Letting culture off the leash

July 11, 2017 Vinod Kumar

In many ways, exceptional leadership is about losing control, rather than gaining it. And embracing that. Realising that you can’t, and shouldn’t, manage every decision, helps create a better business. Whether you manage a department or business unit, or an entire organisation, you have accountability for the sum of the parts. Taking every decision would be both maddening and inefficient, and a waste of talent – not to mention demoralising for people across the company. It simply isn’t possible to run a successful business like that.

While some leaders may lie awake at night feeling a lack of control, the progressive ones will work hard to foster a culture that empowers and inspires ambassadors from within. Imagine the strength of a business where 100% of employees were personally 100% invested to ensure the company has every opportunity to thrive. Every single day.

It’s essential for a global business to recognise the value of many, not the power of few.  Companies don’t always get it right, and the ramifications can be far-reaching in today’s digital world. Whether cultural sensitivities are offended or seemingly innocent jokes backfire, what you say and do matters. It sets the tone – it brings your culture to life.

Done well, bringing your culture to life through the power of many creates a nirvana for best-in-class customer experience. Another perfect example of how culture eats strategy for breakfast -a phrase I often refer to and one that I believe sums up the magic ingredient that can make all the difference in a success or failure.

So, what does that look like at Tata Communications?

Live your values, know your purpose

As technology and connectivity have become more widespread over the last few years, the flow of information has increased and the means of communications have been democratised. At the same time, and perhaps possibly because of this, consumers and individuals now expect businesses to behave more ethically, more transparently and remain true to their values.

While this is often demonstrated most clearly with consumer-brands, as with the recent spate of airline scandals for example. It’s also absolutely true of businesses that sell to other businesses. If you don’t believe in why you do what you do or in what you do – neither will your customers – and they shouldn’t expect anything less. To that end you have to know your purpose and live your value, all day every day.

At Tata Communications, our purpose is clear which is evidenced in how our business has evolved over the last 15 years: We deliver a New World of Communications to advance the reach and leadership of our customers and partners.

Our belief is that this New World is a digital world, underpinned in the traditional values of inclusiveness, compassion and ethical integrity. Digital is empowerment, expression and equalising. That technology can better people’s lives. And as we are innately global, we continually help bridge the developed and developing worlds through our network, cloud, mobility, security and collaboration services – facilitating possible changes in the balance of power, welcoming a new tomorrow.

It is this strong sense of purpose that is then brought to life through our values – our way of living and leading, of delivering for our customers and our company. The bedrock of our culture.

  • Daring
  • Responsive
  • Inclusive
  • Venturing
  • Ethical

These values were built on the core values of Tata group – a group that has successfully stood true to its purpose of doing business for the good of the community and its values of just under 150 years!

Continuous improvement

The world today is in flux and being disrupted by new technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation and the Internet of Things. The solution for these graduates? Constant self-learning and re-education. I call this concept ‘Learn, Unlearn and Relearn’.

In a world where 100-year-old companies are going out of business and 1 year old companies are being floated on the stock exchange, customers’ needs are changing rapidly. At the same time, traditional job functions are disappearing and with them traditional, ‘off the shelf’ products. We now offer whatever our customers and partners need to be successful and drive digital transformation within their own businesses – it’s effectively customer-service-as-a- service. In order to respond, employees in today’s working environment have to be committed to constant development and education.

This rapid change requires staff to be committed to continued development. Within Tata Communications, we run a Moonwalks programme which is all about exploring completely new industries and new subjects. We have five Moonwalks currently underway. The whole idea is to get people to be comfortable with something they know nothing about – creating an environment to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Freedom to innovate

I spend as much time as possible with customers. I love to hear what makes them tick, understand the issues that they face in their businesses day-to-day and know more about what they need from us. In every business, however, it’s the people who work with customers day in and day out, who know best. At Tata Communications, this is true right across the company whether it’s the F1 team that travels to every Grand Prix providing seamless connectivity to Formula 1 management and Mercedes AMG Petronas; the network team that maintains our global network every day to keep our customers’ businesses running, or the media team working with huge names like VICE and MotoGP.

What that means in practice is that employees need to be given the opportunity to explore new innovations and experiment without the fear failure – innovations that meet customers’ needs today or tomorrow. We do this in a number of ways. Our flagship innovation program, “Shape the Future” is designed to kindle the flames of innovation and entrepreneurship within the company. We’ve already seen the incubator create some fantastic ideas, including NetFoundry, a business that aims to reinvent networking for the hyper connected era. The idea was submitted to our “Shape the Future” programme by a team of our employees. After being given the tools and time the team needed, the end was a result a launch at this year’s Mobile World Congress.

When it comes to business, culture is king; it’s the driver of how we recruit, who we employ, the flexibility we offer and the service we provide. We live in an age where customer needs are constantly evolving and increasingly demanding. Businesses with the right cultures in place will be the ones that rise up to meet them. They will bring together people who live and breathe what they do and create an environment where everyone can develop themselves and have the opportunity to innovate.

In this environment, your customers will always be in safe hands.

Read another related blog from Vinod Kumar on ‘Educating your Future Self’

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