David Evans, group chairman and chief executive of The Grass Roots Group Plc., a $460 million (about Rs1,800 crore) performance improvement solutions company and an associate of the WPP Group, decided to give himself a memorable gift when he turned 60 last year. Evans chose India.
“India turned 61, and so did I,” says Evans, adding, “I felt the time was right to enter the Indian market.”
Evans started his career with a job in advertising after graduating from the University of London in economics and getting a management degree from the University of Bradford. His first brush with the employees’ issue came during his stint at American advertising agency Beton and Bowles, now called DMB&B, when the Arab-Israeli conflict led to the 1973 oil crisis.
In Britain, the problem was compounded when coal miners went on a nationwide strike. To save on power, the British government made a rule that nobody could work for more than three days a week. Evans had the task of ensuring the crisis was aptly advertised by the ministry of information. “The challenge was huge and exciting, but it profoundly influenced my thinking about the treatment of staff,” he says.
Evans’ interest in performance improvement took him to a US subsidiary of an incentive company, Maritz Inc.
In April 1980, Evans set up Grass Roots in a basement office near Oxford Street in London with three employees. Today, Grass Roots employs more than 1,000 staff and has more than 2,000 clients worldwide, including Rolls Royce, Peugeot, BMW, Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Vodafone, Intercontinental Hotels, Sony, Siemens, Lenovo, Sainsbury, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, GlaxoSmithKline and Ernst and Young.
Evans, who was in India for the launch of Grass Roots India on 17 January, spoke about the business imperative of improving performance by positively influencing the attitudes and behaviour of employees, channel partners and customers, in an exclusive interview with Mint. Edited excerpts:
Why has performance management gained so much importance in the recent past? Do you think companies in India, which are now in an expansion mode, are ready for performance improvement metrics, diagnostics and solutions?
As economies become more centred on services, and gain competitiveness through quality, getting employees to embrace the business goals clearly becomes a necessary strategy. In the services industry particularly, performance improvement assumes greater importance, since brand delivery is in the hands of the person at the counter, or the channel partner. It’s not in the hands of the chief executive or the brand manager. The brand value is determined by how it gets delivered to the customer. The competitive advantage of a customer-centric company, therefore, lies with its people. By constantly monitoring, improving and driving better performance of these delivery points, companies can achieve better results.
David Evans, group chairman and chief executive, The Grassroots Group Plc. Photo: Madhu Kapparath / Mint
Are Indian companies ready?
If the reaction to our launch is a weather gauge, the answer is yes. There’s so much happening here. You can have a good idea about the robustness of a market by evaluating it on four Ms—mobile money (credit cards), mobile phones, mobility (vehicles) and malls. And India definitely is the market to watch out for.
Also, the Indian economy is creating a society where choice will be an outcome, and companies therefore will need a cooperative and driven workforce to remain competitive.
What are the effects of technology on the success of perform-ance management?
Performance solutions technologies are tools to design and deliver performance improvement solutions such as performance analysis tools, technology-aided learning and training programmes, feedback mechanism, etc.
Systems and processes that are modelled on a company’s performance goals are very important. It not only speeds up the reflections of performance, making them more immediately relevant, but also brings down the overall cost of the entire exercise.
Technology helps to leverage information optimally, provides a common platform for managing functions and makes available latest results. India has become a lead nation in technology and it can be so in the services sector, too, by focusing on developing and improving its people.
Performance is driven by people and attitudes; behaviour differs from one geography to another. What are the cultural barriers to performance management and consistency in approach?
Yes, but not to the extent where the fundamentals of human spirits differ. Our model is about applying techniques in a collective experience, represented by my staff around the globe. Such techniques observe and embrace cultural differences rather than fight them. For instance, Europe is not one entity. A German employee and a French employee have differences, but they respond to well-crafted communication, appropriate work education, relevant measurement tools and culturally tuned reward systems.
There are cultural issues in every geography and we expect that in India too, especially because of the sheer diversity that exists here.
I have spent months reading 4,000 years of Indian history, understanding the Indian culture and interviewing senior Indian business leaders before planning our launch (in the country).
But I must add here that with increasing globalization and a shift to performance-driven work culture, Indian workplaces have a lot in common with the ones around the globe. Like anywhere in the world, a new system is more likely to be accepted if it leads to career growth and development. I can say from my experience that employees are more than willing to take part in any initiative or programme where they see perceptible pay-offs.
Where do companies in India stand vis-à-vis their global organizations in terms of performance management maturity levels?
The ambitions of Indian companies know no boundaries. They have the potential, and will grow into leading companies of the world. They will own world brands and, therefore, they need to establish a human framework to brand behaviour. They cannot achieve this well without a consistent approach to recognizing, rewarding and motivating the staff who are the real face of their businesses.
Also, the talent crunch is being felt more than ever in India, and employees are increasingly evaluating their employers by employment policies and practices. Indians, like most people, value respect, and companies need to factor this while developing their practices. In fact, performance improvement works best when it is structured to reflect the values of people-based policies.
A lot of companies in India are already evaluating their people policies and revising them. There are some good examples of the best human resource practices in forward-looking organizations. However, most companies are not taking a long-term view on performance improvement, which is very important to remain competitive.
How do the changing attitudes and behaviour of employees, channel partners and customers lead to greater profits?
People are the only flexible assets of a company. They have the ability to observe needs and instantly respond. In a changing business environment, flexible organizations will be the ones who will lead. It was a fixed attitude that led to the decline of the British economy up to 1980. It was the 60 million people of Britain that got the country back to fourth position in the world economy. China has only recently overtaken the UK to become the fourth largest economy.
Companies need to look at brand engagement in a more holistic way to be able to succeed in the marketplace. And to achieve that, companies have to focus within (internal customers) and without (channel partners). It has to be an end-to-end customer strategy, from the brand vision (to) how it gets delivered at the customer care division, services centre or the retail counter. Services should be like seaside rock (a stick-shaped confectionery item commonly sold at tourist places in the UK). The interesting thing about these sticks is that they usually have a pattern or name of the place where they are sold running along the length. So, wherever you break the rock, the pattern or letter remains the same. Services should be exactly like that—wherever you break it, it should be the same.
Companies can achieve consistency in brand delivery by influencing the attitudes and behaviour of employees, channel partners and customers through communication, education, measurement, rewards and celebrating events. It’s the people behind the show who can make all the difference and, therefore, companies need to invest heavily in their people, especially when the business world is transforming into a knowledge economy.