SPEAKING to frontline staff is a better way for management to know more about their organisation’s problems and products instead of conducting surveys and complex studies, said well-known management guru Professor C. K. Prahalad.
To illustrate his point, he cited the example of a CEO in the United States who had engaged a consultant to identify problems encountered by customers and gain feedback about his company’s products.
When the consultant submitted a report, the CEO asked how he had arrived at the conclusion. The consultant said he had talked to the employees. When the CEO asked his staff why they had never told him about the problems, they said: “You never asked us.”
“A lot of time is spent getting others to find out more about the company when the management could have just communicated with the staff,” Prahalad told 400 Malaysian CEOs, managers and executives in Kuala Lumpur recently.
“Call centres and customer service staff may have a wealth of information on the problems of an organisation or its products that are often overlooked by top management.
“Sometimes top management spends a hefty sum engaging consultants to know about the company's problems when the information is available within the organisation,” he said.
Move away from the idea of getting others to find out your problems and find innovative ways to get the employees to participate in revealing the problems that customers always encounter, said Prahalad who is a professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan Business School.
A globally known figure, he is author of several best selling books including The Future of Competition and Competing for the Future.
He specialises in corporate strategy and the role of top management in large, diversified and multinational corporations.
On the question of doing business, Prahalad said businesses think that consumers in India and China did not have the wealth and often avoided these countries.
“If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden and start recognising them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole new world of opportunities will open up.
“The market at the bottom of the pyramid with more than four billion people living on less than US$2 per day can potentially present opportunities for the private sector. These opportunities can be unlocked if large and small firms, governments, civil society organisations, development agencies, and the poor themselves work together with a shared agenda,” he said.
His book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid is being read not only by boardroom directors but also government officers who are looking at applying his ideas on eradicating poverty through profits.
The book is essentially a rallying cry for big business to put serving the world’s poorest people at the heart of their profit-making strategies.
He has called for innovative approaches to “convert the poverty into an opportunity for all concerned”.
“What is needed is an approach that involves partnering with the poor to innovate and achieve sustainable win-win scenarios where the poor are actively engaged and, at the same time, the companies providing products and services to them are profitable,” said Prahalad, who has been ranked by Financial Times as eight on its “Top 50 Most Important Living Management Thinkers”.
“Don’t look at the poor and say there is no hope. Selling to the poor may be more profitable than selling to you and me. This is where the future is. Opportunities are everywhere. This (digital divide) is not about lack of opportunity; it is about lack of imagination.”