It's time for cos to focus on grassroots for success


Padayatra is a Sanskrit word for a journey on foot. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, journeyed on foot to Dandi during the Salt March in 1930.

Padayatra is a Sanskrit word for a journey on foot. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, journeyed on foot to Dandi during the Salt March in 1930. The March eventually led to Purna Swaraj declaration of self-rule and sovereignty by the Indian National Congress.

He also walked across the country to abolish untouchability. In 1951, Vinoba Bhave, Indian advocate of non-violence and human rights, travelled from Telangana region to Bodh Gaya during the Bhoodan Movement.

Later in 1983, Chandra Shekhar, the eighth Prime Minister of India, walked for 4,260 km from Kanyakumari to Raj Ghat in Delhi from January 6 to June 25 to understand the problems of the masses. A social cause made these noble persons to perform padayatra.

YS Rajashekhar Reddy, better known as YSR, the former chief minister of the combined Andhra Pradesh, did a padayatra for a period of three months, interacting with people of various districts which lay on his way in order to win the elections and the hearts of the people.

Following suit, his son, politician and the present Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, in 2017, commenced a 3,700 km long walk. He named his journey "Praja Sankalpa Yatra".

This padayatra was so effective that it defeated the Modi wave during the same period. In 2012, N Chandrababu Naidu, an Indian politician covered 2,000 kms in 117 days to expose the Congress government. He wanted to reveal the ineffective state administration of the Congress party.

Padayatras have been influential for social and political causes. It is not about the distance; it is about the motive and the objective. They were performed by leaders who wanted to achieve a purpose for society.

This thought expands beyond India. In 2012, Hubert Joly took up the role of CEO of Best Buy, which is an American multinational company for consumer electronics and other goods. In the same year, the company faced stiff competition from Amazon. BestBuy was dying.

Joly then planned on visiting the BestBuy stores and spoke directly to the employees. It was acknowledged that employee engagement was at an all-time low. Joly initiated employee incentives and training.

He also instituted the price matching system and showcasing the products for the customers to "try and buy". He also initiated an in-home advisor programme to build customer relationships, and today, the company is thriving.

In 1978, Jaipur Rugs, an Indian company, was founded by Nand Kishore Chaudhary who visited the rural artisans and encouraged them to participate in his carpet making company. This uplifted rural communities. At present, they have a range of home decor products and have expanded beyond national boundaries.

Earlier, he discovered the benefits and a positive change brought about by eating organic vegetables. To spread these merits, he encouraged his employees at Jaipur Rugs to purchase the produce at the minimal price at the cafeteria of the company.

He also started to work with 100 local farmers to reap the gains of organic farming.

He also allowed Jaipur rugs to be self-managed without restricting the decisions made at the grass-root level. In a span of two to three years, Jaipur Rugs would be the first self-managed company at grassroots.

His work towards the upliftment of his employees through "corporate padayatras" drew him closer to his key stakeholders and led to the company's recognition to be famous for its grassroot strategy.

Nand Kishore Chaudhary's grassroot strategy through "corporate padayatra" will be an inspiration for future entrepreneurs who want to focus on grassroots for success.

It is time for "corporate padayatras" in India. The primary objective is to reach the grass-root level. The problems arise from the roots, and the treasure house of solutions is always the root.

The organisational structure is such that the top management has little or no 'clear' picture of the lower levels of management. During the growth period, companies slowly lose their connections with the real stakeholders: employees, customers, distributors, and the public at large.

The connection is negligible once the company is mature and saturated. For instance, BestBusy had no clue about their dissatisfied customers and employees until the sales dropped miserably, and when it did, they took the best action.

Perhaps, Hubert Joly is not aware that he started a "corporate padayatra" to sustain his business.

Such padayatras could help in the revival of companies that have fallen due to competition, dissatisfied customers and employees, a saturation of the market and several other reasons.

Customers are sovereigns of the market, and the startups which are growing can best analyse their customers through corporate padayatras. According to the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics, 90 per cent of Indian startups fail in the first five years. Why?

It is true that many of these startups imitate foreign businesses, which is the secondary reason for failure. The principal reason for failure is the inability to understand the market.

Corporate padayatra brings the chiefs and top-level executives in direct contact with the stakeholders, which is not possible in the ordinary course of business.

Corporate padayatras serve corporate causes. It gives solutions which could not have been known while being enclosed within the four walls.

The journey for getting closer to the stakeholders is suited for all businesses and at all stages of a business cycle: hospitality, e-commerce (online and offline stores), and FMCG companies, to name a few.

Indian start-ups which have failed are Mr Needs which faced competition from BigBasket, Monkeybox failed due to competition from the healthy food online delivery service, Cult Fit.

Companies face competition when they enter a saturated market without a unique value for their product or service.

A few companies that bowed out of India are eBay, which faced heavy competition from India's rising e-commerce. eBay failed because when it entered in the Indian market, it had a business model ahead of it's time when Indian customers would not purchase anything without viewing it first, and Indian customers never warmed up to online auctions at that time.

eBay failed to acknowledge the needs and wants of customers because it did not understand the grass-root problem.

If a Corporate Padayatra had been performed like it had been done before to find out the solutions to social, political, and corporate problems it could have been beneficial for eBay to continue its operations in India.

We have been hearing the term VUCA. What does it mean? It is an acronym for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. Applying it to the business it implies- Volatility is the speed of change in the market.

Uncertainty is the extent of confidence in the future of the business and market. The complexity lies in the environment where the business operates. The ambiguity lies in the unclear conclusions drawn from various businesses.

What can be done to reduce the V.U.C.A in a business? This term was coined in 1991 by the U.S Army and is not famous in business across the globe. Concentration on the stakeholders such as customers, employees, distributors, suppliers, competitors, and public would help to understand the changes in the market (volatility), the uncertainties involved in the market and assess the rising competition, the complex nature of dynamic business environment with changing trends, and the ambiguity of the various outcomes of strategies applied in the business.

Therefore, corporate padayatras which bring a business in direct contact with the people, perhaps, will rule the market.

Padayatras have given solutions. The key is interaction with society. Corporate Padayatras will be beneficial to small, medium and large businesses to grow and sustain in the market.

(M Chandra Shekar is Assistant Professor and Harsha Sheelam is PGDM-MM Student at Institute of Public Enterprise, Hyderabad)

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