Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Book Review - The Difference: When Good Enough Isnt Enough

About The AuthorSubir Chowdhury is chairman and CEO of ASI Consulting Group, LLC, a global leader on strategic initiatives, quality consulting, and training… His client list includes global Fortune 100 corporations and industrial leaders such as American Axle, Berger Health Systems, Bosch, Caterpillar, Daewoo, Delphi, Fiat-Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai Motor Company, ITT Industries, Xerox, and more.

Subir is recognized as one of the “50 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World” by Thinkers 50 of London, UK. Hailed by the New York Times as a “leading quality expert” and by BusinessWeek as “The Quality Prophet,” Subir is the author of fifteen books

N. R. Narayan Murthy says “Thoughtfully written, and a compelling read” about this book – in what can only be the understatement of the century! When a book both triggers off a series of thoughts in your mind and contrives to identify your weak points, all the while tugging at your core values without overtly saying them, those words seem to be a classic understatement. To a book reviewer, such a book also poses challenges in terms of how do I review it, giving full justice to it at the same time? When every page is vital, it poses significant challenges in terms of reviewing as well as summarizing!

Ignore the blurb on the back of the book. I mean that – quite seriously. This is a book that is about how you can create a great organization, to be short and sweet. It is also a book that is exceptionally hard to actually implement – that is also true; but then – the best things in life aren’t easy… and if it is easy, it very probably isn’t worth doing in the first place. If you are looking for a classic theory, or a step by step methodology, don’t go in for it. But if you are looking for answers to questions that you will find in this review, and many others like these, this is the book for you!

This book takes a look at Quality and Performance in a entire new light; it actually breaks new ground, and attempts to create a clear unbroken link between basic values of life and corporate performance; it also attempts to link how the smallest of indicators, usually ignored by all, can be indicators of systemic malaise. And this it does not through theory – but real life examples. And, without going into excruciating detail: that is, the format is succinct and yet power-packed. And, it also goes on to try and establish a format one can follow… has it succeeded is what I attempt to answer in the analysis…

The book delivers a superb and hard-hitting learning in sticking to the fundamentals of your core trade; of sticking to basic human values; of how the smallest of errors – like a toothpick on the floor – can be indicators of big trouble. It teaches a lesson in STAR – being Straightforward, Thoughtful, Accountable and have Resolve. It also teaches a lesson in quality – of what constitutes quality, what can be its determinants, and how to go about it. But it doesn’t give a ready lesson – you have to apply it, translate it to your reality, your industry, your function and your level, as I look at in the analysis part.

Let me start with an example of my own, a real one. I once had my team send a few cases to the service center. One of these was a logistics issue – delivery damages; and the other was a customer issue. Repeated follow-ups from my side elicited no response. I had taken all requisite approvals; my boss was on my side on this – and yet, the result was zero. One of the reasons was – in both cases, the physical handset or the part had not been sent from one place to the other. These two places were close to each other. In absolute frustration, I myself picked up both and got them to the two correct locations.

I could go on, but let me stop here. Examine this above operation- why couldn’t anyone in the right team have taken the initiative to close the matter? Especially since that company had a reputation for bad service, and was now keen on improving? The answer, as the book makes clear in the first few pages itself – is ownership towards quality. The people were just doing what they perceived to be their tasks. I was called a fool for doing a service task, and that too a low level one, despite being a Regional Manager. My attempt to lead by example was a spectacular failure; while I solved the issue -the core problem remained. My immediate sales were benefited, but each service issue was a similar fight.

This is something I have encountered in my entire career-  it isn’t my job; it is low-level for me; why should I; just ignore. In a modern organization, this extends to most functions; the small “adjustments” made in various places, special approvals taken without due thought; short term tactics used without a care for the impact on the long term – on internal business culture, brand identity and perception; organizational culture; performance culture; compromise on your fundamentals etc. And, truth be told, a person who tries to correct these is called out as a misfit. Any number of brands in my knowledge have collapsed due to these above factors.

And therein lies the most significant challenge to this book; the hard fact that, most times, employees tend to pay a heavy price for being exactly what the book proposes to do. I know that hurts, but that is a true fact, as I myself have known it first-hand. Take the example above : how could I not make an impact? The reason was simple – the rest of the staff were getting orders that were the opposite of, or fundamentally different from, or with much lower priority than, what was being told me. This wasn’t deliberate; the thought was that this strategy would suffice. And that is the first problem in the book – it should have gone deeper, into functional and role aspects.

Of the STAR acronym, I  myself have practiced at least the first two fully, and the third to a very great degree. Yes – I learnt the fourth – Resolve, which I need to strengthen; thus it is a fact that the book gives deep learnings to employees at every level. But, this to be fully successful needs two interventions – the first is to translate this to your industry reality; and your level; and modulate a response to your exact situation. Trust me – the book will equip you if you go into the subject with full commitment.

But this strategy also requires two other items; as someone who has been consciously trying his level best to do all of the book almost – look at para above – this is what I can glean from my experience, combined with the brilliance of the author. He saw things I couldn’t; he could put it in a framework. To walk this path also requires “STARCH” = a C and an H. That is Courage & Clarity of thought, and Health. The reason is that once you try to change the small basics, you meet hard resistance – which will require courage and clarity to properly identify &  solve; and will increase your stress levels sky-high – which brings in the H!

The best part of the book as per me is the compartmentalization of the acronym into the attendant sub-genres; like Accountability has been broken up into  Being aware, Taking Responsibility, Making a Choice, Thinking Deeply, & Setting High expectations, These are great tools of self-analysis, provided you are paying close attention. That is why I suggest be slow; understand each word.I could have read this at one go – I took three days to fully absorb each word. Will in fact re-read so that implementation can start!

Let me conclude with a flurry of questions; we rarely think of how the unthinking comment will demoralize the team or the vendor; how one action of neglect is picked up by the whole team and emulated; how one action of ignoring or procrastination can set a culture of the same; how one action of giving up can lead a strategy astray. The personal example I gave ins mute testimony of how uncaring employees together spoiled the best coping strategy derived. Everything was in place; every eventuality catered to. Only problem – the team was not convinced, across levels and departments.., and a change team of 10 cannot change an organisations’ culture….

In conclusion, I can only state that is the easily the most practical, powerful, and implementable management book I have ever read in my life – and I have read quite a few, even if I do say so myself. And what is more, these are the very reasons that brands fail; the reason that teams fail. If you are operating on STAR{CH} mode, then the likelihood of you  receiving early warning signals goes up exponentially, giving you time to set a corrective course… 

1 comment:

  1. Nice article very interesting. Its very effective and useful information for me. Excellent post. Keep sharing more blog posts. 
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