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vineet-nayar's picture

Follow-up Questions to the Managing Millennials webinar

In my recent webinar with Gary Hamel, we talked about Managing Millennials and the "Employees First, Customers Experiment" we're undertaking at HCL Technologies. (An audio replay of the webinar is available here.) But one hour wasn't enough time to cover it all. There were many unanswered questions from those who attended. I've tried to synthesize the major ones here and provided answers. Please let me know what you think, and let's continue the conversation.


Question: You have said that you wish to “destroy” the office of the CEO and, at the same time, it seems very clear that you, as CEO, have been in instrumental in leading the transformation of your company. Does this suggest that it is now the CEO’s role to lead the company to a new leaderless state? And, if so, then what?

Vineet Nayar: I do believe that the office of the CEO, as we know it, should be destroyed. It should not be seen as the source of all answers, the allocator of all resources, and the creator of all strategies. That is the way the office of the CEO has evolved over the years, sometimes for good purposes of providing necessary command and control, sometimes for not-so-good purposes of enhancing executive power and privilege. I don’t mind if the CEO has an office full of a thousand people, so long as what they do supports the people who create the most value in the company. I am not suggesting that a company should not have a leader, although I don’t care if the leader is known as CEO or something else. I think it will be necessary, for some time to come, that there be a single person who acts as a driver, questioner, and catalyst. He or she may work with an extended executive team in a highly collaborative way, but human beings in large organizations, in general, still seem to like to have a single leadership figure. This may change as organizations become more crowd-driven, more geographically extended, and more linked through social media. But it may not.

Question: How applicable is EFCS to business situations that are very different than the one at HCL: to start-ups, for example, and to companies founded and based in the West?

Vineet Nayar: My belief is that the Employees First concept is applicable to most kinds of organizations, with a few exceptions and caveats. Small companies and start-ups, by their very size and nature, tend not to have large hierarchies or well-defined chains of command. They are usually consumed by conducting their business and the people who create value tend to have less trouble getting the support they need — there simply isn’t time or space for extensive, self-serving constituencies to develop. In professional services organizations, too, such as law firms and consultancies, the partners and would-be partners who directly interface with clients tend to get the support they need. In fact, such organizations often have the reverse problem — their support staffs, who do crucial behind-the-scenes and value-creating work, get overworked and underappreciated. Huge government agencies and regulated industries could certainly benefit from an Employees First approach, but the process of altering those bureaucracies can be incredibly difficult and so time-consuming as to be next to impossible.

Question: You talk a lot about the wonders of Gen Y and the important role they played at HCL in the past ten years. But surely your company has its share of Boomers and Millennials. Don’t they count?

Vineet Nayar: Everybody counts, whatever their age or experience. Everybody counts, that is, who creates value for the company. I stress the importance of Gen Y for a couple of reasons. In my experience, they tend to be more naturally open to the sharing of information and collaborative working and are typically less interested in hierarchy and power grabbing. They also seem, in general, very concerned about making a positive difference in the world, not just feathering their own nests. So I saw them as important players in the transformation at HCL. The Boomers, simply because of their age and how they grew up with our company (and with companies in general), had become used to the traditional ways of hierarchies and therefore needed some new models, which the Gen Y’s could provide. But Boomers play all kinds of important roles in our company and, once they have shifted their mindset, are creating value right alongside the Gen Y group. As for Millennials, they are generally still finding their place in our company, but I have no doubt that they will make their own distinctive mark — and soon.

Question: How can trust be built in a company, if the employees feel that they cannot be open with management?

Vineet Nayar: Trust cannot be built in a company where employees feel they cannot be open with management — so new mechanisms, practices, and behaviors must be introduced that force the issue. The most important thing to realize is that management must make the first move; they must be open with the employees if they want openness in return. It does not work for management to say, “OK, we are very open to hearing whatever you have to say. Please trust us that nothing bad will come of your saying what’s on your mind.” Management must rather say, “We have decided to provide you with information about our company and our processes so that you can understand what we understand. Our hope is that, by placing our trust in you, you will, in turn, eventually, find ways to be open with us.” At HCL, we have implemented a number of what we call “blue ocean droplets” — small actions that lead to large changes ― that demonstrate management’s willingness to be open and that, in turn, start to build trust.

Question: How can EFCS become an “everlasting” change, as you have called it? How can it be rooted throughout the organization and how can it survive changes in senior leadership?

Vineet Nayar: There is no such thing as an everlasting change that is permanently rooted in any one company. However, my belief is EFCS is one manifestation of a very fundamental shift in mindset that is taking place around the world ― a move away from the top-down, command-and-control approach to management that has reigned for centuries, to a people-centric, open, and collaborative approach. We at HCL did not invent this, of course. Gary Hamel, while arguing that management represents one of humanity’s most important inventions, says that it hasn’t evolved to meet our needs: Most of the fundamental breakthroughs in management were made decades ago. I believe that Management 2.0 – the goal of Gary’s crowd-sourced Management Innovation Exchange (MIX) and the term sometimes used to describe EFCS-like approaches – is just as important and significant as the first iteration of the business hierarchy. So EFCS has the potential to be as everlasting as any such transformation can be.

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raj-kumar's picture

You have advocated EFCS is a powerful means to generate trust and foster openness across the enterprise.  You have stated this approach to transformation is quite impossible for Government. The fact is that Government was perhaps the first large organization to practice and benefit from it. Peter Drucker observed in 1988 the culture for dialogue was responsible for the outstanding success of the colonial administration in India. Perhaps, if a compelling means for dialogue is once again established in Government it can revert to its efficient and effective ways?

frank-calberg's picture

You mention a very fundamental shift in mindset that is taking place around the world ― a move away from the top-down, command-and-control approach to management that has reigned for centuries, to a people-centric, open, and collaborative approach.

Reading this, I came to think about a couple of questions: 1. As you see it, in which parts of the world / in which cultures is this change happening most rapidly? 2. What do you see as the most important drivers of this change?