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How Infosys grooms its future leaders

August 03, 2006 11:44 IST
The Infosys Leadership Institute at the company's 335-acre campus in Mysore. Photograph: Shishir BhateGreat companies can neither be built nor their greatness sustained without great leaders. A Reliance would not have been possible without a Dhirubhai, nor an Infosys without a Murthy.

But on August 20, 2006, at the age of 60, when N R Narayana Murthy retires as the company's chief mentor and chairman, Infosys Technologies Ltd is not really chewing its nails anxiously.

A succession plan has long been put in place and the smooth transition of authority and leadership ensured. Murthy will also continue as the non-executive chairman of Infosys.

Of the seven original founders of Infosys, one of India's greatest corporate success stories, only four will remain at the helm of affairs at the company from August 21: Nandan Nilekani, S Gopalakrishnan, S D Shibulal, and K Dinesh. N S Raghavan retired in 1999, while Ashok Arora had quit the firm much earlier, in 1989, to settle down in the United States.

While Infosys continues to be in very good hands to take on any challenge, the IT major has already identified a pool of 400 leaders who will steer it in the future. Especially, since the founders of the company are in their early- or mid-fifties and due for retirement at 60.

So how does Infosys groom its future leaders? The process is long-drawn, meticulous, and in consonance with the company's stated vision: 'To be a globally respected corporation that provides best-of-breed business solutions, leveraging technology, delivered by best-in-class people.'

This is where the Infosys Leadership Institute at the company's Mysore campus comes into the picture. The 162,000 square feet structure, built at the cost of Rs 41.1 crore (Rs 411 million), is where the next generation of Infosys leaders is being primed.

Says S 'Kris' Gopalakrishnan, chief operating officer and deputy managing director, Infosys: "The company has identified 400 'leaders' on the basis of several parameters: their performance throughout their tenure with the company being a prime criterion for selection."

Gopalakrishnan, who will take over as the company's President, COO and Joint MD, on August 21, spoke to at Infosys' Mysore campus during its 25th anniversary celebrations.

"Great performance puts employees on the fast track to growth within the organisation. As does their commitment to surpassing customer expectations, setting standards in business and transactions, and being an paradigm for the industry and the company," adds Gopalakrishnan.

"Creativity, devotion to being ethical and sincere in dealings, and the commitment to strive relentlessly in pursuit of excellence are also major considerations while identifying future leaders at Infosys," he points out.

The charismatic Narayana Murthy, speaking about his retirement, said: "I do feel sad, but am happy too. It is a mixed feeling. It's like getting your daughter married: you are sad that she is going away, but happy that there is someone younger -- and stronger -- to take care of her."

"The company is now in the hands of the youngsters. It is necessary to recognise the power of youth and to nurture it. We must respect youth and create opportunities for them to participate in everything. Which is why at every function, we have the youth participating. I am about the past. I am gone. They are the future," says Murthy.

"The pool of 400 leaders," says Gopalakrishnan, "that Infosys has identified is from across the globe and does not comprise Indians alone. It is in keeping with the company's multi-national, multi-cultural image where excellence is the most important condition."

"There is a three-tier mentoring process at Infosys.

Tier-1 of the Infosys Management Council, which consists of the company's board of directors, mentors Tier-2 leaders who in turn guide the Tier-3 group.

About 45 executives are a part of the company's Tier-1 of the management council. And each of the leaders undergoes exhaustive and sustained training through the company's personal development programme -- PDP.

Infosys training programmes are designed to enable company professionals enhance their skill sets in tune with their respective roles," says Gopalakrishnan.

The management council is an advisory body that takes strategic decisions on the company's businesses and was set up by N R Narayana Murthy, with the idea of building an outfit that is built to last and is ably "geared to handle the uncertainties of a global market, the high and lows of business cycles, and to power the company towards strong growth in the future," says the Infosys COO.

When Murthy first set up the council, he found that the young go-getters in the company were diffident to air their suggestions. It was then that the idea of an in-house leadership institute was born. Encouragement from the top management has put an end to the fears of transgressing the chain of command, and young Infoscions are now urged to give vent to their creative talent and come up with their ideas and plans.

The faculty at the ILI has in a note spelt out the rationale behind the institute and charted out the manner in which it operates.

The ILI was set up in 2001 to prepare Infosys to manage its exceptional growth; to prepare its executives to handle the external and internal business environment; and through 'thought leadership' create better customer value.

The leadership development programme at Infosys takes after similar processes followed by many global mega corps. It has been refined to suit the particular needs of Infosys and is termed as the 'nine pillars for leadership development in Infosys.'

These nine pillars form the backbone of the PDP and each leader can choose from these pillars for personal development. "Depending upon the individual's need to grow and the company's sensitivity to these needs, every (short-listed) individual is groomed to lead the company in the future," Gopalakrishnan says.

The chosen few -- 400 of the 58,409 employees -- identified as 'high potential Infoscions' undergo a three-year 'leadership journey' that includes training, actionising personal development programme, interacting with other participants, understanding the company better and resolving real business issues.

The note prepared by the ILI faculty enumerates 'the nine pillars for leadership development' as:

1. 360 degree feedback

This is the mechanism through which the company gathers data about an individual's performance and abilities. This information is collected from coworkers, including peers, subordinates, managers and customers. Personal development plans are prepared on the basis of this feedback. Then, each of these individuals is assigned an ILI faculty member to help prepare the PDP and to follow it.

2. Development assignments

Identified high potential Infoscions are trained at various functions of the company through job rotations and cross-functional assignments. This helps employees to acquire new leadership skills outside their own areas of expertise and experience.

3. Infosys Culture workshops

These workshops are designed to fortify the Infosys culture amongst the participants, help instill better communication skills through sustained interaction amongst themselves, and identify with the values and processes involved in leadership development.

4. Development relationships

This includes one-on-one interaction in actual on-the-job work climate and leads to better sharing of knowledge and camaraderie amongst individuals. Mentoring forms an integral part of this exercise.

5. Leadership skills training

The 'Leaders Teach Series' are workshops that the company's Tier-1 members, including Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani (CEO and MD), hold to acclimatise the next rung with leadership roles and to groom them through their own rich experience.

6. Feedback intensive programmes

These are akin to 360 degree feedback, but based on formal and informal feedback from employees that an individual interacts with.

7. Systemic process learning

This helps individuals to gain an overall view of the company and its diverse and complex systems, business, operations and processes. It is a continuous process and helps improve the individual and also the systems.

8. Action learning

This exercise constitutes solving real problems in real-time conditions, but as a team.

9. Community empathy

The company stresses the need to give back to society through involvement in various developmental, educational and social causes. This programme helps nurture a social conscience amongst its leaders.

"The last 25 years for Infosys have been successful. And we are ready for the future. Yes, our growth rates will change, the business cycles will change, our ability to influence the business environment will change, even our leaders will change. But what will not change in Infosys's future is our ability to achieve profitable growth legally and ethically, our guiding set of principles and our values," says Gopalakrishnan.

Meanwhile, there is a buzz about the imposing edifice of the ILI set amidst the verdant expanse that is the Mysore campus of Infosys: the next CEO, COO, CFO are being readied there.

Image: The Infosys Leadership Institute at the company's 335-acre campus in Mysore. Photograph: Shishir Bhate

Shishir Bhate