The following article has been published in The Hans India.
Padayatras, the Sanskrit word for the journey by foot. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, journeyed on foot to Dandi during the Salt March 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, journeyed from Telangana region to Bodh Gaya during the Boodhan Movement. Later in 1983, Chandra Shekhar, 8th Prime Minister of India, walked for 4260 km from Kanyakumari to Raj Ghat in Delhi from 6 January to 25 June to understand the problems of masses. A social cause made these noblemen to perform a padayatra.
Y. S Rajashekhar Reddy, better known as, YSR, the former chief minister of then, Andhra Pradesh, did a padayatra for a period of 3 months interacting with people of various districts which fell on his way to winning the elections and hearts of people. Following suit, his son, politician and Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy, in 2017, commenced a 3700 km long walk. He named the journey “Praja Sankalpa Yatra”. This padayatra was so effective that it defeated the Modi wave during the same period. In 2012, N Chandra Babu Naid, Indian politician covered 2000 kms in 117 days to expose the congress government. He wanted to reveal the ineffective state administration by the Congress.
Padayatras have been powerful for social and political causes. It is not about the distance, it is about the motive and the objective. The padayatras 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. Best Buy is an American multinational company for consumer electronics and other goods. In the same year as Mr.Joly’s election, the company faced severe competition from Amazon and Best Buy was dying. Joly then planned on visiting the Best Buy 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 program to build customer relationships and today the company thrives.
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 décor products and have expanded beyond domestic boundaries. A while ago he discovered about the benefits and positive change brought about by eating organic vegetables. To spread these merits he encouraged his employees at Jaipur Rugs to use purchase the produce at 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 has also allowed Jaipur rugs to be self-managed without restricting the decisions made at grass-root level. In a span of 2-3 years, Jaipur Rugs would be the first self-managed company at grassroots. His work towards 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 would want to focus on grassroots for success.
It’s 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 organization 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, best buy 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.
Manav Subodh, co-founder of 1Million 1 Billion (1M1B) based in India, Vietnam, and US intends to drive leadership, entrepreneurship, and skills required at jobs. His enterprise is in association with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). He aims at making young people of India to look for opportunities in the rural India. Reportedly, there is a high rate of immigration to cities from rural areas and population is expected to drop to 50%. Entrepreneurship is supposed to be tailored for social, economic, and local needs of the people. These needs can be accessed through periodic engagements with the kingpins of market.
“Corporate Padayatras” could help in the revival of companies that have fallen due to competition, dissatisfied customers and employees, saturation of the market and several other reasons. Customers are sovereigns of the market and the start-ups which are growing can best analyze their customers through corporate padayatras. According to of IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics 90% of Indian start-ups fail in the first five years. Why?
It is true that many of these start-ups imitate foreign businesses, which is the secondary reason for failure. The foremost 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 normal course of business.
Corporate Padayatras serve for corporate causes. It gives solutions which couldn’t have been known while being enclosed within four walls. The journey for getting closer to the stakeholders is suited for all businesses and at all stages of the 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 amid competition from 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. The best way to know untapped wants of customers is through a Corporate Padayatra, meeting, interacting, and communicating with the primary users of your 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 Indian market it had a business model ahead of it’s time when Indian customers wouldn’t 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 didn’t understand the grass-root problem. Had a Corporate Padayatra been performed like it had been done before to find out the solutions to social, political, and corporate problems it would 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 on the future of the business and market. Complexity lies in the environment where the business operates. 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 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 the business in direct contact with the people, perhaps, the kings of market.
Padayatras have proven to give solutions. The key is interaction with society. Corporate Padayatras will be beneficial to small, medium and large business to grow and sustain in the market.
This collaborative article was written by Harsha Sheelam and Prof. M Chandra Shekar and has been published by an English daily newspaper, Hans India.