Friday, May 23, 2008


I mean multi-tasking! Actually, the issue had been hitting me since many days, since I saw my teenage nephew multi-tasking like mad on an everyday basis; as I really hate it when, while talking to me, he takes out just one earpiece [of his iWhatever], keeping the other in at full blast, at the same time mumbling away half words that he’s “givin’ me full attention!” Didn’t I say thoroughly inefficient? I knew that with statistical research, I would be able to convince my nephew not to multi-task ever! Well, the famed Ram Charan (Fortune magazine’s favourite management guru) had told me during a lunch last year that “mastery of the subject” one is practising is its own reward. Obviously, you can’t do that if you multi-task, can you?! I was sure the world’s greatest CEOs focus on “mastery” of the subject than on multi-tasking, and decided to do a quick review of what really works for the world’s most specialised leader, Bill Gates! More so as he’s kind of an icon for my nephew...

It was personally shocking for me when I read the NHS Report of the world famous Institute for Innovation and Improvement, which profiled Gates and reported that “Gates is the original multi-tasking man...” In fact, Gates’ belief in multi-tasking is so supreme that “once, Gates hung a map of Africa in his garage, so he could have something to occupy his mind for the precious seconds spent turning on the engine of his Porsche.” Time magazine reported in an inside story on Bill Gates that when Gates was in the sixth grade, due to his behaviour, “his parents decided he needed counselling!” After one year of counselling sessions and a plethora of tests, the psychological counsellor reached his conclusion. He told Gates’ mother, “Mary, you’re going to lose. You had better just adjust to him!” That he can eat food with both hands (in fact, he’s ambidextrous) was something I learnt much later after getting to know that experts describe him to be a master of “parallel processing” and, uhh, “multi-tasking.”

The noted Dr. Louis Csoka’s pathbreaking research (International Communications Research, Dec 2006) shows how great multi-taskers – people who handle more than one job, one designation, one profile at a time – are not only more educated than non-multi-taskers (78% more), but also are better paid (a whopping 200% more)! The benchmark IMF research paper (Enterprise Restructuring and Work Organisation) proves with conclusive findings that world-class organisations of today are slimmer and have an increased number of multi-skilled workforces where, “workers have to be able to handle a multiplicity of tasks and be very flexible.” Dr. Levenson (University of Southern California), Dr. Gibbs (Chicago Graduate School of Business) and Professor Zoghi (Bureau of Labour Statistics) moved the management world three years back when, in their world beating research (Why Are Jobs Designed The Way They Are?), they provided definitive quantitative evidence from the world’s largest and best performing organisations that its ‘multi-tasking’ instead of ‘specialisation’ that “leads to greater productivity.” Dr. Jaime Ortega in a Centre for Labour Market sponsored research, statistically showed that for increased profits, it’s ‘job rotation’ rather than ‘specialisation’ that should be followed!

My arguments against multi-tasking were growing thinner by the minute. That’s when I called up my professor from b-school to take his help. He asked me just one question: “What’s common between top CEOs like Paul Wilbur, Thomas Wright, Carlos Ghosn, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Larry G. Stambaugh and a host of others?” I didn’t even wish to answer a losing question. Forget multi-tasking at a job level, these world beaters serve as CEOs in two companies at the same time! While few know that Jobs is the single largest shareholder of Disney (apart from being the CEO of Pixar – now with Disney – and Apple together) or that Google’s Larry Page is a top board member at Apple, fewer perhaps know that Carlos Ghosn is the CEO of both Nissan (Japan) and Renault (France), spending half of the week in one country, and half in the other. I was shattered further when my professor shared that there perhaps was no better a multi-tasker than Ram Charan himself, who runs the boards of three global companies (Tyco, Austin Industries and Biogenex) at the same time! These days, every time my nephew saunters across my home sniggering away at me, my blood boils, but there’s little I can do... And yes, for the sake of mentioning, if the only place you think you can multi-task is talking on the cell phone while driving, forget it! I’ve tried it! Not got arrested; but fines have burnt emotional holes larger than my nephew’s smirks!


Friday, May 9, 2008


I’ll be honest! This editorial is simply going to be a shameless eulogy of two of the corporate world’s greatest management leaders. The first stalwart is perhaps the first one in the world to demand that ‘firing’ be termed as a formal corporate strategy! Fortune magazine nicknamed him “America’s Toughest Boss.” This apart from him additionally winning Fortune’s “Manager of the Century” title for four years in succession (1998 till 2001) and the Financial Times award of being the “World’s Most Respected Business Leader!”

When people asked him his number one management rule, he said that throughout his forty years with his company, he followed the 20-70-10 philosophy! He broke up his employees into the best performing ones (top 20%), the average (middle 70%) and the worst (bottom 10%). He praised the top ones as the company’s stars, asking others to follow them. He mentored the middle 70%, educating them what they needed to improve to become stars. And the bottom 10%? He fired them! Once at MIT, he said firing was “the kindest form of management.” He fanatically promoted that “cruel management is when you’re sweet to the bottom 10% people and let them stay.” He was resolute that firing is “right for everyone; the organisation becomes more competitive as you upgrade the talent.” In his first five years as the CEO, he fired 100,000 people. By the time he left, he had fired more than 500,000 people! When he took over as the CEO, his company was America’s eleventh largest. When he retired, it was the largest! The man is Jack Welch; the company he led is General Electric.

Though Jack did not found GE and never invented its core products himself, he taught the organisation the most important management rule of the past, and even this century: firing! Ironically, the second stalwart whom I’m going to eulogise got fired from the very company he founded, a company whose products (almost all) were personally invented by him! When he got kicked out, he was left with just one share of the company! Ironic, did I say?! In 1996, exactly ten years after he got kicked out, this man came back to his company as the interim CEO (the board got him back as the last resort); a company that was – according to most industry experts – a truly dead company going down south at that time. And what did this man do? Reported to be “tyrannical towards his employees,” this CEO often utilised “public humiliation,” firing poorly performing people at free will! It is reported that he could “enter a meeting room full of employees, call their work ‘sh#t’, and then fire them all on the same spot!” In true reality, top employees of his company were scared spineless of travelling with him in the same elevator, because by the time they got out, they could be fired! He’s currently listed as the co-inventor on 103 of his company’s product patents; and he has fired almost all inventors of non-useful (“sh#t products,” as he calls them) patents! Almost bankrupt when he came back, his company now is worth more than $108 billion; CNN reports that $1,000 invested in his company’s shares on the day he took over is worth about $36,000 today! Today, under his ‘firing’ leadership, Fortune lists his company in this current year of 2008 as “America’s Most Admired Corporation” and the number one computer company! Jack Welch now calls him “The most successful CEO of today!” We know him as Steve Jobs; founder of Apple!

World famous Sirota Consulting empirically found out that today “companies do a poor job of facing up to poor performers; it’s always the most negative finding.” A classic Forbes 2005 report confirms how “employee retrenchment actually increases loyalty!” And how’s that? Noted BCG consultant Grant Freeland confirmed in his BusinessWeek report, “Few things demotivate an organisation (and its top performing employees) faster than tolerating and retaining low performers.” The famed authors Chris Edwards and Tad DeHaven of Cato Institute statistically postulate that “poor performers can have a disproportionately large and negative effect on an organisation.” Even at the CEO level, as Booz Allen Hamilton reports, “Underperformance is the primary reason CEOs get fired.” Their summer 2007 report (Strategy+Business) shows how even shareholder returns improve significantly when poorly performing CEOs are axed. The top ten companies of the world have fired more than 58,000 low performance people in the last one year... There’s no second view! If you want your company to one day be the most admired company in the world, if you want to one day be counted as the number one globally, there’s only one rule you should follow like a mad man. Be the kindest manager! Fire at will! Shamelessly!