MAKING RIGHT CHOICES, BEING PERSONALLY SECURE & OPTIMALLY SELFLESS: SUCCEEDING AS A GREAT MANAGER
In this edition of ‘CHRO Insights’, as Part of The Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Sushanth Tharappan, Senior Vice President & Head – Infosys Leadership Institute at Infosys. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his leadership experiences.
Rahul: What is it in the field of HR that interests you?
Sushanth: The development dimension of HR is what interests me as it keeps evolving. My career has seen me journey through roles in Learning & Development, Leadership Development, Organization Development, Business HR, Talent Acquisition, as Head HR and now as the Head of the Leadership Institute focused on Succession Planning & Leadership Development. It’s gratifying when you are able to add value to colleagues, leaders, and teams. The ability to discover and share the wealth of potential people have and to work with them on a journey to discover that wealth, is extraordinary. It can be best described by one of Benjamin Disraeli’s quotes –
“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.”
When people discover their true potential, see the unseen, add value to organizations, to themselves and to their teams – the experience of and learning through such journeys is what keeps me invested in this dimension of HR.
Rahul: What is your leadership style? What are some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to working with you?
Sushanth: Firstly, I look for two factors, achieving results and creating value, and in my mind, these are two complementary but different outcomes. Achieving results is about the performance – quarterly, half-yearly, or annually. I tend to rely on data, metrics, trends and stakeholder feedback. Questions such as – How are we moving the needle? How well are we delivering to our stakeholders? Does the data corroborate this? Are we achieving the result that we’re supposed to? – are ones that help in calibrating the result focus. Adding value to your stakeholders is a higher measure. ‘How are we making a difference?’ is a useful question to ask to understand this.
Secondly, having the right people on the team is critical to achieving results and creating value. I take time to select who I want on my team. Once you are part of the team, my belief is that the leader is responsible for every team member’s organizational contribution and their career. I often tell my team members that if we were to meet two decades down the line, we should have fond memories of our time together along with pride for the value we created/ added to the organization.
The third dimension is transparency as it’s critical to building trust. Our team meetings have open discussions on data, metrics, and analysis. I believe in measurements because it’s easy to communicate with measurements, especially when you’re dealing with areas that are open for interpretation. Importantly, information on goals, achievements, performance ratings, recognitions, promotions etc. are transparent. There are no surprises in the team when it comes to information.
A friendly and fun atmosphere also becomes key especially when you keep pushing for a higher standard. Finally, I believe you have to be incorrigibly optimistic and highly energetic.
“Achieving results, creating value, a data-based approach, being transparent, inclusive, fun & friendly, being incorrigibly optimistic and energetic are the major qualities that I value and strive for.”
Rahul: If you were to choose a successor, what are some of the significant qualities you would look for?
Sushanth: Let me share this as two key groups of attributes – the key attributes to have and dysfunctional behaviours to not have.
Let me begin by sharing some attributes that I would look for in any successful leader. Firstly, you should be personally secure, because that instils confidence in an individual and that confidence will propel you. You will not look to taking anything away from others and even if you must deal with failure, you will deal with it on your own. It’s a vital attribute if you want innovation, experimentation and risk taking to happen. Secondly, you have to be reasonably selfless – you need to be motivated by the success and wellbeing of others. Thirdly you need to have competence – business, people, andfunctional competence. Finally, willingness to learn and adapt. Today the constant changes we are seeing necessitates this attribute.
I also look for and place a premium on some core values – Excellence, Integrity, and Stakeholder Centricity
“Stakeholder’s respect matters the most. Respect is more important than popularity as it speaks to value creation/addition.”
The second set of factors to also look for is the absence of certain derailing or dysfunctional behaviours. Three adverse behaviours I watch out for are:
The first is conflict avoidance. If you are a person who avoids conflict, then you will likely not confront issues and take a stand, when needed. The second is indecisiveness- I think the greatest failure as a leader is to be indecisive. Third is being discriminatory; because a lack of inclusivity will mean you are propagating inequity.
Rahul: What could be some of the priorities for HR in the upcoming months, with the context of change due to COVID 19?
Sushanth: The HR focus will vary based on the phases of recovery from the pandemic. In the immediate phase, it’s about conveying organizational empathy and support to its workforce as people cope with the pandemic and its impact. It will also need to support the organization in its larger response to the communities we are a part of. Employees also need to be supported with a short-term visibility into how they will function in their respective locations – remotely, hybrid work or from office as different locations will be at differing stages of recovery. As visibility increases and the local ecosystems settle down, more predictability about the work ecosystem will need to be shared and new policies that balance organizational, workforce and community needs will have to be shaped and shared. Psychological safety, wellness and empathy will be key employee priorities in this phase.
HR will also have to balance being adept at regular operations and planning an adaptive approach for the next few years. Opportunities will open on multiple fronts, raising the question – how do we make the best of this? New work models, new talent pools, new or modified employee value propositions, new partnerships, new work culture etc. will need to be considered and scaled as appropriate. The key will be to being adaptive than being definitive.
As it is said in psychology – If you’ve had a life-changing event, then you have to redraw and rethink. The whole world has gone through a life-changing event with the pandemic and therefore, we have to go back to the drawing board and start afresh. HR has to revisit the assumptions around work, workplace and workforce.
“The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in the moments of comfort, but where they stand in times of challenges and controversies.”
Rahul: In your opinion, what could be some best practices to engage new employees?
Sushanth: to meaningfully engage new employees, one has to start from the basics – what do new employees really need from the organization they are joining. In my experience, they need to feel supported and valued, learn something new, and have visibility to a career pathway. They also need someone to guide and support them and help them navigate the new organization they have joined.
To facilitate the above, a manager will have to invest extra time and effort in understanding them as ‘people’ and help them align to organizational vision, values, goals and what it means individually for them in their roles – most managers fail to do this. Frequent check-ins during the initial phase till the employee settles down and starts performing is another good practice.
“When a manager is there to help the team navigate, the bond becomes stronger.”
There should be an emphasis on establishing a personal and emotional connection, especially in this hybrid world. Essentially, managers must reinforce the belief that the new employee has made the right decision of joining the organization.
Rahul: According to you, what are some crucial competencies required for a manager at a middle-level managerial role?
Sushanth: To excel in any role, a manager should first be personally secure and second, be reasonably selfless. If these two essentials are absent, then the relationship with a team will never flourish. The other attribute is competence – business, people and functional. Great managers build trust in themselves and in the organization, because ‘if you trust your manager, you will trust the organization’. It is important to consider two questions in the relationship from a team member’s perspective – Firstly, ‘Do I trust my manager’s intention towards me?’ and secondly, ‘Do I trust my manager’s competence to get things done?’. Derailing behaviours can erode trust, hence just being competent is not enough. If the manager can get an affirmative answer from each team member to the two questions, then the foundation for a great team relationship has been achieved.
Once trust and competence are assured, the manager should strive for excellence, aspire to a higher standard, and lead the team on that journey.
“The leader has to be practical, and a realist yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.”
Rahul: Who have been some major influencers in your life?
Sushanth: Over the past two and half decades of my career, I’ve had 10 managers and I have learned from all of them. I have also been influenced by some iconic figures as I’ve had the good fortune of working with the founders and many senior leaders of Infosys very closely. I can’t thank them enough because each of them has made me a better version of myself.
The third influence, which has equally grown with me, is my team. I sincerely believe that teams are the driving force behind a leader’s success. As you grow to become more senior in the organization, this becomes an even more critical and differentiating factor.
The last is my family because whatever you do is finally for them. The career you are building, while it realizes your potential, you are ultimately doing it to make the world a better place for your family, friends, and loved ones.
One of my favourite quotes is from Harry Potter, when the Principal of Hogwarts, Dumbledore tells young Harry,
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Thus, you may be the most competent and qualified person, but none of that defines you; it’s the choices you make that defines you, both as a manager/colleague in an organization and as a person in life.