IPL: lessons from business

IPL: lessons from business
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First Published: Thu, Apr 17 2008. 01 00 AM IST

Updated: Thu, Apr 17 2008. 01 00 AM IST
The Indian Premier League (IPL) starts on Friday and promises to throw up more than a few challenges for those involved in the game.
Harbhajan Singh and Sanath Jayasurya for Mumbai? Players bought off a supermarket rack? Rohit Sharma valued at a price tag higher than Ricky Ponting’s? While these issues may be new to cricket, they are being addressed by another group—supply chain managers. I recently discovered the parallels between the two.
Actually, I am not into supply chain management at all. Not even remotely. I put together workshops for discussing issues such as team building, leadership and change management for companies—all using examples from sport.
So, IPL was very much something that was being followed closely. This time around, our corporate clients happened to be people closely and passionately involved in supply chain. Their passion towards their area of work unknowingly rubbed off on me and, I felt compelled to read article upon article on the topic. What started off as an exercise to get to know the client’s business better ended up with me discovering how similar the issues there were to those in IPL.
For starters, both involve ­planning for uncertainty. Business is going through change like never before. The rules of the game are changing. Trends are more non-linear (as mathematically odd as that may sound!) than ever and that’s probably the biggest challenge.
IPL, being as new as it is, and with so many rules and variables being altered at the same time, is equally unpredictable. While business in today’s world requires one to walk the tightrope, balancing skills with costs, the new cricket franchises will be trying to calculate the return on investment on Andrew Symonds and Ishant Sharma! Only time will determine which players are worth investing in, in the new format. What are the skills that would be relevant in a 20-over format? Do patience and stamina count for anything at all? Is it better to be a versatile generalist than a unidimensional specialist?
The other big challenge in today’s world is building teams with unconventional structures and creating loyalty within them. Loyalty, that goes beyond remuneration, that will counter the several job offers that come your way every other day. With outsourcing, virtual teams, people floating in and out of projects, what really constitutes a team? In many of our workshops, we are asked by participants what exactly we mean by “their team”. These executives are sometimes part of many teams at one time or keep joining and leaving various teams from time to time.
As software and consultancy projects that last a few months or even weeks demand teams being put together and disbanded continuously, people move in and out of these groups. Just like Robin Uthappa who will, at least for a while, wonder if his team is Mumbai Indians, Karnataka or India. Amid this identity crisis are other issues such as auction or attrition as the case may be, multicultural adjustment and the need for players to be multiskilled, that complicate team dynamics even further.
In such a scenario, where is the time to build camaraderie or team glue?
Training is a big need area in business today. Human resource managers are breaking their heads on deciding how much to train their people. With attrition rates close to 33% in many sectors such as pharma and BPOs, and escalating costs of training, they are wondering whether to train young sales teams or directly hire experienced people, often poaching from competition. Indian cricket, too, grappled with issues about not having enough cricket academies to develop fast bowlers or wicketkeepers.
IPL has changed all this. You don’t need to train anyone when you can just buy them off the shelf! The same talent pool is available to all franchises and all you need to do is map competencies of players and fit them into your budget. So simple and, yet, so complicated. Those who could afford to buy many more players, so as to enjoy more flexibility, will have to keep their bench strength both busy and motivated. And justify their return on investment. Supply chain management, too, is currently discussing talent inventory. If only people, like widgets, would sit quietly on shelves!
This year’s IPL teams could look quite different from next year’s teams, with players being traded and revalued. And this value will be determined more by current utility than by seniority. Those who don’t fit in could become obsolete overnight. Players will have to develop newer skills to remain relevant in the new scheme of things. Teams will be determined more by skill maps rather than pride and loyalty. The traditional competition between firms has been replaced by that between supply chains.
They say movies are a reflection of real life. I guess cricket is a reflection of business, too. Only far more exciting.
Anita Bhogle is a director at Prosearch Consultants. Comments are welcome at ­theirview@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Apr 17 2008. 01 00 AM IST