Blog: Transformation in leadership

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Transformation in leadership

Vineet Nayar, Former CEO of HCL Technologies & Founder, Sampark Foundation spoke at the SHRM Annual Conference 2019 about what radical transformation means and how important it is to help people find the best versions of themselves.
Transformation in leadership

Vineet Nayar, Former CEO of HCL Technologies & Founder, Sampark Foundation outlined his approach to transformation and innovation during the SHRM Annual Conference 2019. Drawing upon two “transformation stories” from his own life, Nayar described the radical strategies he undertook when called upon to bring about change at HCL, one of India’s largest multinational in the information technology services space, before going on to outline the “social transformation” he and his wife Anupama have dedicated themselves to through the work of the Sampark Foundation NGO. 

Nayar was keen to reiterate that transformation is no easy feat. “According to Mckinsey, only a small minority of transformation programs succeed,” he stated, alluding to research indicating almost 70 per cent of large-scale transformation programs ends in failure. 

Using the story of an ant who wishes to undergo an “impossible” transformation into a butterfly, Nayar identified the industrial revolution as the moment in which we began “to organise people in rows and columns so that we can get more from [them],” and “HR practices of annual appraisals, conversations, incentive structures, motivation structures,” became the preferred system for operating a company. Extending the ants metaphor, Nayar said that during this time, “we put together all our ants,” and were told there was no alternative method. 

“But then something changed,” Nayar went on. “The digital age came in. [Companies] no longer wanted ants. They wanted butterflies.” Clearly, this presented a conundrum: how to fill a company of ants with butterflies? The key, according to Nayar, lay in total transformation, a metamorphosis, a literal change of form. Nayar was clear that this “has to be permanent change,” and that “ants cannot hope to be butterflies unless they commit to not being ants anymore.” 

Nayar also stressed the importance of practices and paradigm shifts. In much the same way an acrobat at the circus is able to perform ‘impossible’ stunts with their bodies, so too can radical transformation be enacted elsewhere. “The impossible is possible only if you expand the boundaries of logic and reason,” Nayar reflected. 

Nayar then went on to tell the transformation stories of “two sets of butterflies”: HCL Technologies and Sampark Foundation. 

As Nayar pointed out, these transformation stories have three things in common: 

  1. They are centred around people. 
  2. Innovation. 
  3. Passion, pursuit and relentless focus.  

Nayar invited the audience to a journey of radical transformation and innovation: “Inspire people to become butterflies,” he said. “Inspire people not to be ants anymore.” 

“The sole purpose of your existence (as HR professionals) is to help people find the best version of themselves and be the best version they can be. Do you know how to overcome the constraints which surround you, to do what you need to do to get to the higher purpose you signed up for?”  

Nayar ended his talk on an uplifting, inspiring note, stating again that “magic is created by people who make the impossible, possible.” 

Enjoy both the stories & leave your views on your transformation journey below in the comment section to:

  • People Transformation Story #1: HCL Transformation from $.7billion in 2005 to $4.7billion global force in 2013 
  • People Transformation Story #2: How Bollywood, Mary Poppins and innovation is bringing education to 7 million children? Sampark’s Journey


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Topics: Life @ Work, Leadership, #BusinessTransformation

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