There are two writers who have had a really powerful impact on my career, Stephen Covey and Tom Peters. Stephen Covey’s books “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and especially “Principle Centered Leadership” formed my core beliefs about leadership and behaviour in the business world (and real world as well). In the 80s, Tom Peters came out with two books, “In Search of Excellence” and “Thriving on Chaos“. I was working for AT&T in the US when I read the latter and found it so amazing and eye-opening that for many years I gifted the book to everyone that worked for me – it’s career changing. When I first interviewed for my job here in India, I found that my company’s second-in-command also counted “Thriving on Chaos” as his favourite business book – this is not for no reason when working in India I might add. I thought of this and of Tom Peters when I read this article about Indian BPOs.
The article refers to a study (available here) by a European consulting company on doing business in with Indian BPOs. The thing that jumped out at me was this line:
“all the companies surveyed specifically mentioned the tendency of Indian workers to “over commit” (say yes to every request) as a significant cultural issue. “
This is simply disturbing and if we don’t fix it ASAP, the so-called Indian Phenomenon is doomed.
Alas, I have found this same observation to be abundantly true in my time here. Now, coming from the UK where often nothing can be done and nothing can be done about it, it is a stark contrast to hear, “Yes, no problem, I’ll do that”, with such frequency. But experience teaches that performance falls short of expectation too often and either case is bad for business. As a westerner and an adoptive European, I have come to believe that when someone tells me they will do something, they’ll do it. Too often, that just isn’t the case here and the sooner we, working in Indian BPOs, come to grips with this tendency the better off we will be. I think the first step in dealing with this is to admit that the problem exists. Look, it’s like anything else in business, you take a hard look at where you stand, accentuate the things you do well and try to fix your shortfalls. I propose that any Indian BPO that develops a set of business processes and habits that eliminate this trust-killing tendency will dominate their market.
Which brings me back around to Tom Peters who is credited with saying, “The formula for success: under promise, over deliver”. I would maybe add a corollary to that, “Don’t promise anything you aren’t prepared to prove you can do, on the spot”. Relationships, personal and business, are based on trust. I give my business to people and companies that I trust (I’ll talk more about trust in another entry). Trust is built over time and in business it is built between people and organisations that deliver on their promises. If you tell a client that you’ll deliver a project on a particular date before you’ve done your homework, you’re playing with their trust and jeopardising your business. Wanting or hoping to deliver is not enough. Promising a level of service and not hiring staff that are up to the requirement will sink your company. Hoping to get by or make do is not good enough, being optimistic is a curse in this environment. Reputation is everything and trust-breaking is lethal to it.
Let me give another example. My wife injured her knee in a skiing accident just before we were to leave for India. The knee would require surgery and we dithered about whether we should come here with her on crutches and in a leg brace but in the end we did. After getting recommendations on a surgeon and visiting the hospital we’ve scheduled the surgery for next week. But the thing that sealed the deal for us was the trust we have in her surgeon. Now neither one of us are orthopaedic specialists but in meeting her doctor over the course of the last few months we have found him to be cautious about recommending surgery (he told us to wait a few weeks to see if it healed on its own at one point when we were ready to go) and at every step of the way it was clear to us that he was conservative in his approach and not rushing us to act. His description of the prognosis whether we went ahead with surgery or not always had the ring of truth and he was always honest about the recovery period. So next week we put our trust into action and get the operation.
Now in most cases no one’s life or health depends on whether our call centre project delivers on our promises. But people’s businesses do. And people’s jobs do. And people’s reputations do. And this makes a conservative, careful, truthful, realistic approach important. This is the approach we should be taking with our prospects and our customers.