Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Search for Identity

Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Pune has been a city of contradictions for long. Being situated a mere three hours drive from Mumbai, it has remained a shadow of India’s financial capital. It has been known for decades as the Oxford of the East (at least Pune-ites have always believed so!), the hub of engineering and automobile industry in India, the cultural capital of Maharashtra, and so on. In the recent years, it has attempted to vie with Bangalore and Hyderabad to become an IT-city, but has remained on the lower rungs.
This curious phenomenon extends itself to occupy the mentality of several organizations of Pune. Just like the city that they are based in, they have remained on the threshold of becoming big. But there is a difference in being Big and trying to be Big.
A 20-year old advertising agency in Pune stands at a similar crossroad. Having bagged some national level clients, it can rightfully claim to be a national agency. It has a swanky new office, employees from different parts of the country give it a cosmopolitan feel, and yet, is it really a BIG agency? These and similar other questions led this company to venture into an exploratory program. It began as a motivational exercise (with a garnishing of team building to make it more tasty) but soon went on to become a vision-building initiative.
The entire organization took a day off and assembled at a sprawling resort 60 km from Pune. Everyone from the senior-most departmental heads to office boys were there. The program began with an invitation to everyone to suggest a good name for the program that would spell out the theme. After much vigorous banter and leg-pulling, everyone decided on calling it ‘BOUNCE’.
It was quite appropriate to call it thus, because bounce they did; for the whole of next day. Ideas, energy, arguments, furious discussions, everything went bouncing throughout.
The day involved two outdoor exercises that highlighted the issues of resource allocation, careful planning, teamwork and coordination. One of these activities involved keeping the business objectives of exploring creative ideas to complete a project without compromising the focus on maintaining a healthy bottomline. Many of the projects failed. That was not what mattered. What really mattered was the discussion that followed this activity. Two key learnings of this activity were –
1.We got carried away by what we thought was good. We forgot what the client needed. After all, the client was going to pay us. We could have paid more attention to the client’s requirement, however much irritation they may have caused us.
2.If we new quite early in the project that the design being considered was not going to work, what stopped us from scrapping it and going back to the drawing board? There is no guarantee that the new design would have succeeded, but anyway this was going to fail! At least, we could have saved some sunken costs that we incurred in the futile attempt.
The second activity was a medley of smaller tasks that added up to a larger objective. Many teams got caught in the smaller steps and lost sight of the larger common goal. A valuable lesson in keeping the goal in focus while not losing sight of the immediate small step.
The program concluded with a CAD exercise (part of Synergogy model) that invited the participants to debate on five critical issues that the organization faces today.
I would not want to disclose either the topics or the actual discussion. But the session did build a foundation for people to start thinking on.
A more detailed in-depth OD intervention would follow in the months to come. The organization has found a direction in its search for a national identity. The real challenge is to take concrete steps in this direction.


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