SHRM 2010 Conference, Vineet Nayar and Google’s Shannon Deegan

This is the second in a series of blog posts I wrote for SHRM’s Blog Squad at the 2010 annual conference in San Diego.  This one did appear on the SHRM blog but I wanted to share it with readers of this blog. See here for the previous post on Marcus Buckingham’s amazing appearance at the conference.

General Session 6/29; Vineet Nayar and Panel Discussion

By David Bowles @SHRM10 Blog Squad

Vineet Nayar

Its not often you get to be in the company of CEOs who have such a stellar reputation as Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a $2.3B, 60,000 employee company in India.  Listen to this:  Tom Peters thinks he just might be the next Peter Drucker.  They study Mr Nayar’s management style at Harvard; the London Business School praises him, it goes on and on.  Added late to the General Session he turned out to be a bonus which I am glad I did not miss.  Now I have to go and get his book, “Employees First”, a philosophy which adds, but not in the book title, “Customers Second”.   Talk about changing paradigms, all that stuff about the Customer is King?  Forget that, that’s so…20th century.

Some five years ago his company was on a ledge, “on fire” as he says, and they had to ask some deep questions about who they were, what kind of business they were in, and therefore what kind of business should management be in.  Nayar’s solution was to turn things upside down, literally, the org chart is now an inverted pyramid but unlike some other flipped pyramids (the airline SAS for example), the employee and not the customer ended up on top.

At the time of crisis, Nayar and his team realized something so critical that its worth discussing here:   they understood that management’s job is not to lord it over everyone, but to “induce the employees to add value” in what they call the Value Zone, that area (far removed from the CEO!) where the employees meet the customer.  The traditional approach breeds distrust;  this approach, driven by transparency, breeds trust.  Nayar’s personal 360 review is open to everyone in the company, that’s just one example of this.  He no longer talks “pyramid” but “sphere” for the way the company operates, which he describes as a true democratization of the workplace.  A great point he made: “how can we all work so hard to have democracy in our political life but shy away from it in our work life?”  Finally I also liked his three stage approach which he say he based on the great teachers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King:

1.  Create dissatisfaction with the status quo (“we can do better”)

2.  Create a romance of tomorrow, a vision for how things can be better

3.  Make the actions plans to get from here to there.

All of this is just management-speak unless it is lived.  Nayar deserves bragging rights: HCL cruised through the Great Recession with big gains in revenue, profit and head count.

An amazing guy.

Panel Discussion:

Shannon Deegan, Google Director of People Operations — Strategy, M&A and Staffing

This was a very good panel and although they didn’t discuss anything earth-shattering I was struck by a couple of things the Google guy (Shannon Deegan) said:

—no work spot is more than 200 feet from a kitchen (I was hungry when writing this, so listed it first).  This encourages working together throughout the day.

—Google encourages people to spend 20% of their time on their own projects which may have nothing to do with company goals.  Some of the best ideas have come from this, like Gmail.

–Because of their origin as an engineering company (both founders and the CEO are engineers) Google is a heavily data driven company.   This translates into very significant use of people surveys, both “pulse” versions as well as full blown total organization 100 question surveys they call “Google Geist”.  They slice and dice this data with as much enthusiasm as they do their ad revenue data.  As interesting as this, the fact that they ask if people want to be identified or not, and 90% click “identified”.  Truly amazing, and a sign of the level of trust they have built.

This is all very interesting for me, a survey guy.  The common refrain on the blogosphere now is that short surveys like Gallup’s Q-12 are the only way to go, or better still, banish surveys from the organization.  How interesting that GOOG (love that stock symbol) is going totally in the other direction, which is exactly what my increasingly lonely voice had been saying in my own blog (big surveys are a goldmine of what to do for employees to help them engage).  But don’t feel sorry for me: now I have some company and great ammo….

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