History has seen numerous examples of great emperors who have conquered vast empires but they did not last more than a century, kings who have built great cities which lasted for few decades only to be destroyed by another great king and warlords whose fame lasted for a few battles. Even civilizations like Babylon or Mesopotamia only lasted for a few centuries before being razed to the ground. Why did it happen? What was the missing ingredient which prevented their glory and success to last forever? While a lot of research has gone into this subject and there could be several schools of thought but one reason which people unanimously agree upon is the lack of culture. A strong winning culture to live upon the glory, sustain the good practices and keep going on and on is the key attribute to ensure the everlasting success. Some may argue that Mesopotamia had a great culture but still why did they fail. So, just having a culture is not enough, it should have all the blends to make it sustainable.
The same is true for our corporate world today. Every now and then companies stumble upon a winning idea and create path-breaking products or services, but fail to repeat the same success regularly. In the last few decades, we have seen one of the most innovative companies of their times ending up at the block for sale? Kodak, Nokia, Blackberry are just a few examples of such fate. The current product lineups from companies like Sony, Panasonic or even Apple are categorized as mediocre with incremental improvements only. So what is the problem? Why do companies fail to come up with winning ideas regularly? Why in spite of increased use of technology and deploying the best minds, companies tend to only produce mediocre products or services.
When the world around us becomes complex, uncertain and ambiguous, it’s the culture that helps companies stand out, innovate and transform their products. The culture to challenge the status quo, the culture to not become complacent and the ambition to meet the unmet and unarticulated needs of the customer is the one which keeps organizations going forward. But then the question comes, how do we define culture? While a lot has been spoken and written about the culture of organizations, I believe culture is being reflected in what we measure in the organization, what we celebrate, how we reward our people and how we react to a crisis. A recent incident in which a passenger was thrown out of an airline reemphasizes why culture is so important in organizations. While standard operating practices help companies stabilize their operation, but when a situation out of textbook arises, it is the culture which helps individual take the right decision. The situation could have been handled in a much better way if customer-centricity and empathy had been truly dovetailed in the company culture. Armed forces are one of the first organizations in the world who have successfully built a culture to think of, nation before others and comrades before himself. How do they do that? How they ingrain a culture to take risk in their lives when faced with an unknown enemy. One of the core values of armed forces is Precision & Discipline and how to behave when faced with an unknown situation in life. Practice and routines can help us prepare for the unknown but beyond that, there should be something else that defines these successful organizations. It is their leadership. By leadership, I do not mean an individual who is heading the company or a battalion, but the vision of the company or a regiment that is shared by everyone and all individuals who imbibe this vision are “enlightened leaders”. One, who is able to think beyond the horizon, sees the world differently and is out to create a difference. This sets two organizations with similar capabilities apart. So what really are the qualities of an enlightened leader?
I think leaders who are “Other-centred”, have a vision of “Welfare”, believe in “Self-Transformation”, inspire others to become “Decision-makers” and believe in the foundation of “Values” are enlightened leaders. Let us not again confuse with textbook definitions for these terms. When someone demonstrates these values rather than being just an evangelist, the impact is multifold and much more lasting. So what is the recipe for success? When every individual understands and believes in the core values, the entire organization transforms from a group of people to a living entity and culture becomes the soul. Such organizations keep transforming in the perpetual journey, continuously innovating their way to success.
Tata Steel is one fine example of such an organization!