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Leading Infosys into the future

June 1, 2013
Narayana Murthy, Chairman, Infosys, at the Hor...

Narayana Murthy, Founder, Infosys

Narayana Murthy returns to Infosys. Narayana Murthy’s return hailed by leaders of the IT industry.

In creating the powerhouse that became Infosys, Mr. Murthy demonstrated an ability to recognize what the market needed and put together a strategy that leveraged those conditions. He has to do the same thing today, in a very different scenario. 1. The world economy and the IT industry are not the same. 2. Infosys is not a startup but a behemoth trapped by its own character& design (much like IBM in the 90s)

As he steps into this role, the first bit of advice Narayana Murthy can heed is from Albert Einstein who said “You cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it”. And indeed that is what he needs to achieve: Help Infosys develop a new mindset about doing business.

The critical change required at Infy is new thinking: diversity of thought and leadership, risk taking and experimentation. And these need to begin at the top. Let’s take a look at the composition of the executive leadership team. For a global organization, you have one non-Indian leader. A pre-dominance of South Indians on the executive committee. And 1 woman. While it may not be conscious, there is certainly an unconscious selection going on here. Which could indicate the lack of a conscious focus on what will the future look like and hence, what leadership qualities and mix do we require?

When he speaks on Strategy, Prof. Ranjan Das of IIM-Calcutta, speaks more about Talent than about strategy. He asserts that strategy is an outcome of the quality of leaders who devise it. And he encourages organizations to map their leaders’ achievements and strategic ability against the best in class. Your marketing strategy will only be as brilliant as your Chief Marketing Officer, he says.

The best service that Mr. Murthy can provide for Infy is to re-staff the leadership team that runs the organizationand he must do this within 18 months. Bringing in outsiders is fraught with risk; there is enough research that indicates how often this fails. However, I believe that Infosys already has many diamonds in the rough, who are not noticed because they don’t “fit the mould”. This outdated and now irrelevant mould must now be discarded and a new one reconstituted.

Finding radical thinkers, explorers, pioneers, experimenters is critical. Giving a voice to the larger organization via processes like

English: Wordmark of Infosys

English: Wordmark of Infosys (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vision Communities will help throw up strategic/business ideas and pinpoint fresh thinkers from within the organization. Developing a more dynamic and inclusive leadership concept for the future, will ensure this is not repeated. Leading a redesigned talent assessment and identification process, rapidly bringing younger leaders up the ranks and restaffing the leadership team and board are the need of the hour.

All strategic thinking is an outcome of the quality of the thinkers, their alignment with each other, driven by a common purpose and objective. As soon as you ensure the right set of drivers on the bus, the direction (aka strategy) will begin to fall into place.

And in doing this, Mr. Murthy will need to get his hands dirty. A consultative approach will not work. Being nice will not work. He will need to place the greater good above individuals. And he will need to respect the needs of the future to pick a leader who will renew Infy and lead it into the next orbit. He can be aided and supported on this journey if the current leadership team realizes this and with humility seeks to support him in making this happen, even if it means a significant change for themselves.

Will he, or won’t he? Will they or won’t they? Time will tell. And in these times, rather quickly.

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May 17, 2013

32412_10151390020697835_332470562_nToday, my heart is full of pride. Many years ago, I insisted on experimenting with my child’s life and future. I believe that the universe is designed to support us and accordingly I declared that we will choose the one school where we want our daughter Tanishqa to study and we will buy no other forms. Rummy, my wife, who was a quieter woman in those days didn’t disagree and so, the experiment was carried out. Everyday a new school’s forms were announced she would call me and I would say no. It wasn’t easy. The day St. Helena’s announced the final selection list, I was the most scared of all, for I was risking more than myself. I had to fight through a crowd to get to the board outside the gates of the school. When I saw her name on the selection list, I broke down there and wept, with relief and joy.

Today, I am sitting alone at home, in the same state. Having just seen Tanishqa’s results online. She’s passed her ICSE board exams with flying colors. She will probably be among the top 5 scorers in Art across the ICSE board for this year. I am unable to stop the tears of joy that are streaming down my face. My heart wants to burst with pride and I am filled with gratitude for this universe that seems to shower endless happiness upon me and smoothens the way for me and my family to constantly achieve our dreams.

Yellow BuddhaAnd I want to thank each one of you, who has encouraged Tan, believed in her, complimented her art, from near and far. Those of you who have her paintings hanging on your walls – It is your belief and support that emboldened her and helped her to believe in herself. Thank you

Parenting can sometimes seem like a thankless job, but only in the short-term. In life you look for lag indicators. You wait 5 years or 10 and then you realize the distance you’ve traveled and how much things have changed. All I can say today about the first 16 years of fatherhood is, that it’s worth it.

2013-04-30 13.13.01One more milestone crossed, but I am waiting for the big one – 10 years from now, when someone points to me on the street and says, “Isn’t that Tanishqa’s father?”, I will weep again.


HR 2020

February 20, 2013
alarm clock, bought from IKEA

alarm clock, bought from IKEA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The changing face of the world and of organizations, as a result, means that HR too must evolve. That’s not rocket science, we all know that. The challenge is in predicting some direction and opinions. So I thought I might as well throw in my 2 cents worth of opinion.

It is clear that complexity is only going to increase. Economic and organizational life-cycles are going to reduce significantly. Economies and organizations will need to change on a dime. Aside from disruption caused by rapid innovation and disintermediation, socio-cultural forces will cause a level of disruption that will be rapid and wide-ranging in its impact. Disruption will be quicker, and have far greater destructive/transformative impact than ever before. If  “Built to Last” was an earlier ethic, we must now begin to think of “Built to Survive” or “Designed to Adapt”. The world will belong to Adapt-adept organizations and economies.

What will this mean for HR? What kinds of demands will organizations place on the HR function?

Definitely HR will need to play a more strategic function than ever before. It will need to own change readiness and adaptability as a core cultural pillar. It will need to ensure that organizations are more conscious of their destiny and competence. And to do this, the function will need to ensure that talent and leadership measurement and development revolve around dynamic characteristics. It will need to own rapid (yes I mean Rapid) succession and development of talent. And to do all this, the function itself will need to develop an agility never seen before.

How can HR do this. Some simple to conceive but difficult to implement steps that are evident today are:

1. Drastically Reduce operational overhead – Separate the doers from the thinkers. Ensure day-to-day routine functions are passed on to people with an administrative mindset. Payroll, mass-hiring, C&B, Exits etc. can be outsourced or handed over to an HR Operations team that reports into an Operations head.

2. Develop and Invest in specialization: OD, Talent Management, Culture, Leadership Development, Strategy, Systems thinking, Organizational Effectiveness, Lean, Six Sigma. All these are critical for HR to either acquire themselves or to ensure acquisition by key functions that impact cost structures.  Practices like these need to be owned in-house as far as possible and the organization has to recognize that competitive advantage will be drawn from leveraging this kind of thought leadership.


strategy (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

3. Become advisors and internal consultants to the CEO/Board. From a service function to a strategic enabling function. HR will achieve this by being diagnostic and advisory in nature. As well as by building the capabilities to drive and implement change. Replicating a consulting structure will make this happen. But more importantly, acquiring the capabilities and skills that will enable them to be seen as thought leaders is what will make the leadership team reach out to the function proactively for support and guidance.

4. Change the performance metric: I have long believed that measuring and rewarding a CEO on P&L is a fallacy. That is the reason the CEO has a job. The CEO has to be held accountable for the future. The CEO has to be held accountable for sustainability. Rewriting performance measures and tweaking reward systems will help drive the behaviours that will lead to greater adaptability for the organization. HR has to take more risk in this area and break away from status quo. Similarly, a Sales Head should not have a large percentage of his KRAs devoted to delivering sales results. Instead his KRAs should focus on building sales-force capability, building sales-force processes that are market-beating etc.

5. Education: Last but most important, none of this will happen in the long-term if the education industry doesn’t recognize the changing needs and demands from the function. Curricula must change. Methodology and content has to be contemporary. Entry criteria have to be stiffer. If an HR head and his key second line are expected to be advisors to the CEO and the leadership team, then the standards of entry to this role, right at the start have to be far stiffer than they currently are. As soon as norms are tightened, the esteem and perceive brand association of the function will change and we will have more serious aspirants opting for the function, versus the present trend of 20% opting and the rest gravitating towards the HR function.


Zetamandel (Photo credit: Arenamontanus)

Essentially, HR must refocus. They must walk away from non-value-adding routine activities  and invest greater time on organization building, developing talent, ensuring structure and culture support strategy. measure success and challenge the leadership.

This is the way forward I see. What do you see? Help add and grow this discussion.

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Great Place to Work?

December 5, 2012
Cover of "A Great Place to Work: What Mak...

Cover via Amazon

I am a little fed up with the awards, the constant dialog on the processes and policies that make a Great Place to Work. So I thought I’d just get my voice out there.

First up, I don’t believe what makes one place Great is what makes another place a Great Place to Work. I also believe that what is Great for one person is not for another. Why do I say this?

I remember being in a role a few years ago and I was MISERABLE! There were a few more like me who were miserable. So we quit. One by one. Over a period of about 6 months, all of us had moved on.

However, and this is the KEY; However, there were many others who had been working in that organization for a long many years, who continued to work on and enjoy their jobs. They came in on time, they were well engaged and they added value. They aspired to rise up and one day head that organization. For them, this was a Great Place to Work. For us, it wasn’t.

And that’s where I think organizations get it wrong:

  • They participate in surveys that will tell them whether or not they are a Great Place to Work
  • Then they look at how far below the leaders they are
  • Then they do their best to figure out what the leaders do? aka Best Practices (Read my take on best practices here)
  • Then they replicate those Best Practices into their own organization
  • And then, not much changes :)
  • I am not surprised

Surveys, by nature of having to be applied across a large cross-section of organizations have no choice but to become cookie-cutters, in that they have to homogenize and come to a few core areas that they can measure and compare across organizations. Nothing wrong with that. But like all cookie-cutters, they leave a lot of things OUT.

Don’t get me wrong, surveys are good. They serve a useful purpose i.e. they help you identify whether or not you meet basic hygeine. Do you disburse salary on time? Are most decisions transparent, objective and balanced? Is the work environment safe and equal. And others. All good areas to know about and to be able to work on.

But surveys stop there. They don’t tell you what’s unique about you. They don’t tell you that while you lose 12.34% people every year, WHY do the remaining errrrrr…. (damn I dug this grave for myself) … 87.66% (YES!!!) continue to cherish and stay!

Here’s what I think organizations should REALLY do if they want to find out whether they are a Great Place to Work. Figure out:

  • Which kind of people who work here think we are a Great Place to Work
  • Why do they think so? What is it about us that makes us Great?
  • Does this align with our Strategy, Vision and Cultural pillars?
  • Does it differentiate us from the competition?
  • Are there enough people spread across the talent pool who would appreciate a culture like ours?
  • How do I find them? How do I let them know I exist?
  • What disturbs my people? How do I minimize the irritants?

Now you’re talking. Now you’re being respectful of your unique identity as a complex organism and not something that can be measured and compared on a scale.

In all my life I have never seen people engaged by policies or processes. They are best engaged when they are doing good work, when they are respected, challenged and continuously growing.

There are people who love mercenary cultures; there are others who love directive cultures and, there are those who would shun both. What matters is for an organization to recognize itself, recognize it’s unique identity and strength and then find people who think that is Great. Those people will feel at home.

Go ahead and debate this!

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Talent management – The future

October 11, 2012

1. What do you foresee as the future of talent management in the context of the changing workforce and the increasing entry of the next generation?

Fundamentals will stay the same

Talent Management will become more important than ever. Supply-demand gaps will mean it will become a competitive differentiator even more so than before, and will be on the CEOs agenda. Evolved companies already have boards focussing on key talent issues.

Talent Acquisition will become a specialist area

Talent Assessment at recruiting and promotion will become more important than ever and companies will realize the importance of getting the right fit

We will also see more multi-cultural workplaces with talent migration moving the other direction. Indian consulates in Germany, France, USA, China have seen a 100% increase in Indian work visas in the last 3 years. The ability to manage expats, will be a key issue. Government policies will need to be modified.

Analytics will play a greater role – Some companies are already using algorithms to identify which employees are likely to quit. The similar technology will find ways into identifying which employees are likely to click.

Clarity and Communication – Social media will play a large role

2. What are the critical areas that future people strategy will demand with respect to its approach and execution?

Blend of FTE, Outsourced, PTE, Consultants, Project teams – Lego blocks approach- Organizations will be run by a mix of red, blue, green, yellow blocks

Build + Buy – Organizations will invest in partnerships or build internal capability to train and develop future employees. Industry-education partnerships will increase.

I have always held that SCM principles can be applied to people strategy and with the world becoming more dynamic, a lot can be learned from there. JIT, Supply-Demand metrics etc.

Employment contracts will get clearer and more direct

Leadership style will need to be flexible – millenials have high need for freedom and direction/structure – Set the direction/structure and then set them free with broad controls.

In continuation of the above point, the concept of Self Managed Teams (highly prevalent in factories) will make it ways to the white collar corporate world. This will provide the empowerment and freedom that Gen Y wants, and enable organizations to reduce supervisory overhead and build leaner, more empowered structures. This will also energize lower levels of the organization to be more independent, responsible and responsive, leading over time, to better developed leaders for the future.

Emerging markets will see an increasing demand for experienced talent in newer industries which will taper off after about a decade when internal and local pipelines are built – Expat hiring at local costs will become a reality. So the unemployed in the West today have some respite. The next gen will not have this benefit.

Returnees will be challenged. Expats returning to the developed world will find it difficult to settle into 0-1% growth rate scenarios. They will miss the “action”. Returness to emerging markets (from the developed world) will face reverse-culture shock and will find it hard to adjust to the pace, lack of structure and resultant chaos

3. How can organizations optimize the new characteristics of the future workforce/ talent?


Love challenges

Are used to moving from project to project

Use them for idea generation

Enjoy working in teams and collaborating – cross-functional teams – breakdown silos

Challenging projects – questioning status quo – driving change

Multi-tasking – Social – Networked – Great Sales professionals – Great Relationship managers

Very driven – if you can find the route to their motivation, you’ve got them hooked and self-driven

Intuitively understand technology, internet, connections, networking

4. What are the top 3 myths about next gen talent entering the workforce today?

That they’re unconcerned and disengaged – They need a different style of leadership and challenge to be engaged

That they are in it only for the money – give them a great role and see them deliver

Want to go up the corporate ladder quickly. A lot of them want to find a space that gives them balance and stay there


Leadership and the Self

September 16, 2012
Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela (Photo credit: Festival Karsh Ottawa)

The first step to being an effective leader is self awareness. How conscious you are of the leadership you practice, defines how effective you are.

My friend, mentor and leader Karen West says the most fundamental question is: Why do you want to be a leader? What fuels your desire to lead?

If the desire is to give, to add value, to make a difference – you will be one type of leader

If the desire is to compete, win, overthrow – you will be a different type of leader

If the desire is to fulfill your internal needs for social approval, have the good things in life – you will be yet another kind of leader

In reality, there are parts of each one of the above that drive our desires. The key is to be conscious of them, the key is to be aware of which desires can create blind-spots and become derailers. The key also, is to know which ones will fuel joy and success.

A wise man I knew once said, we’re all running in life. Some of us are running towards something we love and value. Others are running away from something we fear or dislike. We are all running, but the quality of the race is very different.

Do you know why you are running?

This is a good time to take a pause, sit back and think about why you want to be a leader.

My list is:

1. I believe I have the ability to provide clarity and direction – even when things are chaotic – I want to be able to help a team navigate through tough times in order to be successful

2. I believe I am able to help individuals harness their strengths and perform to their greatest potential

3. I believe in thinking out of the box and trying things differently and leadership gives me the ability to be able to do that

4. I believe in making a difference to the larger ecosystem that is our society, nation, environment and humankind. Leadership gives me the platform to be able to influence such a direction

5. I get bored by routine and doing the same thing day after day. I believe leadership enables me to have more “play” and influence on doing different things and taking on a variety of challenges

What’s your list?

Leadership is also about agility and being dynamic. The beliefs, styles, skills and attitudes that succeed for you in a particular context will not work all the time. Your ability to learn. To flex. To change. Will define sustainable success.

This is another good point to pause, and reflect on how you have changed in the last 10 years. An equally important question you must ask yourself is: What am I continuing to do that is either irrelevant or is not adding value, and I must change?

To paraphrase Jim Collins: Great leaders look to the window to shower praise and look to the mirror to find fault.

So what kind of leader do you want to be? Why? How are you going to make it happen? What do you need to change, starting now?

Become self-aware. Be more conscious of who you want to be and who you are being. And you will be on your way. Enjoy the race!

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Developing Leaders? – Burn the classroom!!

August 3, 2012
English: Signature of Mahatma Gandhi.

English: Signature of Mahatma Gandhi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can’t learn swimming in a classroom. A powerpoint presentation won’t teach you how to ride a bicycle. Getting “coached” on how to bake an apple pie won’t complete the learning.

Leadership, is a practice.

It is something you do. It is something that is experienced and felt by others. Leadership is an expression of your life-experiences and the values and beliefs you have developed as a result of those experiences.

Really think those can be developed in a classroom? Think again!

I believe organizations are wasting a lot of time, energy and money on sending batch after batch of leaders to workshops. Leadership Workshops will NOT build skill. They serve a purpose and the purpose is:

  • Building perspective
  • Building knowledge
  • Introducing a concept

So how do you do it? How do you build great leaders? 

Skill-building always has been and will be an outcome of practice and experience. Create experiences and situations that test their skills and raise the difficulty levels of the challenge from time to time.

Some ways you can do this are:

1. Job rotation: This does not mean some namby pamby name change for the role or a 1 degree change that the individual will hardly notice. A job change that challenges skills that have not yet been tested is the most appropriate way to do this.

2. Location change: Managing a team in NY is very different from managing a team in Cincinnati. As is the difference between leading people in North India versus South India, or Shanghai versus Singapore.

3. Situation change: Running a sales outfit in an area where you have leading market-share is very different from running a sales outfit in a region where you are the slacker

4. People Challenge: Get them to lead a team of youngsters. Freshers. Folks who’re older than them. Mixed groups. Cross-functional teams. Each one will develop new skills

Regional Leadership Forum

Regional Leadership Forum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5. Context change: Manage a start-up business/project. Lead a turnaround situation. Lead a high growth, rapid ramp-up situation. New territory expansion. New product category.

6. Business change: Manage a not-for-profit

Through each assignment, monitor how the individuals are handling people, decisions, analytics, relationships, intuition, growth, resolution. Elicit in partnership with them, the values and beliefs that seem to be driving their choices and behaviours. Develop high levels of self-awareness, reflection, critical thinking and insight. These are long-term differentiators of great leaders.

Don’t molly-coddle. Allow failures. Ensure that challenges are real and steep. Dealing with failures will build both, Resilience (ability to learn and bounce-back) and Humility.

Appoint mentors/coaches who will hand-hold them through the transitions, so that you enable a support structure that fosters success (instead of a sink or swim). The benefits of Transition Coaching are manifold and derisk leadership transitions for organizations.

Not only will the above process develop leaders, it will also bring a new pair of eyes to a lot of roles and throw up things that will benefit the organization as whole. It will raise the levels of engagement and challenge at work thereby increasing retention. Of course, it will derisk the leadership pipeline and succession significantly.

Don’t delay. Pick a cohort. Even if it is just 4 people. Get the sign off from the CEO, and put this into action. At least 2 of the 4 will make it for sure.

Read the IBM interview down below and discover how IBM is reaping multiple value from following a similar process.

Doing by learning by @jobsworth

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