The lib­er­ated man­ager

The Smart Manager - - Reading Room - By stu­art drew

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

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