Article: Building a Brand-led Organization: The Spice Experience

Strategic HR

Building a Brand-led Organization: The Spice Experience

Reputation is a result of one's actions. All grand visions and strategies have to manifest in the thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, skills and capacity to ensure that customers experience the DNA and what the company stands for

The use of technology conventional methodologies and unconventional practices drive home learning and development of people


If we observe winning organizations closely, they manage the two ends of the spectrum very well– shareholder and customer, the two resources from where they get money


Reputation is a result of one’s actions. All grand visions and strategies have to manifest in the thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, skills and capacity to ensure that customers experience the DNA and what the company stands for.

In a fundamental sense, organization building process entails building predictability around demand generation, business sustenance and financial performance. While creating wealth is the primary purpose, the difference between an organization and winning a lottery is building predictability and sustainability. The journey from a customer’s consideration to buy something and follow through the process of choosing your product or service over many choices he/she has and to continue to do so year-on-year despite a multitude of options and competitive offerings, is in essence the ‘DNA’ of any organization. From a finance perspective, this is called the ‘Enterprise Value’, the difference between book value and market capitalization. This is also popularly known as the intangible asset of the organization. Intangible assets constitute knowledge, experience, innovation, brand and the entire ‘organized principle’ by which predictability is built for creating wealth.

If we observe winning organizations closely, they manage the two ends of the spectrum very well – shareholder and customer, the two resources that give money. On the one hand, we see that their ability to manage the cost of capital is very competitive compared to others and on the other, the ability to pull customers time and again for what they offer. This ability comes from having a reputation in the financial markets and customer markets of being a proven horse that can win time and again. So, it is significantly important for all practitioners of management to realize that all endeavors in the organization are towards building that maturity so that we keep raising the predictability of outcomes. Over the last 30 years, the value of tangible assets to intangible assets has dropped from 85 percent to 21 percent. The increase in intangible assets is very evident when we look at the list of the world’s most valued corporations. Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM are among the top 15 and share honors with many brick and mortar companies that have been in existence for over a century.

For HR practitioners, the implications of this shift in the way organizations are built and run, is immense and an alignment of an imperative to create and sustain the value creation and enhancement process.

Building a brand-led organization: The Spice Group experience

At our Group, the challenge has been to move from a Mobile Service Provider (Spice Communications) brand to a ‘Mobile Internet Player’ in the field of devices, retail and value added services. This shift happened when we strategically took the call of disinvesting the operator business in 2008 (to Idea Communications) and started focusing on mobility play. In the last 3 years, we have been systematically working on repositioning our brand and building the organization in achieving success in our new chosen path. We saw clear shifts in the geographies we wanted to compete (i2i – Indonesia to Ivory Coast), from mobile telephony to mobile internet and digital lifestyle. In doing so, we have laid down clear principles and the architecture to internally align the hearts and minds of employees to what we stand for and how we want to create value for all our stakeholders. We have taken series of strategic decisions over the last 3 to 4 years to reposition the Group and brand, which included various strategic decisions in the area of organizational development and human resources.

The overall blueprint

In positioning the Group and brand, we have been working on ‘five dimensions of change’ over the last 5 years: from the brand manifesto, to business strategy, to leadership & organizational structure, to business processes re-engineering and finally the human resource development.
In building a brand-led organization, our first task was to work with Brand Union from the UK, a world renowned organization in this field to craft our entire brand manifesto and the central organizing principle. It is the Blue Book that defined all our actions in building our DNA. It was a detailed 6 month project with both internal and external research and benchmarking so that we were both deep and wide in our thinking.
Having defined the brand manifesto, the next transformational project was to work with McKinsey & Co., to build our organizational strategy. This 6 month project clearly laid out all steps involved in targeting our 2015 goal, aptly titled ‘Lakshya 2015’. This had also impacted our organic and in-organic growth plans, our geographic expansions beyond India into SE Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

OD & HR transformational work

Having architected the overall blueprint in our brand manifesto and business strategy, the journey in the last 3 years has been focused on organizational development, business processes and human resource management & development initiatives. In defining the strategies and architecting action plans, the issue of organizational predictability has been the central organizing principle. If we wanted all our touch points of employees, customers and vendors to experience that magic of our DNA consistently and continuously, it was fundamental that we designed all our interventions from ‘Awareness’ (I know what we stand for) to ‘Advocacy’ (I believe in what we do and I recommend our brand) before we focused on the ‘Software’ side of the enterprise. In order to become a learning organization, we had to work on the ‘Hardware’ side substantially so that all investments reap desired results and we have an organization for the future. Such hardware included, organizational structure and leadership capacity (new talent on board); manifestations of brand attributes – open, fearless, imaginative and vibrant; framework around performance metrics (seven pillars of performance); ownership competency framework for people development; winning organization metric methodology (one of the seven pillars of performance); business processes re-engineering to support our DNA (including HR process through PCMM) and the total rewards strategy

Creating a learning organization

At the end of the day, all grand visions and strategies have to manifest in our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, skills and capacity so that we ensure that our customers experience our DNA and what we stand for, so that they keep coming back. Our reputation is resultant of our actions. For this, the last mile connectivity from intent to implementation is the ‘Software’ side of our enterprise. It is in this context that we deployed a series of learning & development strategies and actions that led to a fulfiling and enduring journey so far.

Deployment methodologies

Before we went about designing our learning deployment strategies, we needed to bear in mind that we have highly diversified sets of people across our verticals – software developers, sales staff, feet on street sales force, store level staff in retail, hardware engineers, content creators, product designers and other managerial/leadership staff. Our strategies were aligned to make optimum impact on the learning and development of these profiles of people as well as create sub-cultures within the overall ambit that were conducive to draw out the best in each of our employees. We also needed to calibrate our geographical expansions beyond the shores of India, which needed the cultural stream to be managed as well.
We reflected and arrived at our ‘Framework for Capability Building’ (capability is defined as an optimum on will and skill) that drives predictability and performance. We call it the 6 C model and has both the ‘Hardware’ and ‘Software’ elements in it:
1. Competency development – Recruitment and training to fill gaps
2. Communication – Line of sight of what we do and why
3. Change management – Skills and frameworks to productively manage change
4. Culture building – All actions to make us unique and live our DNA
5. Consequence management – Assessment, reward, recognition & penalties
6. Compliance – Process adherence for sustainability, predictability & fairness

The journey so far

It has been a fulfilling journey so far. Having grown from US$ 200 million company in 2007 to US$ 2.2 billion in 2011 through both organic and in-organic growth, the company has moved from one country operation to its presence in 10 countries and is still growing. This is a result of a very comprehensive and systematic approach towards building the employer brand and reputation. As we expand and acquire companies, we assimilate their best practices and share ours. The use of technology, conventional methodologies and unconventional practices drive home learning and development of people. The experiences and experiments are open with the belief that best will prevail, the ultimate guiding principle is our brand manifesto. Further, shareholders and customers will always show the mirror.

 The Spice Methodology for Change

1. Unlearning to Learn: These included demonstrated actions of people and visible signs of destroying past like forceful stoppage of printing as opposed to reading in digital formats, removal of secretarial support so that people self use digital technology, open office infrastructure, video conferencing to traditional face to face meetings
2. Learning to Learn: Knowing what makes each of us learn, our unique and effective ways of learning and following such learning processes, dedicated time for learning and reflection so as to imbibe behavior, tests to check our learning styles and preferences, cognitive processes and social processes of learning methodologies
3. Learning to Win: All skills – technology, functional, inter-personal, which are aligned to each person’s role and potential
4. Winning to Learn: Reinforcement learnings through success stories and other’s achievements, learning together, winner’s competency framework and dictionary
5. Reflecting to Imbibe: Discussion sessions, bhaitaks, philosophical sessions, visits to disadvantaged associations like visually challenged schools, etc.
6. Listening to Learn: Focused groups, customer sessions, feedback sessions, online feedback methodologies, coaching & mentoring, reverse mentoring, guest lectures, mystery shoppers
7. Sharing to Learn: Teaching, facilitating training sessions, writing, speaking in platforms, coaching & mentoring, community learning
8. Action Learning: Cross functional teams, business projects, incubation projects, store level demonstrations, on-the-job learnings, handling customer complaints and queries, mobile Internet usage
9. Seeing to Learn: Visits to other companies, visits overseas to our affiliates, market visits, product demonstrations, sample product usages, visits to competition
10. Learning through Failures: Sharing failures, knowledge management platforms, encouraging experiments

 AVK Mohan is the Group President – Global HR, Spice Global

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Topics: Strategic HR, Employer Branding, #BestPractices

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