Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Lean - and the Power of ‘Why?’

Precocious kids ask it. Scientists ask it. Philosophers ask it. Inventors ask it.


It is the question that lies at the core of the principles of Lean. And it is a question that I have adopted as my personal mantra as I bring ‘curiosity’ in every aspect of business and life! It pushes me to ask “Why?” in anything that I see, anything that I experience - “Why do some transactions or processes perform so well? Why do others not?” “Why is this clients’ method of operating failing?” “Why is this client experiencing losses?” Over and over and over – “Why?”

And Lean and Six Sigma have always had the answers. Every day in our lives, in our business, in our operations and in customer interactions, there are opportunities to bring Lean thinking to drive improvement and value. The examples are all around us – a hiring process that takes too long, a customer service process that does not resolve a problem the first time round, delays and unnecessary money-wasting hold-ups. The Power of Lean thinking lies in the fact that it addresses all these questions – delivering utmost value from a customer’s perspective while consuming fewest resources. Powerful Lean principles such as ‘reducing lead time’, ‘reducing waste’ ‘driving continuous improvement’ ‘improved quality’ impact customer satisfaction and customer results positively – no matter what the situation is… always bringing in positive business outcomes such as increase in market share, reduction of costs, increase in profits - driving competitive advantage…each time, every time.
In fact Lean is a culture – the way we work, the way we do things, the way we deal with problems. Lean is all about creating an integrated system – a process – where it’s no longer about having efficiencies in individual silos…it’s about how all silos work together efficiently to bring in unprecedented value, end to end – bring in agility and flexibility.

But nothing works or makes sense unless it begins from the customer’s point of view. This is all-important and sacrosanct when one begins the process of attacking any area of improvement or opportunity. Never forget this. It is the way a leader has to think, it is the only way to successfully run a business. You have to know what your customer wants, ask all the ‘whys’ and then constantly look for causes that, when attacked and addressed, will drive improvement.

Our world is changing, our clients’ business needs are changing, processes are changing – and there are trends that are impacting not only the way our clients are thinking about the industries they are in and the customers they serve, but also how they run their businesses.  As companies continue to operate in a volatile, uncertain and lower-growth world, they are forced to completely transform their businesses by making them more nimble, with cost structures that are lower and much more variable. They are looking at adopting digital technologies, implementing new business models, creating new organizational structures, and making their processes more intelligent. And above all – they are looking for partners who can help them navigate their transformation journeys. Partners who truly understand their domain, their industry, their specific processes, the inter-linkages, the risks and the leverage points in the business. In other words, someone who aligns activities to business outcomes and speaks their language…helps them improve and grow in this ever-changing world…and this is exactly what ‘Lean’ thinking helps us do!

We launched Lean Digital last year - this is our unique approach that reimagines our clients' middle and back offices to generate growth, cost efficiency, and business agility. The feedback we are beginning to receive is that Lean Digital is a game changer that builds on our strength of using Lean principles to drive disruptive improvements. At Genpact, this launch has been the culmination of many months of building our digital smart enterprise process frameworks and getting a number of our key project and improvement leaders trained on specific Lean Digital capabilities. We now have a digital certification program for Black Belts and Master Black Belts that we are also taking to clients. For example, at one of the largest global banks, our Lean and digital experts are designing automated solutions leveraging new technologies for underwriting, customer service, and fraud detection, all critical areas for the bank and its customers. We are getting great initial feedback on the way the teams are reimagining the solutions and how other banking processes will run in the future. These are industry disruptive!

What is the richest reward for me at the end of the day? When a customer says - “We need you to help us reimagine our business, dramatically change outcomes – disrupt everything,  redesign our process and show dramatic improvements; no one knows better than you, work with us and I will pay for it” - there is no greater testimony to success than that. Lean defines us, it’s in our DNA and culture. It is a way of thinking for all our employees; it is a way of running a business. It is constantly looking for root causes that, when attacked, will drive improvement.

And it continues to make us ask ‘Why?’ – At its core it’s asking questions and listening
As long as we continue to question, and push and reach and aspire and work harder and do better – so long will we continue to reap the benefits of Lean. And as I have often said – there is no better and more important quality and behavior that I think is needed in today’s world than ‘CURIOSITY’!
I will continue to be intensely ‘curious’, and I hope that you continue to be that way too.

Good luck – and keep questioning the universe!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Do you look for this trait while hiring?

Zig Zigler once very aptly said… “You don’t build a business, you build people and then people build the business”. It quite succinctly puts into perspective just how important people are to an organization and therefore just how important it is to hire the right people. I truly believe that it provides a disproportionate amount of support to the growth and DNA-building of organizations !!

At Genpact, we have always pushed for depth in domain. In addition to building a culture of learning where enhancing one’s skills – at every level – is actively encouraged, we also drive this in our recruitment by going for people who ‘really know their stuff’. 

But ‘really knowing your stuff’ comes packaged in a multitude of ways.

It’s not just about years of experience or how impressive a resume looks. There are a number of unique and dynamic traits that one needs to be on the lookout for, and know how to recognize, when one is going after new talent. This is what keeps a company agile and nimble to stay contemporary and navigate the changing landscape.

Award-winning author Maite Baron captures this shift in mindset in his book ‘The Rise of the New Entrepreneur’, where he describes the ‘SUPER+Generation’ as people “who are driven to succeed”. They are “energetic and passionate about making a difference, which frequently comes through in their innately entrepreneurial approach to life”. He is talking about people with drive and that ‘extra something’. Baron goes on to say that these are people “who don’t wait for things to happen, but who make them happen, which tends to make them more successful. They aren’t frightened to stand out and be different, which means they are independent thinkers, often with an unconventional outlook and approach”. Finally, he says that they “believe in making things happen through a collaborative approach, which is why they are relational, global thinkers who are able to see beyond “me” and “you” to “us”.

These are exactly the kind of people organizations should be looking to hire.  And often we find them in the most unexpected of places. We find them in resumes and profiles that don’t necessarily adhere to protocol… or check the traditional boxes on years of experience and skill set. 

Some of the best startups around the world are run by people with a fraction of the work experience we would typically look for in senior folks. Or else they come from very different backgrounds than the areas they are now excelling in. 

At Genpact, we really don’t need to look beyond our own corridors for proof that this thinking works. We have tons of examples of successful people taking on jobs where they didn’t have prior experience or enough years behind them and yet they have been terrific success stories. I can guarantee it that if we were weighed down by a person’s age or working background or a very narrow and specific skill set we would never have found these talented leaders.

So here’s what I truly believe about hiring – when you are interviewing, don’t focus merely on years put in or a pretty resume. Look also for someone with ‘boundless energy’! I know my leadership team at Genpact is fully aligned to this way of thinking – and is actively involved in passing it down, up, sideways, throughout the organization. Change has to happen in all directions and at all levels – in order to build up a juggernaut of people who are really going to make a difference.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

When Need Meets Opportunity!

What is need? In some essential way, we are all needy. We are all ‘people who need people’ and people who need help of some kind or the other.  Sometimes, it is very easy to spot need. It is there, staring you in the face – which makes it easy to be able to extend a helping hand. But sometimes, need exists in a far more subtle manner – and is that much more difficult to recognize.

The story goes that the great mathematician Ramanujan struggled for years to get his work noticed outside of his small hometown. Then one day he wrote to the renowned British mathematician G.H Hardy, who immediately recognized his genius, paid for his tuition, put him on a boat to Trinity, Cambridge – and the rest is history. Ramanujan was not starving or sick or obviously suffering. But he had a gift, a passion, a genius that needed to be recognized and helped – and thankfully it was. Because what Ramanujan then went on to do was to contribute immensely to the mathematical world – and to young, hungry minds.

So one form of helping is direct - one-on-one help, that has a huge and positive impact on the individual. The other is what I call ‘leveraged’ help, which changes underlying conditions and structures, and creates a self-sustaining momentum once it is unleashed.
What am I therefore getting at? That there are obvious needs versus deep, underlying, structural, not-so-obvious needs - and therefore direct help versus leveraged help.

And this is where Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plays such a vital role. What is CSR and what does it mean for us? To put it very simply, it is a way in which we can recognize social needs– and do our part to help. Sometimes these causes are easier to see and therefore easier to address - like the eradication of extreme hunger and poverty or fighting diseases. But sometimes they are for more fundamental and underlying and not necessarily acknowledged as needy - like promoting higher education, pushing for gender equality, or empowering women.

The reality is that these are areas that are in desperate need of help and development - and the need varies depending on a bunch of factors, like geography, industry, culture and so on.  For example, India has the largest population of young people in the world. If this potential talent is armed with the requisite skills, we will be able to create a massive army of knowledge workers and skilled manpower. This, in turn, would augment our economic growth and usher in an era of unprecedented prosperity. At Genpact, we believe we can play an important role in accelerating this process. So we think our role is in the not-so-obvious structural areas, and in leveraged help that has a multiplier impact.

Take our tie-up with Ashoka University – we have created the ‘Genpact Centre for Women’s Leadership (GCWL), which is a unique, first-of-its-kind industry-academia partnership in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility. By creating a cadre of educated, empowered women we achieve two objectives – unleash the multiplier effect and benefit a whole new generation of women; and address the issue of gender imbalance in the workforce. Women need to be encouraged, supported, trained and helped in every way possible to be better at their jobs and better equipped to lead. And as you perhaps know – women’s leadership is a topic very close to my heart, and one I believe in and drive very strongly!! It makes businesses better and has a long term positive structural social impact!

Similarly, we have joined hands with the NASSCOM Foundation and IT-ITeS Sector Skills Council NASSCOM to launch ‘Reach Higher’ – a vocational skill-building program that aims to push the Government of India’s aspiration to train 500 million people by 2022. In my view this is a huge dream and a truly inspirational one. The program will equip aspirants with skills in specialized areas –all fully sponsored and at no cost to the aspirants. This is going to help create jobs and opportunities and effectively address the growing skills gap that is adding to the massive problem of unemployment in India. There are several such initiatives across the 25 countries that we are present in.

This, then, is our vision: to recognize underlying social needs, address them in a meaningful manner, and create a strong and positive social impact. This will, I am convinced, help create a better world for all of us to live in – and be proud of.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Curiosity: At the Core of Life!

In today’s world, if you’re not curious, you’re dead. If you’re not open to new ideas and aren’t able to change as rapidly as the world around you is changing, you will quickly become obsolete. And what is the one thing that enables one to adapt and apply… again and again.. to match the pace of change around us? Hunger to learn, driven by curiosity. And so, I would say that curiosity to learn through life is at the core of life itself!!
For the last couple of years, we’ve been going to the top 20 B-schools in the world to hire about 20 people into what we called the ‘Sales Development Program’.  They then undergo the right kind of training to emerge as sales leaders for the organization. It’s an investment that’s paid off well and we hope to increase the number soon.
In all my interactions with this group and in reviews with the teams that hire them, the one thing that stands out is the hunger to learn in each of them. They are hungry, very passionate, very motivated to learn and eager to contribute. I’m no authority on the subject but to me that isn’t intuitive to some of the traits that often this generation of Millennials is accused of – narcissistic, privileged, arrogant and so on.
As I mentioned in a NY Times article on the same topic, this is true for people we hire (or seek to hire) across different roles and regions. We place a lot of importance on energy, passion to learn rather than ‘do you know this specific aspect of the business.’ Because if one is energetic and eager to learn – picking up specific skills is never a challenge. We look for people who have an open mind and are curious. Because if you are curious you ask questions. If you ask questions, you will get a set of answers. And if you are reasonably clever, you will process those answers and come up with a relevant solution.
In my experience, if you demonstrate a hunger to learn, a capability to learn and a desire to learn – you are going to be successful. And often, I think that is better than someone saying that I know that thing really well. Because the reality is that, what they know is going to be worthless a year later as it will all change. Then the real question is that are they going to learn the new thing, grab the new opportunity and make it work for them. Does one have the self-confidence to accept the fact that what they knew is no longer important and that they are ignorant about the new thing. And it is okay to be ignorant for a short while till one learns the new thing!
It doesn’t really matter whether we are recruiting in US, India or Japan. The fact that we are looking for qualities of energy, passion and curiosity has to be brought out in the interview process. We bring the cultural nuance at the forefront of the recruiting process. And typically people with these set of qualities usually stand out in all cultures and it’s easy to recognize them.  
And I have had conversations with some of these people within one month of their joining. What they tell me is that the reason why they joined us is that they were looking for the kind of organization that feeds their hunger, that doesn’t curb curiosity, and that stretches and supports them to take on big challenges which you don’t find it easily. So then it’s a good match!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In a global world, do cultural differences really matter?

Most of you will disagree with what I’m about to say… but hear me out !!

I think we have to be careful about making the assumption that cultural nuances are so important that they negate business logic and rationality and a systematic way of doing things. So I would actually argue that this cultural conversation … in the geographic sense of culture and nationality vs. organizational culture… has become a bit too much.

If you walk into any one of our offices across the various regions globally , meet our people who are local people in the US, India, Japan, UK or Guatemala to name a few – you will realize that they all talk the same language , behave the same way in a range of situations , deal with clients the same way ….. Fundamentally have the same core VALUES !! . So you would probably scratch your head and say where are the cultural nuances?

Reality is that corporations and culture of corporations which are strong and well-ingrained cut across geographic cultural differences. Similarly, if the business value proposition and the solutions that we offer are strong and unique, they will cut across the cultural nuances. This is normally different from what we would expect to hear or believe or are taught via cross cultural models.

Having said that, there are certain cultural nuances that we need to keep in mind when conducting business in certain countries. For instance, we measure client satisfaction through the Net Promoter Score (NPS) methodology which is basically asking clients to rate our performance, the value we drive etc. on a scale of 1 to 10 where a score of 9 - 10 means you’re a promoter, 8 means you like me but are not ready to promote me yet, and a score of 6 or less means you are a detractor.

Talking about a specific instance in Germany – we saw a score of 6 (a detractor) and asked our client why she didn’t like our service. So the client's response was– “No! We love you guys and its great service! And that’s why I gave a score of 6!!” So we don’t easily get a score of more than 6 in Germany. Same story in Japan.

So I would say that while certain cultural nuances are important, but saying that a strong business value proposition doesn’t work across cultures is not correct. So we have to be careful that we don’t get overtaken by an excuse that something doesn’t work in a culture.

In the new world , with the combination of technology, social media , the hyper connected world , media , telecommunications and global travel – we cannot expect cultures to remain so distinct or in silos. There is significant inter-mingling particularly in the business world for sure and the language of business transformation and change is the same language.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gender Diversity – Not just a tick in the box!!

If someone was to draw up a list of the top 5 priorities that companies are expected to focus on… I guarantee you that somewhere in the middle, right after ‘meet financial commitments’ and possibly before ‘data privacy & compliance’, we would see the words ‘gender diversity’.

It’s one of those things that organizations are supposed to solve for. We train for unconscious bias, strive for inclusive leadership, run sponsorship programs, set up diversity councils, track promotion and recruitment targets (while treading the thin line between ‘tracking’ and ‘quotas’!!) and finally write blogs on this topic J As cynical as my tone may sound right now, I do believe all of that is important.

But there is something else… that’s even more important than being focused on gender diversity. And that’s understanding why it is important to be focused on gender diversity. Sure it’s the correct and fair thing to do and plays a big role in being an equal opportunity employer. But as the CEO of the company, those are not the only drivers I consider when crafting company priorities.

Fact of the matter is that having women in leadership positions makes better business sense. Data proves that that gender diversity improves financial and talent performance.

Research from The Catalyst and NCWIT shows that companies with the most women board directors outperformed those with the least on return on sales by 16% and return on invested capital by 26%. Companies with the highest representation of women in their senior management teams had a 35% higher return to shareholders. On talent performance parameters, women outperformed men on 12 of 16 measures of outstanding leadership competencies as rated by managers, peers and direct reports. Also, a better diversity climate is related to lower attrition rates for both women and men.

At Genpact, our data shows that business verticals with more than 10% women in leadership roles grew significantly faster than those with the least women. On talent retention parameters, businesses verticals with a higher percentage of women in leadership roles did a better job of retaining other women compared to businesses with a fewer number of women.

And for these reasons as well as other reasons including the fact that clients are interested in how diverse we are, diversity is connected positively with innovation and an increase in women has been linked to a group’s effectiveness in solving difficult problems, we drive gender diversity even harder as a business-critical mission vs. a “nice-to-do”.

Our recruitment teams have aggressive goals of ensuring balanced representation of women in the talent funnel, our leadership development programs target at least 40% representation from women and our promotion data shows that we promoted twice the number of women vs men as a % of their populations/overall last year… obviously driven by pure merit but tracked to see how we’re doing. And finally, our operating teams drive our robust family-friendly policies like flexi-timings, work from home, day care facility, security measures and stork parking to make life easier for women which helps them focus on what’s important.

The results of these efforts are encouraging but far from where we want to be – 16% of our leadership (VP+) are women while representation is at 38% for the VP and below … while these numbers are on the higher side in certain geographies, globally we still have a long way to go. But it’s a fantastic indicator that we’re on the right path to creating a more powerful team that helps us meet our business goals.

And really – at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. Not that there are any public naysayers out there… but this should be an eye opener for the closet skeptics who think driving gender diversity is a just a tick in the box.

Friday, November 14, 2014

What is the definition of 'Global Experience' today?

I recently learnt at a Centre for Talent Innovation (CTI) dinner that, 70% of senior leadership in the world used to have what can be termed as “global experience” in Fortune 500 companies about 5 years back. That number is only 20% today! Clearly… this is contrary to what one would expect. With growing globalization, opportunities and an ever-increasing demand for niche skills, the number should only go up!

So are leaders today really lacking global experience? That depends on what is the operational definition of global experience, which traditionally has been about traveling extensively or living abroad for work. That has now changed . The world has gone through periods of financial crisis - cost reduction and optimization have become important themes across organizations. Bringing in expatriate workers with niche skills is expensive and international travel has reduced significantly. At the same time, technological advancements and virtual presence have come up in a big way – knowledge can be shared virtually, team meetings can be held across geographies and time zones and the internet of everything will be a reality soon.

Take Genpact for example. As a global organization that designs, transforms and runs intelligent business operations for some of the largest Fortune Global 500 companies, we extensively use technology to stay connected and generate impact for our clients. We are virtual, yet very close to our clients… we are listed in New York, yet have offices and delivery centers around the world… our leadership is distributed, yet there is a standard way in which we serve our clients. Everything is possible and effective in the virtual world! We manage a lot of our cross country meetings virtually, we use double robotic automation to showcase our operational floors in India and China to customers sitting in the US and Europe, we are experimenting with how we can use Google Glass to improve field operations and use advanced speech recognition to improve client experience… much of this wasn’t possible 5 years back.

And therefore, we need to rethink the way we are measuring global exposure for our leadership and employees and really question traditional concepts of what constitutes as global experience.