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9/30/12

Publication: The Economic Times Mumbai;Date: Sep 28, 2012;Section: Career & Business;Page: 10

A little bit of tension between young leaders and old is good


If CEOs are not doing enough to nurture young talent in their companies, they better get cracking. There will come atime, in the near future, when their businesses may require skills that mostly youngsters have, like familiarity with technology and social media. Adil Zainulbhai, India chairman of McKinsey & Company, and a jury member for the Economic Times Young Leaders programme, tells Labonita Ghoshcompanies need to create a more enabling environment for their Next-Gen employees. Young leaders are under-represented in boards, especially in older companies. What can company heads and young employees do to change this? As far as young leaders are concerned, they should try to get good at something other people are not good at. Older representatives on boards may be good at accounting, auditing, organisation and such, but young leaders will have greater familiarity with technology and things happening around the world. As companies recognise the need to get more of these abilities into the organisation, there will be greater representation of young leaders on boards. Id tell young leaders that instead of trying to be good at what the current board members do, build skills that will become necessary a few years from now. Thats the way many of them will get on boards. As for CEOs, its critical for them to see where things are going, in terms of social media and technologies. What are promoter CEOs doing to groom the Next Gen in family-run companies? I have a few suggestions for promoters as they bring the next generation of the family into the organisation. First, give them much broader exposure. Encourage them to work outside the company for a few years, or get some international experience, before they come back to the family business. Otherwise they will be too constrained. Second, youngsters should start from the ground floor, rather than the top as some promoters like their children to do. If your family owns a factory or a power plant, go work on the factory floor or at the coal mine or plant. Really understand the operations and the forces driving the business from the ground up. Get a solid grounding on the fundamentals of the business before taking up any leadership positions. Youngsters should do one project from beginning to end so they understand everything that goes into a project rather than managerially oversee it. They should get their hands dirty. Its only then that they will understand the business and learn some humility. What about grooming young leaders who are not a part of the family? Companies like HUL and Citibank have excellent training and grooming programmes that other companies can learn from. But this is a long-term commitment. One has to groom a set of talent for 10-15 years before it can take over to create outstanding results. Are CEOs themselves creating an enabling environment for their young leaders? If the CEO is personally interested in ensuring the company has a talent machine, then a lot of things happen. If the CEO delegates it to two levels below, then it becomes routine rather than something that is fundamentally important to the company. CEOs also need to create an environment where young leaders can take risks and do things without having to worry about whether or not it will succeed. Older employees may be unwilling to take risks, so you have to let the younger ones do it. Also, the more external-facing young leaders are, in terms of being exposed to whats happening outside the company, the greater the chance they will do things to the benefit of the organisation. This can happen through training courses, secondment, facing customers and clients etc. How can young leaders work with the older generation, and vice-versa? Alittle bit of tension is good; it improves performance and highlights assumptions that may or may not be correct. [If Iwere CEO] I would create a situation where there is some questioning and tension between the new leaders and the older ones. If everyone agrees on everything, then one is not pushing the boundaries. So create an environment where young leaders get a chance to try something new or challenge assumptions held by the older generation. If the older generation has a strong commitment to mentoring young leaders, then chances are they will both develop. We often talk about the benefits mentees get from mentoring. But in reality, the best relationships are those where the mentor also gets to learn a lot. labonita.ghosh@timesgroup.com

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Id tell young leaders that instead of trying to be good at what the current board members do, build skills that will become necessary a few years from now ADIL ZAINULBHAI India chairman, McKinsey & Co

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