Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Recasting the Role of the CEO

It takes courage to walk a different path, but when you do, you discover that you are not alone; there are many who wish to walk with you”.
(Vineet Nayar)

Today's post is about the book “Employees First, Customers Second. Turning Conventional Management Upside Down” by Vineet Nayar.

The book is very inspirational and give a real sense of the meaning of giving voice to employees, listening to them and empowering them. Ultimately - the book elucidates - individuals, the whole organisation and customers are all winners.

The author describes the radical transformation that HCLT undertook since 2005, a time when they were struggling to keep up with its rivals and when he became CEO of the company.

The traditional management systems, practices and processes were renowned in a radical way and five years later HCLT became one of the most influential IT companies in the world.

This was created without major initiatives or massive restructuring but with relatively simple catalysts that built a culture of trust, transparency, empowerment, collective wisdom and accountability within the organisation.

People at the 'value zone' were enabled to excel, helped discover their own wisdom and engage themselves entirely in their work.

The below marginalia are extracted from Chapter: 'Recasting the Role of the CEO'.

In this chapter the author describes some of the small-scale catalysts that were implemented at HCLT for recasting the role of the CEO (and the idea that he would take responsibility and decisions for everything). 

The implementation of the small scale catalysts resulted in great and positive results, by facilitating responsibility, ideas and actions throughout the organisation:

This situation had to change. Rather than hide my struggles or pretend I had the answers, why not seek help from the organisation?

We created a new section within U&I portal called My Problems. It was about just that – my problems, the questions that I, as CEO, could not answer or solve myself. I started posting questions that I was struggling with, and people began to send me answers. I got an incredibly large number of responses. It was as if everyone in the organisation had an opinion on the topic and was only too willing to help out their CEO.

We heard many interesting points, ideas, and suggested remedies that helped me understand the problem better and develop my thinking.”

The author also describes the back-and-forth engagement with the contributors as they asked each others questions such as:

  • What is the fundamental nature of the problem?
  • How does it really affect us?
  • Who is the right person or team to think more about this?
  • What timeline makes sense?
  • How will we evaluate the process and the solution?

Vinnet Nayar acknowledges that these conversations started to shift the responsibility of ideas and actions that could create change away from himself to other people throughout the organisation.

It became a dialogue rather than a monologue...the goal was to get the whole company talking and listening to one another.

Added to 'my problems', the company also introduced virtual 'communities of passion' (called 'Employee First Councils) that focused specifically in business-related passions (e.g. a particular technology). 

These communities were created based on the idea that: Only passion makes people jump out of bed in the morning looking forward to the work of the day. Only passion pushes them try things that may be difficult or seem impossible. Only passion makes them take on responsibilities or accept tasks that are not strictly specified in a contract document”.

In fact, employees participating in these communities of passion could bring their whole persona, give their own thoughts, generate all kinds of ideas.

People were so engaged that these groups became a new way to spread learning throughout the organisation and bring the whole person into the culture of the company. 

The community participation helped us increase awareness, create a sense of urgency, encourage new thought and prevent us from being blindsided by change...As CEO, I am just one of the many voices in the conversation.

Finally, the author summarises what he means for 'recasting the role of the CEO' and why he believes in it:

I deeply believe that a good deal of responsibility for managing the company must be transferred to employees, for three reasons:
  1. Concentrating power in the office of the CEO drains power away from the value zone. The office of the CEO is always too far away from the value zone to really understand the zone – especially in services and knowledge economy companies.
  1. The speed of thought, of change and of implementation gets suffocated by too much hierarchy. The only way to remove hierarchy in the organisation is to recast the role of CEO as one who asks more questions than he or she answers.
  1. The complexity of the knowledge and service economies is so great that it is impossible for any individual, CEO or company unit, to possess all the knowledge. The CEO must be in the business of enabling the people who do have the knowledge to do what they are good at, rather than taking decisions on his or her own, using incomplete, imperfect and probably outdated knowledge.”

I have concluded that when people feel passion and responsibility for what they do, not only can they transform a company, they can also transform themselves.”
(Vineet Nayar)