Saturday, October 26, 2013

Building a USP

Recently we visited a few temples in Tamil Nadu - across Rameswaram and Kanyakumari and the vicinity. Rameswaram, of course, is the site of the place from Rama made his epic journey to Sri Lanka and the place is filled with numerous references to the Ramayana. The government could, of course, create a 'Ramayana Trail' like Sri Lanka has done, but leave that aside for the moment, because what the government cannot or will not do is created by the market and the auto-drivers and tour operators and temples have done that.

But across the landscape every temple we visited had a USP. Like the Bhagavathy Amman temple in Kanyakumari - its USP was that the reflection of the diamond nose ring of the goddess idol used to be visible from the sea. The Tiruchendur temple, apart from its antiquity and historical and mythological significance, practically located on the beach has a wall where you hear 'Om' if your put your ear to it (created by the sea breeze). The Uttirakosamangai temple has a 6 foot emerald idol. Imagine that these USP's have existed for millenia and people keep coming to it even today. For some it is the architecture. For some it is the religious significance. For some it is history. And so on.

As we build various things - sites, programs, services, think about the USP - the branding - what does that brand stand for? How do you get your audience to come there? What is the USP for the various audiences who you intend to service? And are you able to communicate it? Are you able to sustain it? Are you able to serve the value you intend to?

What is the USP - or UVP - Unique Value Proposition that will keep people coming to it for many years - again and again? Worth a thought!

What are you?

As a support team, we are often faced with this dilemma. What are we? What is our identity? What is our role? And this question applies across the spectrum regardless of which type of role you play - Human Resources, Innovation, Risk or anything else.

Some roles are created by authority - as per mandate - this type of work needs approval from so and so. This is reminiscent of the old command and control structure where, someone is the gatekeeper. Like the gatekeeper at any place, their role is to restrict the entry of people or things.

Some roles are created by influence - like the sherpas of Nepal/Tibet - this type of work needs no approval and they are highly sought after - based on their expertise and knowledge of the mountains.

You may argue that each of them is different, but there is no reason that someone in the role of a gatekeeper can grow as an enabler. A lot of time it is how you see the role.

Being a gatekeeper is very easy. I have to do this, because someone has mandated that only I can approve this. On the other hand, being an enabler requires true expertise, genuine interest in solving the problem and a win-win thought process. For the gatekeeper you are the problem, but the enabler is focused on finding a solution to your problem.

And this flows into the work that we do. If your work is about exploring options, coming up with solutions, enabling end to end execution for your stakeholders, truly working with teams in helping them find solutions, creating forward looking reports, trying to understand what your can give your stakeholders other than just an 'approved' email, you are being more of an enabler.

If your work is sending reports that nobody reads, attending meetings like a piece of furniture and identifying so called gaps without helping teams fix it, or sending 'approved' emails after 5 days in your inbox - you are more of a gatekeeper.

And finally, what do your stakeholders say about you? Both in front of you and behind your back? Do they recommend you? (if you are an entrepreneur this is easy - you can measure it in your referrals)

Do they say that your team is a curmudgeon that nobody can get work done out of? Or do they say that each time I have walked up to them, they have added value and helped me find a solution?

What do you want them to say about you? (And this applies regardless of whichever type of job you are in)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bio toilet behaviour

Recently, in an train, we saw a bio toilet. Indian Railways toilets have evolved little from a hole in the floor - but it looks like they are into producing newer coaches with bio toilets. This is a very good initiative except that they are looking at over a 100 years of behaviour to be modified.

The previous toilets were just a hole in the floor and people would throw just about anything into it - garbage for example or used bottles - among other things.

But in the new toilet, throwing anything into the toilet -will mess with the bio digester. Read more here.

Now the problem. When one enters into the bio toilet there is nothing that tells you that this is a bio toilet. I mean, there is a notice, but from what I gathered not too many people are into reading notices in train toilet.

So, how does one change the behaviour? From my experience, behaviour change requires a bit of nudge or a cue. In this case, biotoilets should 'scream' biotoilet from the time one enters into it. Perhaps paint it green. Make the notice in big bold lettering and put up messages where people can see them. Or make the lamp inside with a green tinge or put a green small led, but something that makes the user go 'wow' and reminds them that this a biotoilet. That will remind them each time they entire that this is a different toilet and hence requires a slightly different behaviour!

Can we make something with this?

Ever so often, the little ones come up to their appa (father) (me) and say, "Can we make something with this?" The 'this' could be an empty soap packaging, a paper cup, a satin ribbon or a huge piece of cardboard or thermocol from leftover packaging. Sometimes, the asks are specific - like- can you make a house for me? But mostly, it is an open question.

Earlier, the ideas would come from me, but over time, the ideation is outsourced to them - think what you think you can make with this. Reject the first, obvious idea and think what else you can do with it. The results have been fantastic - not necessarily with the outcome, but with the thinking process.

Sometimes, the answer is not apparent and that point it goes into a collection box - which is emptied once in a while - and stays there until an idea or boredom happens. This has resulted in a little bit of collection of junk - but we call it recycling.

A few days back, the question was posed to me once again - with some an innocuous ice cream stick and my immediate response was to say, "No, you cannot make anything with this." But I paused at that point and said, "Lets see what we can make with it." And sure enough, that innocuous icecream stick became the handle of a shield.

And then, epiphany. Ever so often we are put into opportunities that are essentially problems in disguise. Sometimes, it is a vendor who quotes a high price and you have to do something very quickly, by yourself. Sometimes, there is so much change from a current position of comfort that it shakes you up and sometimes you want to say no.

But if we could change that no, to "Can we make something with this" - it helps. After all, destiny is what you make with what you get, right?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Learning Hindi

Many years ago, North Indians tried to impose Hindi on South Indians. Many things happened since then. Hindi was banned and the South became an English superpower. But Hindi made its inroads, mostly thanks to the phillum industry. What diktats and Hindi diwas could not do, Hindi movies achieved it. And perhaps a bit of paneer butter masala as well.

In cosmpolitan Bangalore - nobody speaks Hindi. Children speak a mix of languages at home Tamil, Kannada - English outside while playing and at school - cartoons are also seen in English. But in the school the second language is Hindi. (Why, you ask? Simple utility - it lets you get around the country etc etc.) But, the little ones are unable to comprehend why are they learning a language that is not used anywhere. Unlike when (and where) I grew up, the lingua franca was Hindi, here it is not.

Now, learning a language without having to use or converse is about as motivating as having to learn to swim without a swimming pool (bad simile, but I wanted a simile at this point). Needless to say, we grapple with Hindi at multiple levels- from words to sentences to grammar to whythehellamidoingthis to exams to show and tell.

But in the meantime, Hindi songs and old movie clips are helping us...perhaps. Though I am not sure if he has to make a sentence in Hindi he will use the line of some song... and whether that may lead to the parents being called to school?