How important is it to have clarity when you want to achieve your goal?

I read an interesting article that showed how the Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen and his team planted the Norwegian flag on the South Pole in 1911, becoming the first humans in history to reach it. The secret to Amundsen’s success stemmed from the amount of planning he put into the expedition and the clarity he tried to achieve prior to the start of the trip. Amundsen’s British counterpart, Robert Falcon Scott reached the spot 34 days later and sadly on their way back the team was lost, de-moralised and exhausted and died only 11 miles from the depot of food and shelter. So, why did Amundsen win and Scott lose?

Every now and then you can hear someone say, “I could’ve done it better if I had the clarity!”. What is it with us and clarity that is so important? The answer is simple – if you knew what to do exactly, then you could get doing it right every time you started something. However, the reality of life is that you never know the true picture till you actually get your hands dirty. Then how do all those successful people manage to get it right? Or what did Amundsen do get it right?

Envision, plan and prepare. Amundsen’s primary aim was to reach the South pole and not work on other exploration or discovery (Vision). He did nothing but plan and plan more and prepare in order to achieve that clarity. He took into consideration all the possible things that could go wrong and then tried to come up with possible ways to circumvent them. The ship he used for his expedition The Fram was different. It was designed and built for polar travel. Prior to this expedition, Amundsen had endured a forced polar winter in Belgica and knew how to keep up the morale of his men during the Polar winter. The most successful leaders do not always win, they fail too. But the difference is  in what they learn from the failures, even if  those mistakes are made by themselves or their counterparts. Amundsen did just that. Scott in one of his earlier expeditions had nearly died. He did not have enough markings on the depot shelter and was fortunate to survive then. But he learnt nothing from this experience and put only one flag as a marker in his expedition to the South pole. Amundsen on the other hand, made markings all around the shelter to locate it easily on their way back.

Amundsen put in enough buffers and took a lot of precautions and achieved the clarity which ultimately helped him and his team in the success of this expedition. The most successful leaders are paranoid about achieving similar clarity and preparing for possible problems that can crop up during the course. They continuously work towards ways of mitigating the possible risks/threats.

Clarity is discipline. The kind of clarity that I am talking about needs to be built into our system. If you cook daily or know someone who does it daily, say your mother then ask them one simple question. Is cooking tougher or trying to decide what to cook today tougher? The answer would more or less always be the latter. Achieving the clarity of what to cook helps you chart out a plan and then you can go about achieving the meal. By planning ahead you can achieve the desired results in far lesser time that you would spend in trying to decide what to do. Clarity is an attitude and mindset thing and by learning to do it regularly we learn to be disciplined. Most young achievers are successful because they have the clarity of what they can do the best and then go about implementing this by planning. Amundsen also worked on integrating this discipline by being a part of numerous expeditions, one to Antarctica itself to ensure he acquired the clarity he needed.

So strive towards achieving the clarity in what you want to do and get rolling. South pole (success) will be yours to conquer.

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Clear That Clutter

The ever changing, competitive world expects a professional to be a person who is organized, abreast and in control of everything around him/her. The single most important tool to manage oneself most efficiently is to remove that clutter and simplify.

Staying organized doesn’t take too much of time, if you have taken the first steps towards organizing that desk space or book enclosure or for that matter maintained your files in ordered organized fashion on your computer. With the flooding of information that happens day in and day out, you can never predict when what might be required. To stay organized and to remove what is not required form time to time helps maintain a healthy environment. This concept is also applicable to one’s home space. A clutter free home is much more inviting that one which has objects all around.

I find it impossible to search for an object. Even if it is right in front of my eyes, I sometimes don’t see it – can’t fathom why. So I organize my things and keep the ordering simple. This helps me to go back to the place where I would usually keep things and yes, I find it there.

Simplifying the way you decide to work, without making things cumbersome, can happen only if you learn to organize and then the thoughts and ideas would come in easily. I have never understood why some people dwell only on making things seem so difficult and complex. I think the genius is one who gauges his/her audience and works at that level. Simplicity is one level that would be a hit with any kind of audience.

Effective organizations have realized this and put in processes that make things easy – simplify. But this is not a norm and many find it tough to relate to. I agree that one has to keep revising these processes as they tend to get outdates pretty soon, but if one understands the importance of processes, one would love to enjoy it.  My work at Infosys has taught me to be organized and I have learnt to simplify work over time. If every single person works similarly imagine what we all can achieve.

Simplicity is not easy and most times doesn’t come naturally. Companies tend to grow and complicate things. They add new products in the guise of diversification and after a while do not realize where they are going.Whether it is that dirty closet you have or a department or a company you manage, clearing the clutter from time to time and maintaining simplicity should be the mantra.

Client & Customer Service – Little things that take you a long way

In this ever changing and highly competitive business world, marketing aims at making the consumer want and then buy things that they don’t ideally need and customer service goes a long way in establishing the market for your brand/product, long after the marketing stint is over.

Historically, in the India post independence there really has been no concept of customer service. It probably is because of the License Raj and all impositions in place then. Even getting extra milk packets was an issue. Though the times have seemed to change drastically, post-liberalization, but our Government offices have and are doing their best to preserve sloth and zero service mantra. After all a Government employee, who is termed public-servant, has it ingrained in him/her to be known as the King/Queen and are preserving their culture. So when malls and huge department stores came up, how can the ordinary employees with zero exposure to the outside world realize what they should do, what customer service is and why is customer service even important for their work in the store?

I am not denying that there aren’t any sales people who are genuinely nice and helpful, but the numbers are still pretty small. If the Marwadi community flourishes in business it is because of the kind of customer service they offer. We had a trusted super market guy and the only reason we loved to go back there was the way he treated his customer- as kings/queens. If there was an item with a defect he would take it and replace it, without saying a single word. He is not looking at the cost of that object you are returning but instead what goes in a long way of the trust and the clientele he is building that will more than cover for his present loss.

Another genre of sales people are those, who promise you the moon without checking out the actual facts that the company/store can offer. Let’s say you fall for the item and buy it, trust me, the moment you walk out that sales guy would have forgotten you. And, by a stroke of misfortune, if you had to go back to the store for a replacement or any such thing (which happens more than 90% of the time), you will find an absolutely new avatar of this sales guy – extremely hostile. An example of this is what happened to my mom, when she was being offered an insurance policy by ICICI phone banking sales girl. She got an unsolicited call with this ‘brilliant’ offer that seemed too good to be true and when at the end of a considerable time and thinking, she decided not to go with the whole offer, the lady at the end seemed extremely miffed. Prior to that, she had promised that my mother could call off the deal at any time, after the payment was made and when she finally sees the actual papers and when it actually happened, the sales girl had the audacity to talk rude. I agree they have their own targets to meet, but no one can show their anger on others and least of all on your prospective customer. These phone calls with brilliant insurance policies are another farce –beware! Once the money is paid, one can never know what fine-print will be brought out to trap you. The real estate market is another murky market and deserves another blog.

A recent example of pathetic customer service would be the car sales man at Honda (Pride Honda) showroom in Hyderabad. We were checking out the new Honda City and this man was so highly disinterested, wavering eye-contact, depressing body language and minimal details that I didn’t even feel like taking the car out for a test drive. He totally sapped my energy and interest in checking out the car. I suppose the attitude of this gentleman remains that if a customer has the money and has decided to buy a car, then he/she will eventually and he need not as much as fret.

 It was only when I stepped out of India that I realized what customer care really was. With the fierce competition in place, it is equal to the biggest sin to commit, if a customer ever complains. Sadly here, we have to yell for things to get done and the only way for the things to move is by complaints. In the US, we had a similar experience at Walmart stores. We bought a water filter and after taking it out of the cover realized that it won’t fit our tap. Due to various reasons, we delayed and eventually after six months went back to the store to return it and to top it, without any bill. The sales person scanned the item and returned our money, without asking for any explanation. I had heard that they do it, but was so pleasantly surprised that words seem few to describe the elation. I have known cases, when people have misused this trust and returned used and perfectly fine things. Now that is unethical and if in India there are sales people and shopkeepers who don’t trust their customer, then the fault partly lies on us too.

At my course at Harvard, I came across this case upon motivation among the employees of Nordstrom Stores in USA and we had to evaluate what was right or wrong with the current policy. More than the whole case, what struck was the fact that this store is famous for its customer service. When a store opened near our house, we went to check it out. I was amazed. Each section had its sales men/women dressed accordingly, a formal section had formally attired sales guy and a casual dress section had a sales guy dressed in casuals. They are with you the moment you step in, always with a smile, extremely pleasing and very helpful. Apparently, there are services like thank you cards and drop off and many more free services performed. That store was the ultimate of all customer service I have ever seen and their loyal customers never shop anywhere else. All this also comes with merchandise that comes at a hefty price, but the point is more about the kind of treatment that you as a customer will get, when you walk over that threshold.

To run a good business, an organization needs to maintain high-quality, good employee satisfaction, a standard of ethics, fair corporate governance, marketing, branding and the list goes, but catering to your client needs is the highest priority, right next to employee satisfaction. As they are the people who put in the money into your business and can make things happen for you. This was the first rule I learnt at my work, to understand and follow the client requirements and irrespective of the industry and field, this rule prevails and repeated over and again as a mantra to remember.