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Friday, January 19, 2007

How to make aggression work like a charm

Competition is everywhere and getting ahead of rivals is the key to staying afloat. Corporates have to look at their bottomlines and think of strategies that will help them outsmart their peers. Sometimes, even pure aggression helps along with a will to excel. In the world of sports, where a player is good only as long as his/her last win and have to stay in great form during their peak years, aggression can lead them straight to the top.

Acknowledging this, former cricketer Javagal Srinath told CNBC-TV18 he saw two types of aggression - attitudinal aggression and physical aggression.

He said one is obviously, all about attitude and is an innate quality and how it gets manifested in the workplace or on the sports field is up to the individual. As he puts it, "It could be through resoluteness, it could be strong qualities hidden in you or a commitment to the game. While physical aggression is an outcome of anger and frustration."

RK Krishnakumar, who is Vice Chairman of Tata Tea and Indian Hotels Company and is also on the board of Tata Sons agreed and said, "Aggression is the foundation for business but need not be physically expressed always. In the case of business, aggression means swift global growth and protecting your bottomline as well and that means learning from the Art of War and therefore aggression is an essential ingredient of business."

He elaborated, "Globally, Jack Welch of General Electrics, GE, was aggressive. He transformed that company to being the most admired company besides being the largest in terms of revenue and profitability. That's a little more physical manifestation of growth. There is a genteel form of aggression as well, which transforms companies and catapults them to global leadership and which also does some fantastic transformation within the companies and (does) all of this based on a strong foundation of ethics. The name that comes to my mind is Ratan Tata."

In reality, aggression is not only about cowing down competitors and acquiring them but also about building one's own brands. Krishnakumar said, "It's combination of both - building your own brands and acquiring more brands to become a global player to acquire size and scale."

Corporate CEOs or cricket captains - both have to pull their teams towards the bigger goal. But moulding the team or the organisation into a cohesive fighting force is another of the head's chief responsibilities. Srinath explained that Saurav Ganguly is an aggressive captain and is good at "picking the team, persisting on the youngters and giving them a chance."

Krishnakumar elaborated, "I think it's important that the leader has the vision to drive the business aggressively. But it can't be successful unless its cascaded down into the organisation itself. That passion has to be shared by everybody in the organisation if you want to move the organisation forward." Srinath agreed, "It can be an individual thing, which could blossom into a team thing. You can train an individual to be more aggressive. I pick Virendra Sehwag as an example. He not only shows the responsibility but at the same time endorses the responsibility. He says 'yes I want to do my best in the first 15 overs'. Now getting engaged with that risky situation - the first 15 overs - and then talking positively about it, is what is aggression."

Srinath points out two other players who demonstrate different types of aggression on the field. One is Glenn McGrath who personifies subtle aggression and the other is Shoiab Akhtar who displays the physical form of aggression.

Managing aggression well and in a productive manner is the what leaders have to do. Krishnakumar agreed, "Managing aggression is one of the principal tasks of HR management. But in sports, the duration of that challenge is shortlived whereas in business you have a much longer timespan. You need different qualities in business. You need to supplement those qualities to achieve your goal."

He added, "You need to be able to endure in the game for a long period - sometimes a decade. Business cycles are getting shorter and shorter, so a very key requirement of business would be, where aggression is expressed as innovation." Some aggressive peddling of your brand is what Reliance is good at, while some other companies chose to do it in a more subtle manner. Both the routes lead to the same end result. As Krishnakumar puts it, "The end determines success. How enduring is that journey. How do you achieve global leadership? That's really the test and that only time will tell."

It's true that only time will be witness to whether Infosys - a newer company with bigger market capitalisation and a more aggressive company will outpace Tata Consultancy Services, TCS, which has been around longer.

Krishnakumar elaborated, "TCS has been there for longer years. It's been the first company to establish software in India but it's a division of the holding company - Tata Sons - so its fortunes have not been really visible until it went into IPO mode last year. Now you can benchmark TCS against anybody. In terms of the quality of profits or the size of the revenues, it's probably going to cross $2 billion. Some of these things have been subterranean and not fully out in the open. Now in the case of TCS, its out in the open. So, you need to come to a decision as to the comparable figures."

He added, "Aggression is a necessary condition for success but not sufficient."

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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