Leaders, are you seeking sustainable success for your company? Half-measures and more of last year’s tread-worn best practices won’t get you there. If you truly mean to transform your company from “not bad” to “thriving,” take a page from CEO Vineet Nayar’s playbook with these not-so simple steps:
- Reinvent how leadership is done, starting with the office of the CEO
- Focus on your company’s culture as the sustaining driver of change
- Iterate and reiterate. Change can’t be a one-and-done proposition
- Embrace missteps. Learn each time. Just keep moving (preferably forward)
When the chairman and founder of India’s HCL Technologies tapped Vineet Nayar to lead the company in 2005, Nayar was not new to leadership, or even to HCL. He had founded and successfully led an entrepreneurial autonomous business, Comnet, under the HCL umbrella. Nayar was highly successful in this role, which is why he was chosen to lead the parent company. Comnet was agile; Nayar’s people were highly motivated and innovative.
HCL itself was anything but. It was hidebound with process and bureaucracy. It was still a leader among India’s top technology firms, but it was growing at a slower rate than its competition. HCL’s hay day appeared to be behind it. While staff had much to be proud of in this company’s legacy, top talent also had plenty of incentive to leave, to go work for more dynamic competitors.
In other words, HCL was in decline. It desperately needed a transformative leader to bring it back into ascendancy.
Nayar’s solution to this seemingly intractable problem of slow death by irrelevancy was the creation of a new ethic for his entire company, starting at the very top. He dubbed this initiative Employees First, Customers Second (EFCS). Vineet Nayar’s experience at the helm of HCL proves on the enterprise level what I’ve been sharing for years: if you want success, learn what everyone else is doing, and do the opposite!
One of the most compelling aspects of EFCS is Nayar’s understanding of the Value Zone and the Enabling Functions within any company.
The Value Zone encompasses every customer-facing aspect of the business. In short, customers find value in the company only through these interactions. Because customers find them valuable, the business should as well.
The Enabling Functions: The rest of the business enables the workers in the Value Zone to do their jobs and serve the customer. Every inward-facing role within the business, from procurement to accounting to, yes, the office of the CEO, is an Enabling Function. As such, these roles are less vital than the roles within the Value Zone: not altogether unimportant, but decidedly secondary.
Obviously, Nayar did more than simply explain this dichotomy to his people in a speech and expect things to change. Indeed, repeatedly within his book, he points out how rocky and uncertain was the transition from a hierarchy-serving cultural bent to a culture focused on enabling the Value Zone. He shares quite candidly how some key steps he took in transforming the culture did not satisfy him, but merely got HCL closer to the goal of true cultural innovation.
Other devices HCL employed to move closer toward the mark of a truly innovative culture include:
- A radical democratization of power throughout the organization. Nayar remarks that, rather than look to the CEO to solve problems, EFCS has developed tens of thousands of employee decision-makers. Each move freed him up more to lead strategically, rather than solving tactical problems.
- Employee trust was the biggest issue he had to overcome as he led HCL’s transformation. Establishing that trust through action rather than words was arduous, but well worth it.
- An early collaboration tool, dubbed I2I, enjoys top billing as an arbiter of change within the company.
- Nayar led the way himself whenever he wanted his executives and managers to cede power to the greater company. For instance, he shared his own 360-degree performance survey with his 55,000 employees. His top reports couldn’t help but follow suit, and the practice rippled throughout management from there.
- HCL took a prevalent customer-facing tool used by many service companies, the Smart Service Desk, and established it for internal company issues. For the first time, any employee at HCL could call on any other employee for action (including the CEO!), and hold that person accountable until fully satisfied.
If you haven’t picked up Nayar’s book for yourself yet, Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down is a must-read for any sustainable leader – or any change agent looking to become one.