60 per cent of our workforce does not come to Indigo office on a regular basis
At IndiGo, ‘everyday leadership’ is all about empowerment. At the recently concluded Mercer’s Asia Pacific Platinum HR Leader Series: Leading the Leadership Challenge, Nishchae Suri, MD, Mercer, caught up with Aditya Ghosh, CEO, IndiGo, for an interesting conversation on ‘everyday leadership’. Excerpts from the conversation.
Nishchae Suri: Most business models require a hinge factor that leads to their success. What was that hinge factor that made the biggest difference to the success of the IndiGo business model, especially in view of a very competitive and volatile Indian aviation industry?
Aditya Ghosh: It all started by building the business idea on a structural differentiator. In 2005, we placed our first order from Airbus of 100 planes. For us, that was the game changer as it gave us the advantage we wanted to build. We have already signed another deal, a record-setting, $15.6 billion to purchase 180 more passenger jets from Airbus. Cumulatively we have placed orders worth $22 billion.
It is very important to ensure there are structural differentiators, for us that is having a fleet composed of the same type of jets that decreases maintenance costs, reduces plane turn-around time and the need for pilots to be trained on different types of aircraft; it also helps us scale up and become a part of the suppliers business model. All these helps our business in getting ahead of the game; so even if competitors try to catch up, they will take time and that gives us the required lead time to react.
NS: As a business leader, what are those three things that you ensure resonate with employees and have an impact on IndiGo’s performance?
AG: From day one, our biggest obsession has been to prove that “Low Cost” does not imply “Low Quality”. We have defined our business boundaries by articulating what we stand for and who we serve. IndiGo stands for “on time”, “courteous service/hassle free”, and “low fare”, these qualities define everything we do. We do not have a vision or mission statement, we do not need one. These three principals are a guideline for everything we do at all levels. My quest as the CEO of the organization is to make every employee feel that they are the President of the company; they should feel equipped, empowered and trained to operate like the President of the company in their location and at their level. For our customers, every touch point at every level is what creates the experience. Customers will rarely meet anybody from the corporate office, they will not meet me, and so I do not have much influence on their experience. Their brand experience is sum total of their interaction with our employees, be it on the ground, at the check-in counter, at boarding, during the flight, when collecting their luggage, when interacting with our customer support, etc. Thus, it becomes all the more important that each and every employee in the company abides by the three guiding principles.
In our business, this is particularly difficult because 60 percent of our workforce does not come to an IndiGo office on a regular basis and that increases the challenge of ensuring a seamless experience of the brand.
NS: It is interesting to know that you encourage every employee to feel like the President of their role and at their level. How can employees be encouraged to develop the sense of ownership of their roles and responsibilities that will truly allow them to function as leaders at every level?
AG: For us, ‘everyday leadership’ is about empowerment, that is the only way to ensure that even if people do not come to our office every day, they are clear of what they are expected to do and they are trusted everyday every time. I define empowerment as giving every single person in the company the ‘power to make a change’, without having to go through a complex process of approval and audits to take a simple decision.
Empowerment can only happen if there is trust. Eventually, all IndiGo employees come to work every day because they trust the management; they trust me that as a CEO I will take the right decisions and hence the company will grow and they will grow along with the company, similarly I also trust them. For me, they are all ‘Presidents’ of the company in their jobs.
Most of the times, I personally feel that empowerment normally does not work because we chose the wrong person for the job; even if we choose the right person, we do not tell them what they need to do; and finally, even if we chose the right person, and we tell them what to do, then we do not give them the ammunition to deliver. This, in essence is the problem with empowerment in the way that happens in organizations.
NS: There is no doubt that empowerment is important but I have found that even the kind of empowerment that IndiGo practices can be ineffective if the workforce is unprepared to execute their responsibilities. What is the defining characteristic of an IndiGo employee that makes them uniquely suited to leverage this empowerment?
AG: At IndiGo, everybody is chasing a dream. There are as many different dreams as the number of employees in the company. Every day you work hard, you get closer to that dream and this is what makes them give their best for their job because they are doing it for their dream. They are all the President of their role, location, aircraft and they excel at their work for themselves to achieve their dreams. Our recruitment function is aligned to looking for people who are chasing a dream and our endeavor is to help each one to achieve that dream. All the different aspects of our business are held together by employees who are highly self-driven. That is the defining quality of each member of the IndiGo team.