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HCL’s CEO puts Employees First, Customers Second

Written by: on  November 9, 2010

Seriously, how many CEOs rejoice when they receive 50,000 unresolved concerns from their employees within one month? “I celebrated because I thought we had discovered a way to resolve 50,000 undiscovered problems. What I missed was that if we are a company in 2005 that has 50,000 employee problems, it must be a real shit place.” – Vineet Nayar is CEO of HCL Technologies Ltd., leading global IT Services Company. His new book is Employees First, Customers Second (June, Harvard Business Press).

As a CEO of a 5 billion dollar IT company with now over 71,000 employees, the main thing that surprised me was the plain humility Vineet displayed:

Vineet is on a mission to toss the old company structure on its head, and since 2005 he’s quadrupled the amount of customers they have, tripled the company’s revenue and income, doubled the company’s market cap, increased customer satisfaction nearly 50%, and keeps giving raw answers without trying to butter it up.

This is the same guy that called American college grads “unemployable” and in this interview said that if he was no longer CEO, “I think we’d grow faster.” (more on that below)

Vineet focuses on honesty and (much overused word of the last two years) transparency.

I asked him if it is easy to get managers keen for 360 degree reviews: “I think you are asking the wrong question; are managers interested in growing faster than the others? The answer is yes. If by exposing and sharing their 360 review with employees they can grow faster, the answer is yes. If you ask it in the reverse order, are managers interested in sharing their 360 review with employees? The answer is no. If it is for a purpose that the managers are interested in, (then) they will do whatever it takes.”

India has far more respect for elders than the West, yet not surprisingly, Vineet looks to GenYs for many company solutions.

On the GenY (why!) mindset Vineet points out three reasons to turn to the young guns for answers:

  1. “They are more inquisitive than I was, which is very important because they question a lot of things that we take for obvious. They’re obnoxious with their questioning – you discover new truths and answers because they are persistent.”
  2. “GenYs don’t take you at face value; they need to be convinced with data. You have to think first, get the data right and then communicate to get the GenY in.”
  3. “They can do 6 to 7 things simultaneously and therefore the company is a much more exciting place. It’s not just a boring IT services company, it’s a music company, it’s a band company, there are all sorts of creative works – it’s a very interesting company.”

So what’s more important in typical company hierarchy than the CEO? Vineet says we need to rethink the role of a CEO to help employees see themselves as empowered leaders.

What would happen if the CEO was pulled out? “I think we’d grow faster. The organisation has to grow without a head and that way the transfer of responsibility is faster and more common.. and I do believe the longer CEOs stay, the more stale they become. They have to re-invent themselves and get new focus and direction and that is the only way the company will keep re-innovating itself. And one way to re-innovate yourself is to make yourself redundant so that you have a starfish organisation that is running on its own. The CEO is not the most important person in the organisation.”

Let’s rip this open; do you think this is the way to success as a leader in the future? Any cons?



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