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Mind The Gap

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In a 2010 study by Harvard Business Publishing, an overwhelming 88 per cent of top Indian companies cited “gaps in leadership practice” as their top challenge in coming years. The 2012 Manpower Group Talent Shortage Survey, a global survey of employers, reported that 48 percent of respondents based in India had difficulty finding qualified candidates for their senior managerial positions. A Booz & Company forecast in a recent in-depth analysis of India’s top 500 companies that by 2017, 15 to 18 per cent of leadership positions in those companies will be unfilled —or will be filled by people underprepared for the jobs. This implies that companies will be missing almost one of every five leaders they need, putting both potential growth opportunities and the continuity of existing business operations at risk. The current goal should be to develop a sustainable leadership pipeline throughout the organizational pyramid: a well-rounded leadership team to complement the required skills at the top, a team of successor’s right behind them, a strong bench of high-potential individuals identified and developed in the middle, and a cadre of young, industry-ready talent.

Symptoms of leadership deficit include lack of potential candidates, leading to excellent functional managers and mediocre general managers leading to a talent war for the limited few. Growth orientation has eroded systemic leadership building capabilities across industries. No two ways about it – a lag in leadership development across India is industry agnostic.

This challenge manifests itself on three levels. First, there is a quantity deficit: Many Indian companies simply find it difficult to fill all their available positions with qualified applicants. According to Nasscom - every year, 3 million graduates and post graduates are added to the Indian workforce ,however, only 25 per cent technical graduates and 10-15 per cent  of other graduates are considered employable by the rapidly growing IT and ITES segments. Industry is gearing up to bridge this talent gap between Indian Industry and academic supply .To ensure Business continuity, Mediocrity wins and talent takes second place . Second, an experience deficit exacerbates the problem: Today’s senior and middle managers have not had sufficiently broad or well-developed careers. Finally, the talent war adds complexity: Competition over high-quality executive talent is intensifying, and companies are willing to pay top dollar for the right people.

How does this play out in the media and entertainment space?
As one of the fastest growing sectors in the service economy, (730 million TV viewers, 181 million press AIR, 159 million radio listeners,176 million Internet users {Source FICCI Frames -2013}), there is a huge potential for growth in a country of a billion. If it has to stay relevant and drive businesses across one of the most aggressive marketplaces in the world , there is a definite need to look inward and reinvent leadership across levels.

What truly sets this industry apart is the social change one can establish apart from running a “business as usual” approach .Very few other industries tap into the collective pulse of the nation. The sector is poised to grow at the rate of 11.8 per cent in 2013-14, touching 917 billion. While there has been a great deal of emphasis, and rightly so, on the “business of business”, the talent and capability glut that faces the ecosystem has no ready answers. While NSDC has set aside funds and there are media training institutes, by and large, the academic infrastructure supporting this industry is woefully inadequate. As far as approach towards leadership is concerned, adoption of best practices from more established business categories like finance, IT, ITES and consultancy would be a step in the right direction.

“Most Successful Businesses Have A Lot In Common; Every Unsuccessful Business Is Unsuccessful In Its Own Way”
The advent of cable and satellite TV in 1994 truly heralded the explosion in the Indian media space and a period of frenzied growth resulted in the mushrooming of several media companies. With rapid growth, current organisation values have been the values of the founders/promoters or early employees and became a part of a strong institutional memory. This frenzied growth phase resulted in a lot of talent growing very fast through the ranks. This is largely true of many other categories that grew rapidly.

“People have been so focused on growth that they have not invested in developing the next rung of the leadership,” said one senior human resources manager from a large media conglomerate.

What is of concern is the lack of alacrity towards building leadership at different levels. There is quite a bit of action and emphasis on the business end and very little at the people end of the business. HR does not get accorded the same place at the business table. This is true in other businesses as well.

Top Leadership: Typically, employees that have been at the receiving end of the boom period, moved quickly through the ropes, barely got to settle down or develop a robust ecosystem that would stand the test of time and the market. The media marketplace truly epitomises VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) characteristic of the market. Most senior Leaders within the business imbue the company with their own characteristic brand and if they have been successful, then the entire environment is shaped by that set of thoughts/beliefs.

There has been very little industry cross-pollination with regard to the media business. Apart from some senior level FMCG moves, leadership growth has been largely incestuous in nature. As a creative and process led business, it has grown and spawned many sub categories in the last five years. Leadership behaviour in this space ensures an excellent balance and flexing between right brain and left brain skills.

Development At The Top: When there is a transition into the role of a generalist – many leaders are not mentored or coached on these levels - mindset, skills set and tools set. What are the leadership competencies that embody the “work brand” of the organisation? Is there a leadership competency framework at all?

These are some of the senior executive challenges/skills they may need to work on

Executive presence
Feedback skills
Systems thinking
Executive communication skills
Ability to hold crucial conversations
Ability to build high trust relationships
Building collaboration
Handling conflicts between proximal and distal goals
Strategic conflict resolution skills
Self awareness, recognition of “blind spots”
Leadership alignment between self and the organizational collective.

A Lack Of Structured Leadership Development In The Middle: There is also a shortage of broad-based leadership development and succession planning programmes for those in middle management. When specialists are forced to take on general management roles, they are typically neither well prepared nor well trained.

A Dearth Of Integrated Training At The Bottom: Cadre-building programmes have often been ad hoc, run in isolation or as one-off initiatives. In addition, many media companies struggle with MBA hiring programmes. Often, the MBA class is not integrated well enough into the broader workforce, and companies put too much hope too early in these young managers. Meanwhile, rotation programmes meant to train the new recruits are often ill-conceived and seen as an intrusion into daily work by line managers.

What is the prevalent culture in established media companies?
Not many leaders would be able to spell out the larger reason for their businesses to exist. What are the values of that organisation? Stated and lived? Why should the hierarchy of Values not be spelt out for internal stakeholders, so Employees can clearly say “this is the XYZ way “such strong internal branding would go a long way in terms of differentiating its value proposition as an employer brand .

 If strategy’s most important aspect was to highlight “differential offering” to an external stakeholder, why can’t the same lens be turned inwards? What is the “culture” of the organization that sets it apart in a crowded talent marketplace? For a business that thrives on storytelling, it is woefully bereft of a story to encapsulate what it can offer employee talent at various levels.

Of late, media organisations have appointed L&D departments to ensure the organisation becomes a learning organisation. In a process similar to cleaning a fish tank, one does not take out fish one by one, clean it and put it back. One needs to clear out the entire aquarium, get some fresh water, put in adequate nutrients, ensure there is a self cleaning mechanism etc. Any intervention that is administered outside the current environment is rendered ineffective.

All the outbound sessions, management development programmes are great and definitely play a role in increasing value, but they tend to be academic and divorced from real world situations. Accompanied by a lot of “eye rolling” and cynicism – there is some change till they get back to the environment that has partly led to this behaviour adoption, some attempts and they are back where they began.To add to all this , most of these interventions are “skill” interventions and not “will” interventions

Changing The Culture At An Organisation
Changing the culture of a company to one that will incorporate a sound leadership pipeline is no small task. But with a well-developed plan, it can be achieved. Companies will have to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of how they approach leadership development. This is an important and achievable goal. Failure to devote time and attention to it will cause more leadership problems and promote a vicious circle in which short-term fixes, such as recruiting disproportionately from outside and promoting more people to positions they can’t handle, will further aggravate overall leadership problem.

Some steps that can be taken to build leadership pipeline:
Invest In Senior Management Effectiveness: Clarity in setting objectives is very important for creating an effective senior team.  Selecting the right people, defining clear roles for team members and promoting productive interaction and dialogue among members as well as development of structured team work is very crucial.
Key insights on how to make top management more effective:

  • Encourage collective decision making at the top level to mitigate the risks of overlooking certain issues and also to    ensure accountability
  • Create forums for discussion in order to align the overall strategy among top management.
  • Transparently define the big-picture responsibilities of top managers, in addition to their segment duties.
  • Assign executive coaches who have business experience and an appreciation for the company’s specific context to work closely with top strategy and employees develop the required competencies. These roles must be chosen carefully and, together, must encompass all the duties of the considered position. Management must then identify potential successors from across these feeder roles and create a pool of ideal candidates. Potential successors should have the opportunity to take on a variety of feeder roles to prepare them to embrace broader responsibilities at the next level.

Insights On Developing Feeder Roles:
Set up feeder roles as understudies for critical positions wherein the departure of a senior leader can cause business disruption. This can also include critical middle management positions.

Identify at least two successors for each critical role, selected from those occupying feeder roles or with relevant job experience. There has to be bench strength to ensure this is done on a long term basis.

Select successors based on metrics like consistent performance, future potential, long-term cultural fit, and commitment to the organisation.

Provide members of the successor pools with individual development plans, close involvement from a top leader through mentoring or coaching, and short-term leadership roles, building readiness for leadership within a 12-to-36-month timeframe.

Identify And Promote High-Pos (High Potential) Employees: The lack of a leadership pipeline is not a unique scenario in media organisations . Less than half of the world’s organisations take the time to identify high-potential employees. But it is an uniquely Indian problem to have so much raw talent available, with such a huge proportion of it remaining undeveloped. Talent management systems need to be redesigned to focus on potential as much as on performance. Objective measures must be put in place to gauge leadership potential. Top performers must be identified as “high potential” only if they also have great managerial or technical leadership potential, measured against specific criteria.

Key Insights On How To Develop High-Potential Employees:
Identify employees who have the potential to take on roles that are two to three levels above their current role — not just the next higher role they would move to in due course of time.

Don’t mistake performance as a proxy for potential: performance ratings reflect an individual’s ability to deliver on expectations from their current role and not the potential to take on greater responsibilities.

Rate high-potential employees on the basis of whether they display the ability, mobility, engagement, and aspiration needed to take on more senior roles.

Employ a variety of tools to assess potential, such as 360-degree assessments, psychometric tests, and assessment centers. (These tools are useful, but they are not a substitute for “real” talent discussions; talent review processes need to be owned by the business leaders.)

Build quality cadres at the junior level: The cadre level is an ocean from which future leaders will emerge, so special attention needs to be given to it. First, the organization must determine the optimal mix of cadres recruited directly from universities and entry-level hires from the job market.
Key insights on how to develop a quality cadre pool:

Select technical and management institutes in line with the company’s skill expectations and compensation levels — it’s advisable to choose a targeted approach, focused on a small set of institutions whose graduates fit the company’s needs, rather than casting a wide net.

Ensure that there are sufficient on-campus initiatives to promote the organization as a desirable recruiter.

Evaluate the success of campus recruiting over a few years in terms of attrition rate and quality of employees; add and drop recruitment campuses according to the results.

Institutionalise a standout summer internship programme as a default route to full-time hires; many companies make the mistake of not taking summer internships seriously enough, and interns do not get the right kind of assignments and oversight. As a result, companies lose the important opportunity to conduct an extended “interview process” to evaluate candidates.

This is a current and prevalent situation that can pose challenges in reaching out for Industry business goals in a thriving market like India.

Jay Kumar Hariharan is a leadership coach and works with CEOs and their direct reports of various organisations. He is also the CEO of Blue Fire Coaching Consultants