The New Imperative For Leadership At The Middle

Updated: Aug 31 2002, 05:30am hrs
A transformational leadership is all about triggering dynamic change. Its no more a leadership maxim meant to be internalised by the top management from the corporate boardrooms. In fact, the new age human resource (HR) practitioners are now gearing-up to engender the leadership capabilities amongst the operational managers at the middle management levels. No longer is the middle management cadre a neglected lot, amongst many companies. And consultants attribute this broad-basing of perspectives in leadership development to the newer challenges that contemporary HRM is compelled to cope with.

For one, along with the concept of integrating HR to business strategy, consultants opine that the need for HR today is also to drive HRM in actualising a business strategy. This mandates that even the middle management needs to plunge into action by leading from the front,says Dr. Priya Somaiya, executive director, Grow Talent Ltd., a leading HR consultancy. Further, corporates are increasingly looking at incorporating multiple perspectives in strategy formulation. Therefore, to obtain the multi-dimensionality in conceptualising strategy, corporates seek the participation of the professionals from the middle-level bands. Furth-er, it also aids the corporates in creating a strategic succession planning system that can consolidate the right talent pool of professionals equipped to beco-me future corporate leaders.

As Ms Shikha Sharma, Managing Director & CEO, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company says, For us such practices are about succession planning through identification of high potential talent in the company and grooming them for future leadership responsibilities.

And there are diverse dimensions by which corporates are building the leadership quotient in the managerial professionals. India Inc. looks at two such case studies.

Driving results at PruICICI

When the managers of PruICICI reflect on their development needs, they realise that it is all about internally institutionalising the leadership drive. Courtesy: the Management Review Process that was kickstarted in the organisation as an actionplan to create leader-managers.

Says Ms.Sharma: The Management Review Process is an important part of the overall leadership development toolkit. It involves a structured conversation between the Immediate Manager and their direct report on leadership competencies called the Leadership Imperatives as demonstrated on the job.

The review is conducted by the immediate manager and is facilitated by the HR Manager. During this process, staff members engage in a structured discussion with their manager on their strengths and development areas on a suite of leadership competencies called the Leadership Imperatives. This is followed by a discussion on their career aspirations based on which a personal development plan is developed.

The manager provides feedback and counselling to the direct reports on their performance on the Leadership Imperatives. The personal development plan here differ from the development plans that are often charted-out in a Development Centre initiative. For, here the development plan extensively elucidates the various leadership dimensions that needs to be internalised by the professionals. Candor is essential to the MR process and is extremely powerful in building trust, transparency and openness across the organisation, says Ms Sharma.

For the purpose of identifying strengths and development areas, following are the Leadership Imperatives that have been identified:

* Action Orientation
* Strategic Orientation
* People Leadership
* Personal Style

Each of these dimensions are further classified as Exceptional, Strong or Developing through use of descriptors.

Adds Ms Sharma: This PDP is developed in discussion with the staff member and a plan of action for development is agreed upon for the next 12 months. The accent of the MR process is therefore on the long-term development of the individual based on the strengths, development areas and career aspirations.

How does that aid the company in building leadership capabilities amongst the managers

Explains Ms Sharma: Man-agement Review provides an opportunity for an intensive dialogue and feedback session between the manager and the staff member on the identified leadership behaviours and the actionables for improvement through a Personal Develop-ment Plan.

And according to the company there are a slew of business-aligned deliverables that the initiative is meant to attain. For, according to Ms Sharma, the management review seeks to align employee and organisational needs and performance, so that the employee is able to meet their career aspirations and the organisation is able to meet its goals.

Following are some of the strategic leadership objectives that the company has identified as deliverables:

* Building leadership capability in the organisation through development of managers in a customised and individual manner to ensure that each has a personalised plan of action for success.

* Creating a climate of continuous feedback and coaching in the organisation using the Leadership Imperatives as a frame of reference.

* Facilitating a career progression and growth of individuals through a structured leadership development process across all levels of the organisation.

Adds Ms.Sharma: The Leadership Imperatives have been identified as the critical success factors for an individuals performance and progression to higher jobs. We believe that the adoption and demonstration of the Leadership Imperatives at the workplace leads to superior performance and drives the achievement of our business strategy. According to the company, leadership behaviours drive results and are therefore, linked to the achievement of the companys business goals and strategies.

Mentoring for leadership at HCL Perot

For companies like HCL Perot Systems, lending a kick-off to the managers into developing leadership capabilities, is initiated through focussed mentoring systems. And the initiatives roll-out through the associate development plan that is being institutionalised in the organisation. Says Ms Padmaja Krishnan,vice-president, HCL Perot Systems Ltd, We have defined the leadership development process by distilling the specific attributes that change-centric leadership is all about.

And the attributes incorporate initiatives that the managers can voluntarily under- take without the concerned heads not having to constantly manage. Ownership in responsibilities that the managers display through a commitment and resilience in the way the work is delivered. This finally tagged alongwith the capability of the managers in identifying and delivering result-oriented actions. Says Ms Krishnan: The associate development plan and the personal vision plan is developed by a mutual discussion between the mentor and the mentee.

Accordingly the company identifies the premium performers who need to be put on to the fast track. However, according to Ms Krishnan, alongwith pacing up their careers in the organisation the mentors also have to ensure that the growth of the professionals is aligned to the strategic objectives and the actionplan that the business has to attain.

This implies that the company makes an effort to channelise the energies and drive of the premium performers in making them equipped to take leadership responsibilities in the organisation.

The ultimate goal of the people programs, according to Ms Krishnan being that it is aimed at creating the specific leadership drive that is aligned to business needs.

Our strategies are geared towards driving the right people who are aligned to our corporate philosophy and customer satisfaction requirements and we find them to be effective,says Ms.Krishnan.

According to the company, such initiatives in leveraging the leadership behaviours in the professionals is also put into action through an extensive acknowledgement program.

Following are the action methodologies:

* When making an entry to new areas of services such as BPO the company provides options to the associates to move into new/emerging business divisions, where they can achieve a faster growth.

* Similarly, the associates are enabled to develop win-win competencies in the vertical focus areas: Finance, Telecom, Travel & Health, based on choices given to associates with four years or more experience to focus and build on their vertical expertise.

This is because for us leadership at the managerial level is also about developing capabilities to attain business leadership,sums up Ms.Krishnan.

Sharper focus

According to consultants, the focus of such middle managerial leadership needs to be about internalising an understanding of the functional knowledge that is involved in the business.

The need for leadership focus according to the consultants need to be intense specifically because the middle managers have to bind the lower and the top management in driving the business forward.

Says Dr.Somaiya: Building leadership capabilities in the middle management needs to be robust more so because they need to integrate the operational and strategic roles in consolidating a deliverable business plan for the companies.

Further, the emphasis on all such leadership interventions at the middle management should also be to anchor a more rounded and wholesome approach to challenging business puzzles.

Adds Dr Somaiya: Leader-ship capability in the new age managers today should also be about initiating the culture of acquiring multiple perspectives. Further another focus domain that the consultants outline is also to develop roles within the organisation for setting a strategic direction for the future challenges of the company.

Intutiveness in formulating strategy is also a leadership competency that needs to trickle down to the managerial levels, says Mr Santwana Acharya, senior manager, Profile Associates for Leadership Ltd. (PALL).

Create leadership excellence in the middle managersits a phrase that may soon become a buzzword in the emerging management lexicon.