How CEOS can align the leadership team with corporate goals
In order to be a successful CEO, it is more important to recruit highly motivated people instead of constantly focusing on motivating the team, said the CEO of Mphasis, a Bangalore-headquartered IT services firm with annual revenues approaching $1 billion.
Rakesh assumed the role in January 2017 from previous CEO Ganesh Ayyar. Once that motivated team is in place, the CEO must involve it in shaping the company’s goals and developing strategies to achieve them.
In that process, consensus should not be confused with agreement. Everybody on the team must commit to deliver on the agreed-upon goals, even if they do not personally buy into them or it hurts their personal ambitions, Rakesh said.
He has imbibed those lessons over a career that includes his roles as CEO and president at Syntel and managing director at Motiwal Oswal Asset Management Co. He shared his insights into what makes for a CEO’S success in an interview with Knowl[email protected]
Here is the interview:
YOU BELIEVE THAT A CEO’S JOB IS NOT TO DEFINE A STRATEGY, BUT IT IS TO DERIVE IT BY WORKING CLOSELY WITH A TEAM OF HIGHLY ENGAGED INDIVIDUALS. COULD YOU EXPLAIN WHAT LESSON YOU HAVE LEARNED HERE?
It’s fairly common practice to associate the chief executive officer’s job with that of the chief strategy officer. I don’t think it’s fair to have that faith and belief from all stakeholders, especially shareholders, the board, and employees. [After joining] Mphasis as CEO, when I met employees and other stakeholders, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hear them ask me in a Q&A session, “What’s your strategy for Mphasis?” That got me thinking about a couple of things. Firstly, it seems fairly presumptuous of someone to hand a company a set of strategic choices, when there has to be a strong correlation and a congruence between capabilities and conceptualisation of the strategy. Strategy is not going to be adequate unless it is combined with capabilities and culture of the company. Secondly, the best way for people to embrace or believe in a strategy is when the CEO involves them in defining it. That’s the best way to create buy-in. That’s the most effective way to create a consensus-driven approach. You have to share the process, guide it, and shape the strategy. The best answers come when you get a team of highly engaged, talented people in the room, and have an open dialogue and debate and discussion about strategic choices. In the end, you put your stamp on a way that it’s congruent and you can measure the progress, and you can come up with an operating plan. You then have a team with people that have already bought into it, because they feel part-owners of the strategy.
HOW DOES THE PROCESS OF DEFINING A STRATEGY WITH THIS COMMITTED GROUP OF PEOPLE WORK?
The best way — at least it’s worked in our experience — is to have a number of what we call “whiteboard” or “brainstorming sessions,” typically starting with the client or the customer or the problem that we’re trying to solve, put through the lens of the here and now. Typically, you have multiple ways to define limited priorities and then try to marry them with the direction that the businesses are moving in. We also get a reflection of our clients’ businesses, given that we are in technology services. It is about mapping where we stand today – what are those changes and the forces that our clients are dealing with, and how can we equip ourselves to become able partners with them? In this process, you do scenario planning, but more importantly, you try to map where we are today with outlines. Where are our clients headed? Identify those common themes. Identify the upward trends, and take a bet on what are those choices that you will have to make from a technology perspective, and derive those answers. Then again, you set strategies within a set of choices. What things would you choose to do, and what would you choose not to do?
IT IS OFTEN BELIEVED THAT THE JOB OF A LEADER OR A CEO IS TO MOTIVATE PEOPLE, BUT I UNDERSTAND YOU THINK THAT’S WRONG. HOW SO?
This is one of those lessons that was hard for me to learn. I always used to believe that as CEO I always have to be motivating people who work for me – people who own those P&LS and business units that make up the company. Then I realized that the real answer really is not in trying to motivate people all day long, but to get a team of self-motivated people together, set their priorities and then let them free to work their magic. All this while, you continue to give them guidance and anchor them. You then put in place some control mechanisms. But more importantly, getting a team together of highly self-motivated individuals is a much better way than trying to motivate everybody on the team that may or may not have the self-motivation.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE THE ATTRIBUTES OF PEOPLE WHO SHOULD BE ON THE LEADERSHIP TEAM? WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR?
As you get into the concentrated times that we are living through right now, with disruption at its core, [we need] people to be self-motivated, [and] be excited about the change that the world is going through, because that’s when they will embrace the change and try to make the most of the opportunity. Secondly, from that ability to see it as an opportunity comes the passion to work for the clients and for the employees. Thirdly, to marry those two, [you need] the ability to execute on the vision, which means to align with the vision and the goals. Opportunities are executed in a way that you can make something happen for the business, because in the end, we do work for our stakeholders.
The best way for people to embrace or believe in a strategy is when the CEO involves them in defining it”
Nitin Rakesh, the CEO of IT services firm Mphasis.