Ripples along corporate corridors and leadership woes are nothing strange in a world where power equations are fickle and change with the times. Even company founders are often ousted, as I had pointed out in an earlier post titled Innovation, Marketing and Why Founders are Let Go.
A visionary zeal and game-changing ideas powered by a commitment to values-based governance have been behind the successes of most industry leaders today.
Values, however, are not forever amid a business culture that is ephemeral, vacillating between practice and mere proselytization. With the competitive climate in every industry more intense than ever before, businesses are forced to abandon vision and strategy for a tactical approach to stay afloat, quarter by quarter. Theory and execution are seldom the same.
So, chaos over governance is an issue that reverberates across corporate corridors often.
India, too, appeared to have caught up with this global trend when in October last a mega battle involving the sacking of Mr Cyrus Mistry as chairman of Tata Sons, an iconic conglomerate, exploded into the open.
What followed was an embarrassment for the company as there was dirty linen being washed in public, with Mr Mistry flinging accusations at Mr Ratan Tata, a scion of the founding family, who had stepped down in 2012 to bring in the former.
Just when the dust appeared to have settled down on the Tata Group leadership saga, another iconic Indian company, Infosys, landed itself in the limelight with similar woes. Mr Narayana Murthy, Infosys founder, who had handed the reins to a new leadership team a few years ago, recently voiced some concerns over declining governance standards.
Princely Pay Packages, Hiring Missteps!
In particular, he was unhappy with the hefty compensation package being handed out to the COO and other senior management personnel. Rejecting the criticism, however, Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka, who himself is reported to be paid an annual salary of US$ 11 million, yesterday argued that “it is critical for us to retain key talent and align the long-term interests of our leadership team with that of our shareholders.”
But if key talent can only adopt a tactical approach, without any meaningful visionary passion and an executable strategy, where does leadership fit in? Being in control is not a mere numbers game. It also involves demonstrating thought leadership and driving innovation with a firm grip on emerging trends.
Those who wait for technological changes to happen will not only lose the early-mover advantage but may even stumble out of reckoning.
That is precisely what happened to Lucent Technologies with a failure to see the IP future ahead of the rest, despite its focus on R&D (Bell Labs) having no parallel. Companies with a visionary appeal took the game away from Lucent with disruptive offerings.
Digital Transformation and Lost Opportunities
In the Customer Experience space, a similar fate has struck Avaya, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. Both Lucent and Avaya were a part of AT&T in the past. In 1995, AT&T spun off Lucent, an independent entity which had Avaya under its umbrella. But in the millennium year of 2000, the year I joined Lucent, the latter decided to spin Avaya out.
If Avaya ran into deep financial debt despite holding a sway over the market, it can only be blamed on weak leadership and its failure to exploit the omnichannel and digital transformation potential.
In not tapping the contact centre evolution well enough, Avaya just appeared to have inherited the Lucent culture, losing its lustre in the process. Like Lucent, Avaya, too, frittered away the industry leadership they had and missing the next-generation journey!
Shockingly, even after filing for bankruptcy, the Avaya leadership awarded 11 of its executives $3.7 million in bonus. A sense of shame or conscience is too much to expect, whether the quota is hit or just a fraction of it. Lucre for the undeserving leadership weighs higher than survival of the company. Only founders will have some emotional bonding, not mercenaries.
Never a Dull Moment for Innovation
While some tumble out of the race, new entrants are emerging with disruptive offerings on a regular basis to make the competitive environment challenging, even exciting with never a dull moment for innovation.
Both Mr Ratan Tata, scion of the family behind India’s most powerful conglomerate, and Mr Narayana Murthy can be spared the blushes if the businesses they nurtured are seen straying from the values they stood for. A quest for independent decision-making, a confrontational approach where even advice from founders is frowned upon and a trust deficit across all sides of the spectrum impede operational efficacy, even if transient.
Personal Experience and Some Immodesty!
That brings up the next part of the subject of this post – hiring, which I think is seldom without pitfalls. Missteps can hurt a company’s reputation, even its bottomline, and lead to misdirected investments with no fulfilment of the objectives of a role.
To pull up a personal experience and example, even if it smacks of immodesty, I had to go through 11 interviews for the position of Bid Manager, APAC, at Cisco Systems in 2005 over five months. While the hiring team in San Jose had narrowed down the choice to just me by then, it took another month or thereabouts before I received the offer. The intervening period saw Cisco carry out background checks through HireRight and speak to the two references provided.
I was in no hurry as I was comfortable in the position I was holding then. The elaborate exercise, therefore, caused me no stress either. Moreover, I had to undergo eight interviews before I was offered the job at Lucent too.
And they were interviews for a simple managerial role. I followed the same stringencies when I had to build personnel to be a part of my team.
How then do senior management personnel with questionable credentials end up in strategic roles steering the companies they helm, exercising individual whimsicality? Even Cisco did not get it right with some leadership positions. Regularising contract staff based on suspect preferences started to come in the way of its standard practices. The choice of its current CEO, too, had invited criticism as it was viewed as an effort to maintain status quo.
There can be no surefire way to get the right resource on board as any hiring can still go haywire no matter how intense the process is. If it is made with the best of intentions with focus on hiring the candidate most suitable for the role with the ability to deliver within ethical parameters, without any extraneous considerations, that by itself can be considered mission accomplished.
G Joslin Vethakumar