Saturday, September 14, 2013

Policy does not a leadership make

One characteristic of hierarchal cultures is followers blindly following "policy" even when it’s undermining the enterprise’s wellbeing, shooting itself in the foot. It comes from a mistaken notion of leadership. It is one very important principle my Eastern European friends had to learn very early on. "It is not ‘a policy’ that is your reason for being but your vision; tell me again what it is you wish to be?" “We want to be the best and the biggest in the business from Eastern Europe.” Explain to me how that policy will bring you closer to what you wish to be – and you won’t get there without transparency because you’ll have no credibility, was my response.  The story goes that the big boss made a policy and it wasn’t meant to be broken. And that was the topic of one of the classroom sessions we've had going over a decade.
And the model is very simple (and it would guide them as they kept accelerating growth, progress and development): Where are you; Where do you want to be; How will you get there. And to this day they would make me break into a grin whenever I sit in meetings and a young manager would discuss a challenge and how they’d address – and fix – it! Compare that to the Philippine energy plan, 2012-2030: Where Are We Now; Energy Reform Agenda; Policy Thrusts; Where Are We Headed. [Source: PDF file, Department of Energy c/o Google.] And do we see what’s missing? Clue: It doesn’t speak to a definitive closure and thus our continued suffering as an economy characterized by persistent underdevelopment and pervasive poverty; while a handful are laughing their way to the bank, and in tow are the awards we give them for love of country – and being model managers? Sounds like a celebration within the Corleone family?
With due respect to President Aquino, talk is cheap. "Noy: PHL to become globally competitive!" [The Philippine Star, 29th Aug 2013] “As a student of economics, I know that monopolies are incredibly inefficient. It kills innovation. There is zero impetus in a monopoly to continually improve your product or your service, simply because you have your market cornered, Aquino said.” Amen! Yet it brings to mind George W. Bush's "No child left behind." And the PHL version is: The 50 wealthiest Filipinos own over a quarter of GDP? Why? Oligopoly – which we have accepted as “ganoon ‘yon talaga?” 
In fairness to the President, he is doing his darnedest! But what are we missing? Plain and simple, we are not being true to ourselves because we have yet to learn to look in the mirror, and learn to benchmark. It takes maturity! Toyota didn’t say we're the greatest or the smartest or well-schooled or holier-than-thou; but instead did their homework to understand the competition – because their vision was to beat the competition while being credible. And so they broke apart European premium cars and piece by piece figured out what’s behind a Mercedes Benz and a BMW. [That was the same thing Japan did to develop their submarine knowledge, breaking apart a British submarine.] And one of the things they immediately noted was that these cars had fewer components which would explain why they were built tight and thus responsive and required less maintenance, among other attributes.
But it is about making things and selling things – with credibility. And so they had a team live in California (the biggest car market in the US) to understand the American consumer; and set up a design center (in a foreign environment, not their home market or Japan) that would translate their findings from the consumer insights they gained through their interaction with Californians. And when they finally had it figured out, which took some time, they introduced the thinking to a large team from within and outside the company that they recognized ought to become part of their extended team or network – which then facilitated the execution of their vision. 
In the meantime, while we clamor for an inclusive economy (and indeed we're growing at the same clip as China) ours remains lopsided and benefits the 50 wealthiest Filipinos while 50 million go hungry. Yet we believe that we can figure out, address and fix the most complex of challenges? That’s what I thought too when I was still in my shorts listening to the Congressman in our Manila district. “It guarantees against a level playing field where competition can bring out the best in companies and people,” Aquino added, citing as an example the globalized nature now where “the lack of a healthy competitive landscape is simply untenable and could spell any democratic country’s doom.” Unfortunately, that sounds exactly like the Congressman from my childhood days. But why can't we attract foreign investment and technology – thus leaving us behind in innovation, education and training and product development and market development? We ought to benchmark and stop listening to our own voice lest we continue to drown out the cry of poor Juan de la Cruz – because we're smarter than that, i.e., we aren't (a) tyrannical; (b) simply clueless; (c) hopeless; (d) all the above?

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