Leaks Vs the Floods

We are all used to looking at the big stuff – stuff thatdeserves to be looked at, because it is the big stuff that makes the difference. Nobody is supposed to sweat over the small stuff, and we are constantly mentoring our people in this way of thinking. And rightly so. Because this is the kind of thinking that will help you grow into senior positions, help us take bigger responsibilities, help us grow broader shoulders to take on more weight, broaden our thinking. If we focus on the small stuff, we lose perspective on the big picture. All good stuff.

This has occupied my thinking right through my career too. And this is what helped me grow. And not just in my jobs, but in life too. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I remember in my advertising days, we always focussed on the big clients as that is where the bread and butter came from. There were many smaller clients, who were far more interesting to work with, but we had to rightly focus on the big clients.

When we followed up on outstanding payments, we started from the top and spent maximum energy on them. We rarely went down to the last line of the outstanding statement, and invariably we wrote it off at the end of the year, as it was too small to spend energy and time of a senior executive.

In my couple of years in banking I saw the same principle, though with a slightly different perspective. We again focussed on the big stuff – credit card acquisition, account acquisition – but here the big stuff was related to revenue generation. So we always spent time worrying about revenue, as we had recruited a huge sales force, were spending huge moneys on their training and  incentives, CRM systems to monitor their performance, micro managing the entire system – so revenue and top line growth was very important and the focus. Also because when you focussed on top line growth, invariably the bottom line got taken care of.

So growth, growth, growth was the mantra – remember that this was a growth phase for the whole world, pre recession times. Competition was intense. You missed a breath and you missed a sale, all had to be sharp and on the ball and inside the ball, all moving very fast. The early bird catches the worm, and if you miss the bus, you get only the excreta of the worms.

Amid all this glorious rush and chaos, a not-so-senior person from credit cards operations did an analysis of the attrition rate of credit cards and told the business head that you need to focus on this, while you focus on the card acquisition numbers.  He was gently and lovingly dismissed with a benevolent grand pat on the back with the poetic words “Welcome the flood coming into the parched land…don’t worry about the small leaks at the other end of the village”. This seemed like good advice, and was taken as such.

These words have always remained in my mind. And they surfaced recently when I was talking to the benevolent, kind and so-concerned-about-his-people head of HR of Titan, Mr Ramdas, affectionately known as SRD. He lamented the fact that almost all his senior managers were negligent about their health, and whenever he tried to raise the issue, it was not a subject that folks wanted to spend time talking about. I was wondering if all the senior managers were silently saying “Welcome the flood coming into the parched land…don’t worry about the small leaks at the other end of the village”.

For most senior managers, working hard and getting revenue, growth and money into the companies (parched land) is a far bigger priority than worrying about their health (small leaks). Remember that they have all been mentored on ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ and for them when something like health is fine now (you have not been hospitalised as yet right!?), why bother about it, and worse, why think about bigger issues like holistic health, preventive screening, stress…all stuff that good human beings like SRD are worrying about.

Waste of time! I even had a HR head of another company tell me that this was not a priority for their management. I gasped in horror!

I wanted to tell them that all leaks, if neglected, will eventually develop to a flood at the wrong end. If you do not spend time watching the attrition rate of your credit card portfolio, it will eventually overtake your acquisition rate.

In the same way if you do not keep an eye on the leak of your health, it will lead to a flood at the wrong end. Premature heart attacks, uncontrolled hypertension, fluctuating sugar levels, obesity, sleep disorders, are all a result of those leaks turning into floods.

And if we are all so smart, we will plug those leaks now. By spending some time every year, every month, every day on our health – on our holistic health, so that we sail in the gentle lakes of good health.