New-age leaders believe in fail fast philosophy: Bain & Company's Megha Chawla
Megha Chawla is a partner in Bain & Company and based in the New Delhi office. She is a member of Bain India's Technology, Media and Telecom practices and leads Bain’s Capability Sourcing division in Asia. With over 13 years of consulting experience across five global offices of Bain, she has led client engagements globally, including in Southeast Asia, Boston, and the Silicon Valley.
Megha has extensive experience in leading transformation programs with global clients and frequently engages with companies across the globe on India’s role in their strategies. Her focus areas include capability sourcing, performance improvement, cost and revenue transformation programs across technology companies.
In addition to running transformation programs, Megha leads Recruitment for Bain India as well as Women@Bain (WAB) - a program designed to support and enhance the experience of women employees and help them grow in the firm. Apart from helping companies thrive in a disruptive world, she is also invested in the firm’s next level of growth as a recruitment leader.
Here are the excerpts of the interview:
How do you see the current business landscape from the perspective of digital leadership? What does modern leadership look like in our digital age?
While some sectors are seeing more disruption than the others, our research suggests that across industries more than half of the C-suite believes, Digital is among their top priorities with a significant impact on their business, over the next five years. In this environment, leaders need to not only develop great clarity about how digital impacts their business, but really outpace the competition in both decision making and execution. We recently surveyed over 1,000 global executives and found that the most distinguishing characteristics of modern day leaders is fail fast philosophy, which is a stark difference from prior emblems of success.
Traditional job descriptions, which demanded years of experience, pedigree of schools, etc, can be quite restrictive in the war for talent
What's the current state of digital leadership in Asia Pacific? Research shows that there are some front runners in APAC, but like the rest of the world, it's struggling with the scale of change required and looking for a way through the complexity.
APAC is seeing rapid innovation. Digital leaders here are newer, and often homegrown companies, that have provided a formidable challenge to international players and also longstanding local businesses. The insurgent and irreverent environment at these next-gen companies provide a fantastic opportunity for nimble, ambitious and often younger talent to accelerate. In India for example, across several sectors, we see that newer digital native companies are attracting talent, by providing non-linear opportunities for growth and leadership. In China, our 2018 Leadership Report found that local companies and rising tech stars have changed the leadership demand-supply dynamic. In our survey of ~66,000 business leaders, we found that 40 percent of leaders in business leaders in local companies had moved over from MNCs, and only seven percent the other way round. This was more pronounced amongst younger professionals, driven largely by competitive career growth opportunities.
To be successful and remain effective in today's dynamic global business environment, leaders need to adapt and change fast. But how do organizations go about it?
Everything starts with the leadership being convinced by the urgency and speed required to address it. We have seen the odds of winning being the highest when a) there’s conviction and clarity around the need for change, b) there’s a focused and integrated vision of Digital and not a fragmented “spray and pray” approach, c) an agile operating model that enables adaptive execution, i.e. concurrent execution of multiple “micro-battles”, quick experimentation, feedback loops and rapid pivoting as necessary. Once these are in place, training programs, accelerated career paths and others are all critical enablers of this change.
HR needs to look for non-traditional talent and sharpen ways of identifying future leaders. Traditional playbooks aren’t sufficient. There is also a need to strengthen the internal apprenticeship muscle to complement this
Do you think business leaders should be more people-centric than tech-centric because business transformation is seen more as cultural than technological shift?
It isn’t either/or. They are both critical. Leadership in a digitally transforming world is different than ever before. A leader may spike on one of these, but there’s a threshold capability and interest needed across the business, people and of course technology.
At the heart of any digital transformation is the interaction between people and technology. Technology helps develop innovative and potentially disruptive ways to serve the core needs of customers. Once you can anticipate and understand these needs of your customers, then determining the right interplay of various technologies can enable a meaningful solution.
For example, digital leaders such as Uber and Oyo have indeed deployed technology creatively to arrive at lean, scalable models. But what really drove the disruption was how customers embraced the service, whether it’s the comfort of stepping into someone else’s car, or the assurance of privacy and comfort based on a brand’s promise.
In another very relevant example of IT Services, we see that each service provider has a full range of digital tech capabilities available in their arsenals. However, what their C-suite customers find transformative is when a service provider can weave the various technologies into a cohesive narrative that addresses their burning needs. Not everyone is able to do it effectively, and that is quite revelatory about the required balance of a tech-centric, a people-centric and a business-centric mindset. This was the genesis of the product offering in management roles, which is core to the word of digital.
One of the many responsibilities of HR is to make sure their company has the right people in the right leadership roles, and that leaders at all levels of the organization are successful in those roles. How should HR gear up to build a leadership pipeline?
Question and break down the traditional definitions of the ideal leader. Traditional job descriptions, which demanded years of experience, pedigree of schools, etc, can be quite restrictive in the war for talent. They need to look for non-traditional talent and sharpen ways of identifying future leaders, much more than before. Traditional playbooks aren’t sufficient. Along with this, there is a need to strengthen the internal apprenticeship muscle to complement this. While knowledge in core disciplines is important, the change is so significant and rapid that what you have to solve is the ability to learn and adapt quickly.