Thriving in uncertainty

Culture  Leadership
20 April, 2015

Lessons from a Godrej team that met adversity head-on and triumphed

As many of you know, at the Annual Godrej Awards held last Friday, Anand was recognised as the ‘Outstanding Leader 2015’ from across the Godrej Group.

Anand, as you know, leads our Latin America and UK businesses. Under his leadership, this cluster has achieved very strong performance over the last year. This has been admirable in itself, given the extremely volatile business environment that Argentina has been grappling with. But apart from the great results that Anand has led his team to deliver, what is unique is his leadership style. Anand invests in personally mentoring his team more than any other leader that I know. He firmly believes that leadership is a journey. In fact, he is even known to take his famous ‘leadership journey’ references rather literally. For those of you who haven’t worked with him, Anand is known for signature long walks that he goes on with his team members over weekends. They can sometimes be as long as 4 to 5 hours 🙂

Today, I want to share with you, a message that Anand recently sent to his team, while reflecting on the year gone by. What I find particularly inspiring in their approach, is how determined the team were to make the best of a tough situation at hand. How they chose to change the game and thrive in uncertainty, instead of being overwhelmed by it.

Please read on…

First of all, hearty congratulations for what has been an incredible year. I would like to thank each one of you for trusting me (someone so totally different and crazy, that I am sure, it took quite a leap of faith!) and in addition, trusting the very different model that I came with.

In terms of business results, we have exceeded our plan for the year. It has been the best performance that the business has ever had, in what has been the toughest climate since acquisition by Godrej, and even much better than the aggressive goal we agreed with Head Office. I’m sure all of you will agree that we have had an incredible ride this year. I just thought that it was worth looking back and getting a perspective on what some of our learnings have been.

1. Collaboration:We started working together and trusting one another

I’m sure that you are not surprised that I am putting this right on top of the list. I was watching a programme last week that spoke about Charles Darwin… so… what’s the connection? The programme talks about the fact that we’ve all heard about Charles Darwin’s theory of ‘The survival of the fittest’ from his book ‘The Descent of Man’. We have been taught this since the time we were young. Taken literally, it is all about competition.

The surprising thing is that in the book, Charles Darwin only talks about competition twice. On the other hand, there are 95 references to the word ‘love’ and working together in different forms of ‘conciliation’ and ‘cooperation’. The problem was that Darwin was popularised by Huxley, who had a far gloomier view of human nature, of the strong destroying/ treading the weak, and this thought then created the idea of ‘the selfish gene’. However, humans as single entities or units is not the right concept simply because it is not sustainable. We just have to look around in nature to see this. The basis of nature is cooperation. It is in our DNA. For me, the fact that we started working together, with one single agenda, is the key reason why the business has done so incredibly well…. And this year is just the start!

2. Empowerment

This stems from trust again. We empowered teams to take risks, gave them space to deliver but also to make mistakes and to learn. And this contributed to their growth, gave them the confidence and of course also contributed in a big way to the business success. This is something to remember and to continue.

3. Tough Love

At the same time as doing the above, we made the rules very clear. It has meant having tough discussions right at the start, it has meant clarifying expectations and making the deliverables and the behaviours clear. Leaders need to make the rules of engagement very clear and crack down when it does not get practiced.

4. Focus

We’ve spoken about this right at the start of the journey… so bears repeating. Focus is about deciding what are the things that we will do and more importantly, what are the things that we will not do. This has included SKU rationalisation in our case, the start of discussions on what activities and businesses we want to be involved in and what we do not want to be involved in. It is important to keep things simple.

5. Process orientation

We have seen how putting processes in place has reduced the number of fires that we’ve had to put out. Whilst we have moved forward, we have certainly not completed the transformation. Different functions are at different stages and with next year being the ‘year of flawless execution’, this will be key to our continued success.

6. Values

You’ve heard me say this several times but is still worth talking about. In a constantly changing world, the foundation of the business is its values and they are non negotiable. Our values like humility, fairness, integrity, team work, openness, leading from the front, are the bed rock of the institution that we are building. They are the same for everyone and no one is above them.

7. Feeling valued

Again, this is something we’ve spoken about. People don’t come to work only to earn money. Organisations and leaders have the responsibility to provide a sense of belonging and a sense of being valued. For this to happen, relationships cannot be transactional. We have to form deeper bonds with our team (and with other teams within the business). The yardstick I use is to see how I have touched other people’s lives, positively, and made their lives more meaningful through our interactions. It is not always about saying the good things… sometimes it is about saying the not so good things, but, it is always constructive and always with the person’s interest at heart. The thing to bear in mind is that for this to happen, the other person has to trust us.

8. The Journey

Of course, you expected me to end with this. We are all guilty of being short term focussed and thinking that we are headed to a destination but, these are just milestones. The 3X3 is a milestone as will be the next thing that we come up with. These are like a compass to measure whether we are going in the right direction. The true Journey is unending. The Journey is about improving ourselves endlessly and continuously. It is about openness, it is about trust… and it is only about our growth to be better human beings and to be better professionals.

Thank you for all your support, for letting me be part of your journey and for welcoming me so warmly into Argentina and into your lives.

Martin Luther King had once said that “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. I hope that Anand’s message inspires you. Under his leadership, the Argentina team has shown tremendous resilience and the willingness to slog it out in an extremely challenging environment.

As a team, they have truly demonstrated the courage to thrive in the unknown. They did not take the easy way out and blame the environment. Instead, they chose to believe in themselves and made the best of the circumstances. And this made all the difference.

So, as you think about your roles, also think about how you can embrace uncertainties. How can you truly be 100/0 in everything that you do? What does it mean to take 100% accountability with 0 excuses? And how can you inspire your team members – in both good and challenging times? It won’t always be easy, but sometimes, the tougher challenges are the ones worth winning and celebrating.

All the very best for a successful fiscal year 2016!


  • Sandesh G Shinde says:

    A little late today, but a good read. We do hear and read these values on different platforms in our professional lives but terms like Tough Love and Feeling Valued are indeed new ones to the list. Good read. Thanks Vivek for the Monday dose. Full Power to Anand and his team…


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