The FMCG business innovated at all levels. A typical product launch from conceptualization to launch takes around 6-7 months. Savlon’s brand of sanitizers and disinfectant spray was launched within a month of its conceptualization; that too when teams were coming to terms with the new reality of the world
COVID-19 restrictions forced us to innovatively look at our distribution channels to reach customers in the quickest manner by delayering our supply chain systems.
Underlying all of the challenges and the response lies the core belief that agility and innovation would be the key success factor for any organization in these times. Until the tail end consumer, the tail end worker and the tail end supplier or partner is not safe and financially sound, the job is not done.
Right from how to put on and put off the PPE suit to protocols to follow in case they suspected someone was infected; we trained our staff, conducted several mock drills and institutionalized regular audits in all our hospitals.
These are tough times for our staff. Be it the cleaning staff or the nurse or the doctor or even the security personnel, everyone is undergoing a lot of mental stress. They hear about cases of medical staff infected in other hospitals and feel concerned for not just themselves but their families as well.
To give you an example, patients who needed chemotherapy or dialysis were delaying these procedures. We constantly communicated with them on the hazards of doing so and assured them of their safety being our top priority.
At the same time, work from home and sedentary lifestyles are leading to newer lifestyle issues.
Healthcare has been heavily underinvested and the public spend is less than 1% of the country’s GDP. As we think of building highways and airports, we should also be thinking of investing in hospitals, medical infrastructure and research.
Within a couple of days, my timeline of this pandemic changed from weeks to months to quarters.
As a company, we cannot be wedded to one way of operating. We need to be nimble, agile and think out of the box.
When times like these hit, the bottom lines are trivial in the larger scheme of things.
This is a marathon and we will not try to sprint in.
There is nothing Post COVID. It is with COVID. The recovery is going to be slow and we need to be patient.
As an entrepreneur, I was like a pendulum. Every rise and fall would keep me anxious.
But events like these reaffirmed the belief that in life, however much one may feel, we don’t control much. We need to let go. Focus on what one can do and not worry about the rest. Such black swan events are humbling, despite our best efforts.
On a spiritual side, one needs to go within and not be impacted by what is external. Troughs and peaks are two sides of the same coins and need to be embraced by the same level of detachment. Nothing is forever. Never say never.
We have seen a massive appetite for trading, especially as people have been working from home and have free time at hand.
I have always been a work from office person. I just could not fathom how an entire company could work from home. But this time, it was not a choice but the need of the hour. So I kept my mental picture aside and the team got running on the ground.
After every few days is a day when all our previous daily records are broken; be it new customers or daily trades.
This entire situation has stress tested our biases against work-from-home. 300 people from my team are right now working from their homes in Tier-II cities. Some of them are even in their villages. Imagine a system where they can work from their homes even after the crisis is over. Not only will it decongest our cities, which were never meant to handle this massive population overload; it will also help our Tier-II cities and villages to grow. These employees will be able to save a lot more, for the same salaries.
My favourite spot to work in the house has always been the dining table. But in the first week of WFH, I added over 3kgs, snacking the whole day. So I have now moved to a spot on the terrace. It is a tall table, and I think working standing up is much better. But the bull run continues even on the weight front.
As long as the businesses have strong fundamentals and 90% of the industries survive; intelligent investing will yield good dividends.
It is important to be cautious, and ensure adequate liquidity for contingencies. I recommend holding a liquid component of at least 25 per cent at individual portfolio levels.
The key remains to enter the markets in a measured, systematic manner without leverage and with ample diversification.
Innovation and creativity love crises and constraints. Crisis brings out constraints and makes innovation almost a forcing function.
During a crisis, the customer needs also undergo a change in behavior. Innovation is about the simple adaptations to those needs.
As people stayed inside, domestic violence and cyber crimes became growing concerns.
We started getting a lot of calls from senior citizens and some of them just wanted to see another human being around them. More than a professional duty, this was our duty towards humanity.
A task, often unattended, needed the most experienced officers who needed to follow the guidelines while honorably cremenating the abandoned bodies.
From being #DilliKiPolice (police of Delhi) to #DilKiPolice (police of heart)
DELHI GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATION
The key focus was on creating social awareness about the pandemic, need for social distancing and making sure the health infrastructure was well equipped to handle scale.
In the initial stages of the pandemic, the Delhi government did not want a full lockdown, but it was the Centre’s directive which it needed to comply with. We wanted to restrict movement but not bring it to a standstill overnight. That’s what happened and that led to a lot of panic.
Who would have imagined education at government schools to be completely digital.
At the very least, the media needs to help create a connected country rather than a divided country. What happens when the message that goes out is that the business owners can pay but they are not paying. They are not running charity and if they continue to pay while their businesses are shut, where will they land? We need to stop the caste, religion and region divides. We are a country of 130 Cr people. Tell me one person who has not been impacted in some way or the other.
POWER OF COMMUNICATION
Transparency and a path to the next steps not just helps building a relationship for the longer term but makes the other feel as a partner in that decision; rather than a recipient of the same.
Leaders avoid a “paternalistic sense of children that need to be shielded from bad news” and instead treat the stakeholders “as adults who are in it together.
The toughest decision was to balance the safety of our employees vis-a-vis delivering the service promise to our customers. We exist because of our customers and the customer base exists because of our employees.
We could possibly expand into newer customers. But that could only happen once we had fulfilled our commitments to existing customers as well as made sure our employees were not at risk. We decided to not prioritize business acquisition and expansion at this time.
Even if the data centre was in red zones or containment zones, in this worst case scenario, we would need physical access.
One of the other things which kept Bala awake was around information security for the customers. The call centre employees were now working from home. Sensitive information about the customers were now accessible outside the company’s premises. Any leaks or callousness in handling that information was non-negotiable.
We had 100% additional availability of international leased line bandwidth at any given point in time. It is expensive, but it is the cost of doing business.
If you did not have to change your contingency action plan within a week, you were lucky.”
We tried to create redundancies in every function across the organization, right from our sourcing staff to the senior leadership. We asked candidly on what we should be doing if the entire management gets infected. These were difficult questions but needed to be asked and prepared for.
When 9/11 happened; airport security systems across the globe got overhauled. Expect similar ground level changes to happen. From heat sensing to on-the-spot rapid testing; from being able to pay a premium to sit alone in a row to drop in in-flight food consumptions; from contactless check-in to staggered boarding – these landscape changes are there to stay.
IMPORTANCE OF A BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLAN
Business continuity plans are often misconstrued as disaster recovery plans. Few leaders realize how the former is a proactive approach to avoiding and mitigating risks, while the latter is mostly about restoration and recovery post a disaster has already occurred.
Often, a business continuity plan needs a cross-functional leadership to come together and ensure organizational alignment around key objectives. It also needs to be phased, dealing with the most critical stuff first and then identifying medium-to-long term principles of thinking.
EMPLOYEE WELL BEING
Crises are crises because people suffer.
Effective crisis management required integrity, accountability, and moral courage.
From focusing on bookings, we have shifted to focusing on rescheduling and change requests. From offers and promotions, we have shifted to information communication in tones appropriate for such times. From bookings, we have shifted to engagement. From ticket size, we have shifted to customer lifetime value.
We don’t hire professional actors. Instead we hold auditions for in-house talent where ixigems (ixigo employees) can participate and contribute to our marketing campaigns.
Be vulnerable. Do not act as if you know it all, when the reality is you don’t. Seek help and advice and you will be surprised with what comes your way.
Leaders should use these times to be observant. Just observe people as humans, before you judge them as employees
FAMILY OF DISABLED
In a world of social distancing, no one was ready to hold a blind person’s hand and take them to get their free ration. When volunteers reached the hearing impaired people, inability to communicate left many hungry. The masks are also an obstruction for the hearing impaired person to read lips.
We worked at several levels in the bureaucratic hierarchies and sensitized the authorities on the needs of differently-abled people. These are people who cannot move on their own. Even in red zones and containment zones, volunteers needed to visit these people in their homes. They had special dietary requirements that needed to be catered to. These people needed more than just food. They were heavily dependent on medicines and our volunteers made sure that medicines reached them on time.
Imagine a bedridden person whose life is completely dependent on his caretaker. Right from their washroom needs, to eating and even being put to bed, they need support. The caretakers were also scared to step out of their homes. The differently-abled people too were scared of being exposed through their caretakers.
It has been a nightmare if you are differently-abled and need to run from pillar to post to get the much needed regular medical help. You cannot keep getting COVID tests done before being treated. It is infeasible, cost-prohibitive and life threatening. Through our network of doctors, lawyers and donors; we continue to deal with these cases individually and put the required pressures on hospitals to get the due medical attention for these people.”
While we ask people to stay at home, people with mental disabilities need to be kept engaged. Their routine life keeps them sane. Longer periods of confinement is a risk to their mental well-being.”
BRIGADE METROPOLIS RESIDENT WELFARE ASSOCIATION
Through this story, I have seen how once can influence without authority, react to an ever evolving situation sometimes by consensus and sometimes with a few leaders vetoing in time-sensitive situations. The beauty of this story is the fact that there are no founders of the company involved and every leader is also a resident. So one’s decisions not just impact the resident community but also one’s next door neighbor and even one’s own family. There are situations when opinions are divided between families, neighbors and there is an urge to comply, to maintain relationships.
Every time I stepped outside my home, someone or the other would stop me and share their opinion. I was trying to keep calm and maintained silence when I felt it could lead to a toxic or futile conversation.
Me and the team would get personal messages. It was best to just ignore these and focus. We also had our day jobs as well as household work to do. If we started responding to each of such accusations, it would be impossible to work.
RISING ABOVE SELF INTEREST
In times of crisis, it is easy to get sucked into what may work for one’s organization. But situations like these are also when leaders step up for their communities.
Compassion is leadership, leadership is compassion : compassion not just for self but for everyone else, especially ones where one has no self-interest whatsoever.
If anything, the crisis will make leadership more humane and above self-interest.
YOURNEST VENTURE CAPITAL
When necessities have overtaken wants and luxuries, is the product still relevant? The market and consumers are no longer enticed by wishful products because there is no money to buy those. A need-based product that is cost effective is what the market will likely buy.
Founders need to be creative, decisive, lead from the front and inspire their teams in this difficult phase. No winter lasts forever.
During the crisis, several SMEs started to manufacture sanitizers. We, however, wanted to focus on the quality processes that were followed during the manufacturing process. So even though the SMEs were local and could have significantly brought down our costs, we did not want to make compromises on the quality of the product. People were placing their lives with the sanitizer brands. And we owed it to people to ensure commercial gains did not precede their trust. We went in for suppliers who had been existing for at least 5 years and who were Good Manufacturing Practices – WHO certified
We observed hoarding of essential food and grocery happen on our platform. Everything in the cart was being ordered in multiples. A customer who would usually order 5 Kg of wheat was now ordering 20 Kgs
Dunzo expects the users to stick around and be less price sensitive, even as they begin to step out of their homes.
We do not want to sound like we don’t understand the gravity of the situation. But we also cannot change what we cannot change. And we need to create moments of happiness and be lighthearted in life. This is what the media team is intending to do through the communications.
BEING OPEN TO FAIL
Leadership is not about the outcome – it is about the process.
Even a decision of shutting down the business may look like a failure looking outwards. But the process of arriving at that decision, accepting, communicating and executing the failure can demonstrate leadership.
What words come to your mind when you think about masks? Patients? COVID? Compulsion? Have you ever associated masks with these words – fashion, style, colors?
Like a father does not abandon his children, I felt responsible for my people. My humble beginnings gave me confidence that even if it all became zero, I could start from scratch.
I wanted to make masks a style statement, a form of self expression.
Despite all the glamour, what I was missing in life was a purpose. This work has given a meaning to my life. I am sleeping for only 4 hours a day, driving hundreds of kilometers on the road. But what keeps me going is the smiles on the women’s faces, the sense of fulfilment and gratitude.
While it may seem naive, most people working in the real estate sector did not know what Zoom or any other digital meeting tool was.
Closing the deal was a secondary goal. The primary goal was to get the staff accustomed to the virtual infrastructure and make sure each sales person was doing at least two virtual meetings a day.
It was the time to think beyond transactions, time to build relationships over continuous engagements.”
With the market being so topsy-turvy, real estate has evolved to be a promising avenue.
The lockdown period has also made the developers realize how advanced technology like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are needed to satiate the expectations of the homebuyers sitting at their homes wanting to see the exact replica of their future homes.
One of our customers said he wanted a back-up home in Goa. Should COVID strike again, he would rather be on a beach than in a crowded place.
With the recent fall in Rupee against the dollar, NRIs are seeing this as a great opportunity to secure their lifestyles in India.
BEING IN UNISON WITH GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES
Leadership is about not just complying with the regulations that are passed but also working with authorities in tuning these and then with all stakeholders (be it customers, suppliers, employees or even contractual labor) in ensuring compliance at the deepest levels. Leadership is also about enabling one’s partner ecosystem in complying.
CAFE DELHI HEIGHTS
Overnight, the sales numbers of 4 outlets went down to 0. It was quite discomforting and took a little bit of time to sync in.
We trimmed a menu of 250 dishes to 35 dishes that we began to deliver through the online aggregators. This helped us recover some of our fixed expenses.
For a businessman, it is not easy to let go of your people or furlough them. In the service industry, our staff is our biggest asset. People know your staff by their name. But people need to understand that no one likes to suddenly cut salaries, if they can still afford to pay.
Food is a religion in India and special occasions are incomplete without dining. Even in the lockdown, the highest sharing on the social platforms is happening over food.
Future generations are seeing how things can overturn in a few weeks. It will build in them a lot of resilience and prepare them for not taking things for granted. Even when their fathers and grandfathers are in a thriving business
In life too, it is not the situation that matters, but rather one’s perspective ( view) that can empower or disempower one’s ability to lead in the situation. Landmark is all about opening up that perspective and leaving the participants in full control of their journeys. Like cricket, every ball needs a different batting stroke. In life too, one needs as many as possible batting strokes in one’s armour. Landmark equips you with that.
Our Forum Leaders did not just need help with learning technology tools to be able to control a crowd of more than 100-200 people virtually; they also needed to be trained on other aspects. Suddenly there could be a participant who could unmute and start talking out of turn. Or a participant who switched on their video inadvertently. All of that needed to be handled appropriately.
In a physical class, a teacher can see who is drifting off and bring that person back into the discussion in the classroom. It is hard to do that on a digital medium. The leaders committed to offering a compelling value proposition to the participants, such that they don’t need to demand the participants’ attention but rather the same would come on its own.
At times like this, often people are just trying to survive and they forget the importance of having their life make a difference as a natural self-expression for them even when things are difficult.
People are realizing how personal relationships matter much more than anything else and are reaching out to Forum Leaders as they set out in creating a new future, accepting themselves and others the way they are.
THINKING CUSTOMER BACKWARDS
It was so easy to fall in love with a solution first and back into the problem it solves later. But in a crisis, we need to make fewer mistakes in the choice of the problem, and we do a much better job about picking solutions.
Quick money was not worth the customer’s trust.
SHAPOORJI PALLONJI GROUP
Despite the need for water and pure air being a basic need, they were not listed as ‘essential services’ during the lockdown. Any maintenance or repair of existing devices was not permitted. As the lockdown was extended, the backlog of service requests began to grow.
In all businesses of our group, there has been a realization of the power of digitization and virtual collaboration, and the criticality of a robust IT infrastructure and info-security to enable the same. Business leaders and managers have realized that while there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction in the world of work, there are several benefits of a “blended” model that combines real and virtual collaboration.