Unstructured transparency - the management methodology that pulls us through the crunch?

I've just spent a couple of fascinating days at the HCL Global Meet in Orlando, Florida. As the name suggests this was a very international gathering of HCL's partners, clients, staff and thoughtleaders in the management and collaboration space.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

I've just spent a couple of fascinating days at the HCL Global Meet in Orlando, Florida. As the name suggests this was a very international gathering of HCL's partners, clients, staff and thoughtleaders in the management and collaboration space.

I've written before about HCL's 'Employee First' management innovations: I previously met HCL CEO Vineet Nayar at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech Conference in July.

Nayar has blazed a trail of innovations with HCL, leading the way in turning his company’s organizational ‘pyramid’ upside down from a management perspective. The CEO and senior management roles have been reduced to accountable team members - Nayar believes the people at the widest point of the company pyramid are the most important. HCL therefore has a scenario where an employee can open a trouble ticket on the CEO and expect to see it promptly resolved.

HCL's 'employee first' approach puts its employees before its customers - where many ceo's would do a whistle stop tour of their clients during the current financial meltdown, Nayar visited all his employees worldwide to provide reassurances about their jobs, and to stress the huge opportunities in a time of great change. HCL Tech employs over 55,000 people in 19 countries generating US $1.9 billion+, and is a leading global IT Services company providing software focused IT solutions, remote infrastructure management services and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).

BPO is a huge business: essentially HCL partners with large global companies to provide strategic and tactical thinking, IT infrastructure and staffing, and often has profit sharing deals which make them a core component of brand name businesses you may think of as being self contained regional businesses.

'The Future of Management' author, consultant and management educator Gary Hamel was a keynote speaker and was very complementary about HCL's approach to management. (Al Gore was another keynote. I mentored and then moderated a panel on 'Employee First - How do you align employee self interest and awareness with the business?' with Tim Mann CIO of Skandia, Eugene Kublanov, CEO of neoIT and Krishnan Chatterjee, HCL's global head of business marketing. Krishnan leads the team which conceptualized and brought 'unstructure' to life).

Hamel's keynote was terrific - I'm looking forward to seeing it again when it's available online.

What's so interesting about HCL is that the human interface of their partner relationships with metrics driven divisions of large companies is with their 'unstructured' approach. Vineet Nayar is an avid blogger both internally within HCL and externally - his 'inverted wisdom' blog in the Harvard Business review in particular candidly lays out his views on the limitations of command and control management:

...the traditional pyramid management structure needs some unstructuring. Flexibility is the key to survival in the 21st century, and organizational structure is no exception. It needs to be open to change, to take any shape that's best suited to the organization.

Leadership would do well to shun the 'Me' approach and deregulate, decentralize and transfer a substantial part of the organizational control to the frontline.

It is the employees together who form the intellectual capital and, hence, need to be recognized as the most valuable resource for any organization. In fact, at HCL, the 'Employee First' initiative seeks to invert the entire organizational pyramid and make the whole organization accountable to the employee.

In many ways this approach is the modern management counterpart to the 'Enterprise 2.0' technology movement, which is often seen inside traditional management structures as the adhoc usage of lightweight tools for trivial tasks. Anyone who has been in the trenches collaborating with these 2.0 technologies, which enable greatly increased agility and knowledge sharing, knows the actual and real benefits of these modern technologies.

Hidebound management is often terrified by the apparent grass roots power grab that appears to be taking place as rapid fire project changes obscure their ability to decree rigid command and control edicts.This 'unstructure', however, is arguably the company of the future, and I predict the role of senior management will shift rapidly in successful companies.

HCL have 360 degree assessments of all staff including senior management, meaning everyone assesses everyone else. CEO Vineet Nyar will stand down if company employees give him a sufficiently bad grade, for example. I've spoken to dozens of HCL employees, senior management and HR people and this is genuine and not just a fashionable construct.

Despite all these egalitarian work practices (and probably because of them) Vineet Nyar is enormously popular within HCL and its partners and clients as a powerful leader figure, and is a charismatic speaker who is in turns grave and thoughtful, then warm and humorous. Not shy about leading the dancing and singing in the Bollywood spectacular (and it really was spectacular) that was the Global Meet's biggest evening entertainment - MC Vineet comes to mind - he is quick to pay his respects to the people who make up HCL, making it clear he is part of team much greater than himself.

Just as the song and dance spectacular was perfectly choreographed, it's apparent that Vineet Nayar is behind the choreography of HCL's broader themes.

HCL is a services company, and like other companies serving a master historically has had to be very nimble in reacting to their clients needs. Their rapid moves up value chains to partner on long term projects (HCL's market cap is actually larger than some of the companies they partner with, particularly in the financial sector) enables them to apply the unstructured thinking that enables true innovation unfettered by the centralized constraints of master servant thinking.

For me the more creative advertising agencies spring to mind as having the most similar working cultures for comparison - HCL are striving to bring innovation and efficiency to everything they are involved in including their internal organization.

The entire Global Meet was put together internally by HCL people, from making the ecologically aware videos that preceded each section to erecting the stage we viewed them on, and enthusiastic HCL staff were on hand everywhere to inform and facilitate.

HCL's methodologies feel to me like the 'right stuff' which will pull us through these difficult economic times and blast us into a new age of transparent, flexible global business practice.

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