The liberated manager
Brian came into my room, the door was open, and he asked me if I had a minute. I said that I had and invited him to sit down. You can tell when someone needs to speak. He began by venting his frustration at the existing bid management process we used to assess—whether to bid for a project or not.
We worked in the IT services business, where potential customers invite a number of companies to tender for large, multi-million dollar projects. The bid process would typically last a few months and the cost of bidding, in terms of time, effort, and money, was significant. Thus, most IT companies require a bid template to be completed and signed off before agreeing to submit a bid. The essence of the bid process is to determine the likelihood of winning.
Brian said that our process was deeply flawed, required too much irrelevant information, was cumbersome, and worst of all, was subject to manipulation of the answer. In other words, the bid or no-bid decision could be contrived.
I listened attentively. After several minutes of his passionate diatribe, he paused and said, ‘I’ve just done it, haven’t I?’ I asked ‘done what?”Volunteered’, he replied. At that moment, I reached the pinnacle as a liberated manager. I said nothing, listened attentively, let Brian vent his frustration, and waited for him to realise that he was going to be the architect of his own solution.
This experience was in marked contrast to my early days as a manager, when I felt the need to have all that I could help partly as a means of justifying my position. I had gone through various management training courses, but nothing prepares you for real life. I soon began to discern that I was accepting more and more responsibility for my team’s success and the anxiety that went with it. Thankfully, I started to realise that my role was more to develop my team’s capability to solve their problems rather than provide the solution for which I had total accountability and they had none! ‘Well, it was your idea boss’, these words or similar ones are a bad sign for managers. I have worked for CEOs who gave me extensive freedom to act, which was very rewarding and fulfilling but daunting at the same time. I have also worked for CEOs who have had all the answers, and I had the least job satisfaction, but I slept well! ‘It was your idea, boss!’
I will continue this section with reference at length to a business transformation that I witnessed at
close quarters. It may seem like a long digression, but it is important to understand the full context of the liberation that I experienced as a manager by enthusing, empowering, and encouraging people to deliver differentiated customer value. Through this experience, I learnt to devolve implementing solutions to most of my team’s issues to my team members themselves. The team’s performance rocketed, and my liberation flourished.
I was blessed to be part of a management and organisational revolution at HCL that was groundbreaking and global in its recognition. A new CEO was appointed in 2005 from within HCL. Vineet Nayar was truly a remarkable man who soon introduced the concept of EFCS that became a Harvard Business School and London Business School case study on business transformation. For those who have not read the book Employee First—Customer Second, I recommend reading it, and I offer some of my own experiences from being there at the beginning, during its evolution to the publication of the book and beyond.
HCL is today a $6.7 billion global IT Services company, with over 100,000 employees in 32 countries, based in India and headquartered in Delhi. In 2005, HCL reported annual revenues of $568 million and a rise in staff to 16,000. It was the year that Vineet Nayar was appointed as the new CEO. A few months after taking office, Vineet convened a meeting of the top 200 managers in the global business to which I was invited. The business meeting was called Blueprint. From this meeting, it emerged that Vineet was keen to solicit ideas and critique from the assembled global senior managers. The meeting naturally included an analysis of HCL’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). At that time, HCL was growing but not as fast as its major Indian Offshore Provider (10P) competitors. During Blueprint, there were open forums on what we needed to correct, keep, and introduce. A proposition review and a filling of the gaps in the skills portfolio were called for. The meeting would have been recognisable to hundreds of companies worldwide.
But out of it came a remarkable insight that was the answer to a very simple question—what does HCL exist to do? As a global IT services company, the answer was as straightforward as the question. The answer was: to deliver differentiated customer value.
Simple so far. The next question—who in our organisation delivered value to our customers? Remembering that HCL was an IT services company and not a product company, the answer was as follows: Those HCL employees (‘HCLites’, we came to call ourselves) that worked directly with customers at their premises or from offshore geographic locations.
The platform was set—the site where HCLites worked directly with customers was where value was created. We called this the Value Zone. From this reality, there was an obvious conclusion that if the Value Zone was where the customer value is created, then differentiated customer value would most likely materialise if those HCLites working with customers were encouraged to release their full potential. By using their work experience and knowledge, they would be able to suggest valueadded ideas to customers in order to create value beyond the contracted deliverables.
If the Value Zone was where the customer value is created, then differentiated customer value would most likely materialise if those HCLites working with customers were encouraged to release their full potential.
Stuart Drew PublishNation2018, 208 pgs, Paperback