Thursday, January 22, 2009

Winning: The Answers - Confronting 74 of the toughest questions in business today



Dear Readers,
Another book review, but one that is oriented towards CA professionals. Hopefully, it should be printed in the Journal of the Bombay Chatered Accountant's Society, sometime soon.
I am so glad that the BCAS has begun to publish non tax book reviews in its journal. A broader perspective is so relevant, in life.
Cheers
Lubna


Title: Winning: The Answers – Confronting 74 of the toughest questions in business today
Author: Jack and Suzy Welch
Price: Rs. 395
Publisher: Harper Collins
Official website: http://www.welchway.com

The words, “Yes, we can”, seem to have become the new-age mantra not only for Americans but for the world. After all, in a flat world, economies are tied as never before. But, even before Obama made these words famous, perhaps Jack Welch was already practicing them.

In the book, “Winning: The Answers – Confronting 74 of the toughest questions in business today”, by Jack and Suzy Welch you will perhaps find answers to what you were searching for and in fact some questions that you ought to have asked yourself. Do read this book for some great practical suggestions.

Jack Welch retired in 2001, as chairman and CEO of General Electrical, and today continues to speak and answer zillions of questions that pour in, on wide ranging topics. In India, a financial daily does carry his column.

The book, “Winning” was published back in 2005 and this sparked off a deluge of questions from college students, professionals, entrepreneurs and people from all walks of life on subjects ranging from leadership and globalization, to tough bosses and teamwork. This book: “Winning: The Answers – Confronting 74 of the toughest questions in business today” contains some of the most relevant of questions asked. As Jack Welch on his website emphasizes: Winning is great!

The 74 questions and answers are contained in six sections. Section 1, deals with ‘Global competition’; section 2 with ‘Leadership’; section 3 with ‘Management Principles and Practices’; section 4 with ‘Careers’; section 5 is titled ‘Privately held” and deals with working for the family; lastly section 6 covers ‘Winning and Losing’.

For a sole practising CA or for a small or large CA firm, the lessons are sprinkled across the chapters.

Take for instance, one of the answers in section 1 of this book– Getting global before it gets you! While, we CAs are not perturbed by global outsourcing, indeed some of us may be benefitting from the same, such as by setting up back office services for US tax returns and the like, the answer here applies to us all. In a changing economy, it is best to be “Flat, fast and transparent. Informal, candid communication is a must. And so too a mind-set that has people constantly seeking best practises inside and outside the company.” Best practises can be ushered in, in all areas, right from maintaining proper audit working papers, to prompt responses to client queries, to in-house brainstorming and knowledge sharing. It is entirely up to you to define what best practises you or your firm needs to adopt. Ushering in best practises, will help us to service our clients better, to create a proper environment for our teams and to be reckoned as one among the best.

‘The courage to become a change agent’ was my favourite read, in section 2. This was in response to a question raised by a newly appointed head of a learning and development department and he had to make some tough choices to usher in change. Jack and Suzy Welch point out to the three critical organisational components: an inspirational mission; a clear set of values and rigorous appraisal system. If it applied to a department catering to learning and development, it applies equally well to a service industry – to us. However, a word of caution, as also provided by the authors – Make sure your reasons for the change initiative are transparent to everyone, be it something as simple as a new process for drafting audit working papers or client conference notes. And finally, don’t lose faith along the way. Some people will resist change. They always do. But as soon as results start rolling in, your new approach will make its own case, loud and clear.

Section 3, dealing with ‘Management Principles and Practices’ is a gold mine of useful tips. While the three indicators of a healthy company as given by Jack and Suzy Welch, viz: employee engagement, customer satisfaction and cash flow seem to typify a manufacturing company, think again. Yes, they equally apply to us. Today, getting the best employee and retaining him or her, is a challenge for any CA firm. Can anyone discount the importance of client satisfaction? Much as we may perhaps wish to relegate it to the background, the bottom line matters to all, even to us professionals.

For a good insight, into client satisfaction, the authors recommend being in touch and actually visiting customers. This advice is perhaps apt for partners of larger firms, who may no longer be in direct touch with all their clients. “And don’t just go chat with you ‘good’ customers… Make those visits about learning. Find a dozen ways to ask: What can we do better? And don’t leave without finding out if each customer would recommend your products or services. That’s the acid test of customer satisfaction” state Jack and Suzy Welch.

Coming to ‘Careers’, in section 4. For the young professional, the answer is: You need self confidence. Start with smaller goals, achieve them and celebrate. Next, stretch out of your comfort zone, set a higher goal and achieve it. I really love the last few sentences in their reply and I quote “The process won’t ever really end. As time goes on, your goals will just keep getting bigger and bigger. And failure, which will also occur on occasions, will come to feel less and less of a thing to fear.” In short, the authors say, even failure does teach you something you needed to know, so that you can stretch again, perhaps this time with greater experience backing you.

Section 5 covers family-owned enterprises. Fortunately, professional firms, be they CA firms or law firms, are weaning away from the family-owned structure. Yes, such structures had their own merits, but in today’s world they are increasingly become a thing of the past.

CA firms are merging to create new larger firms, smaller practises are joining hands with larger firms, the process of change is on. This means new processes, policies and procedures galore. Advice given by Jack and Suzie Welch: The past is over, embrace the new.

The last section – ‘Winning and Losing’ is perhaps a tad philosophical. The authors say: Winning and losing can’t be quantified. They are states of mind, and losing happens only when you give up. Seen that way, then, the world can be filled with winners, and there is room for them all.

It is entirely up to you, to define what winning means to you, as a chartered accountant, as an employee in a CA firm or industry or as a decision making partner. Remember winning alongside with your clients and teams is true victory. Help them grow and so shall you.

Photocredit: From Amazon and ClipArt respectively.

This review was published in the February, 2009, edition of the Journal of the Bombay Chartered Accountants' Society.