June 27, 2010

About 6 months back, I tweeted, "In next 10 years, many successful organizations, irrespective of size, will become hierarchy free." After reading Vineet Nayar's extraordinarily revolutionary book "Employees First, Customers Second", I am confident that hierarchy-free organizations are possible!

Most of the companies are run based on rules and management theories conceptualized 30-40 years ago. Times have changed. The business environment has drastically changed. Technologies have changed. The way people interact has changed. But unfortunately, companies, even today, are run as if nothing has changed. The outdated ways of running business continues. Hardly any leader is seen challenging the conventional wisdom. "Employees First, Customers Second" challenges conventional way of running a business and shows that if conventional wisdom is turned upside down, the results are miraculous.

This is a very timely book for the management fraternity. The basic premise of this book is to consider employees as the top most priority and how this approach can create much higher value than any other management approach. But at a much deeper level, this book is all about challenging the status quo and not considering anything in the management world as sacrosanct. It is about a journey on executing radical changes in small bites rather than one clean sweep. It provides a fresh perspective on change management that is relevant to the current times and future.

"Employees First, Customers Second" outlines some radical ideas that transformed HCL Technologies. The idea of putting employees above everything else and empowering them is the core of the book. This is a revolutionary idea because it has the potential to change the entire dynamics of the organization. It can change the power equations, increase the degree of trust within the setup, enhance the level of engagement among employees, unleash a wave of innovation, increase customer satisfaction, and demolish layers of hierarchy to make the organization agile, aggressive, proactive, and creator of extraordinary value for all the stakeholders. In my view, this idea has the potential to become a universal management approach workable across various industries and organizations.

Another idea that makes sense is about clearly seeing where an organization is and where it wants to reach. This is a simple yet profound idea - feet grounded in reality, wings ready to reach for the sky. Often leaders and managers know where they want to take their organization, but they don't realistically evaluate where they stand at a given point of time. Due to this, plans that are made become flawed. The key to start any change management program is to start with an in-depth understanding of the reality of the situation. Without objectively looking into the mirror of present, one can never plan for the glory of future.

The book also talks about trust as the building block of superior value creation. In today's highly competitive times, there is more distrust than trust in most of the organizations. Instead of focusing on creation of value through collaboration, people are often worried about who is planning what and how to control information to their advantage. This level of distrust never allows an organization to realize true potential of its employees. The ideas in the book direct the focus on importance of building trust in an organization through transparency and fairness. It shares some radical ideas leaders can employ to win the trust of their employees and encourage a culture of collaboration to unfold the real potential of their organizations to create value.

The book talks about inverting the pyramid of organizational hierarchy to empower the employees operating in the value creation zones. This means making leaders, managers, and enabling functions accountable to the employees to the same extent that an employee is accountable to his managers, leaders, and enabling functions. It's about a new way of balancing the power. This radical approach has the potential to rewrite the rules of power. With this kind of reverse accountability, the powers that are normally concentrated in few hands gets equitably and democratically redistributed among the entire workforce. This approach in a single stroke changes the nature of power. Power, no longer, is generated through position or span of control; it is generated through span of influence! This is an idea that can instantly make art of management a collaborative process rather than the conventional authoritative process.

Another radical idea discussed in the book is about the role of a CEO. In today's complex and ever changing world, is it just to expect a CEO to have an answer for everything? Is a CEO sitting in the corner office the best person to judge a situation at ground zero and take decisions? Should responsibility for an organization's well being be only with the CEO or should it be distributed among employees? The book talks about recasting the role of a CEO to make him an enabler who helps his people who have the knowledge to take decisions. The envisioned role sees the CEO as a person who should ask deep probing questions and let his people answer them rather than try to answer questions. The whole idea is to recast the role of a CEO to let him focus his energy on making the organization self directed rather than directed through authority vested in layers of hierarchy.

Overall, the book is nothing less than a management gem. The ideas discussed in it are thought provoking and seriously challenge leaders and managers to think beyond what they know and practice. This book can be the start of the end of conventional ways of managing a business or an organization based on authority, control, and hierarchy. The ideas in the book have the potential to spark debate among new age management thinkers and unleash new management philosophies and thoughts for managing businesses that are more in synch with the time and make the conventional management practices outdated.

The book is a must read for every CEO and anyone, directly or indirectly, engaged in the practice of management.


  1. tradingcall // July 23, 2010 at 11:17 AM  
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  2. Anonymous // February 16, 2012 at 2:31 PM  

    http://youtu.be/_Plr_9iwMqY must watch video..