Imagine you’re the CEO of a business with employees all over the world — 66,000 employees in 25 locations, to be exact. You can’t possibly be in every one of those locations in person to maintain open, honest, and trusting communication with your people. How do you create that all-important emotional connection?
Continuing the “A View From the Top” series on my radio show, iLead: The Leadership Connection, I recently spoke with NV “Tiger” Tyagarajan, the CEO of Genpact Ltd., a multi-national company that provides business process outsourcing and IT services. Genpact started as a unit of GE back in the mid-’90s. I remember when they had just 50 employees. Today, just about every top-tier Fortune 500 company that you can think of does business with Genpact, and in 2013 they had $2.1 billion in revenues.
Needless to say, it’s a huge success story. And I think the reason is that they’re excellent at what they do. As Tiger puts it, they’re “maniacal” about customer service. And as I’ve said before, if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers, and customers will drive your top and bottom lines and take care of your shareholders.
Here are some of the topics Tiger and I discussed.
A business model for the future
At many global companies where I’ve worked, there’s been a “headquarter tension.” Employees feel like second-class citizens if they’re not working at the home office. Tiger recognizes that, too, and he believes that the notion of headquarters is old-fashioned. When he became CEO of Genpact, he made the bold decision to eliminate the company headquarters. “So today we’re a leadership team of about 20 of us spread out across the globe,” he said.
As a result, the team relies a great deal on phone calls and tele-conferencing, Tiger said. “We’d rather spend time with our clients. Leaders have to spend time in the markets.”
“On the same day I said headquarters goes away, I also said 80 percent of the leadership team of the company will sit in the markets where the clients are. And that’s in the U.S., it’s in Europe, it’s in Japan, it’s in Australia, it’s in China, and so on.”
“How do you make sure that everyone is included as the company gets bigger and bigger?” Tiger noted that “It’s not easy. It’s one of the toughest things, I think, that leaders have to do.”
Better communication through technology
“I grew up in the world of GE and GE Capital,” Tiger said. “One of the most important things I learned was the importance of having the leader drive communications. Jack Welch was our leader, and you just had to watch him. Even if you could emulate 10 percent of what he did, it would be fantastic.”
That’s why Genpact places such a high value on communication. “We do it in a pretty systematic way,” Tiger told me. “We have a global town hall every quarter. It’s media conference that cuts across 77 sites in 24 countries. It’s about 30 minutes on the state of the business, here’s what’s happening. Then it’s an hour of random questions that come from all over the globe. It’s pretty fascinating how you can have someone raise their hand in a small center in Bucharest and ask a very insightful question.”
While some leaders fear technology — they’re afraid they’re going to lose control or that their secrets are going to leak out — Genpact has embraced it. Their adoption of an internal tweeting system has helped make the quarterly town hall even more participatory. “You can be sitting at your desk and you can tweet a question, which is picked up and communicated to me, and then I come up with an answer on the spot,” Tiger said. “What used to be seven questions asked in audio fashion now becomes 50 to 60 questions in an hour, because you can rapidly go through tweets.”
And along with more participation comes more employee engagement. “It allows people to create their own community,” Tiger went on. “We have a Facebook-like platform where people in 10 locations can come together and work on a common problem for a set of clients. And our people love it. That’s what they do, because they’re young people. The reality is that they’d have access to Facebook on their mobile devices anyhow, so your not really doing anything other than saying, okay, let me put up the platform and you work on that platform.”
Face-to-face still counts
In spite of all technology has to offer, Tiger still thinks it’s important for people to periodically talk to each other in person. “Our leaders still have to come together and spend a couple of days every once in a while to actually work on issues, think about strategy,” he said. “Obviously there are some costs involved in doing that, but the cost is insignificant compared to the benefit of this kind of model.”
Not only that, but clients also need to be assured that technology won’t cause their business or their relationships with their clients to suffer. “I think at the end of the day, trust is built on actually delivering on promises,” Tiger said. “In our kind of business, no one buys our services without talking with ten of our clients. We really hang our hat on reputation.”
It wasn’t easy, but Genpact has mastered the art of dealing with people remotely and still building great relationships.
What he looks for in a leader
In order for a business to be successful, Tiger believes, the values of its leaders are of paramount importance. “You know, there are lots of things you can learn, lots of things you can teach, but I think values are something you have,” he said. “Are you really driven? Are you one of those people who can energize those around you and get a bunch of people to solve problems? Do you wear your passion on your sleeve? Are you really inclusive in getting ideas from everyone? Or are you one of those people who thinks your idea is always the best?”
In fact, Tiger said, an applicant’s level of skill is almost secondary. “This is going to sound strange. But if I’m looking for an accounting leader, I don’t necessarily think it’s important to hire someone who knows everything about accounting. Because the reality is, we are in a world that changes so rapidly that accounting is going to change. What he or she knows today, it may not be relevant tomorrow. So the more important thing we look for is, do you have a learning attitude? Are you hungry to learn?
“I’m a big believer that curiosity is one of the most important things in life.”
Navigating the hiring process
Tiger and I talked quite a bit about how to find a candidate for a position who embodies these qualities. In my experience, the biggest reason a senior hire flames out is poor cultural fit. A leader’s success in a company is rooted in their core beliefs and values.
Tiger agreed. Filling a job internally is easier because his company already has leadership development programs in place (some of which, he told me, were inspired by similar programs at GE). “Hiring from the outside makes it much tougher. About 20 to 25 percent of our leaders do come from the outside. The benefit is continuous fresh ideas and thinking. The problem is that it’s not easy to check for these [leadership qualities]. So you make mistakes.
“References become incredibly important. At senior leadership levels, I do the reference calls myself because it’s that important. It’s probably one of the most important things I ever do as a CEO is to hire people and groom people.”
How do effective leaders inspire the people around them?
“You walk the talk,” Tiger said. “You say what you’re going to do and then you do it. Then you say you have to do it. Then you say again that you did it. Then you say you have to do it. There’s no end to clearly articulating the behaviors that you expect.”
Many of Genpact’s clients are located in countries whose economies haven’t yet matured. As a result, Tiger said, his leaders do a lot of teaching, a lot of communicating. “Culture is all about behaviors in certain situations. You’ve got to story-tell. I described the global town hall as an example, but we have so many avenues of communication, and most of them are storytelling.”
“And then you have to make great examples,” he said. “People who show and exhibit great values, you point them out publicly and reward them. People who don’t, you make sure everyone knows that those behaviors are not acceptable. It’s not hidden. It’s not a let’s-do-it-quietly agenda. People really understand what’s expected.”
Tiger’s three biggest pieces of advice for leaders
My listeners and I always like to ask our guests for their three most important pieces of advice for aspiring leaders.
Number one, Tiger said, is to stay curious. “Never, never, never assume you know everything. Pretty openly exhibit ignorance, curiosity, and questioning in a very humble, I-want-to-know-more way. I don’t think it changes the fact that you are the leader or that you are ultimately the person who is going to decide,” he said. “You have to reach the point of saying, okay, I’ve heard everyone’s views, now I think I can make a better decision.”
“Number two would be really spending time with your clients. And again there, it’s really about asking questions and then sitting back and listening. Because the more you listen, the more you learn, and then you’ll really be able to add value through your business and point the business in the direction your clients are going.”
“And the third thing is, agility and nimbleness is probably going to be the single biggest factor that will determine the success of organizations in the future. In today’s world, speed trumps everything. So if you have a choice between a decision that will take X days and a decision that will take two hours, even if it means once in a while making a mistake, prefer speed. It will always help you.”