“The leaders of India’s biggest and fastest growing companies take an internally focused, long-term view and put motivating and developing employees higher on the priority list than short-term shareholder interests.” This according to Peter Cappelli, Harbir Singh, Jitendra V. Singh and Michael Useem in “Leadership Lessons from India,” (HBR, March 2010). With statements from HCL (an IT company) such as “employee first, customers second” it really seems like successful Indian companies are focusing on their Human Resources.
Here’s how successful corporate leadership is achieved in India along with further comments (“et alors”):
Corporate Leadership in India
The authors state that the companies in India “typically attributed the success of their companies to employees’ positive attitudes, persistence, and sense of reciprocity, which the executives inspire in four specific ways:”
Creating a sense of mission
“Indian leaders have long been involved in societal issues, preemptively investing in community services and infrastructure… being encircled by throngs of destitute people, seeing that needs are stark and government intervention is inadequate”. Further, “the social missions of Indian companies are integral to their strategy and often the route to profits. Indian companies often interweave strategy and social mission.”
Engaging through transparency and accountability
“Indian leaders also build employee commitment by encouraging openness and reciprocity. They look after the interests of employees and their families, and implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) ask employees to look after the company’s interests in return. HCL’s ‘Employee first, customer second’ policy, supported by initiatives designed to make employees feel more personally responsible for the company’s offerings and give them a voice with upper management, does exactly this.”
Empowering through communication
“So that engagement will translate into action, Indian leaders go to considerable lengths to empower employees, although this challenges the traditional Indian deference to hierarchy. At HCL, for example, an online system allows employees to create quality-control ‘tickets,’ much like those on an assembly line. Further, “empowering employees by helping them find their own solutions, Jagdish Khattar, the former managing director of the automaker Maruti Udyog, echoes a sentiment common among Indian leaders: ‘Throw issues to them, let them examine and come back to you with solutions…’”
Investing in training
“Indian companies invest heavily in employee development—often more so than Western companies. This is partly to ensure that employees have the tools to do their best work, but it’s also designed to strengthen their commitment to the company.” For human resources development, ‘managing and developing talent’ was the focus of the majority of companies: “by and large, [Indian executives] see no trade-off between recruiting and development, and they expect their firms to pay attention to both.”
The article goes on to consider if any of these ‘approaches’ of leading are transferable outside India and concludes that there are two (of the four) that can be applied anywhere: 1/ investing in training – even in a high turnover environment, where training might seem ‘risky’, it can actually help retention; and 2/ strengthening the social mission – not just the feel-good ‘make the world a better place’ but ‘real’ social missions that actively engage the staff and are in line with the business.
The other two approaches are referenced as particularly contextual. The organizational culture most likely to evolve in Indian corporations according to the national culture is a ‘family’ organization where one key senior ‘boss’ serves like the head of a family. This can be easily managed in a small organization, but for larger organizations, this ‘strength’ becomes challenging to capitalize on: hence the engaging through transparency and communication. India scores very high on Hofstede’s ‘power-distance’ index – in other words, there is a very strong sense of hierarchy. This can result in employees relinquishing responsibility ‘up’ the hierarchy so that only person taking decisions and being accountable is the boss! By empowering through communication, this ‘challenge’ is addressed.