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Saving the farm

Vijay Govindarajan & Chris Trimble use the analogy of a farm to highlight the change challenges that companies

Govindraj Ethiraj  |  Mumbai 

You could be one of two. Either you are the person in charge - inheritor or CEO - battling various demons in your large organisation as you try and effect change. Because you are now convinced that that's the only way the organisation will survive. No, it's not just a matter of growth but sheer survival.

Or you are the person who is running a division that seems fit and fine, focussed on product quality, continued efficiency and cost management. Indeed, if you keep shaving off those costs, improving quality and running an efficient operation, there is no reason the business will not grow double in digits every year. Or so you think.

and Chris Trimble's How Stella Saved The Farm is an interesting attempt in identifiying who you are - to some extent - in this game and then how to potentially respond. If you are the business leader, how do you identify, deal and then work with the various people you need to work with when you go for that game changer approach in your business and product mix?

Indeed, as you embark on your rejuevenation project, who are the people who are likely to resist? Why aren't things getting done despite everyone agreeing in that board room meeting? Who are the people who need to win to your side while farming out tasks? Who are the people you should watch carefully in this process?

Let's flip it now. You are part of a system where change is looming on the horizon. The leadership has decided, perhaps after interactive deliberations, that a new product or service mix is essential to take the company forward. Indeed, it could be the only way forward for a company that is seeing all-out invasion of its traditional spaces. So do you want to be at the forefront of this exercise or go along kicking and screaming all the way?

Think of a truck company trying to become a car company almost overnight. Your gut tells you cars are the future for this lumbering truck company. But your truck division head insists the truck business will continue to grow. Fine, but you want to seed the car project. Do you give it to the truck head? Will the truck head give it the time and attention it deserves (hint, he/she won't)?

Or do you build another team that will handle it? And then, what about production resources? Your bottomline is thinning so you can't create a whole new factory installation to build this dream car. So resources have to be shared, man and machine. How do you do this in a way that keeps all parties calm, balanced and focussed on the outcome?

How do you build the reporting structure? If, indeed, the car team is headed by a new individual who reports to you, how do you keep the truck folks happy? After all, they are the guys who are making a product that still sells in the marketplace and is what brought us all till here. More importantly, how do you monitor this dream project? At what point will you pull the plug if you have to?

And finally, what about the people. The car project has brought in all kinds of highly-paid, cool dude designers and marketing guys. Who look down at the truck guys, often with disdain. The truck guys are increasingly getting upset with them strutting around. And in addition to a marketplace that's changing, a business that's slowly shrinking, you have a monumental HR problem that's germinating in your factory.

So that's the story. Professors Govindarajan and Trimble use the analogy of an animal farm that is quaint but can make identification of the protagonists a little cumbersome at times. And, indeed, you wonder whether you need an analogy like this. I would leave that question hanging. Having posed that, this is the tale of an animal-owned and -run farm, a family of horses as it happens.

The farm has all kinds of animals with personality traits somewhat matched to our general understanding of various people in an organisation. The challenge Deirdre, the inheritor horse, is grappling with is: how to transition Windsor Farm from selling mere wool to the highest quality wool in the world, but produced by Alpaca sheep, from South America.

Alpaca is a "domesticated species of South American camelid. And it resembles a small llama in appearance". I pulled this part from Wikepedia and have reason to believe it's accurate. As illustrated earlier, think car for a truck company. And, thus, changing the entire assembly line, the parts, the forging, dashboard electronics, the works. Yes, both the truck and the car move on wheels, have a gearbox and lights. But that's pretty much it.

The moot question is, Will Stella Save The Farm? Will the person who came up with the bright idea of Alpaca wool as opposed to sheep wool see this project through? Will the truck company manage to roll out cars that do well in the market? And most importantly, will all this be in time before you succumb to the temptation of selling out to the rival and neighbouring company? One quick sitting should be sufficient to finish this book and answer that question. And there are helpful questions at the end that should help you collect your thoughts, particularly if the student in you is looking for them.

& Chris Trimble
Pan Macmillan
160 pages; Rs 399

First Published: Wed, May 08 2013. 21:19 IST