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Blue Ocean Leadership : Part II of III

The Four Steps of Blue Ocean Leadership

Now let’s walk through how to put blue ocean leadership into practice. It involves four steps:

  1. See your leadership reality.

A common mistake organizations make is to discuss changes in leadership before resolving differences of opinion over what leaders are actually doing. Without a common understanding of where leadership stands and is falling short, a forceful case for change cannot be made.

Achieving this understanding is the objective of the first step. It takes the form of what we call as-is Leadership Canvases, analytic visuals that show just how managers at each level invest their time and effort, as perceived by the customers of their leadership. An organization begins the process by creating a canvas for each of its three management levels.

A team of 12 to 15 senior managers is typically selected to carry out this project. The people chosen should cut across functions and be recognized as good leaders in the company so that the team has immediate credibility. The team is then broken into three smaller sub teams, each focused on one level and charged with interviewing its relevant leadership customers—both bosses and subordinates—and ensuring that a representative number of each are included.

The aim is to uncover how people experience current leadership and to start a companywide conversation about what leaders do and should do at each level. The customers of leaders are asked which acts and activities—good and bad—their leaders spend most of their time on, and which are key to motivation and performance but are neglected by their leaders. Getting at the specifics is important; the asis canvases must be grounded in acts and activities that reflect each level’s specific market reality and performance goals. This involves a certain amount of probing.

At a company we’ll call British Retail Group (BRG), many interviewees commented that middle managers spent much of their time playing politics. The subteam focused on that level pushed for clarification and discovered that two acts principally accounted for this judgment. One was that the leaders tended to divide responsibility among people, which created uncertainty about accountability— and some internal competitiveness. The result was a lot of finger-pointing and the perception that the leaders were playing people against one another. The subteam also found that the leaders spent much of their time in meetings with senior management. This led subordinates to conclude that their leadersnwere more interested in maximizing political “face time” and spinning news than in being present to support them. 1

After four to six weeks of interviews, sub team members come together to create as-is Leadership Profiles by pooling their findings and determining, based on frequency of citation, the dominant leadership acts and activities at each level. To help the sub teams focus on what really matters, we typically ask for no more than 10 to 15 leadership acts and activities per level. These get registered on the horizontal axis of the as-is canvas, and the extent to which leaders do them is registered on the vertical axis. The cap of 10 to 15 prevents the canvas from becoming a statement of everything and nothing.

The result is almost always eye-opening. It’s not uncommon to find that 20% to 40% of the acts and activities of leaders at all three levels provide only questionable value to those above and below them. It’s also not uncommon to find that leaders are under investing in 20% to 40% of the acts and activities that interviewees at their level cite as important.

At BRG, the canvas for senior managers revealed that their customers thought they spent most of their time on essentially middle-management acts and activities, while the canvas of middle managers indicated that they seemed to be absorbed in protecting bureaucratic procedures. Frontline leaders were seen to be focused on trying to keep their bosses happy by doing things like deferring customer queries to them, which satisfied their desire to be in control. When we asked team members to describe each canvas in a tagline, an exercise that’s part of the process, they labeled the frontline Leadership Profile “Please the Boss,” the middle manager profile “Control and Play Safe,” and the senior manager profile “Focus on the Day-to-Day.” (For an example, see the exhibit “What Middle Managers Actually Do.”)

The implications were depressing. The biggest “aha” for the sub teams was that senior managers appeared to have scarcely any time to do the real job of top management—thinking, probing, identifying opportunities on the horizon, and gearing up the organization to capitalize on them. Faced with firsthand, repeated evidence of the shortcomings of leadership practices, the sub teams could not defend the current Leadership Profiles. The canvases made a strong case for change at all three levels; it was clear that people throughout the organization wished for it.

  1. Develop alternative Leadership Profiles.

At this point the sub teams are usually eager to explore what effective Leadership Profiles would look like at each level. To achieve this, they go back to their interviewees with two sets of questions.

The first set is aimed at pinpointing the extent to which each act and activity on the canvas is either a cold spot (absorbing leaders’ time but adding little or no value) or a hot spot (energizing employees and inspiring them to apply their talents, but currently underinvested in by leaders or not addressed at all).

The second set prompts interviewees to think beyond the bounds of the company and focus on effective leadership acts they’ve observed outside the organization, in particular those that could have a strong impact if adopted by internal leaders at their level. Here fresh ideas emerge about what leaders could be doing but aren’t. This is not, however, about benchmarking against corporate icons; employees’ personal experiences are more likely to produce insights. Most of us have come across people in our lives who have had disproportionately positive influence on us. It might be a sports coach, a schoolteacher, a scoutmaster, a grandparent, or a former boss. Whoever those role models are, it’s important to get interviewees to detail which acts and activities they believe would add real value for them if undertaken by their current leaders.


To process the findings from the second round of interviews, the subteams apply an analytic tool we call the Blue Ocean Leadership Grid (see the exhibit by the same name). For each leadership level the interview results get incorporated into this grid. Typically, we start with the cold-spot acts and activities, which go into the Eliminate or Reduce quadrants depending on how negatively interviewees judge them. This energizes the subteams right away, because people immediately perceive the benefits of stopping leaders from doing things that add little or no value. Cutting back on those activities also gives leaders the time and space they need to raise their game. Without that breathing room, a step change in leadership strength would remain largely wishful thinking, given leaders’ already full plates. From the cold spots we move to the hot spots, which go into the Raise quadrant if they involve current acts and activities or Create for those not currently performed at all by leaders.

With this input, the sub teams draft two to four “to-be” canvases for each leadership level. These analytic visuals illustrate Leadership Profiles that can lift individual and organizational performance, and juxtapose them against the as-is leadership profiles. The sub teams produce a range of leadership models, rather than stop at one set of possibilities, to thoroughly explore new leadership space.

  1. Select to-be Leadership Profiles.

After two to three weeks of drawing and redrawing their Leadership Canvases, the sub teams present them at what we call a “leadership fair.” Fair attendees include board members and top, middle, and front line managers.

The event starts with members of the original senior team behind the effort describing the process and presenting the three as-is canvases. With those three visuals, the tea establishes why change is necessary, confirms that comments from interviewees at all levels were taken into account, and sets the context against which the to-be Leadership Profiles can be understood and appreciated. Although the asis canvases often present a sobering reality, as they did at BRG, the Leadership Profiles are shown and discussed only at the aggregate level. That makes individual leaders more open to change, because they feel that everyone is in the same boat.


With the stage set, the sub teams present the tobe profiles, hanging their canvases on the walls so that the audience can easily see them. Typically, the sub team that focused on frontline leaders will go first. After the presentation, the attendees are each given three Post-it notes and told to put one next to their favorite Leadership Profile. And if they find that canvas especially compelling, they can put up to three Post-its on it.

After all the votes are in, the company’s senior executives probe the attendees about why they voted as they did. The same process is then repeated for the two other leadership levels. (We find it easier to deal with each level separately and sequentially, and that doing so increases voters’ recall of the discussion.)

After about four hours everyone in attendance has a clear picture of the current Leadership Profile of each level, the completed Blue Ocean Leadership Grids, and a selection of to-be Leadership Profiles that could create a significant change in leadership performance. Armed with this information and the votes and comments of attendees, the top managers convene outside the fair room and decide which to-be Leadership Profile to move forward on at each level. Then they return and explain their decisions to the fair’s participants.

At BRG, more than 125 people voted on the profiles, and fair attendees greeted the three that were selected with enthusiasm. The tagline for frontline leaders’ to-be profile (opposite page) was “Cut Through the Crap.” (Sadly, this was later refined to “Cut Through to Serve Customers.”) In this profile, frontline leaders did not defer the vast majority of customer queries to middle management and spent less time jumping through procedural hoops. Their time was directed to training frontline personnel to deliver on company promises on the spot, resolve customer problems, quickly help customers in distress, and make meaningful cross-sales—leadership acts and activities that fired up the frontline workers, were sure to excite customers, and would have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line

“Liberate, Coach, and Empower” was the tagline for middle management’s to-be profile (above). Here leaders’ time and attention shifted from controlling to supporting employees. This involved eliminating and reducing a range of oversight activities—such as requiring weekly reports on customer calls received and funds spent on office supplies—that sapped peo-knowple’s energy and kept frontline leaders at their desks. The profile also included new actions aimed at managing, disseminating, and integrating the knowledge of frontline leaders and their staff. In practical terms, this meant spending much more time providing face-to-face coaching and feedback.


The tagline for the to-be profile of senior management (above) was “Delegate and Chart the Company’s Future.” With the acts and activities of front line and middle managers reset, senior managers would be freed up to devote a significant portion of their time to thinking about the big picture—the changes in the industry and their implications for strategy and the organization. They would spend less time putting out fires

The board members who attended the leadership fair felt strongly that the to-be Leadership Profiles supported the interests of customers as well as shareholders’ profit and growth objectives. The frontline leaders were energized and ready to charge ahead. Senior managers went from feeling towed under the waves by all the middle-management duties they had to coordinate and attend to, to feeling as if they could finally get their heads above water and see the beauty of the ocean they had to chart.

The trickiest to-be Leadership Profile was middle management’s. Letting go of control and empowering the people below them can be tough for folks in this organizational tier. But the to-be Leadership Profiles of both frontline and senior management helped clear the path to change at this level.

  1. Institutionalize new leadership practices.

After the fair is over, the original sub team members communicate the results to the people they interviewed who were not at the fair.

Organizations then distribute the agreed-on tobe profiles to the leaders at each level. The sub team members hold meetings with leaders to walk them through their canvases, explaining what should be eliminated, reduced, raised, and created. This step reinforces the buy-in that the initiative has been building by briefing leaders throughout the organization on key findings at each step of the process and tapping many of them for input. And because every leader is in effect the buyer of another level of leadership, all managers will be working to change, knowple’s ing that their bosses will be doing the same thing on the basis of input they directly provided.

The leaders are then charged with passing the message along to their direct reports and explaining to them how the new Leadership Profiles will allow them to be more effective. To keep the new profiles top of mind, the to-be canvases are pinned up prominently in the offices of both the leaders and their reports. Leaders are tasked with holding regular Monthly meetings at which they gather their direct reports’ feedback on how well they’re making the transition to the new profiles. All comments must be illustrated with specific examples. Has the leader cut back on the acts and activities that were to be eliminated and reduced in the new Leadership Profile? If yes, how? If not, in what instances was she still engaging in them? Likewise, is she focusing more on what does add value and doing the new activities in her profile? Though the meetings can be unnerving at first—both for employees who have to critique the boss and for the bosses whose actions are being exposed to scrutiny—it doesn’t take long before a team spirit and mutual respect take hold, as all people see how the changes in leadership are positively influencing their performance.

Through the changes highlighted by the to-be profiles, BRG was able to deepen its leadership strength and achieve high impact at lower cost. Consider the results produced just at the frontline level: Turnover of BRG’s 10,000-plus frontline employees dropped from about 40% to 11% in the first year, reducing both recruitment and training costs by some 50%. The total savings, including those from decreased absenteeism, amounted to more than $50 million that year. On top of that, BRG’s customer satisfaction scores climbed by over 30%, and leaders at all levels reported feeling less stressed, more Energized by their ability to act, and more confident that they were making a greater contribution to the company, customers, and their own personal development.

Keep watching this space to read Part III of this subject.

Acknowledgement: By Chan Kim, Renee Mauborgne

This article was published in Harvard Business Review May 2014

P.S. If your leaders and colleagues are also interested in this subject, do them a favor and share this link. They may thank you for your concern and initiative.

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Blue Ocean Leadership : Part I of III

What’s the reason for the widespread employee disengagement? According to Gallup, poor leadership is a key cause.

Blue Ocean Leadership

Most executives—not just those in America—recognize that one of their biggest challenges is closing the vast gulf between the potential and the realized talent and energy of the people they lead. As one CEO put it, “We have a large workforce that has an appetite to do a good job up and down the ranks. If we can transform them—tap into them through effective leadership—there will be an awful lot of people out there doing an awful lot of good.”

Of course, managers don’t intend to be poor leaders. The problem is that they lack a clear understanding of just what changes it would take to bring out the best in everyone and achieve high impact. We believe that leaders can obtain this understanding through an approach we call “blue ocean leadership.” It draws on our research on blue ocean strategy, our model for creating new market space by converting noncustomers into customers, and applies its concepts and analytic frameworks to help leaders release the blue ocean of unexploited talent and energy in their organizations—rapidly and at low cost.

The underlying insight is that leadership, in essence, can be thought of as a service that people in an organization “buy” or “don’t buy.” Every leader in that sense has customers: the bosses to whom the leader must deliver performance, and the followers who need the leader’s guidance and support to achieve. When people value your leadership practices, they in effect buy your leadership. They’re inspired to excel and act with commitment. But when employees don’t buy your leadership, they disengage, becoming noncustomers of your leadership. Once we started thinking about leadership in this way, we began to see that the concepts and frameworks we were developing to create new demand by converting noncustomers into customers could be adapted to help leaders convert disengaged employees into engaged ones.

Over the past 10 years we and Gavin Fraser, a Blue Ocean Strategy Network expert, have interviewed hundreds of people in organizations to understand where leadership was falling short and how it could be transformed while conserving leaders’ most precious resource: time. In this article we present the results of our research.

Key Differences from Conventional Leadership Approaches

Blue ocean leadership rapidly brings about a step change in leadership strength. It’s distinct from traditional leadership development approaches in several overarching ways. Here are the three most salient:

Focus on acts and activities. Over many years a great deal of research has generated insights into the values, qualities, and behavioral styles that make for good leadership, and these have formed the basis of development programs and executive coaching. The implicit assumption is that change in values, qualities, and behavioral styles ultimately translate into high performance.

But when people look back on these programs, many struggle to find evidence of notable change. As one executive put it, “Without years of dedicated efforts, how can you transform a person’s character or behavioral traits? And can you really measure and assess whether leaders are embracing and internalizing these personal traits and styles? In theory, yes, but in reality it’s hard at best.”

Blue ocean leadership, by contrast, focuses on what acts and activities leaders need to undertake to boost their teams’ motivation and business results, not on who leaders need to be. This difference in emphasis is important. It is markedly easier to change people’s acts and activities than their values, qualities, and behavioral traits. Of course, altering a leader’s activities is not a complete solution, and having the right values, qualities, and behavioral traits matters. But activities are something that any individual can change, given the right feedback and guidance.

Connect closely to market realities. Traditional leadership development programs tend to be quite generic and are often detached from what firms stand for in the eyes of customers and from the market results people are expected to achieve. In contrast, under blue ocean leadership, the people who face market realities are asked for their direct input on how their leaders hold them back and what those leaders could do to help them best serve customers and other key stakeholders. And when people are engaged in defining the leadership practices that will enable them to thrive, and those practices are connected to the market realities against which they need to perform, they’re highly motivated to create the best possible profile for leaders and to make the new solutions work. Their willing cooperation maximizes the acceptance of new profiles for leadership while minimizing implementation costs

Distribute leadership across all management levels. Most leadership programs focus on executives and their potential for impact now and in the future. But the key to a successful organization is having empowered leaders at every level, because outstanding organizational performance often comes down to the motivation and actions of middle and frontline leaders, who are in closer contact with the market. As one senior executive put it, “The truth is that we, the top management, are not in the field to fully appreciate the middle and frontline actions. We need effective leaders at every level to maximize corporate performance.”

Blue ocean leadership is designed to be applied across the three distinct management levels: top, middle, and frontline. It calls for profiles for leaders that are tailored to the very different tasks, degrees of power, and environments you find at each level. Extending leadership capabilities deep into the front line unleashes the latent talent and drive of a critical mass of employees, and creating strong distributed leadership significantly enhances performance across the organization.

Keep watching this space to read Part II & III of this subject.

Acknowledgement: By Chan Kim, Renee Mauborgne

This article was published in Harvard Business Review May 2014

P.S. If your leaders and colleagues are also interested in this subject, do them a favor and share this link. They may thank you for your concern and initiative.

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Managing Change, One Day at a Time: To change culture Change habits

At a client’s off-site meeting a few years ago, I gave a talk on how companies can bring about dramatic cultural change—the focus of my firm’s consulting work. At the end, a man quietly approached and asked, “Are you a friend of Bill’s?” Seeing my confused expression, he attempted a clarification: “Are you a friend of Bill W’s?” “Who’s Bill W?” said. The man explained that Bill Wil on was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and that members use the question “Are you a friend of Bill’s?” to discreetly inquire about whether acquaintances are in AA. “I’m not,” I replied. “Why do you ask?” He said that the methods I’d described to lead change reminded him of the methods AA uses to help people stop drinking—so much so that he’d wondered if I was a 12-stepper myself. I thought it was an interesting exchange but gave it no further thought at the time.

Managing Change, One Day at a Time

Soon afterward a senior executive at another client told me that the process we’d used to coach his team had inspired him to confront his alcohol abuse—even though we hadn’t, of course, discussed addiction during the coaching. This made me curious. So over the past several years, my team and I studied a variety of addiction treatment programs. We examined the methods and success rates of traditional 12- step programs along with less conventional techniques, from the regimen depicted on the TV show The Biggest Loser to therapies for troubled youth and training protocols for orca whales. We approached the endeavor with skepticism—on the surface, change management and addiction treatment seem wholly dissimilar. Over time, however, we saw many parallels between how the two bodies of work leverage human nature to modify behavior. In the process, we discovered a provocative lens and language to help change managers better understand their mission and methods.

At the simplest level, the comparison is this: Organizations can’t change their culture unless individual employees change their behavior—and changing behavior is hard. Many change programs focus on providing strategies, technologies, and training. But often that’s not enough. When it comes to modifying deeply ingrained behavior, 12-step programs have a superior track record. They use incentives, celebration, peer pressure, coaching to adopt new habits, negative reinforcement, and role models—things organizations can draw on.

Analogies are never perfect, and there are clearly points where the comparison doesn’t hold. For instance, AA relies heavily on spirituality, asking participants to put their faith in a higher power and to declare themselves powerless—sentiments that are generally not appropriate for driving corporate change. Still, in our work with clients including eBay, Dow Chemical, Accenture, AOL, and Lincoln Financial, we have found the comparison useful. Even people who have never attended a 12-step program know some of the basics from pop culture portrayals; making the similarities to corporate change explicit, as in the insights below, can help them understand the challenges of changing an organization’s culture and how to overcome them.

Nothing happens without a readiness to change. John Kotter, the preeminent change management expert, has written: “People don’t change a minute before they’re ready.” In the AA canon, “hitting rock bottom” is often the catalyst, but for companies, change readiness doesn’t require failure. Sometimes a leader’s admission of vulnerability helps others recognize and address their failings (think of the sharing done in AA meetings). You can’t force people to change—you can only help them want to. AA’s process recognizes this truth; few managers do.

KMS - Managing change

It’s important to replace old habits with new ones. Many former smokers chew gum or toothpicks. AA serves coffee to give attendees a beverage in place of the ones they’ve given up. In change management, the goal is to replace negative habits with positive ones. At one restaurant chain, store managers used to begin the day by going over the numbers from the previous shift. Although analyzing numbers isn’t inherently bad, it is an isolating behavior, usually done in an office with the door closed—and data alone often don’t explain why sales went up or down. So we helped managers start the day with a different routine: talking with crew members to learn whether anything unusual had happened on the previous shift and only then going through the numbers. This increased managers’ understanding of business conditions and boosted employee engagement— and sales rose.

Peer support and pressure drive change. One of the best ways to change human behavior is to gather people with similar problems together. This was first recognized in 1905 by the Boston physician Joseph Pratt, who organized groups for tuberculosis patients that emphasized the need for rest, fresh air, and proper nutrition. Over the past century research has shown that support groups benefit people with a wide range of medical and psychological conditions. In our work we find that bringing employees together in peer groups to discuss change initiatives can create accountability, mutual generosity, a judgment-free attitude, and increased pressure on reluctant employees to change.

Sponsorship deepens commitment and sparks results. AA pairs experienced members, or sponsors, with newcomers for one-on-one support; research has shown that these role model relationships increase both parties’ ability to stay sober. The corporate version, called peer coaching or mentorship, has been widely embraced: For example, 70% of Fortune 500 companies use it with their salespeople. We find that identifying and celebrating early adopters of the behaviors a company wants to instill can create positive contagion. Pairing these role models with slower-to-adopt colleagues can be far more effective than coaching by outside experts.

Community without hierarchy is a catalyst for change. AA is famous for its organizational structure, in which local groups are self-directed. Addiction specialists sometimes raise concerns that groups without therapists or other formal leaders lack professionalism, but research has shown that this structure increases members’ security, comfort, and sense of mutuality in the relationships they form. Corporations will always require a hierarchy, but peer role models can successfully lead projects within a change initiative.

You are the company you keep. Studies have shown that people with a close friend or relative who drinks heavily are 50% likelier to be heavy drinkers themselves. That is why AA discourages members from associating with their old drinking pals. Similarly, having an obese friend increases one’s own chances of becoming obese, and a person’s income can be estimated by averaging the income of his or her five closest friends. This knowledge can guide change managers, who should evaluate the ROI of helping particular employees to change in light of those employees’ potential to get others to follow suit. In our work we strive early on to identify influential employees; this can be as simple as asking workers which of their colleagues are informal leaders. Often it’s possible to leverage this influence in subtle ways: For example, by changing where employees sit, you can seed influentials throughout the organization.

Continuous introspection is key. Early on in the AA program, members examine their past behavior and start trying to change. AA talks about continuously taking a moral inventory; we see this in effective corporate change initiatives as well. In the wake of the global financial crisis and General Motors’s bankruptcy filing, for example, the company practiced that kind of deep introspection, found its behavior wanting, and drew on its experience in total quality management to improve its relationships with dealers. Before the crisis, GM had managed those relationships by relying heavily on checklists, specifications, and mandated actions. Now it promised and demonstrated a new focus on listening and collaboratively solving problems as a trusted adviser to its dealers (who are, in the industry’s model of franchised dealerships, part of its customer base), and it achieved better solutions and increased buy-in. The new approach is proving helpful as the company deals with recent recalls.

Changes in practice may represent breakthroughs. In the AA program, a profound transformation occurs when a participant shifts from an emotional framework of guilt, shame, remorse, and resentment toward a more positive, optimistic mind-set. But “mind-set” is hard to measure, and minds are hard to change; therefore, in our work we focus on identifiable shifts in practice. We coach new practices or habits that emphasize growth rather than cost-cutting, for example, or that grow profitability rather than revenue. When you spot such a shift, celebrate it; it’s an important marker of progress.

It pays to acknowledge small wins. AA doesn’t ask members never to drink again—that goal would probably seem unreachable. It asks them not to drink that day, and it recognizes small milestones by awarding “sobriety coins,” usually monthly, for periods of abstinence. Change managers should take a lesson from this practice and find ways for employees to demonstrate and celebrate incremental achievements. One of the biggest reasons corporate transformations fall short, according to Kotter, is that managers fail to “systematically plan for, and create, short-term wins.”

The goal is progress, not perfection. Ninety percent of recovering alcoholics relapse at some point. That’s hardly surprising: The newly sober are bombarded with sensory cues that their brains associate with their addiction—the smell of beer, the sound of glasses clinking in a toast. In organizations, too, change doesn’t always follow a straight line. However, this is an area where we diverge from many 12-step programs: Unlike AA, which takes away all a member’s sobriety coins as penalty for any relapse, we coach people to overcome setbacks and move forward to the next win. Celebrating the reversal of a relapse can help desired behaviors regain momentum.

CHANGE IS HARD—particularly when the situation involves chemicals the body craves. Neuroscience has shown that people’s emotional responses to work create their own chemical reactions, releasing powerful neurotransmitters such as adrenalin, dopamine, and serotonin. Successful change can be addictive in a positive way. No matter how habituated employees are to established business practices, they can adapt to new ways of working.

 Acknowledgement: Keith Ferrazzi

This article was published in Harvard Business Review

P.S. If your leaders and colleagues are also interested in this subject, do them a favor and share this link. They may thank you for your concern and initiative.

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Why Reading Should be Embedded in a Country’s Culture

It is in times like these when one goes back to the drawing board and takes a look at the basics—such as reading. Something that we do naturally, as you are doing now. Skilled readers will zip through this article in a jiffy, quickly absorbing the idea, making a note of the embedded model, and some of them may even make a note of what they can use in the future. Each of us takes away something different that is ultimately of economic value to the reader, their organisation—or even of value to the writer here.


Those who can’t read, cannot participate in this economic exercise. Those who cannot read are excluded due to their inability to join in the deal flow. They are denied a degree of economic freedom because they cannot enter this space. In a way, even having this conversation about them feels wrong—it is like talking behind their backs. They are the disinter-mediated, voiceless in their own narrative. They cannot know what is being written about them, nor can they correct any mistakes. And this is wrong. Reading is a skill that is essential to people’s well-being, health, hygiene, negotiations and economic growth. The number of people who cannot read is shocking.

The UNESCO in a 2012 report found that 774 million people worldwide, including 123 million youth, could not read or write. Even those at school are lagging behind in reading age relative to their chronological age. UNESCO’s ‘Education For All Report’ puts the number of functionally illiterate children in primary schools at 250 million. They will always remain behind others unless they are able to step up and read for comprehension, analysis and building better arguments. Without strong reading skills they will continue to operate sub-optimally. While observers of communication do speak of this brave new world that is beyond scripts, it remains to be seen if it can be of any economic use. People with smartphones do communicate in emoticons, videos, recordings and more—they tend to use little language, and very little of what is considered traditional reading skills. Yet, these are social applications, not work. And people do manage to navigate smartphones with low levels of literacy. They are used to store phone numbers, to access the internet, to download ringtones and other multimedia stuff. Not efficiently, but sufficiently. Maybe it is time to take another look at our definitions of functional reading. Much has been invested in reading over the past decades both by  government and non-government sectors. Pedagogues continue to evolve—the world has gone to phonics and back, has dabbled in late-learning, and much more. Teachers struggle with large groups and do well with teaching assistants, others work on buddy systems that help slow learners, while many innovate to create games and activities that will encourage their students to read. More than other learning outcomes, reading is clearly correlated with parental education levels. Children whose parents are well-read find the resources and the space to read more and are therefore more competent readers. At the same time, students with excellent teachers and open access to good public libraries tend to match achievement levels.

How do you help people read?

Better incentives: Reading is a skill that is supposed to be developed in the early years of life when there is little incentive to read. In many rural communities, reading is not a part daily routines and there is very little to show that reading leads to a better life. The current system has little provision for those who drop out of reading and learning institutions early on—they are doomed to remain semi-literate unless there is an intervention. The sooner children learn to read, the better it is—but children need incentives. This is a call for innovative ways to encourage reading till it becomes a habit, or even an addiction. Support and community engagement always improves reading levels. Even illiterate parents who watch over and support their children reading are able to improve learning levels dramatically. Community support for reading could include neighbourhood reading sessions, shared tutors, libraries and other shared resources, and even peer pressure. When reading becomes embedded in the culture of a community, competencies follow.

Net the outliers: There will always be some loss from the reading cohort and an active effort needs to be made to bring these outliers back into the reading fold. Once the outliers step away, the effort is far greater both for the individual and group to help them catch up with their cohort. The outliers may need alternative pedagogues to keep them interested in reading till they reach self-sustaining competence levels. This may include adult literacy sessions, parent and child reading groups and other models that take individuals to self sufficiency. They say that it takes a village to bring up a child. It may not be that different for reading —it may actually take a network of specialists to bring about a reading revolution that is the first step to an inclusive society. The Read Alliance is one such initiative to bring together a community of participants in the reading space. Others such as  Room to Read work with government schools and enable libraries. A large chunk of the work towards reading has been done by Pratham Books  in India, taking off from where the National Book Trust left off—both are making excellent books for children at reasonable prices. The NBT Books and the Pratham Books style and distribution models are different, yet both carry a serious commitment to reading. Katha too invests in stories and has extended their model to schools where children go through a stepped process to achieve independent reading levels via stories. There are may others investing in reading either directly or indirectly. And there are many innovations that need to be captured and replicated. These efforts are among the prominent ones; there are myriad smaller ones that exist and improving reading levels bit by bit. Yet, year on year, we see reports of slippages in reading levels in India. It may be time to raise the game and bring about a reading revolution. This cannot just be a private sector effort, as the Read Alliance is; nor can it just be a government initiative such as the Year of Mathematics a couple of years ago. It is time for these silos to be broken to be able to catalyse the networks and make use of synergies. It is time for micro entrepreneurs to partner with the majors in order to help everyone attain the dignity of participation through reading. Let us fix the basics first. Or there will be too many left behind.

Acknowledgement: Meeta Sengupta

This article was published in Forbes india

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Kaizen® in Pharmaceuticals

On one hand Indian Pharma industry is rapidly achieving a distinctive position in the global pharma space and on other hand domestic market is full of challenges like Volatility, Uncertainty, Complex & Ambiguous market, Increased competition, Quality, etc. So the big question is how a forward looking pharma company can achieve Operational Excellence. How Indian Pharma is paying the price for Jugaad in Quality control?


Over the last decade many progressive organizations have started adopting Lean/Kaizen® to improve their efficiency and have realized benefits in their operations but still many organizations needs to think about Operational Excellence as they are still not ready to embrace operations improvement initiatives due to lack of lack of proactive approach in understanding the challenges, multiple initiatives running at the same time & inadequate leadership focus & vision.

Indian pharma industry needs to move towards operational excellence to predict and prevent shortcomings in production practices. This would be the only way to ensure operational excellence which is the ultimate strategy for regulatory compliance. The Indian pharma is focused on delivering high quality drugs to patients but with a limited understanding of the processes.  Now there is need to rework on the rejects and decline the variability of drug contents.  There is need to move away from mere blind compliance, said AG Raghu, technical director, Gland Chemicals Pvt. Ltd.  (Source: www.pharmabiz.com)

We have noticed that Lean thinking, Kaizen philosophy, tools and techniques have brought about significant benefits to a large number of companies in a wide array of industry sectors across the world; and their success is well documented.

In the challenging and demanding environment of pharmaceutical industry where process control and process reliability play an immensely critical role, Kaizen implementation could be greatly beneficial in delivering a competitive edge to an organization. Gaining a thorough understanding of every process and striving to improve every process continuously is a fundamental tenet of Kaizen thinking.


Pharmaceuticals industry requires a paradigm shift to deal with the challenges

Our experience in different pharmaceuticals companies worldwide has demonstrated a clear correlation between lean implementation and overall business performance. there is a clear need to increase capacity while reducing operating costs to stay competitive in the market sector.

  • Processes not robust and reliable
  • Low first-pass-yield or first-time-right quality
  • Sub-optimal equipment performance – low Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)
  • High changeover times
  • Long production lead times
  • Changing customer demand leading to high inventories
  • Daily firefighting at production lines; and not enough time to focus of systematic improvement efforts

Opportunities –

In our experience in working with a number of pharmaceutical companies worldwide, we have seen organizations gain a sustained long-term performance advantage through –

  • Creating Robust process design and built-in quality
  • Implementing SMED to reduce changeover times and maintain small batch sizes
  • Initiating Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) to improve equipment performance
  • Employing ‘Pull Production’ and ‘Just-In-Time Production & Logistics’ to reduce throughput times and inventories
  • Engaging people in daily problem-solving leading to a culture of continuous improvement in the organization




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Kaizen®: Current perceptions in the industry

It is important to understand the entire scheme of span of Kaizen®. There is a misconception in the industry as to what kaizen truly means. Is kaizen small improvements made by anybody, anywhere in the organization? Is it improvement activity taken up in spare time or is it a suggestion scheme for shop floor employees.

Over the years the world has come to symbolize different things to different people. A common theme however is disparate improvements made occasionally here and there in the organization.

Figure 1 Kaizen® Strategy “Model”

Kaizen Flag


In essence a scheme introduced by management to keep people motivated and to make point level improvements with little apex direction of focus.

Plunging a little deeper – is Kaizen® any longer optional for any enterprise?

To answer this question, let’s look at the three stakeholder central to any organization.

In the first place organizations – commercial or non-commercials – exist only as long as they have customers for their products or services. Secondly, they must meet the objectives that management/shareholders/trustees set out of the organization along its purpose line. And thirdly, the organization must necessarily fulfill the aspirations of its employees, the people who deliver against customer’s expectations and organizational goals.

The need for customer focus:

How many organizations from the 1960’s are still around today? Of those that are, what ensure their survival? Clearly dynamics at the market place have changed dramatically over the decades. No longer our business operating in a “monopolistic” or “supply” context. Technical know-how to deliver quality products and services is now extensively available. Today, companies that are winning at the marketplace are ones who in the first place, make continuous efforts to understandcustomers’ needs and what customer value in the product or service. Secondly, these companies have quality assured processes and systems that translate customer insight with integrity through their product innovation cycles and supply chain. Having said this, with a number of quality options now available at the market place – and smarter customers – purchase choices are increasingly being made after evaluation of overall value for money spent.

Thus, the challenge for enterprises has moved in recent times from marketing a quality product to marketing and delivering quality product at the lowest possible cost. In light of the above, is Kaizen® an option for any enterprise or necessary even to just stay in the game?

The need for continuously improving being clear, one often hears management debating priorities: Customer first or Employee first? The question itself is in error and best left alone. In truth, “demands” of all three stakeholders must be addressed in the continuous improvement journey.

Customer looks for On Time, In Full and Error Free delivery of a product or service and expects quick resolution of complaints. Shareholder/Management focus is primarily on gaining market share, improving margins and ensuring healthy cash flow. Employees, on the other hand, are seeking to be part of an enterprise that provides challenging work, a supportive organizational climate and opportunities for learning and personal growth.

What distinguishes Kaizen® approach from other improvement practices?

True Kaizen® is focused improvements and directed by the organizations understanding of customer requirements. The essential idea being to take up projects of strategic importance from a customer perspective and conduct problem solving in PDCA – SDCA cycle to ensure improvements are sustained. When this is the aimed and practiced by Everybody, Everyday and Everywhere in the organization, results that management and employees seek are a natural outcome (reduced costs, improved team work, etc).

Key to the Kaizen® approach is a fundamental knowing that waste is intrinsic in organizational processes.

Figure 2 illustrates this aspect.


From a customer perspective, activities in the organization, he would be willing to pay for are ones that add value efficiently to inputs in the direction of the promised output.

Figure 3 Long term company value

KMS - newa


Studies show that, for most organizations starting out on a Kaizen® journey, Value Adding activities (VA) are normally < 5% of total. A full 95% are Non-Value Adding activities (NVAs). Of the latter, it is estimated that some 35% are essential NVAs and that up to a whole 60% are completely wasteful. Some examples of waste in the manufacturing context are: waiting, re-work, over-production, inventory, motion, and transportation and over-processing.

The Kaizen® methodology

It is important to integrate the building blocks of Kaizen®, which are the cross functional Kaizen® workshops, Value Stream Kaizen® and development of Kaizen® model at a global level and integrating it with business needs. In starting out on a Kaizen® journey, the recommended approach in operations is to have cross functional team conduct an end-to-end Value Stream Mapping (VSM) exercise for the specific product/service family in which improvement is sought from both a customer & management perspective. The purpose of the VSM exercise is to make “wastes” in the end-to-end processes visible. Once this is done, the appropriate problem solving tool from the Kaizen® toolbox is deployed to move from the current to the future state.

Kaizen Change Management:

Managing operational transformation in the Kaizen® way requires systematic and structured approach. This is embodied in the Kaizen® Management System (KMS). Central to this is a Kaizen® strategy that the organization needs to develop within its specific context. The over-arching aim of this strategy is to optimize delivery to customers while delivering financial benefits to shareholders/management. Delivering world-class performance to customers requires improvement first of one’s own processes via the appropriate Kaizen® toolbox before extending the approach to supplier and distributors. Integral to this work is development of people and establishment of Kaizen® Promotion infrastructure to manage and sustain change.

So, in closing it is clear that one cannot only promote Kaizen® to the front liners; the top most managers must also engage it! Maybe of a different kind and via different approach but if they do it and are send seen doing it, the front liners feel, encouraged & supportive. In the words of Mr. Masaaki Imai, world-class is a journey, not a destination. He says the goal is Every day, Everyone, Everywhere Kaizen®. In many organizations it is someday, someone and somewhere Kaizen. This has to change!

All the very best!


Jayanth Murthy – Director, Kaizen Institute India

Vijay Pandey – Associate Director, Kaizen Institute India

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Kaizen Institute Africa Now Announces

Kaizen® Week

Kaizen week focuses on Practial Learning modules to become Faster, Better & Cost Efficient. Kaizen College (Executive Education & Training arm of Kaizen Institute) brings the Kaizen® week with the sole objective of  Continual Learning and Continual Improvement.

Click here to know more or register.

Kaizen Week


Kaizen® Tour

Kaizen Institute’s Kaizen® Tour is an integral part of  continuous improvement journey for any organization committed to excellence and sustaining it. Join participants from around the African region on Kaizen Tour, visiting world class companies in Japan.

Click here to know more or register.