Roger Federer has been a tennis champion since he won his first Wimbledon in 2003, the first of his record-breaking sixteen grand slam titles. But he has only recently become a champion of what I call the “New Normal.” I like to think that, at HCL Technologies, we were a little ahead of Federer in seeing that the New Normal was coming and in developing a management approach — Employees First, Customers Second (EFCS) — around it. What does the New Normal mean? At least two important (and related) things: Kids rule and Nothing lasts forever.
Important Thing #1: Kids Rule
The “Fed” is only 29 years old, which is — I confess — a few years younger than I am, but in the past couple of years he was starting to look like The Establishment. He had his own RF brand clothing and was the king of his enterprise, without even a coach to advise him. In the past year, however, Federer started dropping in the rankings as players under 25 — including Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Thomas Berdych (to name only a few of the men, and the same pretty much holds true of the women) — began to dictate the state of play. They were often fitter (and sometimes taller) than Federer and, most important, they had a different mindset. They weren’t impressed by the official ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) rankings or that Roger was “The greatest player of all time”. They focused on the game, looked for the best strategy of the moment, and found ways to win, even against the man himself. But, after his quarter-final loss at Wimbledon 2009, Federer seemed to wake up to the fact that he could no longer ignore the reality and that he had something to learn from the Gen Y players. He hired a new coach, went back to work, and sought ways to adjust his game. It worked; he won his first post-Wimbledon masters title in Cincinnati at the end of August.
Now, if you will allow me to leap across the net for a moment, I will make the point that Gen Y has a similar effect on the business organization. At HCL, we saw very clearly that our younger players had little interest in the organizational rankings, that they were setting the pace of play, and that we should adjust our game to give them the maximum room to create value for them, for the company, and for our customers. So, that is a big part of EFCS — supporting, enabling and empowering our Gen Y employees. And learning from, and adopting, their attitudes — about information sharing, transparency, and disinterest in hierarchy.
Important Thing #2: Nothing Lasts Forever
The second aspect of the New Normal is that absolutely nothing lasts forever. For a while it seemed that Roger Federer was invincible and that he would never lose his #1 ranking. When he dropped to #2, it seemed shocking, unthinkable, impossible. When he hit #3, some people could no longer bear to watch. Of course, we all know in our heart of hearts that everything comes to an end, but we do not behave that way, especially in business. Management likes to think that once a strategy has been determined and an organization has been established, both should be able to continue indefinitely. Our “Employees First, Customers Second” management approach is based on the understanding that the lifetime of any management approach has dramatically shortened. To avoid operating in a mode of obsolescence, we must constantly refine and adapt what we do, and the best way to do that is to transfer much of the responsibility for change and transformation to the employees and away from senior management. So that is another key aspect of EFCS — putting in place processes and activities that enable people throughout the organization to participate in the change process. I can’t enumerate all of these elements here, because there are too many of them, but I will say that they do not involve expensive technology initiatives or massive organizational restructurings. They tend, in fact, to be small actions — we call them “blue ocean droplets” after the book Blue Ocean Strategy — that create big ripples of change. I’m talking about ways to start and continue conversations, communicate across all kinds of boundaries, share information of many kinds, make processes transparent, connect people around their personal passions, focus on talent development rather than evaluation, and make management just as accountable to employees as employees are to management.
A third aspect
Oh yes, there is a third aspect to the New Normal that I should mention in closing. And that is: the CEO has fewer answers than you think he or she does, which means that you should take everything any CEO says, including this one, with a grain of salt. Roger Federer says he wants to win a total of twenty grand slams, and now that he is working inside the New Normal, maybe he will. What do you want to win?
Article by Vineet Nayar