Collaborative Leadership and Excellence- Turning Point!

Date:   Wednesday , September 05, 2012

Virtusa Corporation (NASDAQ: VRTU) is a global information technology (IT) services company providing IT consulting, technology and outsourcing services. Using its enhanced global delivery model, innovative software platforming approach and industry expertise, it provides high-value IT services to clients across Technology, BFSI, Telecommunications, and Media, Information & Entertainment industries. Founded in 1996 and headquartered in Massachusetts, it has offices and technology centers throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it’s sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot.” - Kobe Bryant

Leadership and excellence are not words meant to be used by chief executives alone - they are words applicable in our day to day lives. When a little child tries over and over again to ride a bicycle only to be met by failure, but keeps trying till he/she becomes successful or when a young one helps a friend to ride the bicycle for the first time -we see live demonstration of leadership and excellence without any formal training. Let me share with you three simple examples, which I think best summarize my current understanding of collaborative leadership and excellence.

Gold is at the Bottom of the Pyramid

First, let us talk about excellence. If we refer to any literature on innovation and business improvements - it is often mentioned that the best ideas are generated from people directly in touch with the clients on a day to day basis. The Retail industry prides itself on innovations at point of sale, the airline industry takes pride in innovating client experience through feedback that comes from cabin crew/staff and banks take pride in innovations with the help of relationship managers. Design of product, layout of stores, food services in airlines - all of them evolve on a continuous basis based on direct feedback from consumers.

In other words, innovation is best done at the periphery of organizations as it will be relevant to clients and not in an ivory tower by select few executives. I believe that for organizations to excel — leaders of organizations must create a culture which fosters idea generation from the periphery of the organization i.e., the client-facing staff. The more we harness these ideas for client excellence and execute them flawlessly, the better it is for client retention and delight. The question we need to constantly ask ourselves is: Have we done enough to mine the gold at the bottom of the pyramid? Empowering Business Partners –

Finding the Magic in What We Do

Having generated a pipeline of ideas, let us talk about the role of the leader. While the periphery of the organization generates ideas, the key is in the execution and that is where collaborative leadership plays a pivotal role. Ok, let me make an honest confession first. Do I understand broadly how all aspects of an organization work at a high level? Answer is yes.
But, do I understand every function and nuances behind those functions in minute level of detail? Answer is no. That’s where collaboration and the need to leverage on colleagues from different functions with subject matter expertise become critical. In the airlines example above, if there is feedback to change food-menu options then even at a very simplistic level, that request will need to cut across: operations, supply-chain, procurement, and marketing and finance functions. To champion the idea is leadership, but to execute the idea in a reasonable span of time requires the power of collaboration. The leader needs to excite people in each of these functions on the mojo and onboard people with the “why” of the idea rather than "what" needs to be done. It is critical for the idea-champion to lead the mojo, but follow functional leaders for their expertise. In the corporate world, many ideas start with a big-bang, but do not see light at the end of tunnel, due to internal lack of conviction by multiple stakeholders. If you want something executed, get people onboard!

Network Economy - Power of Leverage

Third and last, once we have an excellent idea and have executed it flawlessly, what else is needed? One needs a strong eco-system of partners (vendors, suppliers, industry bodies, and academia) to help launch the idea. In this, one needs to leverage the power of network economy which requires both leadership and power of collaboration. Most of the new technology products are expensive to start with, but as adoption of product increases the prices come down.
This is true for mobile phone usage as well – the more you use the better price points you are provided. Likewise, the more one invests in the ecosystem of partners – the better leverage of ideas and support one can draw. For example: some of the Technology product vendors have created portals where they invite their customers, designers and suppliers to collaborate and come up with ideas. The thought is simple, the lesser degrees of separation of client needs to people who can solve the problem, the better outcome one can expect.
The traditional management style of command and control are diminishing and I think for very good reasons. In the current business context of dynamic technology changes, lower barriers for entry and hyper competition – leadership will be defined by one’s ability to maximize the organization's resources through effective collaboration.