“The most empowering condition of all is when the entire organization is aligned with its missions, and people’s passions and purpose are in synch with each other.” – Bill George, former CEO, Medtronic
When Mr. and Mrs. Kaushik arrived to take possession of their family’s new home in Ashiana Group’s new development in Bhiwadi, India, they were stunned.
As they approached, a red carpet stretched from the sidewalk to his front door, and a bright red ribbon wrapped around their front door. It was a moment they’d talk about the rest of their lives – and exactly what Ankur Gupta and his brothers hoped.
This happy customer moment is just one of hundreds and hundreds that take place in Ashiana properties, every year. It’s planned, it’s heartfelt – and it’s only possible because of strong strategic alignment in the executive team, and focused and enthusiastic effort by every one of their 800 employees.
Many years ago the late Shri Om Prakash Gupta started Ashiana to build happy, vibrant communities for the middle-income group in India – a notably different approach to other real estate developers who make their money and move on.
“One of his biggest strengths was his sense of caring for people,” says his son Joint Managing Director Ankur Gupta. “He would care for everybody, and wanted them to be happy working with us. He also gave a lot of importance to honesty and transparency, internally and externally to consumers – and would always look to see where he could add value.”
Ankur and his two brothers – Managing Director Vishal Gupta and Whole Time Director Varun Gupta -run the company today, and don’t just keep his values alive – they’ve turned them into a competitive advantage. And they do it with a strong, aligned team who do everything they can to fulfill the company purpose of Nurturing Smiles.
Ankur explain, “We’re not selling real estate but high quality lifestyle. This is the largest purchase – and most emotional purchase – someone will make, and we want to make it special. Dad always used to say that the children who grow up in our Ashiana properties should be smarter, happier, and expect more than the kids who grows up in any other project.”
And so Ashiana not only builds properties, they maintain them forever. And they create opportunities for the families – like providing learning centres, and organizing swimming, dance, art and singing lessons, dance and sports competitions, and many other activities – that build real communities. It’s a magical company.
“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” – Babe Ruth
Solid Strategy, Aligned Team
Every time I’ve worked with Ashiana over five years, these living, breathing values have informed our annual planning sessions. Like when we met in Singapore, last March, to work on how we could strengthen the company in the coming year. At this point, the real estate market was fairly soft, and after hours of debate and discussion we decided – based on their long-term strategy – to optimize the experience the moment the customer received the keys to their flat. This became our #1 objective, and our theme for the year: Happy Handovers.
It made sense that, with a strong referral-based company culture, we could drive future sales by making sure that every customer had an amazing story to tell their friends and family – and perhaps buy another unit themselves – or inspire someone else to. Every Happy Handover was a solid opportunity to make a positive impression to an estimated 2,300 people that year – to turn them into Ashiana promoters.
(As an aside: when I do facilitation work with this group, Nurturing Smiles is so true – it’s in their DNA. Over the course of three days, my face hurt from laughing so much. It’s an absolute riot. We do work hard, and for long days, but their purpose is so true.)
Time to Get Khushi
Now we already had a good handover program – but not the best possible. So we set five priorities to get us there…
- Establish a system to measure and respond to all the customer feedback – the ‘Khushi meter’ (Khushi means happiness in Hindi) – using a Net Promoter score: extremely happy (promoters), passive (OK), unhappy (detractors)
- Streamline the handover process to make it easy and joyful
- Be operation-ready and make sure all utilities and common areas are ready
- The WOW experience: Make sure each Ashiana family has at least one extraordinary story to tell. We did a ribbon cutting, ran a red carpet all the way to the unit, put a framed photograph of their family on the table when they arrived, offered chocolates and cake, and looked for ways to please every single customer.
- …and, of course, a process to deal with what we learned.
“One buyer was so happy with his Happy Handover,” reported Ankur, “that he invited 24 people over, and made us do it again so that they could see what we did for him in his new home.”
The energy his team puts in is extraordinary – beyond anything I’ve heard any other company doing – in real estate, or otherwise.
“Our team so badly wanted to be the best in the world that they actually put a lot effort behind it. We invited someone from England to train our staff on how to be operational-ready building: document ready, people ready, services ready, building ready.
“We also changed the title registration process for our customers – which is very, very painful in India, and can take whole day to get done. When we sent someone on our senior team to help, we found that the registrar’s offices had no air con, no water, no parking, and computers that didn’t work. So we installed air con, made parking spots, gave customers cold water, and created a working computer system. Now, registration takes 30 minutes, and Ashiana customers are treated with special care at the registrar’s office.
They didn’t just help Ashiana customers. They helped everybody in those communities who needed to register a property! So why did they do it?
“Our customers said they needed it – so we just did it.”
And that effort paid off: Up to 80% of their homes are now sold through word of mouth – and they’ve created extraordinary alignment in their executive team, and galvanized their employees to fulfill their purpose.
Why Did it Work?
- We had a simple goal that made the impact we needed it to make
- The entire executive team was aligned that this was the single most important thing we could do – and those annual priorities involved almost every member of the executive team.
- Most of the other annual goals are directly related to this program
- We made it a ton of fun.
- We aligned all 800 employees around it – all obsessed with doing the right thing for the customer.
Lessons and Insights
The impact on people in the company hasbeen phenomenal – a mindset shift. Staff – so fired up about the Khushi score when a Happy Handover happens – wanted that feedback quickly.
If they scored low, they wanted to immediately correct whatever those issues were. It was unbelievable. They also wanted to close the loop on consumer feedback, so we made a system to understand any repetitive kind of problems. One customer, for example, was hoping to get a light bulb, which we never provided. To please him, we bought light bulbs – and then provided them for everyone. We always scored better when we listened to our customers.
“What we learned along the way made us a better company,” concludes Ankur. “The only way to win is to have people engaged in what they are doing, and let them be creative with their own ideas of what will work in their location. It makes a big difference.”
If you get it right, it could be an amazing.
Based in New Delhi, India, Ashiana Group is a client that began developing real estate over 30 years ago – at a time when quality housing at an affordable price was unheard of. Today, they develop residential projects in eight locations across India and, last year – based on their growth and customer satisfaction ratings – was voted ‘Most Promising Company’ in India for the next decade, by CNBC Awaaz, India’s #1 business media channel.