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BW Businessworld

'Nothing Happens In The Business World Without A Process'

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Madan Birla has worked with FedEx for over two decades and brought about several remarkable changes within the organisation. He is now a speaker and a management strategist and has recently written 'Unleashing Creativity and Innovation'. During a recent trip to India, US-based Birla spoke to BW's Sanjitha Rao Chaini about his book, the difference between the corporate scenario in the US and India, and how reaching out to employees and putting them first will boost profits.

Why this book? And how can a CXO benefit from it?
I wrote this book to answer the following questions that I have been asked repeatedly over the last few years.
- How can we sustain enterprise growth in today’s highly competitive global economy?
- How do I unleash my creative potential and enhance my chances for promotion?
- How do we tap into creative potential of each employee and create an innovation culture?
They will learn that day-to-day leadership behaviors, at all levels of the organisation, play a key role in building and sustaining an innovation culture.

How practical is it to apply the concept of 'unleashing creativity' in today's corporate environment? How many leaders are really doing this?
The nine lessons in the book are all practical and supported by in-depth conversations with successful individuals, representing all sectors and professions in the economy. More leaders in the US are applying these lessons than I am seeing in India. The good news is that every CEO I have met in India on this trip is very interested in tapping into his organisation’s creativity to grow the top line.

And what can family run businesses and start-ups learn from your book?
Every enterprise, whether family run or not, operates in a fast-changing higly competitive global economy. And, only way any organisation can grow is if the internal rate of change exceeds the external rate of change. Innovation is not optional.

Some CEOs are reaching out to their employees through e-mails. But what next?
Nothing happens in the business world without a process. They must incorporate processes for actively engaging employees in generating, developing, and implementing creative ideas that enhance customer value. Managers at all levels need to step out of their offices and visit with the professionals in their cubicles to ask, “What could we be doing differently to serve our customers better?”

You have spent 22 years in FedEx in different positions. Tell us about your experiences with founder Fred Smith and management lessons you learnt from best practices at FedEx.
Working with Fred Smith I learned the importance of ‘What-if’, that is, people at all levels generating creative ideas by asking ‘what-if’ questions and the importance of leading by example. I have a story in the book of running into Fred, five years after I left FedEx, and Fred still making it a point of telling me about the difference I made when I was there. The other big lesson was the FedEx’s PSP culture. Put simply, the PSP culture means that FedEx puts its people (employees) first in everything it does, and as a result, FedEx employees put the customer first in everything they do and the profits follow.

You have spent the past few years as a speaker. If you had to choose one major hurdle in 'unleashing creativity' in India's corporate scenario, what would that be?
The biggest hurdle is the gap between management’s need/desire/expectation for a thriving innovation culture and the skill sets, that is, ‘leading for innovation and growth’ at managerial level and ‘generating, gaining acceptance, and implanting creative ideas’ at employees’ level.

Some of the recent authors on leadership who have inspired you...
Lately, I have been focused on innovation and had an opportunity to work with Vijay Govindarajan at Dartmouth and have enjoyed his books on the subject. I have learned a lot from Adam Bryant’s weekly column, ‘Corner Office’ in the Sunday Business section of 'The New York Times'.

What are you reading now?
‘Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin is on my Kindle that comes in handy on long flights to India.

Earlier this year, the family went on a Disney cruise. On vacation, I read fiction and enjoyed, ‘The Garden of Happy Endings’ by Barbara O’Neal In our Sunday school, we just finished reading ‘Joy Peace Pills’ by J.P. Vaswani

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