Adil Zainulbhai, head of consulting firm McKinsey’s Indian operations, says the one thing companies and executives need to develop, if they wish to be able to handle volatile business cycles, is consistency of purpose.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
That would mean they never take their eyes off where they eventually want to be even as they chart a path that steers around obstacles and hazards that may suddenly emerge—sort of like in a video game.
This is easier said than done. And it has some bearing on the last two Acute Angle columns (that spoke about Ratan Tata and Google).
For instance, Tata has shown amazing consistency of purpose over the past few years. The Nano is a result of this. As is the group’s globalization drive.
And Google’s continued march has clearly disoriented its rivals across the technology and media business to such an extent that they have lost their consistency of purpose.
In some ways, better leaders—of organizations and countries—have always known this. Only, it’s difficult to maintain this consistency in the face of short-term pressures. Or adverse analyst reports.
There are enough of both on display in today’s environment. And, as Zainulbhai said when I met him a few weeks ago—watch for a full interview in next week’s Mint—the environment is no longer about certainties, but probabilities. Some would say the best way to deal with such an environment is to not have a strategy at all but take things as they come—and react to them. But for companies that possess consistency of purpose, nothing changes.
Still, as Kipling wrote, it’s difficult for companies and executives to keep their wits when everyone around them is losing theirs, and over the past year, there has been enough reason for the latter.
I guess that’s the difference between companies that are merely good and those that end up being called great. At a larger level, though, this also highlights the need for a company to have a clear distinction between management and leadership. A good manager has to react to the environment. A good leader never wavers from a purpose. Should the board do this? Should the chairperson of the board do this? I have no answers. All I know is that a chief executive who manages the company, day by day, quarter by quarter, can’t.