Feeling stuck at work? Wake up and challenge the status quo. MS Dhoni’s story has been told. Today let’s talk of all the parallel tracks that run with this story. This same story plays out over and over again; not only in the bylanes of the stereotypical ‘small town with big dreams’ portrayed in the film, but also in metro cities and corporate corridors.
When I say the same story, I mean with all its trimmings of hope, bravado, disappointment, grit and glory that invariably defines the roller coaster that is our life today.
At 23, Sagar knew that employers need good people as much as smart people need good jobs! So, when he joined a large business conglomerate along with 7 other trainees, he was confident that he’d be able to work-cum-maneuver-cum-strategize his way upwards very quickly, or he’d die trying! Remember the time in the film when Dhoni gave up his job as a ticket checker to pursue cricket with everything he had? Well that was how Sagar felt; he would either have his face splashed across the top pink papers, or lose it all trying to get there.
It soon emerged that Sagar and Saima were the two trainees among this fresh batch who had caught the attention of the managers, and had the potential to bring fresh thinking onto the table and rise in the ranks, fast. They were called into the boss’ office one day and given a ‘challenge’. There was one position to be filled, and unsurprisingly – Sagar and Saima were the suggested contenders for the seat. However, the final decision was in their hands, rather than the management. There was a niche client that the company had been aiming to acquire for some time, the two trainees were tasked with developing a strategy to win the account.
Whoever managed to bag the client would also bag the position! It was nothing personal, it didn’t matter what people thought of them up until now, all that mattered was performance; close the client, and open the doors for yourself! Dhoni had done the same when it came to selecting the best team, his relationships with players didn’t come in the way of choosing the 11 that would be best for India.
Now if there was one thing that Sagar could not resist, it was a good challenge – his first thought that this was the beginning of the history, which he would inevitably create if he worked hard enough. The two trainees got to work. The task was to secure a contract for the supply of premium office stationery across 85 offices of the client. Both knew that there were a lot of players in the market, and if they didn’t think of something innovative, it would boil down to costs – ultimately affecting their profitability, and not creating enough of a reason for the client to stay on for the long term.
Saima decided to tie up with a boutique technology company to create a system and drive efficiency in the procurement of stationery. As supplies depleted, there would be an automatic notification to place an order for replenishments. Moreover, an RFID system would keep track of departments’ and teams’ usage of materials so that usage can be tracked and accountability increased. She set a meeting with the client, convinced that she had all but clinched the deal.
Sagar had a different plan. He did some unconventional research. He had learnt that the ‘gen next’ of the client company, namely the owner’s daughter, was very keen on employee engagement, driving ownership and fostering creativity. He played on his inside knowledge and suggested a movement where employees could send in their design ideas for the new line of office stationery. The best ideas would inspire the products. This was a very small cost and time increment for Sagar’s company, but could help him clinch the deal if it touched the right chord.
He orchestrated a meeting between himself and the client’s daughter, Dilnaz, in an informal setting just to bounce his idea off. He didn’t want to fail in his mission at any cost. With great difficulty, he managed to set up a date for the meeting only to realize that his cousin was to get married that day. Unfortunate, but there was no doubt in his mind that he had to see this plan through – he would explain, and his family would understand. Dhoni had done the same; he was playing for the nation when his daughter was born.
Sagar met Dilnaz as planned, but before he could share his idea, she mentioned how a spunky young executive had come up with this great technology spin on regular office stationery. Sagar’s confidence got shaken in an instant. A million questions went through his mind – Was he too late to act? Was he wrong not to take the competitive scenario into account? The world is going gaga over tech, would he seem dated if he doesn’t toe the line?
Sagar had to think on his feet, and in that instant, he decided to hold on and not mention his idea. He needed to think this over and then make his next move. He stayed up that night considering whether he should stick to his idea and add a tech spin to it. Then again he thought maybe his idea would be closer to the values and objectives of his clients even in its original form. By the crack of dawn, he had made up his mind. Improvization was the name of the game.
He got dressed nice and early the next morning and headed to his destination. He rang the doorbell and Saima opened the door. She almost dropped her sandwich on seeing her ‘rival’ at her doorstep. Sagar apologized for coming over uninvited but said he had something he needed to discuss with her face to face. He proposed that they join hands and win the pitch. After all, the company wanted to bag the client. If they both did it together, they could negotiate a position for both of them.
Saima was taken aback. Her first instinct was to say ‘no’ and carry on. But then, she thought of how nervous her own idea made her. After all, she would have to tie up with an external agency and the entire responsibility would be on her. She could use another head. The deal was sealed; Sagar and Saima headed to office that day with an offer they believed the boss couldn’t refuse!
They got into the cab and rode to office in silence, a million thoughts running in each of their minds. As they were about to reach, Saima’s phone rang. It was the client, and they wanted to meet her today to discuss the details of her proposed plan. Now it was Saima’s turn to figure her plan out. Was she too quick to agree to Sagar’s proposal for partnership? Was it ok to first agree and then back out of the partnership?
To cut a long story short, they did manage to stay together and make a proposition to the bosses. It turned out that the company had two positions all along, but wanted to be sure before handing them over to the two protégées! That ended well, but I think we all agree that there are lots of mistakes that they won’t repeat after this lesson. In business and in life, there are no right or wrong answers, just good timing and a cool head.
Take a moment to think what you would have done in either of their shoes. Outcomes are usually well beyond our reach because they depend on too many factors – people involved, circumstances and more. What we can control is our temperament.
Some people are survivors; MS Dhoni is one. Do you have an MS Dhoni within you? It doesn’t take much – just the ability to challenge rules and push ourselves. Physics says pressure generates heat, but survivors strive to stay cool under pressure. People say there is strength in numbers and that we should stay loyal and look out for our own, but survivors pick the right team for right challenges and set favourites aside. They know a strategy on paper needs to convert to tactics on the field. Survivor dream, then prepare a team, stand by their decisions, accept defeat, learn, move on till they get it right. They play in the right spirit yet challenge the rules. They accept distractions, yet keep their eyes on the ball. In the words of our captain MS Dhoni – “I’m on national duty, everything else can wait”.
*The views expressed by the author are from his first book "Fetch your own Coffee" on Management inputs from everyday life .