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I took the road less traveled… that made all the difference!
Vineet Nayar
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
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.

The author is, CEO, HCL Technologies. He can be reached at vineetn@hcl.in
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