The King’s Yatra

yatraPublished on 31st July, 2015, in the Economic Times

In many places across India, the deity is located deep inside a room located right at the middle of a vast temple complex. Often, foreigners and until recently, members of the ‘lower’ castes, did not have access to see the deity. So once in a year, the deity travelled out on his grand chariot or palanquin and paid a visit to every street in the city, ensuring even those excluded could see him. Since priests would not let the devotees see the deity inside his grand residence, the deity had to step out to check out the living conditions of his devotees. The ‘field trip’ is something akin to that. When a CEO or manager or a director actually travels to see the grand reality of the market, which is invariably different from what is revealed in excel sheets and power point presentations in the comfort of the boardroom.

If the temple priests – or middle management – is powerful, they will ensure that the king’s route is known in advance and a cleanup job is done before the arrival of the deity, so that the deity only sees shops full of shops and distributors who have no complaint about payment cycles. However, if the temple priests are weak, then the devotees will exaggerate their problems so much that the every following excel sheet and power point presentation will appear as propaganda.

If the CEO is a one who believes in team work, he will listen to what the devotees have to say and check if the market reality matches the market research and where the lacunae is. He will be careful not to turn a single anecdote into a consumer insight. If a CEO is manipulative, he will turn the ‘temple priests’ into oppressors and himself as the savior. So he will tell the sales people how they are the real workers and motivate them by publicly abusing the middle management who sits in air-conditioned offices while they walk the streets. He will not challenge the numbers they show. He will motivate them and so become the ‘good cop’ while the middle management turns into ‘bad cop’, creating adequate tension to get the numbers the CEO desires for his bonus.

The most important field trip is one in which a new CEO establishes himself as leader. It usually takes place within a month of his joining, when actually travels from department to department, market to market, some major, some minor, some in crisis, and some in success. It’s the time when he presents himself to people and they make their first impression of him. A critical impression. It is the time when they realize whether they can have direct access to him, openly or covertly, or only via temple priests. Is he genuinely interested in knowing what actually happens in the field or he works through excel sheets?

In a world where companies are growing larger and larger, customers and markets are becoming numbers in a excel sheet. As we are becoming more and more technological, processes are becoming so important that somewhere along the line people are no longer important. The only people who matter are the customers, who sign the deal. Conversations with customers take precedence over conversations with partners and employees. A good field trip ensures a more holistic journey across the ‘corporate caste hierarchy’. Yes customers need to be met. They will come to your temple. But there are many who are not allowed into your temple. Will you travel and ensure you meet them?