We built the foundation of talent and leadership identification back in the seventies and today these practices are a norm across industries
If an individual is 60 per cent ready for a role and the pointers are showing favourably, we give them the opportunity
Aligning leadership behaviour with core vision and values
“Leadership at Wipro means the ability to win the hearts and minds of all our stakeholders whether internal or external. It means leading others with humility and yet having big dreams. It means the self confidence to accept that you are wrong and resilience to fight back,” says Azim Premji, Chairman of Wipro.
Azim Premji inherited his father’s cooking oil business in 1966. When he repositioned it into an IT services organization, he did not aim to just build a business; he set out to build an organization for sustainable success. For companies to build an institution they need to rely on its people and they need to focus on nurturing and developing talent. “There are no shortcuts,” says Pratik Kumar, Executive Vice President – Human Resources, Wipro Limited “The company built the foundation of talent and leadership identification back in the seventies and today these practices are a norm across industries.”
For Wipro, the foundation is built using the group’s vision and goals and a reflection on what individual and collective behaviour will help the organization achieve these goals. These are revised regularly to keep the group tuned to the changes in its business model and its customer base. Critical roles are then identified within the organization to achieve those business objectives.
Says Pratik, “The process has evolved over the years. Initially we learnt as we went along. Today the process has become sustainable and not people or team dependant. It is a way of life for the group.” Today, the leadership and succession planning consists of a systematic 4-step process that is designed to align the organizational leadership and its skills with core corporate strategy and goals.
At the outset, there is an articulation of the company’s central beliefs, values & strategic vision, followed by a clear definition of what collective behaviour will help achieve the vision in a manner compatible to the core values. As Pratik puts it, “These demonstrated behaviours will ensure our success and also determine areas where we need to build internally using outside support to achieve our goals. This also evolves as our business context changes and our customer expectations evolve. So those behaviours are tuned regularly to ensure that we are aligned to our business and customers.”
The next crucial step is to identify critical roles within the organization and create a process to ensure solid succession planning for those roles. This helps HR in identifying the talent pool needed for critical roles and the type of training interventions required at each level.
The third step in the process is to decide on the ‘build vs acquire’ dilemma. Given Wipro’s scale, the decision is normally tilted towards building capability internally, but the company regularly brings in talent from the outside which creates an opportunity to getting on board unique skills not available internally and also creates an opportunity to learn from other companies. Says Pratik, “The blend is important and allows us to be more porous and open to new ideas and fresh thinking.”
Finally, Wipro has a very robust process called the Talent Review and Planning exercise that is conducted annually. In this process all employees with managerial roles, approximately 12,000 globally, undergo a 360 degree assessment of their capabilities based on individual and collective behaviour that the organization has identified as key qualities for a leader. This is reviewed by senior management which helps in determining key people and leadership potential. Typically, senior management reviews around 400 managers as part of this exercise to identify candidates for key organizational and leadership roles.
“Interestingly, this complete process helps us in assessing our leadership bench as well as assessing key organizational capabilities. We do a lot of analysis with the data we receive from different sources. Also, when we realize that Wipro as an organization, scores low in terms of certain behaviour, we pass on the assessment to the Leadership Development Team to focus on it and intervene in strengthening it.”, says Pratik while outlining advantages of the process followed at Wipro.
In terms of career development, there is a clear linkage with opportunities for progression and growth for those in the talent pool. Employees from the talent pool are entrusted with bigger roles and critical assignments. The company is also willing to demonstrate its trust in the ability of these people by giving them key breaks. Says Pratik, “There is an underlying organizational philosophy, if the individual is 60% ready for the role and the pointers are showing favourably, we will give the individual the break. Typically 9 out of 10 would succeed, so we seem to doing something right in assessing these individuals. You do not however lower the expectation but this sheer trust is a big source of motivation.”
For senior roles the company has created a program to facilitate the process of being aware of senior role openings across the group and also show interest in them in a much more confidential and sensitive manner. While underlining the complexity involved at more senior levels, Pratik explains, “We realized that at senior levels a normal job opening process would not work, because people who have been in the system for long and are in senior roles will wonder why should I apply for an internal job as somebody should be already knowing my capabilities and experience. But still we wanted to capture their interest in a particular opening. We created a simplified and fast track process for these senior roles where they can show interest in senior openings and the process has a different and more premium feel to it.”
In terms of leadership development and training, people identified in the leadership talent pool have access to leadership development programs — both in-house and global programs. Global programs are consortium programs with other organizations that create an opportunity to learn and expand one’s thinking as well as establish networks. In terms of compensation, differentiation is based on performance and role, which is across the board and not only for people identified as part of the leadership pool.
Finally people identified in the talent pool also have the opportunity to participate in strategic review meetings. Says Pratik, “These initiatives even though symbolic at one level have a very important message attached to it.”