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Put Employees First: A Conversation with Vineet Nayar

When Vineet Nayar became CEO of HCL Technologies in 2005, the company was in trouble. The IT firm was profitable but it was losing ground to major competitors and risked slipping into irrelevance. Some CEOs might have been tempted to hire a new team of executives from the outside to revitalize the company. Not Nayar. He did what great CEOs do: he looked inside the company and found a vast untapped resource: its employees.

When Vineet Nayar became CEO of HCL Technologies in 2005,
the company was in trouble. The IT firm was profitable but it was losing ground
to major competitors and risked slipping into irrelevance. Some CEOs might have
been tempted to hire a new team of executives from the outside to revitalize
the company. Not Nayar. He did what great CEOs do: he looked inside the company
and found a vast untapped resource: its employees.

His new book, Employees
First, Customers Second
, is the first-person account of HCLT’s
transformation from a company mired in complacency into a one of the
fastest-growing global IT service firms. The first thing that strikes you about
the book, and most especially when you speak to Vineet as I had the opportunity
to do recently, is his sense of humility. Change at HCLT began with Vineet; as
he looked to his employees he also looked inside himself to determine his own
role in the change process.

Nayar would become the enabler. “I didn’t follow a planned
approach,” Nayar told me. Together with his senior team, “we discovered, we
experimented, and we implemented.” The goal was collaboration, that is, to
leverage the skills and talents of HCLT employees. That entailed a lot of face
to face communication with employees at all levels, a practice that continues
to this day.

For Nayar, passion is essential to sustaining the
enterprise. An engineer by training, Nayar takes an analytical approach to it
by defining its principles in three ways: awareness that it is necessary,
action to put it to good used, and measurement to focus attention on the right
issues. Ultimately passion succeeds if a team achieves its intended results.

Passion at HCLT is not simply about the work; it is also
about the environment. It is important that employees want to come to work not
simply to do their job but also expand their learning opportunities. For that
reason, HCLT provides much training as well as mentoring and teaching
opportunities. Over and above this, Nayar seeks to foster a liberal arts
atmosphere where employees can indulge in personal passions: sports, music, the
arts or other forms of enrichment. It is an approach that other companies,
namely Google, have fostered and according to Nayar makes coming to work more
enjoyable.

Part of this emphasis on culture comes from the need to
engage the interests of Generation Y. This is an issue upon which Nayar himself
is expansive. [He writes about it frequently in his blog.] Young people have
multiple interests therefore employers need to tap into their desire not simply
to earn an income but also to grow and develop their skills, including
providing an avenue for their outside interests.

HCLT, as the book notes in its title, is an employee centric
company. Only by meeting needs of employees will companies be able to serve the
needs of their customers. When I asked Vineet what advice he had for fellow
CEOs, he was characteristically humble, as well as direct. “No advice.”

But he quickly followed up by explaining that he would ask
them five questions, which I am paraphrasing in the form of a Socratic dialogue
to include his own responses.

·      
One, from where is your future growth coming? Emerging
markets and emerging products and services

·      
Two, what do you need to do ensure that you
grow? Innovate

·      
Three, who will innovate? Your employees

·      
Four, has trust in senior management increased
or decreased over the past two years? Decreased in most companies

·      
Five, what will you do about it?

How you answer that last question, according to Nayar,
determines how you and your company will succeed in the future. “The CEO will
not be the one thinks of the best and brightest ideas,” Nayar writes in Employees First, Customers Second. “The
role of the CEO is to enable people to excel, help them discover their own
wisdom, engage themselves entirely in their work, and accept responsibility for
making change.” 

John Baldoni is an
internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach,
author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s
top 25 leadership experts. John’s new book is 
Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up
(Amacom 2009). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website, www.johnbaldoni.com

 

 

 

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