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.

Monday, August 4, 2014

US job report: stable is the new growth - unless talent mismatch is fixed

Amongst the many reactions to the recent Jobs Report, including President Obama’s warning that unemployment will continue to go up and down and that we need to create more jobs faster… I spoke to the WSJ over the weekend about what I think is the answer to creating more jobs – right-skilling.

Fact is you could have pretty significant unemployment rates but does that mean you find the people you want with the skills you want? The answer is no. There is huge demand for niche skills like regulatory, risk, new technology… and so on, and until we address the skills gap, we will see limited job growth. So while we’ve added 200,000-plus jobs for six consecutive months which is a consistent, steady clip and I prefer this any day over sinusoidal ups and downs – clearly it’s not enough.

The good news is companies have begun investing heavily in right-skilling existing and potential talent to combat such issues and are seeing pockets of success. We just now need to do it on a much larger scale, targeting the right skill sets.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Maniacal Client Focus… It’s measurable!!

There is not a single enterprise in the world that doesn’t have client centricity at the core of how it defines itself. What differentiates some from others is to what extent they take that client centricity.

The most extreme form is what we at Genpact call… a maniacal focus on clients!! By that I mean doing whatever it takes to truly delight clients… not getting bound by contractual obligations or service level agreements… but taking decisions that deliver value to the client even though the decision may hurt you as an enterprise.

Here’s an example. A few years back we started an initiative called ‘Destroy Your Revenue’ where we told about 200 people in the company who served a strategic client, that let's say your revenue is a million dollars a year. If they could come up with ideas that actually reduced the bill for the client (by eliminating work, finding ways to do it differently) then their revenue and the company’s revenue would go down, and that’s fine because we would have added value to the client. The initiative was a success and we got tons of ideas that contributed to actually destroying our revenue. Here’s what happened next… the client fell in love with us… gave us more business… and we grew faster than ever before!

Most importantly, being maniacal means going above and beyond customer satisfaction (which is basic hygiene) to turning clients into passionate loyalists for life. because as we all know companies that ignore loyalty tread thin ice when it comes to financial success!! Given the link between loyalty and increased market share… higher revenue… lower costs, it’s critical to invest time and resources into developing loyalty programs. Building loyalty is critical at any point, but it takes on added meaning in today’s volatile world. Customers are more fickle these days… their expectations are greater. An effective loyalty strategy is not merely about keeping customers at all costs… it’s about developing loyalty among the most valuable customers. Therefore, it’s important to constantly relook at and realign the strategy guiding loyalty programs… and align it to the organization’s marketing strategy … because attraction and retention of clients go hand in hand.

The way to do this is have a dedicated customer loyalty and retention function and then use the data from that program to form the basis of the strategy guiding it. And then define the customer lifecycle and align to it their loyalty and retention efforts. It’s not about revenue creation…it’s about creating value that leads to revenue creation!! Companies need to focus on building value for clients that turns them into true evangelists and advocates – research shows that loyal customers spend more, become brand advocates and are much less likely to succumb to the overtures of competitors – that beats any marketing strategy hollow!!

At Genpact, we invest heavily in measuring, monitoring and building client delight and loyalty, at a granular level. So twice a year, we ask about 5,000 people in our client organizations whether or not they would promote us to others. We don’t just ask ‘are you satisfied with what we do for you’ but ‘will you promote me and what we do to other organizations?’ This is the Net Promoter Score methodology which is based on the theory that ‘willingness to recommend’ is a strong indicator of loyalty and growth…because when clients recommend you, they’re putting their reputations on the line. And they’ll take that risk only if they’re intensely loyal and believe in your value.

We drive the NPS methodology and its learning across the entire organization in a very structured and granular manner and we’ve been doing this for several years now. In fact, NPS is the most important metric that business performance is measured on – it’s embedded in all our processes, depicted visually across the floors, forms the criteria for rewards and recognition and is ingrained in every employee. As a result, we are at a historic high of 64% NPS which puts us at 1.8x of the market average. A recent Satmetrix study showed that average B2B & B2C NPS across mid- senior- CXO levels has been in the range of 23-24%.

In fact we’re now taking the NPS methodology over to the employee side of things to measure engagement (vs. satisfaction) and use that as the benchmark of how employees measure us… how we prioritize employee investment… and it makes sense doesn’t it…Clients and employees actually exist in a virtuous circle, where one drives the other. Investing in employees and empowering them can lead to increased employee engagement and productivity, which results in superior service delivery. This in turn translates into higher client satisfaction and loyalty and thus improved sales levels and better business results. Re-investing some of the profits into employee development continues to fuel growth and brings us back full circle!!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Trouble with Being Efficient ONLY!!

The problem with most companies is that they think only about efficiency. Don’t get me wrong, efficiency is great – you take cost out, get things done faster and are more productive – but it gets people only so far … it cannot get the juices flowing the adrenaline pumped up and the passion to come through …. It just cannot ! . There are stories after stories of companies that have driven productivity and then have hit a wall.

The real multiplier value comes when you drive effectiveness. So let me give you an example. Let’s take a standard hiring process of any organization. The real process that one should think about is not the hiring process but the end-to-end process that straddles the whole organization from the time you define who you want to hire for a job to ultimately the person joining and delivering and producing results. Think about what people spend time on in that end to end process. The hiring team is measured on their metrics: how quickly can they hire the right person. The training team is measured on their process: how quickly can they train. In reality, the right metric is end-to-end: How do you get the right person on the job that delivers effectively as fast as possible?

It’s quite likely that it is better to spend double the time on hiring because that allows you to spend one-third of the time on training and the probability of an effective person is higher and total end to end time shorter …. that’s effectiveness !!

But that’s not the way organizations are structured. Enterprises are structured as functions in silos. Processes on the other hand that delivers outcomes straddle from one function to another. There’s leakage of output in this straddle. There’s sub-optimization at the overall process level because each person who owns a function is trying to optimize their piece. It’s very difficult for organizations to get together and say we will optimize the overall process to produce the best outcome. And, by the way, the best outcome is not the total cost that I spend in hiring a person. It’s “I’ve hired a person who was effective on day two and produced fabulous sales on day five. And that, by the way, generated a hundred million dollars of sales “versus the cost benefit that I’d have got if I had done this cheaper and more efficiently maybe a hundred thousand dollars benefit.

Organizations in every case tend to focus on efficiency as functions and therefore sub-optimize the overall outcome that the process could deliver.

If you go and ask a company at the CEO or CFO level and say, “so how good are your processes ? " I’ll tell you the three answers they’ll give you:

1) " They are good or bad” - They won’t say how good or bad.

2) " I think I can improve my processes by x percent a year”

3) " I don’t know”

If you were to measure a number of these processes across large corporations and compare processes that are run really well in some companies vs. being run badly in other companies – the difference could be five to ten times better. For instance, there are companies that close their books in two days and those that take forty-five days. There are companies that pay bills to their suppliers in twenty-four hours and other companies that struggle to do that in ninety days. Some have a 5 % defect rate in goods shipped against orders while others have a 0.5 % defect rate. There has to be a way by which you can take the learning from the twenty-four-hour-payment company and transport it to the ninety-day-payment company and the value that you get there is not the efficiency value and the cost value, but the working capital of a billion dollars being released or the ability to capture 2 % extra discount on all your purchases from suppliers …. Effectiveness or outcomes!!

You can actually go to the granular level with granular metrics for any process in the world and define what "best in class" is. Some of us at Genpact have been on this journey to build this "Science of Process” for the last 15 years. We spent the first ten years collating data from running a number of these processes across companies and industries – we pulled all that together and said, so this particular process, how does this company run it versus that versus third versus fourth.

The interesting thing is sometimes the processes are pretty much the same or should be the same across completely unconnected industries. Why should a pharma company reconcile accounts or close their books dramatically differently than an automotive company? The reality is they actually do. So it’s not saying how I do this entire process better. It’s actually saying how do I do this little step better and the second step better, and the third step better, and for each of them there is a best in class. For each of them there is a connection to if I drive this improvement in this little process then here is the better outcome it produces!

How does one even begin to embark on this journey? It has to be in your DNA, a DNA of Lean, Six Sigma, and process granularity. Every process that we run for our clients, we measure at an extremely granular level. We collect all that data and create benchmarks. When we drive improvements, we know what drove that improvement and how much improvement was driven. We’ve done that for fifteen years. The missing link here was how to build it back into a framework. That’s the "Smart Enterprise Process” SEP framework that we started building about five years back.

We now have built it for twenty-six different processes across the world. And the fascinating thing is when we do a diagnosis of a company’s processes and go back telling them exactly which little step to improve which will result in outcome improvement – it shocks the wits out of them!! In fact, they are completely flabbergasted because they have always believed that they run their process really well. They’ve also believed that the improvements they typically can drive are five percent, ten percent versus five times, ten times which is what we’re able to deliver. Of course you have to measure outcome improvement Vs just efficiency.

That is the whole basis on which we have built “The Science of Process " and the more people learn it, which is learnable like any other science, the more people apply it. The more people use it and deploy it, the more value that they can generate for themselves, for their organization and for enterprises.

And by the way it’s not just about Technology!!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Culture doesn't eat strategy just for breakfast but for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

The phrase coined by Peter Drucker and later publicized by Ford’s Mark Fields had the right intention… but wasn’t quite on the mark. Strategy is important – and 80% of the books on management in any typical bookstore endorse that view. It’s important to know where you’re going, why you’re going there and how you’re going to get there. It’s important to know where your competitors are, where the market’s going and to figure out how you’re going to win in that space. However, the differentiation between companies is often not in the strategic path they took but in fact in the culture they drove in order to be successful with those strategic paths. And it can lend itself both ways – in using those strategic chosen paths to drive change because their culture allows them to be flexible and change … or not change at all because culturally they’re not wired to do so !! And that means that strategic chosen path never delivers results.

And therefore, I would say that while strategy is important, it’s even more important to have a culture that allows you to evaluate strategy openly. And call out a mistake when it’s a mistake and then change direction. If you are going down the wrong path, it’s okay if you have a culture that allows you to change direction. But if you have a culture that doesn’t allow you to do that, you’re doomed. Which is why I would argue that culture doesn’t just eat strategy for breakfast… it’s much bigger than that and therefore eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner!!

If you ever want to pick the one thing that actually differentiates organizations, people, teams… it’s actually culture. Culture is about how you deal with situations, how you behave with each other, how you solve problems together, how you solve a client problem, how you approach opportunities, how you make trade-offs and how you take risks. Every one of those is deeply entrenched in a company’s culture.
Here’s the other thing about strategy versus culture. Strategy can be copied. The problem with copying strategy of course is that you lose the first-mover advantage. You kind of could become a ‘me too’. But it still can be copied. Culture cannot be copied. So if your differentiation is culture, first of all it’s a differentiation that’s built on your history, your legacy, who you are and how you got there. You know all of that and then you teach people all of that. And that proliferates that culture.

In our industry, for example, everyone uses Lean Six Sigma. Everyone talks about process, everyone talks about technology. So that’s not the differentiation. The differentiation is what’s the culture that you created that actually uses it. How does it permeate? How is it rewarded? How is it punished? Copying that is very difficult. It’s deep inside the DNA. It takes years to build and proliferate. And therefore, if your differentiation is built on culture, it’s a long-lasting differentiation. It’s a differentiation that’s not easy to copy and as long as it’s a culture that’s a winning culture, you will continue to win.