From the 80s we have nurtured a culture where you can be a leader at any time if you have an idea and you have the passion
Programs are easy to run, initiatives can be followed as task lists but what really matters is the philosophy behind the curtain
HCL has always used bold and revo-lutionary ideas when it comes to people management. For a start, the company has an inverted pyramid structure. Says DK Srivastava, Head of Corporate Human Resources, “At the time when we first coined the ‘Employee First’ mantra, it was an almost unthinkable concept. We believed and continue to believe that if your employees are happy, then they will provide the best possible service to your customers. We have a program called ‘Destroy the CEO office’ -- articulating the idea that employees need to act like they do not need a CEO.” These are the extremes to which the company wants to promote employee empowerment. The concept of empowerment is the basis for talent identification and grooming at HCL.
Empowering people is engrained in the HCL culture and is attached to responsibility and accountability. “We empower our employees at all levels as we feel that empowerment is an intrinsic way of identifying leaders and developing their capabilities,” says DK Srivastava.
Take the example of current CEO, Vineet Nayar. Vineet joined HCL in 1985 from XLRI as a management trainee and joined the sales team and was a star performer year after year. Even then he was restless; he thought that his capabilities were not utilized at full capacity. He could see and conceptualize where the future was going in the area of networking and how the overall concept of connectivity will change completely in the coming years. He had an idea and the passion to make it successful. HCL supported him in starting a company that is today the infrastructure service division of HCL. He became the CEO of that company with only 5 and a half years of working experience; he was thinking ahead of his time and HCL supported him in achieving those dreams. “That is what leadership identification is all about: spotting the right talent and giving full empowerment with responsibility and accountability”, says D.K. Srivastava.
“From the 80s we have nurtured a culture where you can be a leader at any time if you have an idea and you have the passion. The organization is a total merit based hierarchy.”
At HCL, there is a process of identifying talent using information from different sources. Performance on the job is a key input and so is participation in various initiatives that happen across the company. The company uses 360-degree assessment and assessment panels to arrive at a final list that it calls the “O2 League”.
The O2 League is an exclusive league that recognizes the achievements of extraordinary individuals who have been outstanding performers and have potential for leadership. The members of O2 League are employees who have made an impact on the organization, have focused on results, have demonstrated good work ethos, have shown the willingness to go the extra mile, and have been rated ‘Outstanding’ for 2 consecutive years.
Employees who are identified as part of this group are given the empowerment to choose their career options. Again this is not driven by the management but mostly by the individual. The organization only facilitates this process by providing access to opportunities, information, training and mentoring to aid in achieving the employee’s objective at a faster rate. The O2 League has around 2300 employees at any given time, from different levels.
Says DK Srivastava, “These people are challenged continuously to deserve being in that league. From this talent base of the O2 league, we look for people with demonstrable thought leadership for our ‘blue ocean initiatives’ -- setting up new business verticals or venture in business areas that nobody has ventured before. We push this elite group to drive the change. These are the real leaders, those that are able to drive thought leadership and not because someone managing a team of x number of people.
These people are normally employees that have an uncommon approach to a common problem and/or portray normal behaviour in an abnormal condition. We look for people who think differently. The 18 months during the downturn, for instance, has helped us identify people who are able to convert threats into opportunities.”
The process of identifying these leaders is as follows:
1. Consistency and continuity over time, based on observation of behaviours over time and not just incident driven.
2. Information from the performance management process and from the 360 degree feedback is also used to add a different perspective into the assessment
3. Different interactions, formal or informal also help in identifying potential and put some people under the scanner.
To provide learning opportunities, HCL has created what they call the ‘The Top Gun Next Generation Leadership Academy’ whose vision is to create world class leaders at HCL and build and support its leadership pipeline. The Academy has a number of approaches to leadership development, from the classical ‘intellectual construct’ -- traditional classroom-based instruction guided by academics with a research and teaching orientation to the modern action-oriented experiential learning mechanisms.
HCL focuses on getting the best qualities out of people, by providing them the bigger picture and facilitating people to find the energy from within. Leaders are mentored from a distance and encouraged to take their own decisions.
As DK Srivastava puts it, “Programs are easy to run, initiatives can be followed as task lists but what matters is the philosophy behind the curtain. We believe that leaders need to be spotted from the groups and then groomed and given exposure to grow. You cannot create leaders by sending them to top business schools. You first spot leaders and then send them to top business schools to get the right exposure.”