Bottom-line benefits of leadership development

by 13 Aug 2009

Leadership is the topic du jour for many HR professionals, but many organisations still struggle with how to treat tomorrow’s leaders today. HR Leader details how Infosys has gone about it and looks at the bottom-line benefits

Infosys Technologies was started in 1981 by seven people with just under $300. Today, the IT consulting and out sourcing firm is a global giant with rev enues of more than $4.75 billion. It employs almost 104,000 people across 50 offices around the world.

With a strong focus on customer serv ice and building long-term client rela tionships (more than 97 per cent of its revenues come from existing customers), people development is a priority for Infosys. In recognition of this, it was recently rated as one of the best com panies for leaders in a Hay Group sur vey, which evaluated the best practices of companies to help their leaders thrive in a downturn and prepare for growth during the upturn.

The foundations

Infosys’ leadership development program was established as part of succession planning to develop leaders within who could contribute to the company’s organ isational vision and future growth, says Tracey Newton, senior HR manager for Infosys Australia.

“It was started back in 2001, when we recognised the need to develop and nur ture our leaders internally and make sure we had the human capital in place to achieve our organisational goals,” she says.

About 1000 people (just less than 1 per cent of Infosys employees around the world) participate in the leadership development program, and Newton says the “mantra” of the program is three fold: “our business is the curriculum; the company is our campus; and the leaders are our teachers”.

“In other words,” she says, “it oper ates like a university environment and is focused on giving the company’s leaders the ability to learn.”

The program consists of three tiers to accommodate people in the different stages of their leadership journey. New ton says there are people who, given the right opportunity and development, will be ready to step up to the top roles within the next 18 to 36 months, while some will be in ready in three to five years, and others up to ten years from now.

Development and benefits

Newton says Infosys has invested heavily in developing the program syllabus in conjunction with many outstanding insti tutions such as Duke University in the United States and IIM- Ahmedabad in India.

“We had a group of Australian staff go to the Infosys Lead ership Institute in Mysore last year to study talent leadership and operational leadership,” she says. “We also have leaders from around the world come to us locally to teach these pro grams. I should say that we also create opportunities for peo ple outside the leadership program to enjoy some of the same development. For example, every Australian employee has access to formal career mentoring from a senior person in his/her career stream.”

As a result of the program, Newton says there have been a number of benefits to Infosys, including:

• Fewer roles at the senior level need to be filled by external candidates (and as such, there are lower recruitment costs and reduced chances that a candidate might not “fit” the organisation).

• Reduced attrition and improved satisfaction of key per formers, because they see the growth and development opportunities available by staying with Infosys.

• Improved client satisfaction, with clients aware that the com pany is investing in its people and that they can access the industry’s “best and brightest”.

• Stronger branding, from a candidate attraction and retention perspective, as well as overall perception in the industry.

In hindsight

There have been a number of challenges and lessons for Infosys as a result of its leadership development program, according to Newton. One of these has been “contextualising”, she says. “For example, someone at the beginning stages of the leader ship journey might not have the opportunity to take on entre preneurial leadership in their current role. So we might not set that as an expectation in some instances.”

Another challenge for Infosys has been staying focused. “In the cut and thrust of business, it’s necessary to remind stakeholders at times that these people – and this program – are critical organisational assets that must be prioritised along with client needs and everything else we care about,” Newton says.

This is linked to another challenge for the company, which is about “making the hard choices”, she says. “For example, sometimes to maximise a key performer’s opportunity to learn and grow, we need to expose them to new challenges, and that might mean shifting a valued resource away from an account where the clients are very, very happy.”

Words of advice

For HR professionals looking to roll out a leadership devel opment program, Newton advises deciding if selection for the leadership program is going to be via self-nomination or a “tap on the back”, because this sets the tone for the whole program and how it’s perceived by employees.

She also recommends having a charter that clearly articulates what you’re trying to achieve. “Without this, it’s hard to rally support for the program and gauge if you’re on track,” she says. “Support from the executive level is also fundamental to the program’s internal profile and ultimate success.”

Similarly, she counsels investing seriously in any leadership development program. “Don’t do it if it’s just to put a tick in the leadership box. Realise that the administration around a leadership program takes time and cannot be run on auto-pilot, so resource accordingly,” Newton says.