Juggernautistic: to coin a new business phrase


This is a sensitive topic and I have been thinking about a polite way to present my thoughts. Let me declare right here that the thoughts here are entirely my own, and do not represent the views of the companies that Amit and I work for, and with. Phew!

Coining a new business phrase: Juggernautistic

(noun), a company that is a massive, seemingly unstoppable force in business, and one that is abnormally obsessed with itself, has a short (usu. quarterly) attention span, and is known for communication disorders that don’t allow it to treat others as people.

Eg. usage: SAP’s board thought the company had become juggernautistic under Leo Apothekar, when attempts at reigniting sales resulted in increasingly angry clients and employees. They fired Apothekar, saying ‘it is time to build trust again'”.

Etymology: Juggernaut + Autistic = Juggernautistic

A juggernaut is defined as

(n) a “massive inexorable force that crushes everything on it’s way”.

Another definition…that a juggernaut is a “crude idol of Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu”.

Autism is defined as

(n) ((psychiatry) an abnormal absorption with the self; marked by communication disorders and short attention span and inability to treat others as people)

Big companies are very susceptible to juggernautism. As the companies become bigger, their sway on the market increases, and the companies go on to crush competitors, and customers, alike. The company seems unstoppable. Success-begets-success and pretty soon, executives at the company start believing their own hype- “we must be good, if we control so much of the market”. Eventually this confidence gives way to hubris, placing the execs in ivory tower offices. Far away from the employees and the clients, these execs make decisions based on excel sheet and Powerpoint generalizations. People become pawns.

This is the moment when a juggernaut becomes juggernautistic. Not listening to the employees and clients, some of whom might initially be a silent-but-suffering minority, these companies continue to derive short-term success from their decisions. Soon, the tide turns, when the silent-minority explodes into a vocal-minority first, and a very angry-majority soon after. Critical mass, indeed. Then, when disaster strikes, critics point to years of missed signals and silent whistleblowers. Examples of this are Toyota, with their crazy quality lapses in recent months. Previous examples include NASA (where the two shuttle disasters could have been prevented if the management was listening). BP would be another example, with their recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Poor listening skills, combined with proven business success. Juggernautistic!

IT companies are especially vulnerable to this disease. As Spiderman’s uncle said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”! The IT companies have grown from startup to behemoth in a space of 10-15 years. They haven’t had time to build a listening and trust based culture. If you see what happened at HP, SAP and Microsoft, you’ll see the same story repeating across. Managements become bureaucratic and slow. Decisions are taken with “speed” in mind, and not much thought being given to the impact these decisions might have on the employees and customers.

Time for desi Juggernautistics now.The inevitable has happened. Big Indian IT services companies have become larger with time. Their unstoppable success has proved to their management that they must be good and, conversely, paralyzing them with a fear of failure. The need for continued juggernaut-like growth meant that these companies, too, have had to make quick decisions in the face of changing market conditions. These have backfired. Spectacularly! What would have been considered acceptable decisions only 8 years ago, seem ham-fisted, crude and ill-timed this time around. Distant. Distracted. Emotionally withdrawn. Employees (well, a small vocal minority of them at this time) have taken to online forums to shame these companies. Examples of these comment-flames can be found here, here and here.

No company has been spared. As Bob Dylan said, in a completely different context, “Everybody must get stoned”.

Dealing with an online lynch-mob is difficult. Anonymous postings on news websites can cause a lot of damage. A lot of truthful commentary and anger are thrown into an explosive admixture of half-truths, personal attacks and conspiracies. This would have been fine if the conspiracy theorists and tea-partiers were convening secretly. Unfortunately, in an online medium everyone gets to see what is being said, and most people believe what they read online. Internally, the majority of employees who are actually quite happy start questioning themselves. Externally, clients, prospective employees and, eventually, investors start wondering if this ship is about to sink. So how does a  company respond to an angry anonymous online lynch-mob?

Start with listening first…


Advertisements

About Gaurav Rastogi
Gaurav Rastogi is a writer and a business-exec living in the San Francisco bay area. His other blog is a personal philosophy blog at http://rustus.blogspot.com

7 Responses to Juggernautistic: to coin a new business phrase

  1. psriblog says:

    Combining the two hot new business phrases featured in these pages, we get Jugaadnautistic: a self-obsessed company that doesnt have too much intellectual property, but still somehow manages to grow profits – inexorably and unstoppably.
    Now THAT is descriptive.

  2. @Psriblog…absolutely. Now I wonder when Jim Collins will write a book on Jugaadautistic companies?

  3. Raj Bhatt says:

    Gaurav:

    Would be interested in your thoughts on how juggernautistic companies can reinvent themselves. Clearly many Indian IT companies find themselves in the same boat.

    Interestingly not all large Indian IT companies are facing the same juggernautic problems (e.g. Cognizant). What distinguishes a large juggernautic company from a large well-run and responsive company?

    — bhaloo

  4. Bhaloo, I think the problem is inherent in the design of a big firm based on the prototype (The East India Company). The only way to grow big fast is to have a “skeletal framework” around which the company will grow. Organizational bureaucracy is just such a skeletal framework. It allows the company to grow fast, allowing decisions to be made based on well-manicured hands working on Excel.

    Alas! soulless enterprises are here to stay…and then blow up and disappear.

  5. Pingback: Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai (Take a hike, and report back to work tmrw) « Two MBAs, One Blog

  6. Pingback: Friends at the workplace…who needs them? « Two MBAs, One Blog

  7. Aarti says:

    Hmm…a few months too late, but the title of the post caught my attention. Interesting observations, Mr. Gutsogi!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: