I took the road less traveled… that made all the difference!

Author: Vineet Nayar
CEO, HCL Technologies
It is not news to us that the fast paced industry growth is creating big discrepancy in the demand-supply of quality resources, and an impending resource crunch in the IT Industry. A maddening rush in the industry has been triggered on for recruiting people. From big to small, each player in the market today talks about the number of people they want to hire. In the pursuit of this desirable number of workforce, the real reason for our existence, namely our business some how stands lost.

And in this frenzy across the industry an employee is, to some extent, treated as a mere number. Even when we call them “assets” on our balance sheets, it does not sound really true. Think of what the employee experience has come down to be. I am sure only factors like compensation and monetary benefits drive them these days.

This state of affairs reminds me of Professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne’s famous theory of ‘Blue Ocean’. In the Blue Ocean theory, the ‘ocean’ refers to the market or industry and ‘blue oceans’ are untapped and uncontested markets. These markets provide little or no competition for anyone who would dive in since they are not crowded. A ‘red ocean’, on the other hand, refers to a saturated market where there is fierce competition, already crowded with companies providing the same type of services or producing the same kind of goods.

We need to consistently look for and find ‘blue oceans’ in business that can pay rich returns. And we are perhaps the first company in the world that has applied this theory to create a unique employee experience.

Without a doubt employee experience has remained a ‘red ocean’ where all the companies are focused on fulfilling the baser employee needs which are primarily driven by money and status.

Human beings are treated as numbers – ones which are enticed by numbers, swanked as numbers, and exist as numbers in the industry today. And we refused to take part in this game and treat the most essential ingredient of our business cycle as a number.

It was not easy as it contradicted the primary belief system of ours as an organization and the approach we hitherto took to achieve success. We did not want to get into the ‘bargain’ war or ‘who pays a thousand bucks more than the other’ tussle. We were clear we do not intend to build that in our future organization.

We instead focused on the ‘blue ocean’ strategy, and decided to give a new connotation to employee engagement. Because we knew that if we fail to empower our people, we fail at the first level - organizational transformation.

The answer is so simple, but unfortunately one which the Industry was ignorant and negligent about till date - addressing the higher ‘aspirational needs’ of an employee. And surprisingly it carries in itself the secret of a more sustainable and lasting unique experience.

The strategy to address the aspirational need as opposed to the ‘red ocean’ of existential needs starts with the basic assumption that every employee has a selfish creative streak in him, on an individual level he is always on the look out for a larger cause. This is not to underplay the importance of money but to depose it from its anointment of being the ruler of the game.

Today’s employee is similar to a child in many ways - curious, creative, and hungry to create something big. This was the understanding that gave way to ‘unique employee experience’ that we offer to our people today – by unleashing their potential and captivating their imagination at a very high level.

Allowing your employees to innovate, create, and completely transform a dream or an idea into a profitable venture within the organizational environment holds the employees’ attention and engagement for long. Give them the building blocks, not just gizmo toys. Give them that ‘larger cause’ they are looking for beyond compensation and perks. Let them own tomorrow’s enterprise. Employees can be equal partners and participants in the company’s success. Each and every individual within the company has the potential to transform and provide value to the customers.

But to do this you may need to break down all hierarchies; even if it means destroying the president’s office. The most important piece of the jigsaw puzzle to retain the star employees is only through letting them unleash their creativity and potential in creating their own ventures within the organization. This is what will make them stay engaged and create value for the organization at large.

So the realization was clear - in totality it is not about creating a new kind of corporation but supporting, recognizing, and empowering the extra-ordinary individuals that are already part of your teams.

Think of initiatives that will give employees complete accountability of the company’s service offerings and also the space for voicing their individual thoughts.

We claim to be the world’s largest democracy but tend to run our businesses in a dictatorial fashion – with command and control. This style may have suited the traditional manufacturing setups, but for service industry players like us the new challenge is a change of attitude about trust, transparency, and flexibility with the employees.

A report by Gartner says “top-performing enterprises deem collaborative workforce investments as valid enterprise initiatives to optimize business processes and improve business outcomes.”

An observation that is quite right, and close to what we did back in 2005 in the first phase of our five year long transformation journey. Truly empowering initiatives like the ‘Talent Transformation School’, iGen, wherein an employee can share his idea and own its implementation too, U&I where he could directly share his thoughts and ideas directly with me and give his creativity exposure across the organization. We have also launched a ‘FasTrack’ plan for our employees where they could, based on their efforts and results, and accelerate their growth path anywhere between 2-3 years ahead of their Industry peers. We gave them ready-to-use information, we gave them applicable knowledge, we heard them, we acted on their mandate, we catalyzed their intraprenuership and in this entire process we unleashed their potential. When the service industry at large was focusing on ‘customer above all else’, we embraced a philosophy called ‘Employee First’ that put our employees on top of the organizational pyramid.

We are not done as yet in the transformational journey, and already the strategy has provoked a sea change in the company. Believe it or not, greater customer loyalty, better engagements, higher revenues, and drastic reduction in attrition levels are few benefits of this ‘blue ocean’ thinking.

When I see empowered employees who are transforming and are ready to contribute value at all times, I feel proud that we dared to be different ahead of others. I am happy to know the different path we started to traverse has built a solid foundation for a sustainable and successful enterprise that will withstand all odds in the coming times.

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Reader's comments(20)
1: From: Mrs. Mary David

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Posted by: mary lovely david - Monday 26th, September 2011
2: Empowering Employees and Letting Them Unleash their create side...will surely help HCL go long way....good thinking..I wish every employer out their thinks this way...!
Posted by: Mohammed Sameer - Wednesday 06th, July 2011
My Name is Tata I was impressed when i saw your profile at and will like you to email me back to my inbox so that i can send you my picture for you to know who i am.i belive we can establishe a long lasting relation ship with you.In addition,i will like you to reply me through my private e mail box (
This is because i dont know the possibilities of
remainning in forum for a long time.
Thanks,waiting to hear from you soonest.
Posted by: tata tatababy os - Friday 30th, October 2009
4: It's becoming tough for fresh grads to get in to an organization because ther's a vide in between the education and the industrial standards. To keep in the upper edge the colleges and industries need to come together with a broader prospective of training people and giving them the flare as early as in the second year of the graduation or a professional course.This will increase the percentage of employable after the graduation. Sadly the percentage of employable graduates is just one third.
Posted by: Chinmayanand Jha - Sunday 07th, June 2009
5: really gud thought i know this thought will make ur company worlds no 1 as u r taking ur employees as ur assets rather than just labour or nos

sir m also B tech Engineer looking for a job if i get a chance to work with this great company ,i will be greatful to u
Posted by: Akash Sharma - Tuesday 02nd, June 2009
6: Hello Mr.Vineet,
Its highly motivating when reading your blogs..but being in corporate industry, that too service industry its very necessary that the passion,motivation,zeal should distribute across organisation and i could see in lot of companies there are only few passionists either in the TOP level management or in the Low level management..According to Harvard business review articles..Middle level management need to focus on either management or Technolgoy..and also the great book Project management- by Micheal neill says that Senior execuitves should get train first prior project managers..project managers are being resisted by them..they are unable to think innovatively and implement due to lack of balance or support from senior executives..
So any thoughts how to fill the same passion across organisation and also majorily in Senior executives..
Posted by: Jitendranath P - Sunday 24th, May 2009
7: Excellent article. n the storm of life we struggle through myriads of stimuli of pressure, stress, and muti-problems that seek for a solution and answer. We are so suppressed by the routine of this every life style that most of us seem helpless. However, if we look closely to ancient techniques we shall discover the magnificent way to understand and realize the ones around us and mostly ourselves. If only we could stop for a moment and allow this to happen. May all beings be happy (Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu)

Posted by: mulavana parameswaran bhattathiri - Wednesday 06th, May 2009
8: That was awesome | strategic.
Posted by: vipin velayudhan panicker - Tuesday 28th, April 2009
9: Mr. Nayar,

This is truly well written, well done and an inspiring work /article. I ensured that I sent to the top management in my company. Most employers look at employees at assets with a fixed cost and tend to add them with the fixed assets with depreciating values... where as there are people who work with great passion for what the are doing... and actualy can make big differnces to balance sheets if well nurtured and motivated. Thanks for sharing.

Deepali Pathak
Posted by: Deepali Pathak - Monday 02nd, February 2009
10: Hi Vineet,
This is a very nice article about Blue Ocean theory. I appreciate that you have bring it up to a larger audience.

Rishi Raj
Posted by: Rishi Raj Yadav - Saturday 31st, January 2009
11: An interesting article though I am not convinced of the blue ocean.Yet it prompted me to write a blog which you may refer.
Red Ocean Blue Ocean- A theory in marketing
Somehow I was unable to send the whole blog along with this mail though I tried several times. Dr.T.N.Vasudevan
Posted by: vasudevan T N - Wednesday 21st, January 2009
12: Dear sir,

I am a technical recruiter in a NJ based firm. I constantly work on the assignment of HCL I am responsible for the Intellectual capital development. However i was observed in your note about the sizzling "blue Ocean" theory; it looks good to read but how can you justify that. I mean i don't think that this one is the actual strategy a person could follow. In this fast paced environment we need to survive for hunger . The bargain market is the actual market reality , else all ideas are just theoretical can are not sustainable at least not in today's scenario. Company does not invest time on employees to bring new ideas so that the company can grow it only shows the sweets but does not make one have the taste.

Its like when u have the taste y will u be there for other point of time ."Bairgain" yes thats the ultimate truth of market may it be any section any market any occupation or ANY HCL....!!!!!
Posted by: Harshal Vaishnao - Wednesday 17th, December 2008
13: Nice
Posted by: Shishir Hegde - Thursday 06th, November 2008
14: Good to read, really, it is very ineresting.
Posted by: SHAJI K - Tuesday 04th, November 2008
15: Hi Vineet,

I will suggest you to drive the employee, to think them self as part of company. Give the value for good work, not only money. I have seen in HCL all manager and employee only discuss about money. Manager/Mentor should drive the employee on value not on money. If manager compare your all good work/Bad work with money then Industry will move on only money.

I have seen in HCL if you do good you get good money and if do wrong company will cut the money.

Company is driving the employee to think only money.

Posted by: Chandra shekhar - Tuesday 30th, September 2008
16: Hi,Vinay.It's nice to read inspirational writing from an achiever.Regards,Dr Savio Pereira.CEO eSushrutha.

Posted by: Savio Pereira - Thursday 11th, September 2008
17: Hi Vineet,
How true, giving an opportunity and freedom to employees I know how it allows us to grow. I have practically faced it in my previous Organisation but not the same in my current organisation.
A report by Gartner says “top-performing enterprises deem collaborative workforce investments as valid enterprise initiatives to optimize business processes and improve business outcomes.”- Excellent Statement and is very much true. I liked the article its very relevant and reflects a succesmantra for any Organisation
Posted by: sirisha choudary - Friday 18th, July 2008
18: I would say "Just a step closer, Miles to go"

Posted by: vijeta choudhary - Wednesday 16th, July 2008
19: Excellent article reflecting the ethical and moral responsibility of an institution ,where thousands of employees work together.

I would say "Just a step closer, Miles to go"

Strategically transforming the organisation and morally developing its value by protecting the culture , is a mark of true leader and excellent team effort.

Posted by: swaroop - Tuesday 15th, July 2008
20: I work with HCL Group of company. The fact told about blue ocean is the fact we follow and it works in the platfrom.
First Level to organisational transformation lead an organisation to move exponentially.

Thanks for good article and experience.


Ajay Chaturvedi
Posted by: Ajay Chaturvedi - Saturday 12th, July 2008
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