Are you a motivating mentor, or a micromanaging maniac?

A few days ago I had the opportunity to speak with a visionary leader. He shared with me that when building up a leadership team, his first and foremost criteria is for the incoming leaders to bring the right culture into the organisation. In his opinion this was far more critical than industry experience or relevant subject-matter expertise. It was an inspirational chat, and he got me thinking.

I have seen inexperienced HR managers turn away brilliant candidates because they couldn’t find relevant industry keywords in their CVs at first glance. It’s even worse when recruitment companies use automated keyword search on CVs to shortlist potential candidates. If managers get hired this way, how can corporations ensure building the right foundation for themselves? How will your team ever imbibe fresh out-of-the-box thinking into its culture?

A recent survey by IIC Partners revealed that the number one skill companies and Boards of Directors seek in senior executives is the ability to motivate and lead others. 68% of the top leaders surveyed (n = 1,270) said they preferred a senior executive who could motivate and inspire others more than they desired an executive who consistently performed well. The price of entry to corner office could be competence, but the measure of success is inspiring others. In an earlier post I had shared a similar sentiment about discovering the purpose of work. Leaders should be meaning-makers, and not motivation-breakers.

Clueless companies often expend tons of effort and resources conducting that once-a-year farce of an exercise called Employee Engagement Program. A lot has been written and debated about the skepticism of this practice (good read here in this article). But what most employees truly need is inspiration. They want to see their leaders walk the talk. They want to be motivated by managers who lead by example.

Ever wondered the distinction between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty? If I was your customer and I told you that your product/service was “satisfactory”, does that make you feel good? Anyone can satisfy a customer, but winning customer loyalty is priceless. Loyalty is an affirmation for the future. On a similar note, there is a clear distinction between an engaged employee and a motivated employee. A motivated employee will be committed to the future of the company. Motivating your people will go a long way toward building a high performance team than merely “engaging” them.

Are you are a manager who believes engagement is good enough? Motivation is not your cup of tea? Here are 3.5 things you can continue doing:

1. Keep on talking about financial results

Your Board cares about your company’s financial performance, but what about your employees? Studies have shown that many employees care more about the impact their company (and their work) has on the society than about its financial performance. Great leaders will build a culture where they mould their teams to think more than just stock prices and profit dollars. By motivating this way, their teams will elevate their mind-set and loyalty from ‘engaged for money’ to ‘motivated by purpose’.

2. Dig deep in the blame game, and forget the “We” mindset

Managers often ask “Why are you doing this… Why are you not doing that…” questions when things don’t go well. To unmotivated employees these questions appear as blame and criticism. There is always a reason or two behind employee non-performance. Inspiring managers will approach on the ‘We’ mindset instead to uncover those reasons. “What can we do to help?” and “How can we fix this problem together?” This approach avoids the blame game, and instead gives team members the opportunity to reconnect with their company, and also learn and develop further.

3. Spend more time micro-managing, and less time inspiring

One common trait of busy managers is they spend a lot of time attempting to micromanage and control the activities of their employees. Individuals who work for such managers are often less committed and unproductive. I admit that it might appear more productive to micromanage their work, or even roll-up your sleeves and do things yourself, while it can be difficult to take time out of your busy schedules to spend quality time inspiring others. But remember that leaders who take an inspirational approach form closer relationships with their employees and have more focused, more motivated, and highly committed team members working under them. These employees also stay in their jobs longer than the unmotivated ones.

3.5. Apply the same inspirational approach on everyone

Ok, so you have outgrown the micromanagement and employee-engagement mindset. You are a budding inspirational leader, and you have set aside quality time to motivate your team. What next? The question you need to ask yourself is If I could do something to influence the emotional state of the people around me, what would it be?. The answer: It depends on the individual. Some of your team members may need the feel to be connected, some need to feel informed, and some others competent. You can’t apply a one approach fits all theory here. List out your team members and write down the emotional state you plan to nurture in each of them. Your inspirational leadership radically changes when you value your team’s emotional states, and motivate them appropriately.

 

Building the right culture is indeed the most critical element in setting up a solid foundation of any successful organisation. Everything else will follow. Hire inspiring leaders who can think and act strategically. Let them inspire and motivate their teams to deliver best in class performance. Be maniacal about inspiring your team, but don’t be a micromanaging maniac who destroys the team’s motivation.

Looking for ways to screw up your Emerging Market business?

In 2014 McKinsey published an insightful article that provided a great perspective on ASEAN – the seventh largest economy in the world, its multi-dimensional diversity, its high growth potential, etc. Most western multinational Companies recognize the importance of entering this market, but they tend to look at the exciting stats, build strategic growth plans without truly understanding the complexity of the market, and eventually go down making losses. ASEAN is just an example here, this is also the case with other emerging markets like China, India, Latin America etc.

Emerging markets are complex in nature, but they don’t have to be complicated. We often complicate things ourselves by not understanding what makes these markets unique, and by not building a clear strategy and execution plan.

Have an emerging markets business in your portfolio that you want to destroy? Here are 5.5 things for you could consider:

1. Do not create localised products

Differentiate, or Die – that’s what you need to remember if you want to win in emerging markets in the long run. If you don’t develop and deliver localised and customised products relevant to the market, your business will die a slow painful death. It might be a smart approach for large multinationals to enter emerging markets focusing on the premium price segment. But do remember that this space is not a safe haven forever. If you don’t do continuous, agile, product innovation and branded differentiation, competitors will eliminate you from these markets in the long run.

2. Ignore your local competition

Asia is arguably the most competitive market to do business in. FSG has a brilliant blog post on this topic. Many Asian competitors operate in a factory model. Vertical integration, low cost production, extremely lean OPEX model, aggressive management that drives volume share gain as their key KPI – add up all these and you have a tough battle to win if you are a multinational corporation. If you don’t plan a differentiated product roadmap and a consistent brand superiority strategy across all touch points, you will lose the battle over time. Needless to say, this needs a very disciplined cross-functional execution model.

3. Do not build a dynamic distribution strategy

Most emerging markets have a fragmented multi-tier distribution model. See this China example. It is not a walk in the park to tightly manage all tiers of distribution and ensure inventory sell through and revenue growth. Yet another decision MNCs face is to operate via distributors vs. going direct. You need to consider multiple factors before making a decision to go direct – including your targeted geographic and channel breadth, your distributors’ appetite to grow, their support infrastructure to help you scale your business, your own organisation’s constraints on OPEX spend etc. If you do not build a strategic distribution plan that addresses all these factors, you will eventually fail.

4. Live and breathe the mantra “one size fits all”

One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to emerging markets’ channel landscape. For instance, if you are an FMCG company you will quickly learn that the levers to pull to gain mindshare and win at small format resellers are totally different from that for a large format retailer. One way to avoid the pitfall of doing the same thing for everyone is to properly segment your customers. Rigorously implement this across the value chain, and repeat this segmentation exercise on a regular cadence to see how things change as you scale and grow.

5. Operate with myopic investment mindset

The myopic mindset is to look at past years’ results and make budget and investment decisions. Really dumb executives tend to react to market volatility by thinking short-term and re-directing their investments into mature markets. Some even eliminate headcount in their emerging regions, citing excuses that they can return to the market when the market is ripe again. I have seen some companies setting myopic KPIs which prematurely kill any future growth-oriented investments for these frontier markets. Want to fail? Continue doing these things.

5.5 Build the same operational model for emerging markets and mature economies

Asia is a unique region – you have some of the most transparent economies next to some of world’s most corrupt nations. Political changes could happen any time and they will influence your decision-making. Currency fluctuations could catch you off-guard. Regulatory systems may be immature, and in some cases non-existent. If you are operating in a highly regulated industry (eg. healthcare) expect to experience tons of roadblocks that you will have to patiently remove as you make your way into growth. Be prepared to get surprises from regulatory bodies and authorities like Customs. A sure-fire way to failure is to ignore all of the above, build no rapport with the authorities, develop no government engagement strategies, and do business like how you operate in developed economies.

As multinational companies start to look for growth it is normal to have an eye on emerging markets. My advice – don’t set yourself up for failure. Understand and acknowledge the challenges of operating in this environment. Attract and retain senior-level talent who have “been there & done that”. Prepare for roller coaster rides. Things will be complex here, but don’t become the moron who makes it complicated.