What it takes to mould leaders of tomorrow

Written by Rachana Khanzode | Updated: Jul 4 2009, 05:54am hrs
While India stands at the threshold of change in its policies and economic reforms, its corporate giants too are witnessing a need to shift towards the next generation of leaders. Indias large companies have been built on the back of entrepreneurs and visionary risk-takers, who started from scratch. With this backdrop, the new set of leaders now come more prepared and experienced. So, whether we talk about TCSs next CEO, N Chandrashekaran or Bharti Airtels deputy chief executive, Sanjay Kapoor or Vodafones next CEO, Marten Pieters or Roshini Nadar taking over HCL Corp or Infosys initiatives to groom new leaders and board members from within; adaptability and ability to rise to the occasion seems to be the catch of the season. This does not come naturally, as HR experts have experienced.

Companies have, down the ages, focused on training & development of performance-oriented skill sets amongst their managers. Variety of factors including the financial meltdown has made credibility of leaders extremely important and given leadership training & development a new-found respect even in sectors that refused to acknowledge its importance earlier. Prithvi Shergill, lead, human resource practice, Accenture India, says, Companies that were initially challenged have now started looking at structured leaders. A systematic succession becomes extremely important as large companies cannot afford to groom individuals just at the C level executives and ignore senior and mid level managers. The latter will become the next set of leaders and so it is extremely important for companies to bring out training programs at both the levels. According to Shergill, industries that have been maturing and feeling the need to groom leaders are IT/ ITeS industry that grew 26% last year. More traditional sectors such as telecom and banking have taken up the steps in early days. At the same time patchy development continue to exist in sectors like infrastructure and retail.

Bharti Airtel, the countrys largest telecommunications service provider employing 25,000 employees sets the example, having recently crossed its 100 million-subscriber mark the company is aiming at building people management capabilities to meet future challenges. Krish Shankar, director, HR, Bharti Airtel, says, The next set of growth will come from the rural areas and, therefore, scaling up and building talent for these areas becomes extremely important. The HR strategy is to encourage team engagements, build people-management excellence, offer cross-functional options, and provide training. According to Shankar, people managers are the key-connect between the organisation and its people and have an essential role to play in the success of the company. Airtels management workforce combines 20% of the total employees who are undergoing various training programmes. Meanwhile, next set of employees who are expected to take up new leadership roles, as the company grows, are also being trained. These are expected to be about 25% of the existing work force.

Infosys Technologies is expected to announce developments in its senior management. Recently, Nandan Nilekani, one of the companys veterans and board member has decided to join government and the company is expected to bring his successor soon. Media reports have indicated that BG Srinivas, Ashok Vemuri, Subhash Dhar, Chandra Sekhar Kakal and Amitabh Chaudhry, could be one of them. They are among the second generation leaders Infosys is grooming in its tradition of building leaders who can seamlessly take over from where predecessors have left off. Infosys had, infact, developed Infosys leadership Institute at its Mysore campus where all the grooming takes place. S Kris Gopalakrishnan had once mentioned about the process the company usually undergoes to capture the next generation of leaders. The company identifies the next generation of leaders depending on their performance and tenure in the company. There is a 3-tier mentoring process at Infosys. Tier-1 of the Infosys Management Council, which consists of the companys board of directors, who mentor Tier-2 leaders who, in turn, guide the Tier-3 group. About 45 executives are a part of Tier-1 council. Each of the leaders undergo exhaustive and sustained training through the companys personal development programme. Infosys training programmes are designed to enable professionals enhance their skill sets in tune with their respective roles. Business leaders are evaluated on an ongoing basis by the shareholder, employee and corporate community. Credibility of the blackboard of training and skill development programmes will be revealed depending on how do these leaders take up their roles and bring required capabilities to the company.