New Delhi: Infosys Ltd, India’s second largest software services firm, has recently undergone a leadership reshuffle, with several changes to the company’s board and its executive council. The company has also been changing the way it grooms its future leaders. In an interview over the phone from Mysore,Matt Barney, vice-president and director at Infosys Leadership Institute talks about how the institute has reshaped its training to keep pace with the new realities. Edited excerpts:
What is the training about?
Each of the senior leaders gets a personal coach from my team. So, I do this for the board and the executive council of the company. I have people under me for the more junior people. Its like a private conversation about what the assessment report means and where that leader wants to grow. We show them our set of solutions depending upon what they want to do—it could include going to the World Economic Forum in Davos, taking a stretch assignment or even classes like ethical influence, which is based on 80 years of science.
Core function: Matt Barney.
Ethical influence is like a natural class, which has taken the last 80 years of science to develop and boils into six practical things that leaders can learn from to tackle the most difficult influence problems. And then they leave them with an action plan and a buddy to help them apply.
We are also working with Professor Robert Cialdini, who is actually the world expert on Ethical Influence, where they can practice the same skills in a safe environment. We hope to unveil this virtual reality ethical influence simulator in the next two months.
What makes this sort of training important for a company like Infosys?
A lot of our strategy is to increase our relevance to the C-suite and it’s based on real examples of Infosys around initiating relations, understanding their business problems, coming up with a solution and then ethically influencing them to buy or paying a premium or ethically influencing them to adopt certain innovations of Infosys for the benefit of their client’s business.
Is this training for a select few or even for mid-level management?
In terms of what we do for the junior people, there are a variety of things on our leadership road map from goal setting, to selecting your people to grow the talent base, creating the work environment for them, and some of the solutions are identical to what you would do to influence talent. So, influencing a C-level executive is not any different from what it would take to influence a junior person. But we don’t touch any of the junior people, all we look at are high potentials, who are very senior already.
Why was the programme stopped in 2007?
It wasn’t stopped. The core programme started more than 10 years ago. By 2007, it did a refresh of the talent pool. It was very labour intensive so they wanted to expand, they hadn’t done it before I came. I figured that it made it easier if we have all the infrastructure, that’s where I basically influenced them to add some of these innovations. So now we will be able to do it once a year.
Earlier it was done every two-three years. The Infosys Leadership Institute has continued to evolve over the years, with a significant shift in strategy in 2009, when it was restructured to focus exclusively on the senior-most leaders.
What has been the response after the change?
What I have tried to do is to make it much more personalized. And that’s a pretty good response. Who doesn’t like the idea that someone else is specifically tailoring what they do rather than something more general. Similarly, the assessments that we do are very personalized. I am in this weird position of being a firangi convincing Indians to come back to India and work for me.
And there is really no institute like us in the country. So what I have done is pilot a bunch of these solutions, and what we have piloted has gone extremely well. And we hold ourselves accountable and measurable to the values of what we do. So, in baby steps we have been able to show good progress. We havn’t been able to show all the progress that I would love to tell you about.
Because our effort is multi-year it is not really done in quarters. And I have been here more than 2.5 years. I began on 5 January of 2009. That said the company has had a long history with Mr. Murthy, for example, growing multiple CEOs and that culture is something that attracted me to come here.
Infosys has been talking about hiring more people with managerial qualifications rather than pure engineers.
If I look at the future of our business, we are increasingly helping clients transform their business, we are co-creating innovations with them, and creating new products. So, business is central to the future of our company and naturally, skills of people who know business and how to creatively anticipate where clients are going, would in general have a long-term relationship with the C-Suite, which is what we seek. So, I certainly agree that those skills are important.
With the recent reshuffle at Infosys, how does your programme help?
We are continuing to influence senior-leadership decisions around placement and development including the recent inductions of new internal leaders into the Infosys board. We are doing new investments on leaders such as our forthcoming virtual reality simulation around ethical influence, leading value creation, and holding crucial conversations. Our research and innovations around Rasch Measurement have been so well received that Infosys clients are now asking to purchase them, and we will eventually be prepared to support their desires.
What is the future action plan as there have been several changes in the way the organization functions and also the leadership layer both at the top and the middle has changed quite a bit?
Our most important change is that we will be gearing up to sell Infosys Leadership Institute thought leadership in the marketplace, to compliment other offerings Infosys has around consulting, and new offering development. Similarly, we have grown quite a bit in terms of the number of employees and number of leaders required to support those employees. So, while our senior-most high potential designations remains the same as ever (only 50 people), by September we will have expanded our number of second tier to 200 and tier three’s to 800. The rest of our personalized approach, leveraging the best science possible to help leaders perform, grow and get promoted remains the same.
What are the origins of this institute?
Over the past decade, the growth witnessed at Infosys, coupled with globalization provided the company the impetus to focus on developing leaders for the future. In keeping with the vision to create a sustainable organization, Mr. Narayana Murthy, our founder, chairman and chief mentor has been personally developing his successors since Infosys’ origins in 1981. Further, he led the development of Infosys’ Executive Council (EC) and induction onto the board lateral hires such as Srinath Batni and later, had EC members sit on subsidiary boards as part of ongoing experiential development for leaders.
Recognizing the need to sustain the company’s leadership legacy, the Infosys Leadership Institute was set up 11 years ago in early 2001 with the vision to be a globally recognized institution that grows future leaders. Infosys emerged as the first Indian company to set up an institute exclusively for the purpose of developing leaders to sustain Infosys’ legacy.
The vision of the Infosys Leadership Institute is to be a globally recognized institution that grows leaders and advances the field of leadership development. We help leaders execute their business strategies and ensure that Infosys has appropriate bench strength of leaders to take on senior leadership positions.
How big is your team?
Tiny. We have eight people, We are the smallest team in the company.
How much is Infosys’s so called “value system”, imbibed in the training module?
Our values are something that is pretty sacred at Infosys. So, respecting the clients, leading by example, integrity, transparency, fairness and excellence are values and are ingrained in the road maps for talent leadership. Even in day-today operations, each leader gets measured on these parameters and gets feedback on if they are truly living on values as everyone sees it.
How long did it take to develop this module?
My whole team kind of collaborated around these road maps and approaches and so we had the first draft of it at the middle of last year. My strategy is to try and grow my own talent because there are scores of great Indians that have potential.