Leaders are you giving TLC to your business?

Last week I attended a fabulous talk by Prof Dave Ulrich who is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan which was hosted by AIF. Prof. Ulrich spoke on a topic close to my heart—how businesses can create their competitive advantage, in today’s environment, through talent. In his talk, Prof Ulrich highlighted the importance and changing function of human resource within an organisation.

Being involved in developing (and soon implementing) a ‘cultural awakening’ project in my day-job it was fascinating to learn (more) about these three essential elements that organisations often overlook.

  1. Talent
  2. Leadership
  3. Culture

People are at the core of anything and everything organisations do in pursuit of their business. Yet we often overlook ‘talent’ coming from a product-centric point of view where business management is concerned. But it’s the process of identifying key talent and having their development at the forefront that enables an organisation to build a competitive edge.

The process of developing talent, within an organisation, impacts upon the leadership’ and the ‘culture’ of an organisation.

Leaders of organisations, if they are truly interested in the long-haul, have to selflessly put the development of their people first and foremost.  Leaders create leaders not followers. Employees followed by the external stakeholders or,  people who make up the environment in which the business functions’, have to be the priority in terms of strategic decisions the business makes.
There are two critical steps for this:

  1. Leaders in the organisation (not just the CEO) have to have clarity in the purpose of the business. They should be able to join-the-dots strategically and provide strong direction to their teams.
  2. Leaders have to have empathy and be able to display that empathy.

In essence, what these two critical steps do is to evaluate the leaders themselves first, as leaders need to have high emotional intelligence and strong communication skills to engage with all ranks of employees.

The displayed leadership styles lead to a, often non-articulated, creation of the organisational culture. As humans we are wired for social acceptance and decades of environmental practice in the ‘command & control’ style of management has left us with the behaviour of adopting what we see our leaders do. But there is light at the end of the tunnel as more and more organisations, globally, are waking up to a new reality—people are asking for empowerment & recognition.

Where organisational culture is concerned there is a lot going on with regards to employee engagement. In a nut-shell employees, or the people who are the face of the organisation, are asking to be heard, to feel their suggestions are valuable to the organisation so that they feel they are of value.

If we now put TLC together it’s easy to see how powerful a strategic advantage for organisations it is.

Focusing on talent development leads to ensuring having the right competencies & commitment in place to generate healthy contribution to the organisation. In order to get to this stage good, authentic leadership is absolutely critical. The leadership coupled with the right people in the right roles, contributing positively creates a culture of empowerment, accountability and most importantly innovation where employees feel they can contribute new ideas and not be afraid of failure.



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10 steps to answer WHY you are in business

Visual courtesy www.mubasher.info

Visual courtesy http://www.mubasher.info

The usual refrain to this question is ‘to be my own boss’; ‘to have financial freedom’; ‘to launch my revolutionary idea’ etc.

When advising corporates or entrepreneurs, I walk them through my 10 ‘purpose steps that help in answering the ‘why are we in business’ question.  The only benefit of this process is the resulting transparent & engaging work culture that the corporate units or entrepreneurs come out with.

  1. Articulate a clear sense of purpose:

Revisit the’why’Often times the honest reason for going into a business line is not addressed with clarity–the “why” are we doing this business OR “why” are we going into this business.  This question needs to be identified and answered with clarity as it drives everything else. It’s the starting point for your mission statement and your strategic goals.The articulation of purpose brings forth the business mission.

Evaluate the business mission for the impact it would have on society. This would come about from the product or services one intends to market and how it affects the consumer. At this stage we would be describing the brand experience we’d like our stakeholders to feel.

This brand experience & its impact on the community the business interacts with would be the heart and soul of its brand identity & experience. It’s the raison d’être of the brand.

  1. Influence your team to be committed to your purpose:

Articulating the business purpose does two things:

  • Provides the framework for the brand experience to be in place.
  • More importantly articulating with clarity the business purpose, creates employee engagement on the business mission i.e. employees working together for a common goal.
  1. Define how the purpose is delivered i.e. ‘how we do things around here’:

People by nature like to belong to groups. In order to form such groups it’s necessary to provide employees a clear value system and a common cause. These usually, are the organisational values that lead to behaviour and become the guiding principles of how business is to be done. There are three critical factors in detailing these values:

  • ‘The understanding of the business unit in what’s the social benefit of the business’
  • ‘The understanding creates certain believes which need to be genuine and strong enough to withstand stress & tension when tested’
  • ‘And they need to be translated into practice’
  1. Managing the intangibles that the business purpose would bring up:

Financial profitability is only one dimension of value provided by the business unit.
Other factors which add to the value of a business include:

  • Strategic Clarity: A clear strategic direction based on practicing the values articulated i.e. ‘walking the talk’
  • Leadership: A strong leadership at the top in order to champion the brand values and represent the brand identity to the stakeholders (in this case any and every one that interacts with the brand in any function)
  • Employee engagement: In order to have the brand represented and projected correctly
  • Competitive Advantage: Identify and develop a strong competitive advantage based on the brand value and
  • Delivery: Consistently and regularly on the brand values through brand experience
  1. Develop a clearly articulated governance policy that would reflect the business purpose:

Ethics that ensures adherence to specific regulations and standards should be clearly articulated and proper process flow and directions provided for employees.  

Special focus should be kept in the functions of investment management, compliance, competitive differentiation, reputation management and customer intelligence management.

Taking preventive care at the start would automatically create a work habit that would ensure very negligible slip-ups in governance.

  1. Creating a brand personality that’s based on its purpose:

In the end, a brand is represented by its employee. Thus it’s critical that the personality that’s projected be reflective of the business purpose.
To this end critical behaviour traits should be identified and documented as ‘must-have” for potential employees. An organisations’ employees project the brand in order to earn trust from the stakeholders.

Trust comes through managing and delivering consistently. Having trust leads to a ‘preferred relationship’ which in turn leads to transactions over and over. In order to generate this trust, the personality projection has to be one that is liked by the stakeholder. It may be the way the employee speaks, looks, mannerisms. Small things but things that immediately create a “like or dislike” choice in the stakeholders’ mind.

 ‘Perception, after all, is belief’.

  1. Listen with purpose and involve people:

In gaining trust one has to learn to listen not just hear! If a brand does not have its finger on the pulse of stakeholders’ opinion it doesn’t have a feel for its brand health. Listening, using the variety of mediums that are available, to hear what the stakeholders are saying and thereby get into a dialogue with them and involving them in the brand’s purpose is very important in order to have continuous growth. The more engaged the people are the more involved they would be.

  1. Manage risks that are identified from the business purpose:

It’s strange that ‘risk management’ is still in the purview of the finance departments. Ideally every quadrant of the brand’s activities should be evaluated and potential risks identified. Then marketing and finance jointly, should approach evaluating both the financial and brand reputation risk.

A part of risk management is to ensure the brand’s reputation stays positive. Business leaders have this responsibility and need to ensure that the brands activities protect its reputation from foreseeable risks. By identifying and managing risk pre-emptively, you can head off financial risks.

  1. Leverage social change that fits your business purpose:

Businesses tend to think good corporate responsibility is about managing the footprint of their brand on society. But real progress is achieved when they use their business purpose to achieve genuine social benefit. It can be done in a way which wins trust and leads to genuine social and business benefit.

       10. Invest in communications but make it a dialogue:

There are many stories in almost every business. Bring these stories out. Communicate them to your stakeholders. After all the stories involve people and people are interested in people per se.

Stories allow for a dialogue to take place by eliciting reactions. This leads to engagement and an engaged stakeholder is better than a nonchalant one!


So have you identified why you are in business? If not try these 10 steps and share your story here.

Get inside the skin of your organisation

Visual Courtesy: Scott Adams www.dilbert.com

Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.” Peter Drucker.

Do you have an articulated culture statement?  No, it’s not your mission statement. It’s a statement that depicts the ‘why’ of your business or the reason for the organisations’ existence.

Culture is what drives the organisations’ most critical output—brand experience.

It’s an amorphous element. For an organisation, culture is defined by the behaviour of its leaders, its people and its processes. A mix of these three creates, what I call, the organisational cultural mask. 

Presently I’m in the midst of developing a culturisation program. Working on the project bought home to me three key facts that organisations oft miss out in identifying, understanding and managing their culture- emotions, experience & the employees.

Emotions, Experience, Employees

What is common in these three?

All business is, after all, done by people and for the people and that makes the employee the most critical asset of any organisation. Employees are the people who create & live the culture of the organisation and directly impact on how the brand is perceived. Yet organisations oft forget they are dealing with people and not a fixed asset. What drives people are their emotions.

Emotions are an extremely strong driver for all our actions and impacts on our state-of-mind. The emotional state-of-mind and the work environment create the behaviour of an employee which, in turn, creates the overall brand experience. Coupled with habits the behaviour becomes the culture for an organisation.

Culture is unique

Just like our DNA, culture for every organisation is unique. It has its positive and negative. The starting point in understanding the prevailing culture is to see if employees are having a cultural fit in the exiting culture.

Here’s why individual cultural fit is so important:

  1. Human Capital– is an asset for any organisation. Without human capital there is no organisation and in turn no brand. Enormous investments are made in talent development by organisations in training & leadership grooming to have the right people in the right roles.
  2. Brand Experience—By having a culture that enables executives to be happy doing their jobs and wanting to do their best, is by far, the only way to maximise productivity and efficiency. It’s the organisational culture that manifests through the executive interpersonal communication and interaction to all stakeholders. This is the single most important driver in creating brand perception and image.

Renovating Culture

Once there exists a common understanding of the organisational definitions of values and behaviour applicable for the organisation, the next step would be to look at how key functions can display those values and behaviour, both internally amongst colleagues and externally to their stakeholders.

By articulating and displaying desired behaviour through small but significant steps key employees who have influential powers would create a positive impact on others. This is renovating an existing culture with a clearly articulated brand experience objective.


If you are interested in ensuring a positive and fulfilling brand experience then get under the skin of the organisation and understand the core from where all behaviour is emanating. Communicate and engage with your colleagues to understand where the behavioural pain-points are. Address those pain-points diligently and keep at it till the desired behaviour becomes a habit. There is no short-cut to having a great culture at work.

Is your brand speaking to the listening of the Muslim Consumer?

The global Muslim community is an intriguing market segment for brand marketers and their organisations. When one looks at just the numbers it’s enough to make a savvy marketer salivate imagining the potential growth. 

Yet, inspite of the segments’ purchasing power and potential opportunity for a brand to have strong regional and global footprint, quality brand experiences seem to be missing.

Are brands simply not listening to the Muslim consumer?

The global Muslim population is often cited as a ‘global community’.  It actually is not a homogeneous market segment that can be qualified by one primary differentiator such as age, language or skin colour, or through attitudes and behaviour that are in accordance to that differentiator. 

 Unlike other cultural consumer segments the global Muslim consumer segment is made up of a myriad of sociocultural sub-sets that have been influenced by emigration and adaptation to social and environmental norms of current place of residence and livelihood.

 This adaptation has resulted in today’s Muslim consumer who has a strong, unique, individual value system and identity that is based and governed by the values of Islam. Muslims’ own belief in the significance of Islam in their lives is pervasive. Coupled with the pre-dominantly young age of the segment and one has a market segment that is begging to be listened to properly and catered to.

An example– Mipsterz

Visual Courtesy: JWT

Visual Courtesy: JWT

In The Name of Faith and Fun”—a JWT Intelligence MENA report published in April 2014, JWT’s Brand Intelligence takes an in-depth look at the growing culture of young and hip Muslims who are bringing forth an integration of faith and fun.
Quoting the report—“ Their social minds, ethical consumption patters and fervor for a more inclusive community, poses opportunity for brands to integrate the Mipsterzs’ needs into a wider strategy that accommodates their spectrum of Muslim values, which are in fact desirable by any societal measure”.

 The Mipsterz sub-culture is not only in the West but in MENA and Egypt fueled by young, progressive, tech-savvy Millennial Arab.

 This profile of progressive youth who are tech-savvy and millennial are soon to become the mainstream of the global Muslim community as more and more of them enter the workforce around the globe.

 For a brand, given the sheer numbers of this community, it becomes critical to understand the logic and psyche of this group which have been boldly self-expressing in order to create experiences that endears the brand with the individual and creates a strong relationship.

What’s the correlation between relationship marketing and the Muslim consumer?

As competition heightens brands, operating in the Islamic economy space and primarily targeting the global Muslim community, need to adopt more strategic customer-centric approaches to meet the pace of change. Enhancing personal relationships with customers is very important in attracting and retaining customer loyalty and to secure competitive success.  Whilst brand advocacy is a much used tactic in mainstream brands, Islamic brand advocacy is in a nascent stage.

This is where marketing to the global Muslim segment differs a great deal in comparison to other consumer segments. A strong emotional attachment needs to be formed. In order to do that brands have to listen and listen well to the individual cultural statements being expressed by the Muslim consumer and create experiences around that in order to resonate and engage the individual.

Be human and emotional

The way forward to establish a strong brand in this community is to understand the experience the brand needs to provide. This experience can be developed through:

  1. Understanding the cultural background of the consumer depending on their sociocultural background and their physical environment For e.g. whilst the core brand values and message may be the same across different market points globally, the service approach and brand interaction experience will have to be tailor-made.
  2. Commonalities of values has to be clearly communicated and perceived. For e.g. the core values of the brand should be aligned with the value system of the consumer in a particular environment and the experience should strengthen that.

To do the above a critical element in the business operations is the employee.

The way an employee represents the brand, creates the experience and the perception. This is where, most often, the drop occurs!

Businesses tend to focus on technical competencies, regulatory adherence and on pushing sales oft forgetting that business today has changed a lot. Today business is conducted by two human beings with a lot of emotions driving their respective actions

With more and more global forums now focusing on how the Islamic economy can step up and aid the global Muslim community, the question that goes begging at the moment is—are brands listening to the Muslim consumer?

Listen to employees if profit is your goal

A recent business review meeting brought home the fact that business is all about getting to the  revenue target. It’s a process. A process that’s been in place, for most organisations, for some time and has delivered results.

 But if we keep doing the same things that we have done how do we get a different result?

Goal setting and target achievement is a process. There are times when processes need to be evaluated in light of the environment in which a business operates. Such an evaluation takes place by listening to the front line managers for the ideas they bring forth in such meetings. 

Are we listening?

Most of the times, the senior team desires a good outcome and executes activities that they believe will help them get to their goal.
Note the emphasis on “executes”! This can either, be a tick in the box or attempting a new approach that could be successful or not.
But in the process of execution only what’s affected is the strategy development and deliberation process which gets left out in the
eternal rush of execution.

They can’t seem to hear the advice that will help them get to their goal in a strategically planned way. Environmental pressures, legislation, competition etc all add to the rush to simply do ‘something’! As a result the activities become ad hoc and lack direction and end up being akin to shooting in the dark.

Is it possible to change this existing pattern of thinking and approach ?

There is. Here’s how:

1.  Approaching the issues simplistically and listening to find the right solution.

2. Being open-minded and receptive to listen to new ideas and kick those around. Not kick them out!

3. Bringing the right attitude to the table.

People caught up in the “No. It’s not possible” line of thinking mistakenly think that having done the same process for years, it will still deliver and no change is needed. Unfortunately, this is a disguised form of negativity and negativity sabotages the chance of success by keeping the team from seeking a solution.

It creates an extremely unhealthy environment which in turn simply kills the process of ideation and thus any innovative approaches.

An attitude of being  willing and able to listen, discuss and evaluate simple, cross industry practices and strategic options can enable growth and profitability. Which, in turn, would lead an organisation in having a motivated, passionate, engaged and objective oriented team of employees who would be iconic brand ambassadors for the organisation simply through the delivery of their day-to-day activities when in contact with the stakeholders.


Engaging perception through customer-centric CSR initiatives

Most organisations undertake CSR programmes as having to fulfill the corporate duty of giving back to society. Often the development of the program becomes the responsibility of the marketing team and is tied to the brand being seen in good light.


Here’s my article on this, published in the Islamic Banker Asia: