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