Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Context matters…..

 This is a blog I have wanted to write for a very long time… it is a collection of my learning and observations in a few areas from working for several different companies and with different people of varying levels of knowledge, experience, and maturity. I would like to focus on just a couple of these observations in this blog. There is a common underlying thread among all these observations which I will come to at the end.

It is quite interesting to listen to people who sound very excited about best practices and jump on them to try and implement them in their group or company. Be it marketing strategy, leadership style, or recruiting process.  Oftentimes, enthusiastic managers and leaders completely miss out on the context and fail to understand the differences between companies in terms of size, composition, maturity, and complexity of the organization as well as the type of products and services rendered.  In addition, there are several other factors and constraints such as budgetary, governing board, and competition that differentiate companies.  Ron Ashkenas in his Harvard Business Review Blog Network (2010) post entitled “Why best practices are hard to practice” 
(  identifies ‘lack of adaptation’ as one of the two common pitfalls of applying best practices. I can very well relate to this from my first major professional experience in applying best practices to managing perishable inventory.  Applying revenue management concepts from airline passenger side to the air cargo world is what I am referring to (back in the early ‘90s) and how a few of the airlines failed in adopting it instead of adapting it.

I also find it puzzling when certain leaders believe that there is only one way to move forward or make a decision regardless of the situation. This closely ties into the previous observation; however, it is more related to making decisions on business development, sales strategy, etc.  People call it as ‘inconsistent’ when different decisions are made for a problem under exactly the same situation.  I call it ‘irrational’ when the same decision is made for a problem but under different circumstances or situations.  It is a bit strange when someone says this is how he or she will make a decision no matter what.  Let us take a simple example from our personal lives. When a friend asks for a ride to the airport you will say yes when you have nothing going on at that time. You will most likely say yes when you have a ‘not so important’ commitment at that time. The decision is a ‘may be’ when you have a meeting with your boss at that time. It is probably a ‘no’ when you have an important customer meeting at that time.  We can stretch this example to scenarios where it is your anniversary or your daughter is sick, and so on. The decisions may be different if it is about taking your friend to the hospital for an emergency. The point here is that our decision to solve a problem depends on the circumstances around it as well.

I can go on and on with several examples where context matters.  What is important from the above two observations is not to lose sight of the context, situation, or circumstances. Let passion and best practices drive strategies for your company but it should be aptly adapted based on the unique nature of your organization. I personally believe being cognizant of ‘context’ and adapting to it on everything we do is a key to success. A leader is not a true leader if his/her leadership style is exactly the same regardless of the company he/she leads. A decision maker is not rational if he makes the same decision for a problem regardless of the context. What is important is to keep the fundamentals in perspective and follow basic tenets of business ethics. It may sound like I am stressing the obvious, but as mentioned at the beginning, many passionate leaders completely miss the boat on this and get carried away by the practices and strategies deployed by other leaders at other companies that yielded success.  

At Revenue Technology Services, we ensure that our leaders are sentient of this important factor. I welcome your thoughts and feedback on this.

Raja Kasilingam

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