Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, May 09, 2003
Pondering over POND
THE OTHER day I saw a fascinating battle unfold between a tiny roach and three tinier ants. By a series of well-aimed and concerted prods, the ants had got the roach on its back. The roach reacted to this new position with some desperate but fruitless wriggling. Then followed a spell of absolute stillness when the roach seemed to have resigned itself to its fate of becoming a repast for the ants. That was undoubtedly the nadir point for the roach.
The ants closed in for the kill. Then all on a sudden with a supreme effort where the synergy of wings, feet and antennae worked together, the roach turned over and the ants backed away. That in the roach's case was what I would call the POND.
I headed a profit centre a few years ago. It was a logistic facility, which had registered a huge high in all critical areas of business. Turnover was high, profits were high and market share was dominant. On the flip side the success had made available a ready recipe for replication by competition. In less than a year, the market share had diminished, profits were pared and there were no prospects of Recovery. It was the nadir.
A point had been reached where a supreme collective effort was called for to rise out of the morass, the quagmire. And that happened in the form of a strategy, which redefined the very paradigm, which had predicated the business rules till then. That moment was the POND for the profit centre.
What is POND?
POND stands for "Point of Nadir Depart". It is the point at which an individual or an animal or an organisation leaves its bottom most point and rises towards a better state of being.
Nothing illustrates this better than an old fable found in the ancient Indian collection of stories, The Panchatantra.
In the fable, a group of birds espies a spread of grain on the ground when flying as a flock in search of food. In the eagerness to feed the birds fail to see the ground coloured net laid over the grains. No sooner than they alight than the birds realise that they have been tricked.
Perplexed and gripped by panic, the birds go through moments of desperate agitation trying to disentangle themselves followed by a moment of despondence when they realise they are well and truly trapped.
At that point one of the bird says that the moment has come for all of them to find a way out of the crisis together. Another bird wonders whether they can if they flapped their wings together lift the net along with themselves. In a supreme effort of mind and body they exercise their wings and to their utter surprise and delight find themselves airborne, with the net. That is the Point of Nadir Depart for the group of birds.
POND happens instinctively for animals. It is almost a quotidian occurrence. In human beings it happens in a more deliberate manner often at the instigation of a well-wisher or colleague or family members. An alcoholic who turns dry achieves POND, but when he relapses he hits nadir. However, in the case of an organisation POND can be structured. Being aware that POND can save an organisation can make the difference between perpetuity and perdition for an organisation.
How to engineer POND
There are six steps:Nadir recognition: This is the single most important step in the process of engineering POND. It involves having a free and open mind that is ready to acknowledge poor performance, poor results, and loss of face and loss of control.
Recall the words of W. B. Yeats in the poem Second Coming: Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.
In such a situation any human being or an organisation should see that the bottom or the perigee of their state has been reached. Nadir recognition is painful as it is the first affirmation of failure. Failure acknowledgement is more easily said than done. It is, therefore, the first major block to POND engineering.
Individuals and organisations that candidly accept and acknowledge mistakes are more successful in POND engineering. The history of the world is replete with those who maintained that things were right when they were not and paid the price. They failed in the very first step. They failed to recognise their Nadir point.
Group formation: Once the Nadir point is recognised, usually by the CEO or a senior functionary who periodically scans the overall vital parameters of the organisation, group formation takes place. The group goes by the name of a task force as the term underlines the urgency of the event and that it is a task that has to be performed. In certain organisations the group can even be a kind of kitchen cabinet or a powerful think tank or brains trust.
But a group that puts heads together is a must.
Brainstorming follows and it is at this point that an organisation that encourages its staff to think comes up trumps. An organisation with a culture where people are encouraged to be offbeat and even outrageous is able to engineer POND more easily.
Leadership germination: The group produces best results when the Conductor is one and not when there are too many diverse and antagonistic points of view. The group should be cohesive with congruence of purpose. The group should eschew lone wolves and go only for pack hunters.
While the group initially starts on a primus inter pares mode with a chief among equals to initiate the process of POND, one can watch leadership germinating at various points. In other words we can witness leaders virtually popping up at different points in time.
This is typical of any multi-cultural or multi-disciplinary group where different skill sets prove useful to the group at different junctures. However, one overall leader, lets call him the Conductor, should keep the notes in order so that the boundaries of the melody are not breached or digressed from.
To perform such a role, the Conductor perforce has to be:
Strategy formulation: The first step for strategy formulation is the correct and accurate assessment of the malaise. Once the group is convinced that the malaise has been correctly identified, and then strategy has to be formulated.
The strategy should produce results within two months and an impact within two days. If the strategy does achieve not this, then POND does not happen.
The strategy should be characterised by the 3S's simple so that all understands it; straight forward so that it is easy to implement, and striking as otherwise it wont impact the target.
Strategy execution: Should follow within minutes of strategy formulation and should be done on a war footing with all hands at action stations. Constant control and escalation systems should fall into place to troubleshoot problems that will crop up in any hastily formulated strategy.
The execution phase will test the leadership of the organisation most as informed decisions have to be replaced by intuitive decisions. Lets not forget the organisation is at its nadir and decisions have to be made come what may.
POND exultation: This is simply an affirmation of faith in what the organisation is doing to engineer POND.
It can be in the form of slogans or statements or catchy trumpet notes. The essence is that the spirit of POND engineering should permeate the organisation. POND exultation should be totally intra-organisation. It should be a precious secret.
(The author has long experience in managing PSUs and public service utilities.)
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