What makes a business succeed in this fast paced world? Blue Chip sits down with Asaad Rezzvi, as he shares with us insightful and valuable tips to making it big in business.

Blue Chip (BC): Your work is unique in that not many people in Pakistan do what you do. How would you describe your work?

Asaad Rezzvi (AR): My job routinely entails helping companies, athletes, leaders and teams perform optimally by creating ecosystems that support outstanding achievement.

The world is changing very rapidly, more than any other time in history, and I’m not just referring to business but to culture and every strata of society as well. To give you an idea, Facebook and Twitter were the main catalysts that facilitated the Arab spring, which changed the face of the Middle East in a very short time. Today, people around the world, including Pakistan, have access to actionable information at their fingertips. Companies complacent in their success are fast realising that things can change in a moment.

Your best employee is looking around at his options right now! He knows instantly if a better opportunity were to pop up elsewhere. And that means tomorrow he could be working for your competitor, become your competitor or disrupt your business completely. If the CEOs of today think that it won’t happen to their industry, they better wake up because that’s exactly where it will happen. It’s happening at a rapid rate next door, in India, and the tech-startup arena is heating up in Pakistan as well. That means innovation has taken a hold, options for creative & entrepreneurial people have expanded, and jobs are no longer the sole avenue for bright minds!

Studies have shown that at any given time, at least 25% of employees in every company are actively looking around for better options. And another 30% are pencil pushing to no end, protecting their jobs, disengaged and unmotivated - they don’t like their boss usually because he’s is hindering their progress, they feel the culture of the company is too bureaucratic/stifling, and the pay structure is not rewarding

BC: So around half the employees are disengaged and unmotivated, and the top ones are actively looking around for better opportunities. What are your options as an employer to not only retain but to cultivate and attract top talent?

AR: The top reasons employees cite for being engaged, motivated and energized are:

  • They feel they’re growing, learning and their work has an impact,
  • The company they work for has an inspiring vision that is actively being adhered to and worked toward, and
  • They enjoy working with the team they’re a part of.

Pay structure is not among the top reasons for retaining or attracting top talent. The best companies put culture building as their top priority because from experience, they know that a superior culture of performance is the only thing that allows a company to prevail during tough times and more importantly, cultivate and attract top talent!

BC: Can you give a few examples of how you were able to positively impact the companies you worked with?

AR: When I joined Wateen Telecom as Chief Transformation Officer, it was bloated, bureaucratic and bleeding $2million per month. Shortly after joining, the entire employee base was addressed at a town hall with an objective to change the organization into an environment where employees would become self-motivated and enjoy working.

The prospect was extremely challenging and the vast majority of employees present were pessimistic about our chances of success. However, two eventful years later, the greatest critics had become our most profound advocates; results were improving exponentially and a common vision had started to proliferate.

The second most impactful thing we did was to implement the RPM, the Rapid Planning Method, created and pioneered by my mentor and teacher, Anthony Robbins (“Top business Gurus of the world” – HBR). It’s a very effective, efficient and dynamic method now used by the likes of McKinsey to transform organizations. For example, in India, a similar system was implemented at Larsen & Toubro, one of the largest construction and engineering firms to turn the company around and create a merit-based culture of performance. In India, like in Pakistan, the system of seniority and cliques seemed to play a bigger role than performance, resulting in young, energetic, high potential and high performing employees leaving as they realised their work would be better appreciated else where.

The RPM is a simple but in-depth system. It’s basic function is to allow each employee, in every team and every department to see the broad vision of the organization while concurrently observing how his/her work will have a direct and measurable impact on the final result. The objective is to empower every individual while simultaneously discouraging silo creation, cliques and opaque decision-making! Employees get engaged, trust each other and move forward in progress and the building of credible relationships.

In three years we transformed the culture of Wateen from a fear driven, totalitarian, bureaucratic and ineffective system that was taking it over the cliff, to one of high engagement, performance and merit driven, transparent work flow that allowed employees to take charge, deliver results and get acknowledged, appreciated and enjoy their work.

Two years after I had joined, a presentation was shared at one of our Board meetings, which showed the transformation that had been implemented in 24 months. The Board, including the Sheikh, were notably impressed - we had built a dynamic and self-motivated culture, the results of which conspicuously reflected in the positive cash flow of the company and the morale of the employees - it was a stark difference from the other group companies. Culture building is the closest thing to a sure shot in business and punctual recognition, focus and implementation of it is one of, if not the, primary reasons why top companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have flourished.

BC: The Rapid Planning Method sounds very interesting can you share how it works?

AR: The heart of this process is the vision creation; but most individuals perceive this as a simple slogan on a wall. The vision I refer to is one that will be discussed amongst every employee, a common denominator that is willingly absorbed and infused into their responsibilities and motivates an employee to work towards its achievement. The absence of such a vision devalues the concepts of leadership, organizational momentum and employee motivation.

To illustrate the effectiveness more starkly, one must differentiate activity from progress. When I ask CEOs or C-suite executives what they spent most of their time on, they commonly reply that they’re generally managing day-to-day affairs and preoccupied in firefighting, so precious little time, if any, is left to make real progress. Leaders need to spend time on two things - the company they have and the company they’re going to build. The RPM is categorically designed to contain reaction and shift the focus toward progress, toward eliminating the source of chronic problems and toward getting results. The key element is anticipation - that’s the edge that drives big wins and remarkable goals.

Optimal performance companies focus on building systems, processes and structures to enhance productivity, and refrain from reacting to day-to-day activity - this is referred to as creating a superior culture. Amazon, Google and Facebook are hyper-growth companies that have mastered the art of building a vibrant, dynamic and rigorous growth culture. The phenomenon was not accidental; it happened through relentlessly pursuing the key metrics that drive long-term profit growth, which is engaged employees. That’s what the RPM is designed to do. It massively and systematically engages employees and makes them get excited about a vision and enhances clarity about the specific results they personally need to achieve to contribute to the vision of the company. Most importantly it’s 100% transparent, and therefore accountability goes sky high. There’s no room for excuses. That’s a sea change from the daily grind most employees experience. The difference is progress vs. activity; one creates forward movement, the other is a hit or miss approach.

BC: So what, in your perspective, is leadership about?

AR: The perception of this word is so broad; it has become a challenge to define it within practical terms. I personally prefer to break it into its components:

  • Energy – physical, emotional and spiritual
  • Effectiveness – skill, capacity and drive
  • Credibility – words, actions and results

A person in charge, whether it’s of a company, a family, or a team needs to have all three to consistently get the kind of results that inspire people to move forward.

I get a lot of people telling me their team is not motivated. Motivation is flitting; it’s short-lived. Drive, determination and focus are the real ingredients that deliver superior results. Companies where employees display these qualities consistently win, prevail and progress. The most important aspect of leadership is the person at the top: that’s where leadership begins and the buck stops. If the leader is driven, determined and focused, chances are so is the team and therefore the rest of the company. One of my favorite examples was Steve Jobs at Apple: his predecessors were all seasoned CEO’s with the knowledge and skill to deliver extraordinary results but they lacked the vision and the drive to turn Apple around. When Steve returned, he created a vision so compelling, so exciting and had such conviction in it that people inside and outside the company began to believe it. In fact, Apple employees coined the term “Steve’s reality distortion field”! Reality didn’t matter because Steve believed in his vision and believed he could make it happen with such absolute conviction that he did make it happen. This kind of energy was infectious and that’s the reason he had a cult like following, seldom seen for a corporate CEO!

BC: I hate to say this but I think these things happen in the US because it’s a more mature market. Do you think it can happen in Pakistan?

AR: Absolutely! Back in the early nineties, Shaukat Mirza lead the employee buyout that created Engro. He had the kind of vision that created his own “reality distortion field,” to the point that everyone from his direct reports down to the average worker on the plant floor in Dharki believed in his vision. Since I’ve done work with Engro, I’ve personally talked to these people and they still remember Shaukat Mirza fondly! Furthermore, he had the credibility, the drive and a rock-solid plan to deliver the goal. To give you an idea, this kind of a transaction is extremely complex and is seldom done any where in the world let alone in Pakistan! Furthermore, they were extremely short on funds and that’s where the employees got fired up and came up with their personal cash, raised in some cases by selling wives’ jewelry and other belongings. But in the end this transaction was successful for one reason and one reason alone: Shaukat Mirza himself was the kind of man that inspired the best in others - that’s leadership! A leader has to go first. It’s the only model that works whether in politics, sports, business or family.

BC: I know it takes many qualities to make an effective leader but what’s the most important quality a leader should have?

AR: I’ve worked with companies big and small, and CEOs and teams from the US to Pakistan. If there’s one thing that I’ve observed, every successful and effective leader, whether CEO or manager, display its influence. It’s the feeling employees get that their CEO/leader can get them to the ‘promised land’, that he can handle the challenges and they he can come up with the tough answers that no one else can. Most often, the people who have this strength have bounced back from many adversities and challenges, regardless of how big or small.

One thing is guaranteed for almost every person, and that’s the ups and downs of life. Those who consistently bounce back have developed an enduring vision for their lives and the qualities that allow them to prevail, no matter what happens around them. That’s effective leadership and it develops the capacity to influence others. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. Either way, it’s up to you to make progress. Sometimes winning can be the biggest loss if it makes you go complacent. I’ve seen many companies and individual drop from their success and disappear. They couldn’t handle success. I’ve also observed the opposite, people and companies rising from the ashes and reach the pinnacle of success, maintain their edge and continue to move forward.

In most companies, “vision” is something that hangs on a wall somewhere. It’s lifeless and meaningless except as a catchy byline. A real vision is something that gets you up early out of bed, endure through the intensity of challenges that would make mere mortals give up, drives you beyond your what you think your limits are, and finally it inspires people beyond their fears, into their strength! That is influence and it is the heart of leadership.

BC: What’s one thing that companies can do to gain the edge in their business?

AR: Aside from creating an extraordinary culture, the most important thing is to know what business you’re in. Here I’m not referring to the most obvious answers like Telecom, Banking, Automotive, etc. I’m referring to knowing the business your customer thinks you’re in; he’s the one spending the cash and there are factors that increase or decrease the spend value. That’s the real business you’re in. For example, Rolex is not in the watch making business they’re in the luxury business. Starbucks is not in the coffee business, and Facebook is not in the business of social media! But the reason these companies are at the top of the business food chain is because they’ve figured out what their customer knowingly or unknowingly pays for. Most importantly, they’ve figured out who their real customer is.

Most companies talk about customer centricity, but very few achieve it. What most people don’t realize is that a company cannot become customer centric until it has developed a significant inner culture of employee centricity, meaning a culture that drives employee morale and performance. When a company gives its employees that significance, that very quality translates into the employee giving the significance to the customer.

BC: What would you say is the biggest area of opportunity in Pakistan?

AR: The biggest opportunity and challenge in Pakistan is the sense of uncertainty every single person feels, from the Prime Minister, right down to the pan wala, on an almost daily basis! We as a nation are uncertain about our electricity, water, livelihood, politics, transportation, even our very lives unfortunately! It’s a massive challenge and also a huge opportunity - very few companies have figured out how to tap into it. But those that have are thriving with fat coffers. Any company that can gives its customers a sense of certainty, specific to their arena of business, can gain an edge that other companies will not be able to compete with.

BC: Tell us about your extraordinary background. You spent many years in Silicon Valley, plus you’re an active athlete and you take time for philanthropic work also!

AR: In my early years, I worked with pro athletes and startups. I went to University close to Silicon Valley, so I was exposed to the booming and extremely dynamic culture of tech startups. After I graduated from UC Berkeley, and having spent years after graduation with Anthony Robbins, I began consulting with companies using what I’d learned and achieved great results. Since I worked with athletes and companies, I found that the qualities that make people successful in one arena are identical to those in the other arena also. I had the good fortune of being exposed to some extraordinary people, so I emulated them, raised my standards and decided that I’m going to live life on my own terms. Work was not the end all and be all for me - I believe without health and vitality life is a waste. I researched and learned everything I could from one of the foremost authorities in health, and implemented it in my life. At the time I was actively competing in Mixed Martial Arts and Muay Thai. Most people have a mindset that you can’t be an athlete after forty - I am not only active, but push my limits more today than when I was in my twenties. I also set up a non-profit to help terminally ill patients lead better lives by getting control of their nutrition, improving their energy levels and uplifting their emotional state. After moving to Pakistan about 10 years back, I continued my non-profit work here as well. My work with terminally ill patients expanded to include working with families and people with chronic conditions.

Asad is currently working intensively with the Pakistan Cricket Team to turn them around. His areas of focus are game strategy, A-game replication modules and sport specific health, nutrition and fitness. He’s focused on giving them a measurable edge to ensure they’re able to perform consistently at a higher level.