Monday, April 7, 2014
An Indian Experience of Leader Development
Co-Authored by me and published in the Book "using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent" published by Centre of Creative Leadership USA. Available for purchase at Amazon
An Indian Experience of Leader Development
The Fire of Experience and Krishna-Arjuna Coaching
P. V. Bhide, Meena Surie Wilson,Rajeev Kakkar, and Dilep Misra
Founded more than one hundred years ago, the JK Group (Eastern Zone) today is a multi-business, multi-product, and multi-location operation. With the Indian economy growing healthily at more than 8 percent GDP for the last five years, the group aspires to quantum growth by increasing turnover from the present USD$2 billion to USD$4 billion in the next four years and USD$8 billion by 2020.This quantum growth calls for enhanced financial resources and new strategic partnerships such as joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing, contract manufacturing, and technology tie-ups. To drive competitive advantage and achieve this vision, strategically identified positions must be manned by top performers.
Like other businesses, the JK Group is susceptible to dynamic changes in the global environment that bring uncertainty, complexity, and competition from unexpected quarters. We believe that companies do not compete in the market with just their products and services but, in the long run, with the quality of their leadership. CEOs and other top executives make crucial decisions on business strategy—where to play and how to grow and win. This entails developing a robust leadership pipeline to execute business strategy—based on developing tomorrow’s leaders today.
The main human resource challenge is to manage talent strategically. Leadership development has to be dramatically accelerated to multiply the supply of leaders who can take on C-suite positions. The Fire of Experience program, strengthened by the Indian way of Krishna-Arjuna coaching, has been designed to meet this need. In this chapter, we share unique practical insights and proven processes integral to an Indian leader development initiative. We hope this will be useful to other organizations
that would like to base leadership development on learning from experience.
The JK Group (Eastern Zone) Today
The JK Organisation was founded more than one hundred years ago and is a USD$2 billion plus industrial group in India. The president of JK Organisation, the late Shri Hari Shankar Singhania, a visionary entrepreneur and the guiding spirit of the organization, made significant, award-winning contributions to domestic economic activity and international trade. Under the leadership of Shri Singhania, and with the support of his family members, the organization has grown continually in diversified fields of industry. The companies in the group manufacture and market a range of products with strong brand names, with market leadership positions in their segments. These include automotive tires and tubes, paper and pulp, cement, V-belts, oil seals, power transmission systems, hybrid seeds, sugar, food and dairy products, clinical research, and insurance. With its nine businesses, the JK Group is recognized as a dynamic force playing a key role in resurgent India.
The group operates in almost every Indian state and employs more than twenty thousand people. Its nationwide sales and service network runs to more than eleven thousand distributors and a large number of retailers and service centers. The organization has a global presence with manufacturing activities in Mexico, outsourcing arrangements in China and different parts of the world, and exports spanning more than eighty countries across six continents.
The core values of the group are (1) caring for people; (2) integrity, including intellectual honesty, openness, fairness, and trust; and (3) commitment to excellence. Its ethos of care for people extends beyond the organization, with group leaders setting up and maintaining a number of educational, social, and health care institutions and supporting causes such as rural uplift, HIV and AIDs control, adult literacy, and population control. One manifestation of its commitment to excellence is exemplified by the highly reputed Harishankar Singhania Elastomer and Tyre Research Institute (HASETRI) that the group has established in India.
The challenge today is to escalate and diversify growth. Turnover has been going up at a compound annual rate of 16 percent for four years. Diversification into sectors such as thermal power and solar energy, defense, aerospace, and internal security is planned. The success of the group is based not only on more and highest quality leadership, but also on the use of the latest technology, continuous research and development, and innovation.
Finding and Developing Tomorrows’ Top Leaders: A Fresh Approach
Historically, 5 percent of top performing managers, or approximately 120 future leaders, are identified. To avoid the subjective bias inherent in boss-subordinate performance appraisals, these high performing managers are screened through a three-day assessment and development center exercise. This creates a pool of talent drawn from all companies. To prepare them for taking up top leadership roles in the future, they are given additional opportunities to develop themselves.
In 2009, corporate HR (three of whom are authors of this chapter) decided to experiment with an alternate approach to developing their high potential managers. Our reasoning: We have tried the “develop competencies” approach; now we want to try the “learning from experiences” approach. There were several reasons for devising a different way.
For the previous five years, individual development plans (IDPs) had been used to develop competencies. But IDPs could not be tightly aligned to business strategy and growth. Several aspects of the IDPs focused on only short-term breakthrough performance on immediate project goals. Some aspects, such as reading books and participating in community assignments, were perceived by participants and their bosses as theoretical and impractical due to work pressures. Last, measuring improvement of leadership competencies was difficult and often subjective.
Job rotations were tried, but did not turn out to be feasible for applying across all the companies. More than 120 high potential leaders would have to be rotated through jobs lasting about three years. Although several individuals moved into top positions as a result, this system was not sustainable and could not produce the necessary quality and quantity of leaders quickly enough.
Fortuitously, corporate HR interest was piqued by the idea of creating learning experiences without changing jobs (McCauley, 2006). This seemed like an interesting way of getting around the limitations of job rotations. Corporate HR also decided to take a closer look at the 70–20–10 framework, which suggests that a ratio of 70 percent challenging assignments, 20 percent developmental relationships, and 10 percent coursework and training makes for efficacious leader development. Several possibilities emerged: perhaps challenging assignments could be aligned with business strategy and participants’ career aspirations; perhaps developmental relationships could help future leaders to successfully negotiate the bends in their managerial careers (Charan, Drotter, & Noel, 2001); perhaps coursework on learning styles (Kolb, 1984) for participants and their mentors and coaches would increase their capacity to learn.
At this juncture, the JK Group was invited to participate in a study of the key developmental experiences of successful executives in India. Corporate HR signed up, hoping to use research insights on how Indian leaders learn, grow, and develop. In fact, the findings from this research (Wilson, 2010) became a central feature of the Fire of Experience program. Involving in-depth interviews with more than one hundred top and senior Indian leaders from eight home-grown multinational companies, the study generated a unique 7–11 Model of Development based on the seven experiences and eleven lessons that Indian business leaders described most often. Since senior leaders at the JK Group had participated in the research and the insights came from Indian business leaders, top management bought in. In collaboration with the business heads, corporate HR began to design the pilot program.
For the Fire of Experience pilot, senior executives from each business group reviewed the list of candidates already in the JK Group’s leadership talent pool, narrowed that list to those who had secured an “A” performance and potential rating, and then short-listed that to three to five high potential managers from their own business group. Within each business group, these nominees’ backgrounds were reviewed once again by the business head, unit/functional head, and unit HR head. Those perceived as capable leaders with high aspirations for advancing their company and themselves, strong commitment to personal growth, and highly positive attitudes toward their company and co-workers were selected as candidates for the program. With corporate HR aiming for equitable representation from all the companies, seventeen individuals from four businesses were chosen.
Each participant’s progression through the program is linked to his overall career plan. Senior executives who take part in the selection process continue to be tapped to support participants’ development in different ways. For its part, corporate HR ensures that there are multiple one-on-one and group-based interactions, which serve to monitor participants’ progress and build collective
rapport and trust.
The Fire of Experience Program: An Overview
The Fire of Experience program is designed to be a relatively safe environment in which future leaders are assessed, supported, and challenged. According to Carlos Ghosn (Ghosn & Reis, 2005), leaders are formed in the “fire of experience,” when challenging and strategically important developmental assignments (without job rotation) are incorporated in existing jobs. The difficult part is to design experiences with the right kind of fire, customized to each potential leader—ensuring that they do not come out mildly singed, half-baked, or burned out (McCall, 2010). The program takes place over the short span of two years and unfolds in three major phases: (1) a preparation phase; (2) a six-month first assignment phase focused on becoming a better boss; and (3) a third phase in which participants are assigned two developmental experiences—their second and third assignments—each of which is four to six months long. All assignments are integrated with the participants’ regular job responsibilities. The exercises introduced during the first phase—which are aimed at helping participants to become better bosses—continue throughout the program. The assignments that are part of the third and final phase are drawn from the seven types of experiences in the 7–11 Model (see Table 12.1).
This compact sequencing of assignments over a short time frame without a job rotation seems to be a practical way to develop junior, mid-level, and senior managers. At corporate HR, we think that up and- coming managers can be cycled through the seven core experiences several times, such as during the early, middle, and late stages of their careers. First, the experience at each level will be different, with assignments progressively becoming broader and deeper (more complex). Second, the impact of the lessons learned (on the manager and the people whom he or she is leading) will evolve because leadership learning is cumulative. Developing leaders by immersing them in seven types of experiences promises to be a powerful way of speeding up leader development.
Table 12.1. Seven Fires of Experience
Turnaround: Fixing and stabilizing a failing or underperforming unit or organization. Productivity and profitability are achieved by restructuring, downsizing, or closing down a unit, function, or operation, or by implementing an organizational culture change. These troublesome assignments often arouse turbulent thoughts and feelings in the manager. An example is handling chronic problems such as underperforming machinery or processes.
New Initiative: Building something from nothing by leveraging an opportunity to develop or launch a new product or service, adopt new technologies, craft a new policy or process, set up a plant or unit, enter a new market, embark on a new line of business, or create a new business entity. An example is substantially improving an existing operational process.
Horizontal Move: Transition or rotation to another function, business unit, organization, or industry sector where the work and work culture are different. The move does not involve a promotion and can be initiated by oneself or one’s organization. Examples include line-to-staff and staff-to-line rotations.
Cultural Crossing: Regular, direct contact with co-workers whose values, motivations, language, life routines, and social customs are different. The manager may have to relocate to another region or country with different political, economic, and legal systems. An example is getting to know the views and practices of co-workers from a different region.
Increased Job Scope : A significant increase in budget, number of people to manage, access to resources, and complexity of tasks. Typically involving a promotion, an increase in job scope raises the manager’s responsibilities and visibility. An example is a vertical rise to run a function about which one knows very little and with direct reports who are more expert.
Influence Without Authority: Influencing peers, higher management, or other key people over whom one has no direct authority, working across organizational boundaries, coordinating action across the organization, and handling internal politics. Examples include creating a cross-organizational network or representing the concerns of employees to higher management.
External Pressure: Managing the interface with important groups outside the organization, such as customers, vendors, partners, unions, and regulatory agencies, Requires representing the organization, negotiating with external groups, and building shared agendas among diverse groups. Examples include retaining an important but irate customer or handling media relations during a crisis.
In the next section, we describe the meticulous behind-the scenes orchestration that takes place six to eight weeks preceding formal program launch. Integral to success, key aspects include framing boss-subordinate relationships as Krishna-Arjuna interactions; securing the buy-in of an array of stakeholders, each of whom has a clear and important role in the leadership development process; and aligning stakeholder commitment by providing in-depth orientation sessions.
Preparation: Creating a Safety Net of People and Relationships
Broad-based support from multiple stakeholders is woven into the fabric of the program. The Indian culture is collectivistic (Hofstede, 2001). This means that the needs of the group are typically placed before the needs of the individual. To ensure the future success of the organization, decisions about how to develop carefully selected managers are made collectively. This is followed by support for unlocking their leadership potential, which is enacted collectively. Finally, due to the collectivistic norms of Indian societal culture, stakeholders expect to be deeply involved in nurturing future talent. Recognizing these norms, corporate HR makes sure that all stakeholders are brought on board to the fullest extent. During the six to eight weeks in the preparation phase, several orientation activities are conducted so stakeholders become aware of how development occurs and their roles in the Fire of Experience program.
Broad-based involvement in leader development is culturally preferred in India (especially in family-based businesses); according to recent research, broad and deep relationships provide emerging leaders with the support they need to learn from experience (Yost & Plunkett, 2009). A related idea is that for sustainable behavior change, multiple stakeholders must become involved with guiding the leader (Goldsmith & Reiter, 2007). Finally, the naturally occurring bends in a managerial career—from technical specialist to manager of people to manager of managers to functional manager to business manager (Charan, Drotter, & Noel, 2001)—call on growth-oriented managers to become continual learners, and this is more easily achieved with social support for new learning. We propose that when emerging leaders are placed in a network of relationships, the necessary shifts in values, behaviors, attitudes, skills, and knowledge are more likely to occur because of social learning.
Given these insights about how relationships support development, even before the start of the first assignment, networks of relationships are put in place—primarily within the participants’ business units or functions. Integral to the success of the program, the people involved at various points include the participant’s boss (Krishna); the boss’s boss, that is, the business unit or functional head (Super Krishna); an external executive coach; peers and subordinates; a family member at times; the unit HR head; and various members of the corporate HR team. As will be described momentarily, each plays a separate and differentiated role during the leadership journey of the participant (Arjuna). The relationship between participants (Arjunas), their boss (Krishnas), and boss’s boss (Super-Krishnas) are foundational.
The Krishna-Arjuna Relationship
The boss-subordinate relationship is elevated by framing it as a Krishna-Arjuna interaction. Krishna and Arjuna are protagonists in the Mahabharata, a national epic of immense literary and cultural significance. A majority of Indians from all socioeconomic levels are familiar with the saga, which continues to have philosophical, mythological, spiritual, and practical relevance in their daily lives. (There is a separate initiative across the JK Group that uses the Krishna-Arjuna concept as the basis for boss-subordinate interactions; but the facets of the Krishna-Arjuna relationship are designed more precisely in the Fire of Experience program.)
At the center of the Mahabharata epic (written between 540 and 300 BC) is the rivalry of the Pandavas and Kauravas. These families, who are first cousins, battle over power and kingdom in a mighty war that is fought at Kurukshetra. The Pandavas are portrayed as righteous propagators of dharma or the ethical way. The Kauravas are regarded as deceitful and treacherous for the purpose of acquiring the mighty kingdom of Hastinapur.
Throughout the epic, and at various crucial times, Lord Krishna is a mentor, coach, and guru for Arjuna, a Pandava prince. Arjuna is renowned as the best archer of the time. To guide this ambitious and charming high potential leader on the battlefield, Krishna becomes Arjuna’s charioteer. But just as the war commences, Arjuna becomes crestfallen and depressed and wants to lay down his bow and arrow and withdraw from the war. Not only his cousins, but his great-grandfather (Bhishma Pitama) and his gurus are lined up on the Kaurava side. Arjuna argues with Krishna that he does not want to stain his hands with their blood.
Krishna’s counsel to Arjuna has been immortalized in the Bhagavad Gita or Song of the Lord, which is considered a sacred text by Hindus and used by people of many different faiths for spiritual guidance. Krishna’s philosophy of life revolves around responsible action that is fearless, detached, and undertaken with a stable mind. This is dharma or duty or ethical action. To set oneself free from the limitations of egoism, one must follow the paths of bhakti yoga, gyana yoga, and karma yoga. This translates into yoking oneself (yoga) with higher powers through devotion (bhakti) that surrenders to a higher purpose, knowledge (gyan) that is discriminatory, and action (karma) that is brave and ethical, with the super ordinate goal of uplifting society.
Arjuna regains self-confidence and wins the war for the Pandavas by performing his duty and killing the major warriors of the Kaurava army. Hence, Krishna is regarded by most Indians as the epitome of a mentor, coach, and guru or friend, philosopher, and guide.
Against the backdrop of the Mahabharata epic, stakeholders assume the roles described below. (Currently, stakeholders are predominantly men; and so we will use the pronoun “he.”) The significance of the stakeholders’ roles and role-related behaviours are discussed with them in the orientation sessions.
The boss (Krishna) plays a key part in his subordinate’s development. At the outset, working in tandem with HR (business unit and corporate), bosses are asked to have conversations with the subordinates they nominated about their career aspirations. question is whether the subordinate is willing to take up the career progression pathway the organization is charting for him.
The boss’s boss (Super Krishna) is the business unit or functional head. He is tasked with working closely with Arjuna’s boss to design the second and third assignments. The Super-Krishna’s involvement ensures that the deliverables assigned to Arjuna are in sync with the unit’s business plan and will have business impact. Super-Krishnas are also called on to become informal mentors and to review the development process and Arjuna’s progress each quarter.
Executive coach. The JK Group has used a panel of six to seven experienced external coaches for a variety of initiatives. Over a period of time, these coaches have built up their own networks of in-company relationships and become familiar with the organization’s business objectives and culture. In the Fire of Experience program, each coach is assigned to work with two or three participants or Arjunas. Their role is to enable their Arjunas to reflect and learn from their entire sequence of activities and experiences over the two-year duration of the program.
Peers and subordinates. Four to five peers or subordinates are identified as stakeholders for each of the developmental assignments. For example, during the first assignment to become a better boss, four to five subordinates are the stakeholders. In the second and third assignment, a different set of peers and subordinates may be chosen. Peers and subordinates provide critically important feedback, which helps Arjuna assess his progress toward the goals he set.
A family member is included at times as an informal stakeholder due to his or her day-in, day-out presence in the life of the participant. A family member is typically in the best position to observe behavior changes at close quarters. Families also benefit greatly from the participant adopting new positive behaviors and eliminating negative behaviors. So program participants are encouraged to ask a family member to be a stakeholder. This relationship is not monitored and the honest and valuable feedback that Arjuna receives from a family member remains private.
The business unit HR head links with the corporate HR team to ensure that processes and activities are not diluted or neglected. As facilitators of the process, they play a central role in ensuring
the success of the program.
Corporate HR and business unit HR co-owns the process, although corporate HR is primarily responsible for the overall direction of the program. They work in tandem to facilitate and monitor the logistics of the multiple one-on-one and group meetings. Corporate HR calibrates expectations, perceptions, and performance by orchestrating the numerous interactions between stakeholders.
The participant (Arjuna) owns his relationships with all his stakeholders and is responsible for obtaining the guidance he needs for his learning, development, and performance. Even though superior performance on each assignment is expected, Arjuna’s primary role is that of a learner.
Leadership development is not simple, nor a straight line. Not only must behavior changes occur, but others must perceive that changes have occurred. Not only must future top leaders become more competent, but their stakeholders must perceive that their competence is increasing. These possibilities are kick-started in the orientation sessions.
The Orientation Sessions
Corporate HR organizes two half-day face-to-face orientation meetings for stakeholders. These sessions take place before the Arjunas are convened for the first time. Information about the objectives, rationale, structure, and processes of the Fire of Experience program is shared. The roles that stakeholders will play and the knowledge and skills they will need are emphasized.
Orientation 1 is for executive coaches and the HR heads from the business units. The coaches are responsible for providing Arjunas with inputs that will produce behavior change, while the business unit HR heads make sure that process logistics are not compromised.
Orientation 2 is for the Krishnas (boss) and Super Krishnas (boss’s boss). Their initial role was to help select program participants. With the program about to launch, their next task is to design the second and third assignments for their respective Arjunas. This requires ingenuity because the forthcoming assignments must meet two objectives: a business priority and the developmental needs of their nominees. By introducing this responsibility during orientation, corporate HR primes Krishnas and Super Krishnas to think ahead about assignments that will occur several months later. Corporate HR is a partner in this process.
Topics covered to help stakeholders grasp the objectives of the various components and processes of the Fire of Experience program include:
• Description of leadership capabilities desired by the JK Group for future leaders, so that all are on the same page regarding the intent of leadership development;
• Rationale for using developmental assignments, which has been validated by research at the Center for Creative Leadership (McCauley, 2006; Wilson, 2010) and the 70–20–10 guideline;
• Importance of involving multiple stakeholders to regularly observe, interact with, and provide feedback to Arjunas, in line with Marshall Goldsmith’s (2007) coaching methodology;
• The “feed forward” coaching process so that stakeholders consistently focus on improving future behaviors and overlooking or pardoning past behaviors (Goldsmith, 2007);
• Honey and Mumford’s (1982) Learning Styles model so that stakeholders can help future leaders to become better learners who can draw on all four styles of learning—activist, theorist, pragmatist, and reflector; and
• The 7–11 Model for developing Indian business executives, which is the framework for the program (Wilson, 2010).
Perhaps the most critical aspect of the orientation sessions is obtaining stakeholder commitment to the rigorous communication and review process that undergirds the Fire of Experience program. There are informal face-to-face communications for exchanging observations about intended and actual behaviour changes. There is ongoing virtual communication for managing logistics and for assessing how the program is working. Finally, there are formal communications during quarterly stakeholder review meetings for planning for the Arjunas’ progress. These activities will be described in the following section.
The Participants Prepare
While stakeholders are oriented to their roles and the components and process of the Fire of Experience program, the Arjunas, or future leaders, are also busy. They work with corporate HR to
complete data sheets that include a full history of work experiences in the JK Group, including job rotations, work experiences prior to their joining the JK Group, the results of the Learning Style assessment, and their track record of performance appraisal ratings. The data sheets become an important baseline of personal information.
The Arjunas also complete pre-program “homework,” which is central to their first assignment. They are asked to think about the total span of their careers (within and outside the JK Group) and bring to mind memorable bosses who have modeled either positive or negative behaviors. After reflecting on what they especially liked or disliked about each of these bosses, they write up short stories. A worksheet is provided for them to write the stories and other relevant information (see Exhibit 12.1).
Arjunas’ recollections surface a wealth of information and insights about memorable relationships with bosses and superiors and what was tacitly learned from them. The stories dwell on the boss’s words and actions related to managing, motivating, and developing subordinates. Using the stories as a starting point, each Arjuna does an inventory of the behaviors that he would want to emulate or eliminate.
The completed data sheets and homework become inputs for the launch workshop and first executive coaching session. With all the puzzle pieces of past and current relationships (with bosses and superiors) on the table, the program moves into its second phase and formal launch.
The First Assignment: Becoming a Better Boss
Bosses have an enormous impact, particularly in countries where status differences are prevalent and inequality between people— based on hierarchy, title, power, and influence—is expected and accepted. Moreover, almost half of all Indian executives participating in recent research (Wilson, 2010) confirmed that their own behaviors as leaders were definitively influenced by one or more bosses or superiors. So the crucial first assignment, mandatory for all participants, focuses on helping Arjunas becoming better bosses so that their behaviors are in turn emulated by their subordinates.
This is achieved by using a structured process and activities, including a launch workshop, executive coaching sessions, Exhibit 12.1. Learning from Bosses and Superiors Who Make a Difference: A Worksheet for Participants Please narrate positive and negative stories based on behaviors experienced by you. Please do not mention the boss’s name, but only the organization. While answering, please avoid generic statements
and be specific in your examples.
Boss 1, Company Name: ___________________
• Period you worked with him (in years)
• Positive behaviors or lessons learned from boss about managing and motivating subordinates
• Describe in the form of a short story the specific incident that illustrates the above-mentioned positive behavior or lesson.
• List positive behaviors or lessons you are using in your leadership behavior for managing and motivating subordinates.
• List positive behaviors or lessons you are not using in your leadership behavior in managing and motivating subordinates, but given a chance would want to implement (and the reason why).
• List negative behaviors or lessons that you experienced from your boss related to managing and motivating subordinates.
• Describe in the form of a short story the specific incidents that illustrate the above-mentioned negative behavior or lesson.
• List negative behaviors that you are not using in your leadership behavior in managing and motivating subordinates.
• List negative behaviors that you are using in your leadership behavior, but given a chance would want to reduce or minimize in managing and motivating subordinates (and the reason why).
360-degree “dipstick” surveys, and formal quarterly reviews. Unfolding over six months, the first assignment creates a momentum for personal development that is expected to continue through the remaining eighteen months of the program and thereafter.
Launch Workshop and First Executive Coaching Session
Conducted by corporate HR, the launch workshop is about becoming a better boss. Two areas of changes are encouraged: managing and motivating subordinates and developing subordinates. Based on their earlier inventory of “good” and “bad” boss behaviors, participants identify one positive behavior that they wish to demonstrate and one negative behavior that they would like to eliminate for each of these two areas of change. Arjunas also uses the informal assessment exercises in their pre-reading (Wilson, 2010) as a resource. This stimulates their thinking about specific behaviors to work on.
The Arjunas and their executive coaches meet for the first time immediately after this workshop. Arjunas identify their strengths and weaknesses as a boss. Learning methodologies—for example, learning style and journaling—are discussed. Arjunas identity the high-impact behaviors they want to improve, develop action plans, and think through how to implement the plans. Coaches ensure that the behavioral change goals that are identified are sufficiently challenging and that meeting the goals will
make a noticeable difference to Arjunas’ effectiveness as bosses.
The 360-Degree Dipstick Survey
The 360 Dipstick is a five-to-seven‑minute survey that uses six to ten questions to ask for anonymous feedback. “Dipstick” alludes to spoons that are dipped into a pot of cooking rice to sample a grain of rice and test whether the rice is cooking well. The dipstick surveys are customized for each Arjuna, focusing on specific areas of improvement identified by him.
A sample worksheet used with stakeholders is included (see Exhibit 12.2). The survey is sent out each quarter—after three coaching sessions and before the quarterly review session—to Exhibit 12.2. 360-Degree Dipstick Survey: A Sample Worksheet Commitment of the Coachee Indicate your opinions by choosing from options provided.
Feed-Forward Suggestions from Stakeholders :
Feed-forward suggestions for helping Mr. ABC’s journey on chosen four behaviors.
participants, their coaches, and all other workplace stakeholders. An Arjuna’s improvement on specific behaviors is rated on a scale of 1 to 10. The averaged responses are considered a reliable indicator of behavior changes and used during the quarterly review. The stakeholders also give feed-forward suggestions for future improvements.
This informal evaluation tool brings out important information, which is shared with Arujunas and their coaches. For example, the discrepancies between self and stakeholder ratings become a reality check for Arjunas. Similarly, the feed-forward section reveals different perspectives on desired behavior changes. These data help each Arjuna, his coach, and corporate and business unit HR to gain a sense of how the program is working and do some fine-tuning.
Quarterly Stakeholder Review
In the Indian cultural ethos, high power distance (Hofstede, 2001) is accepted and the hierarchy of positions is respected.
Stakeholder reviews are structured to leverage the dynamics of power-distance based relationships. The structure of these dynamics is best represented by a prism (see Figure 12.1).
The executive coach and Arjuna (high potential future leader) form a two-point line. The business unit HR head is considered part of this line because he coordinates and supports the interactions between Arjuna and his executive coach. When Krishna (boss) is added as a point, the single line converts to a triangle, representing a broader base of communication and relationships. The triangle becomes a prism, an even stronger structure, when Super Krishna (boss’s boss) and corporate HR head are placed at the apex. In effect, rather than two-way communication between only two people (for example, between the executive coach and Arjuna), there are multi-direction communications among five people concerning the development of the emerging future leader.
About ninety minutes in length, the quarterly stakeholder reviews occur regularly, about every four to six months, over the two-year duration of the program. This prism-like structure of relationships, which is the core of the structured communication and review process, has proved to be very effective.
The quarterly review starts with the executive coach discussing Arjuna’s progress on desired leadership learning. At this point, only the Super Krishna, Krishna, and corporate HR are present. The executive coach’s observations are based on his monthly coaching sessions with Arjuna, monthly telephone or video interactions with as many stakeholders as possible, and information from the 360-Degree Dipstick survey. The coach provides his own insights, and as evidence, narrates incidents described by Arjuna and other stakeholders.
Then Krishna enters the conversation, primarily addressing Super Krishna. He describes the ways in which he has mentored, coached, and supported Arjuna. This exchange serves to seal Krishna and Super Krishna’s mutual commitment and interest in Arjuna’s continuing progress.
Finally, Arjuna is brought in to join the meeting. To energize and motivate him, Super Krishna and others’ opening remarks are compliments on his genuine improvements. Arjuna is asked to debrief the positive and negative aspects of his experience. Urged to have weekly talks with his stakeholders from the very beginning, he is now asked to be transparent in sharing how he has progressed or not, and to ask for guidance with humility. He summarizes his personal journey of learning and performing. When he is done, corporate HR asks him what additional support he would want from his stakeholders and the JK Group. The review ends with an action plan to give further momentum to Arjuna’s development.
In the Indian context, these triangulated interactions have a lot of impact. For Arjuna, the presence of the higher level Super Krishna and Krishna is a great honor. Their compliments, advice, and encouragement are greatly motivating. In addition, the involvement of Super Krishna, and respect for hierarchy, forces and motivates both Krishna and Arjuna to make serious and sincere efforts to meet program objectives and put their best foot forward.
Becoming a Better Boss: Reported Behavior Changes
Concerning boss-subordinate relationships, it is the little things that matter. The behavior changes may be small, but they have to be observable by others and make managers more capable of managing, motivating, and developing their subordinates. During the pilot of the Fire of Experience program, after the first assignment was completed, corporate HR sent an informal email to program participants, their coaches, and all stakeholders. The short note asked for how participants had benefitted from the program. (Other information—about implementation challenges, obstacles to self-improvement, and further suggestions—was also collected and is integrated with the final sections of this chapter.)
We found that coaches, subordinates, superiors, and participants made similar remarks. The most frequently reported changes in participants’ behaviors are increased patience, less impulsiveness, and more control of temper. Interactions with subordinates became calmer and more respectful and two-way communication improved. Here are typical comments:
• “In terms of controlling his short tempered-ness, which had caused a distance between him and his subordinate colleagues, he has since mellowed down and has, to a large extent, endeared himself and has increased his acceptability as an empathetic people manager.”
• “He has reduced on admonishing his subordinates in front of their juniors, which has been highly appreciated by his subordinates. This change has also been highlighted by his Krishna and Super Krishna.”
• “Not only some improvement, there has been significant improvement. Even with superiors, he would walk out and then come back. That has improved.”
Another observed change was that participants began to proactively develop their subordinates. Some examples of new behaviors included delegating work, coaching a subordinate outside work hours to help him meet a personal goal, encouraging subordinates to attend training programs, and setting learning and performance goals that would challenge and energize one’s team. Subordinates reported feeling very pleased by their boss’s involvement because they believed they were being developed for higher responsibilities.
Interestingly, Arjunas readily acknowledged areas in which they had not been successful and where there was room for further improvement. The goal that was most often “not achieved” was that of keeping up with journaling. Other illustrative comments included:
• “I still need to improve my time management skills. I also have not been able to maintain a daily diary, which should have contained my daily reflections. I will try to do so regularly in the coming months.”
• “I feel I can further improve upon empowering subordinates. But it is a thin line between giving the necessary space for the subordinates to work and improve and getting the desired results.”
Final Phase: Two More Developmental Assignments
The second and third assignments are selected from seven possible types of experiences (see Table 12.1). As a result of ongoing multi-level conversations, each customized assignment meets strategically important business goals and the needs of the participant simultaneously. Individual progress is supported by the involvement of an entire cast of stakeholders at every step of the way.
Although the assignments vary a great deal, at their core, each is designed to be challenging enough to create mixed feelings of anticipation and anxiety. For example, one Arjuna was temporarily moved into managing the environmental impact of a plant, which was a new area for him. Another was assigned to increase product capacity for newly introduced concrete construction material. Yet another was asked to set up exclusive commercial tire care centers in western India to meet the needs of current shop owners and attract future entrepreneurs. Other Arjunas concentrated on developing new products, introducing products into new markets, or brown fielding new manufacturing sites. The following two examples illustrate the nature and learning from the final, third phase assignments.
Truck Wheels: Commercial Vehicle Total Tire Management
Mr. Kapoor was very pleased to be given responsibility for planning and setting up Truck Wheels centers across India for total tire management of commercial vehicles. This innovative service of “selling miles” (or cost per kilometer) was a new concept for his company and the country. In his words, “The very fact that I was chosen for this responsibility has been a great motivator. There was no existing work done on this activity. All aspects had to be thought out and designed. The name itself—Truck Wheels— had to be arrived at, along with the new logo to be used.”
A major trigger for the Truck Wheels initiative was to counter competition, especially from multinational global players with products based on advanced tire technology. The concept of “selling miles” evolved from the need for JK Tyre to keep its competitive edge by bringing out an innovative service. The idea was to brand JK Tyre, already a market leader in the truck radial tires segment, as better equipped for keeping vehicles on the road. Top management wanted to offer a better business experience to its large fleet customers by changing the ground rules—that is, marketing their product on a “cost per kilometer” basis. They reasoned that their “total tire management” approach would help them to retain and lure large fleet customers, trumping the better technology, brand names, perceptions of quality, and lower tire pricing and discounts offered by competitors.
Mr. Kapoor worked on the concept, the budget, the revenue model, the cost/benefit analysis, and on selling the idea to his superiors. He traveled extensively to identify prospective partners and to persuade dealers and potential customers to sign on. Suppliers had to be contacted to work out machinery specifications. Within his own company, he had to partner with the purchasing department so that they were involved in the decision-making process. But his work did not end there.
The design and construction of Truck Wheels was also a part of his job. So he worked with architects, construction firms, and interior designers to develop a branded look for the centers. As he continued, Mr. Kapoor realized that “once all the basic requirements were finalized, the real work of identifying and finalizing the tie-ups with the partners had to be done. It required me to modify the basic concept already designed to suit the individual requirements of each partner. This led to further streamlining of the whole concept.”
Then, working with his team, he planned and executed the inauguration of the first Truck Wheels by top management and turned his attention to ensuring that the centers would run smoothly and make profits. “This has been a great learning experience for me!” was Mr. Kapoor’s enthusiastic comment about his assignment, which involved setting up a completely new business and generating a lot of positive buzz about Truck Wheels and the JK Group in the media and within the industry.
Transforming a Rural School into a Center of Excellence
Mr. Pattnaik was asked to take six months to develop a community school in rural India into a Center of Excellence. He had to immerse himself in journal, magazine, newspaper, and website articles on a variety of topics about school education. He also had to form relationships with school administrators, teachers, and the community. His aim was to work with the school principal to introduce all the necessary changes.
What made this assignment strategically critical? The largest manufacturing facility of JK Lakshmi Cement (with 5.2 million tons per year capacity) is located in a remote tribal area. But this makes it almost impossible to attract and retain top managerial talent. In India, as in many other countries, parents want the highest possible quality of education for their children. They are committed to investing in their children’s long-term career prospects but are typically reluctant to send their children to boarding schools. Most are willing to sacrifice their own career growth for
At the same time, rural schools are almost always poorly resourced, traditional, and backward in their educational approach, with the additional disadvantage of being staffed by professionals who are underpaid, under-motivated, and poorly qualified. Given the buoyant job market, the JK Group’s top talent can easily seek other job opportunities that keep them in cities with a wealth of schooling options. This is the on-the-ground reality that made Mr. Pattnaik’s assignment strategically invaluable.
Mr. Pattnaik’s first contribution was to initiate parenting skills workshops. He wanted to bring about a mindset shift among teachers, parents, and students that would cause them to aspire to academic excellence. Due to his initiative, a comprehensive one-week training program was conducted for pre-primary and primary teachers. He thought of establishing an assessment and development center and identified officers who could guide this venture. This team began talking with various stakeholders to
capture their expectations and ideas about what “assessment and development” could mean.
Mr. Pattnaik realized that this was a valuable learning opportunity. He was also aware of the obstacles that would have to be overcome. “Challenges are expected to come up as I move from the planning to execution stage. To meet the timelines will be a challenge, as a lot of synchronization of activities with various departments will be required.”
These situational constraints were recognized by Mr. Pattnaik’s coach, too. “He is working with multiple stakeholders over whom he has no formal authority. The assignment involves a lot of convincing and mindset change. He will need to enhance his ability to motivate and convince the teachers to move out of their comfort zones and proceed toward excellence, taking the school principal into confidence. In the assessment center project he will have to work to ensure a complete buy‑in of the senior management team in finalizing the competencies to be assessed and the assessment center methodology to be adopted. He will have to balance his present responsibilities with his projects, which will test his time management and execution skills.”
The coach’s recommendation was that Mr. Pattnaik schedule fortnightly reviews with him so that he could receive the guidance he needed and complete all the steps that Mr. Pattnaik himself had outlined on a bar chart. Although the point of the assignment is leadership learning, participants to date have delivered on business objectives. The strategic importance of their assignment means that Super Krishnas, Krishnas, and Arjunas work together to succeed at achieving the results they want.
Kudos and Watch-Outs: Lessons Learned by Program Designers
The chapter authors have contributed to the design and administration of the Fire of Experience program. We are pleased with the outcomes so far. We think many factors account for program success, such as:
• Complete buy-in from top management—the chairman, directors, CEOs and Super Krishnas, Krishnas, Arjunas, and other stakeholders;
• The background research, theoretical insights, and attention to detail brought to bear on the design of the program by corporate HR;
• Detailed briefings for Super Krishnas, Krishnas, Arjunas, executive coaches, and other stakeholders and business unit HR heads before the program was launched;
• Customization of design and processes to accord with Indian cultural norms and ethos and the JK Group’s organizational culture and values; and
• Relentless follow-up by corporate HR to ensure all process steps were implemented in time, with rigor, and with the involvement of all stakeholders.
Setbacks occurred. Some features of the program were not implemented as planned. Some of the difficulties that were encountered include:
• The bi-monthly meeting of all Arjunas as a group could not take place. The first meeting was to be inaugurated by the CEO of one of the companies and facilitated by corporate HR. Arjunas were to share their experiences and progress by narrating incidents and lessons learned. All coaches would have attended. Given business priorities, and the difficulty of getting all the Arjunas together at one time, these meetings could not be held.
• Executive coaches were not able to contact Super Krishnas, Krishnas, and other stakeholders regularly to get their monthly feedback. Formative evaluation from coaches at the end of the second phase suggests that closer relationships between the coaches and the Krishnas and Super Krishnas would help the coaches to obtain more accurate information about Arjunas’ behavior changes. In some cases, too much time goes by before an Arjuna checks in with a coach or Krishna or Super Krishna.
• The daily journal of personal reflections was completed regularly by only 50 percent of the Arjunas. Corporate HR believes that journaling about lessons learned, feelings of success, and emotions that go with setbacks are a powerful way for Arjunas to develop and grow. Reflection can strengthen personal resolve and insights on how to handle future challenges.
Future Incarnations of the Fire of Experience Program
Response to the Fire of Experience leader development pilot has been very positive, and a full-scale launch for 120 high potential leaders is planned. To give momentum and support to this organization-wide program, the launch will be attended by the group chairman, all directors, CEOs, Super Krishnas, Krishnas, executive coaches, and corporate HR and unit HR heads.
Primary responsibility for implementing the program will shift from corporate HR to the business units. Each business CEO and business HR team will be trained to lead the Fire of Experience program for his business unit. The role of corporate HR will be to monitor and ensure the quality of the training, progress and process integrity, and support the coordination of developmental assignments across companies.
Some refinements are necessary, such as greater clarity about the expected behavior changes and learning that each Arjuna needs. With corporate HR’s involvement, this clarity can come from documenting the discussions between Super Krishnas, Krishnas, and executive coaches. The documentation can become the starting point for developing metrics to evaluate program outcomes annually. Other metrics could be identified from data about the success of the high potential leaders during the first year after they are promoted. In the long term, these data could be captured online.
Most of all, corporate HR would like to zero in on helping Arjunas become learners and grow into leadership positions that match their talents and potential. For this, a search is on to find instruments that measure the ability to learn and models that clarify how learning agility develops. Most of all, since Arjunas are the focal point of this initiative, they must understand how the Fire of Experience can help them to be better leaders and handle future higher level assignments. They need to grasp the big picture related to the valuable contribution that they are capable of making to the JK Group’s future success. Upon completing the program, each Krishna-Arjuna pair truly deserves to be felicitated by their group chairman.
Charan, R., Drotter, S., & Noel, J. (2001). The leadership pipeline: How to build the leadership-powered company. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Ghosn, C., & Reis, P. (2005). Shift: Inside Nissan’s historic revival. New York, NY: Random House.
Goldsmith, M., & Reiter, M. (2007). What got you here won’t get you there:
How successful people become even more successful. New York, NY: Hyperion.
Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Honey, P., & Mumford, A. (1982). Manual of learning styles. London, UK:
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
McCall, M. W., Jr. (2010). The experience conundrum. In N. Nohria &
R. Khurana (Eds.), Handbook of leadership theory and practice. Boston,
MA: Harvard Business School Press.
McCauley, C. D. (2006). Developmental assignments: Creating learning experiences
without changing jobs. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative
Wilson, M. S. (2010). Developing tomorrow’s leaders today: Insights from corporate
India. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons (Asia).
Yost, P. R., & Plunkett, M. M. (2009). Real time leadership development.
Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.