7 Elements of Leadership to Succeed amidst Pandemonium Times – Element 2

Element 2: Engage with every Stakeholder

This is the second big element which comes into play. Winning organizations engaged every stakeholder like employees, suppliers, customers, government and others to get involved in getting back to stand on their feet.

Like for everyone else on the planet, Venkatram Vasantavada,who is the Managing Director and CEO of Seed Works International Pvt Ltd, was hard stuck with the uncertain times posed by COVID-19 and the lockdown. It took three-to-four days to absorb what was happening but the unprecedented levels of engagement paved the way for companies like Seed Works to manage the situation with aplomb. The first thing which Venkat did was, being part of the Seed Association, he started to get engaged with government at Central and State level for approvals to operate despite the lockdown, highlighting the importance of seed production for the Indian economy. With the months of April and May being the peak seasons for farming activity particularly with the sowing of cotton seeds commencing from March itself in states like Haryana it was pertinent for Seed Works to get the clearance from government and start the operations.Governments could not deny the rationale when explained and proactively, within less than a week’s time they allowed the processing activities to start. In spite of approvals, there were difficulties in terms of surveillances, new safety protocols, and more importantly, lower operating capacities and labor shortages. Also, local bodies were trying to control the crowding, but with determination and continuous efforts, overall in around 10 days’ time, most plants were up and running, although at lower capacities.

Green channel was provided for the transportation of seeds to other states. The whole processing, packaging and shipping to markets, within a span of 10 days, was happening at 70 percent capacity, and companies were able to ship the seeds. With small hiccups here and there, things were actually happening, when most of the nation was locked. 

However, things were not all green on the market front. Shops were open for limited hours and so were C&F points. Loading, unloading and shipping were, therefore, affected and it took another week’s time to establish the flow. 


Seed sector relies on the channel partners who are the distributors, dealers and retailers to sell the seeds to the farmers and as a CEO he was able to inspire his team to engage with them and in spite of lockdown the sales were not affected and the channel partners had never complained about cash flow issues which was expected in several quarters and were able to make payments and they were able to achieve 90% of revenue targets as on May 2020. This was possible due to the engagement that the sales team had with the channel partners. Seed industry predominantly operates on demand-generation which happens at the farmer level and the demand fulfillment which happens at the trade. Without proper engagement at the trade level, the yearlong efforts put by people in conducting activities at the farmer level for demand-generation would go redundant. Venkat conducted several virtual meetings with his team and also with the channel partners in addressing their concerns quickly. Partners at trade also responded in a positive manner and contrary to the gloom-and-doom scenario portrayed outside it was actually a seamless operation. Even though the shops were not open the entire day, they were doing brisk business. More importantly, field sales force leveraged on the digital and social media to reach the consumer end and farmers are also appreciating it. Venkat tells me that, “This will make a way out for lots of inefficiencies like the disruption of communication, as we can directly reach out to the farmers who are our customers. Of course, physical meetings can never be done away with, especially where products are to be delivered physically, but engaging and leveraging of social and digital media will keep on amplifying even in rural marketing.”

As a CEO of an organization which had met the “Gold Standard” and had been certified as a ‘Great Place to Work’ in 2020, he places lots of emphasis on the issues of Human Resources (HR). From an HR perspective, Venkat tells me that trust between employer and employee has moved through a different dimension. The new methods of engagement are showing how employees have quickly recalibrated themselves to new ways of working and have taken greater responsibilities and ownerships. The employer-employee relationship has reached higher levels of trust since in the peak season the employees of Seed Works had worked during the lockdown period of April and May 2020 with minimum intervention of supervision, with hardly any senior manager being able to go to the market. It has been the local employees who have kept the engagement with the channel partners and the farmers and ensured that they deliver the results.The most important thing to understand is that we are talking about engagement and virtual meetings not between people who are sitting in high-rise buildings in big cities like Mumbai but we are talking about people sitting in villages in the rural hinterland of India interacting with their superiors and talking with the traders and communicating over the digital and social media with the farmers. COVID 19 has brought about a transformation in the engagement process at the rural levels.Venkat sums up by saying that engagement at all levels within the organization, with the channel partners, suppliers, farmers and most importantly with the government ensured that even during the total lockdown periods they were able to operate without having to suffer badly in terms of cash flows.
So, it is important to keep engaging with people at all levels and most important is to keep this engagement levels with the customers. I have heard several business owners talking about credit issues with the customers and when we dig deeper we find that the only time these people engaged with their clients was when they had to ask for payments. If collections are the sole purpose of your engagement with your creditors, that level of engagement is bound to fail.

Providing valuable information, indicating the trends that are happening in your industry, sharing the breakthroughs that your business had achieved are some of the ways through which the business leaders can engage with the customers. Being visible to the eyes of the customer is the starting point of being engaged with them.

JVC Sreeram

Author of “No Reference Point”
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