or even attend presentations from companies you’re interested in.

Taking MBA without work: Lastly but most importantly for a PGSEMer, an exchange term provides an opportunity to take your MBA without work. You’d note I didn’t use the word “Full-time” because for one I can tell is that the number classroom contact hours are exactly the same per subject either ways. What changes is that you’re much more focussed on the subjects and don’t have to switch context too much. If it was to me, I’d say PGSEMers are the most hardened MBA graduates who can balance more than any other full time folks. However at the same time, it’s a pleasant break to be able to concentrate on your subjects full time, pick up more subjects, spend your extra time in extracurricular activities and be a student again.

However at the end of the day, there is opportunity cost involved.  PGSEMers are constrained by their work commitments sometime and cannot take this unpaid break from work. Such long a break might even put your employment at risk. This decision finally rests on the person taking it and s/he has to fix all these. There are some schools which even give scholarships to IIM students and if not totally free, the trip costs reduce drastically.

It was a great experience for me and I hope some of the above reasons resonate with you and you take this exciting opportunity that PGSEM provides you.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Admission Announcement: PGSEM - 2013

IIMB has announced the start of the admission process for the PGSEM 2013 batch. More details can be found here:

In FB, we are here:

Please feel free to reach out to us for any questions.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Attributes governing emergent strategies

Academics and practitioners of strategy distinguish between a firm’s deliberate strategy and its emergent strategy. As the names imply, a deliberate strategy is what top management arrives at based on its understanding of market needs and the firm’s ability to make adequate return on investments while satisfying that need. Creating a deliberate strategy includes asking fundamental questions such as what markets to operate in and how to position a firm. An emergent strategy, on the other hand, is what a firm adopts as strategy based on its interaction with the ecosystem that it builds around itself. This ecosystem includes customers, suppliers, partners, regulators and employees. In a competitive setting where rapid changes in the business landscape are driven both by innovation and a challenging macroeconomic environment, it is fairly straightforward to conclude that successful firms will be ones that have the ability to seize a promising emergent strategy, quickly align operations to that strategy and increase the return on investment via flawless execution of that strategy. But are emergent strategies equally likely in all industries? Are such strategies to be expected with equal probability from all players in a firm’s ecosystem? 

In this thought exercise, I have attempted to list the factors that govern emergent strategies.What follows below is the list and the reasons why each factor plays a role in shaping emergent strategy.

I. Rate of change – Industry wide innovation: The quantum of innovation that drives industry-wide changes in products or services in a specific industry is a reasonably strong indication of the presence or absence of an emergent strategy space. The greater the intellectual activity, the larger the space available. Firms can use metrics such as patents filed per year, new processes for quality improvements, new target segments etc. for this purpose.

II. Rate of change – Creation and termination of firms: In the absence any fundamental structural changes in the industry, the frequency with which new firms come into existence and existing firms fail to survive is an indicator of firm-specific emergent strategies that are either exploited successfully or left unexplored. A firm witnessing the growth of some of its rivals and the demise of others in the same time period can infer that the emergent strategy space has not been fully searched and exploited. Such rapid changes will serve as both signals of hope and despair to the firms operating in that particular industry.

III. Product/Project Life-cycle: Strategies derived from product innovation are one of the most common sources of emergent strategies for a firm. But firms operating in an industry with long product build cycles are far less likely to discover an emergent strategy. The nature of such long-cycle products prevents the rapid creation, experimentation and selection of prototypes. Rapid prototyping capabilities, with the objective of selecting the most viable alternative among competing product innovations are a key determinant of the frequency of emergent strategies.

IV. Partner Ecosystem Complexity: The success of a firm’s emergent strategy will largely depend on how receptive the firm’s partners are. Emergent strategies by their very definition require that a firm make quick unplanned changes to its deliberate strategy in it at least one of its functional areas. If that functional area involves the firm’s partners, then the agility of the partner ecosystem will play a predominant role in the success of the emergent strategy.

V. Employee feedback channels: Employees at all levels have the potential to discover information or create actionable ideas that can influence a firm’s strategy. In such a scenario, firms that operate in rapidly changing environments increase the probability of uncovering new strategies if they setup channels through which employees can communicate new ideas. Most companies have employee feedback channels in place. The companies that are open to radical ideas from employees across different functions, create and respond through channels that are specifically tuned to watch out for ideas and suggestions that can be used to derive an emergent strategy.

VI. Customer feedback channels: Every organization worth its balance sheet collects customer feedback in one or more ways. While the diligent ones among these use the feedback to shape the customer experience, the excellent ones use it to shape the organization itself.

VII. Frequency and strength of feedback: Unlike deliberate strategies, emergent strategies are more likely to lack specific signposts that can vouch for their validity. Deliberate strategies that are in the process of being executed offer the luxury of clear signs of their success or failure. In many cases, past outcomes of deliberate strategies might indicate that a few quarters of losses are worth accommodating to make the strategy a success in the long run. But in the case of a emergent strategy, no such reassuring milestone might be available. So in scenarios involving multiple competing strategies, the one with a higher frequency and strength of feedback about the success of the strategy should receive a higher weighting.

VIII.Organizational agility and the O in VRIO: Assuming all other factors that govern emergent strategies are positively aligned for an organization – through a combination of past decisions and propitious present conditions – the decisive factor that will ensure successful exploitation of an emergent strategy will be the agility with which the firm exploits the opportunity. This agility cannot be acquired in the short term but can only be built into the culture of the firm over a period of time. In the context of agility, a parallel can be drawn with the ‘Organization’ component of the VRIO framework. Just as a firm should organize itself to exploit its VRI resources and capabilities, it should also build capabilities to exploit emergent strategies without letting past ways of thinking and execution scuttle the opportunity.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Managerial attention as a key determinant of effectiveness in public governance systems

Robert Simons in his book "Levers of Control" on management control systems unveils managerial attention as a key determinant of strategy. Before getting into the details of each of the levers that managers can move to control various aspects of the organization to help achieve its goals, Simons asserts that in a world where ideas emerge from all directions, managerial attention is the primary gating factor that goes on to determine which of the emerging ideas will become part of an organization's deliberate strategy. By attention, Simons means "information processing capacity" allocated to a "defined issue or agenda".

My understanding of this assertion is that, in the face of limited managerial bandwidth, the issues that get top management attention shape the future of the organization. What if this theory holds true in government and public institutions? What if, long before processes like budget allocation and implementation plans start, the way government officials choose to pay attention to certain issues in a certain manner go on to shape not only the immediate goals but also the long term trajectory of a nation?

Imagine there are 2 levers as shown below.

Which of the two levers should decision makers in public governance systems move? "Move" in this case means allocating management attention and information processing capacity to these areas. In practical terms, this might translate to decision questions like these: Where should the best administrators in government be deployed? Which type of institutions and research should get funded? Which of the competing alternative solutions to social issues deserve the most attention?

The 2 levers are different in that, the first lever tries to solve social issues and deliver better governance by taking a perceived root cause view of their existence and attempting to address those root causes. The phrase 'perceived root cause' has been used only because in many cases no clear cause has been established about why citizens behave in certain ways in public that are detrimental to themselves and others. In such a situation, when governments try to achieve certain desired social outcomes, which of these 2 courses of action is better?

For example:

Lever I. Spend money on civic sense enhancement via education, celebrity endorsement of specific programs, posters etc. in areas like: courteous driving on roads, queues in bus stops, cleanliness in parks etc


Lever II. Spend on civic infrastructure enhancement for: monitoring drivers on roads, enforcing queues in bus stops and penalizing people littering in parks.

The results of using lever I are indirect and hard to measure. The results delivered by using lever II are comparatively more tangible. The catch would be to think this through without letting monetary requirements and other resource constraints cloud the thought process. In the absence of such constraints in the near term, which of the 2 levers yields long term benefits?

Which of the 2 results listed below shares a stronger link with the 2 options listed above?

Result I. Government spending on educating citizen's about good behavior in public is effective. Through a combination of learning from such efforts and examples set by others, citizens practice good behavior in the public sphere. As a natural progression, children learn from their parents and future generations too behave the same way.

Result II. People get used to being monitored and change their behavior.

In the picture below, which of the two links gets a higher number N or M?

In the example of citizens' behavior in public cited above, even though the end results of moving either lever seem to be the same, the strength of the link as perceived by decision makers matter. This is because, if Link I were stronger, it would mean that after a period of time, resources - including managerial attention itself - can be deployed to solve other pressing problems of that time. If Link II were stronger, governments should plan for expending effort and resources for the same issues on an ongoing basis. The link strength question from the example above can be extended to other examples like poverty alleviation, job creation etc. It is highly likely that, based on a country's history, demographics, culture and number of other factors, the strength of the link would be higher or lower for lever I or II depending on the issue under consideration.

This bisected view of public governance systems is not new. But previous writings on this subject take a implementation and resource constraint view of the systems under study. In this post, I have attempted to shift the same view to the left end of the timeline and placed it in the initial stages when processing available information, creating innovative solutions, prioritizing among viable alternatives and planning for effective and efficient implementation are the main activities. According to Simons, the decision to pay managerial attention to certain things and not pay attention to others is one of the most important decisions that shapes all others. If this were true for corporates, from a managerial perspective, it should be true for governments too. In that case, allocating considerable time to decide which areas and methods governments should pay attention to will have a much larger impact on citizens and nations than it does on corporates and employees.

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